Obituary: James Stevens Cox
Barker, Nicolas, The Independent (London, England)
If James Stevens Cox's main livelihood was to come from other sources, he remained a proud and active member of his hereditary profession: hairdressing and wigmaking.
He was bookseller, publisher, writer, archaeologist, local historian; but, although he sold the family business in 1955, he remained chairman of the Hairdressers' Registration Council, a regular contributor to the Registered Hairdresser, its quarterly journal, and one of the Chief Examiners in Ladies' Hairdressing and Wigmaking for the City and Guilds Institute. In 1966 he published An Illustrated Dictionary of Hairdressing and Wigmaking (the book was reissued in 1987).
There was a time when almost all booksellers were autodidacts. Stevens Cox was exceptional in that he was an autodidact before he was a bookseller, and he was, in a way, the last of his kind: those who teach themselves are few and far between (though they may become commoner). His education thus began before he went to school. He was born in Bristol. There his parents, William George Cox and Anne Eugenia (nee Stevens) traded at "Ye Olde Dutche House", 67 Wine Street, where his grandmother, Mrs F. Stevens, "practical hair worker and wig maker", offered "All Kind of Ornamental Hair Work, Fringes, Partings, Transformations, Scalpettes, &c., kept in stock, or made to order at the shortest possible notice". But his father was an Ilchester man, and his aunt still lived in the old family home, where the young Cox (not yet Stevens - he added the name to distinguish himself from another James Cox whose detention was unfairly inflicted on him at school) used to spend his holidays. When he was eight he found some old pottery while digging there in the garden; he took it back to Bristol, where the museum curator correctly identified it as Roman. At Bristol Grammar School, where he went in 1910, he came under the influence of its remarkable headmaster, John Barton, who instilled taste and judgement rather than a syllabus; the BBC producer Douglas Cleverdon was another of the pupils whose lives he inspired. Stevens Cox left at 16 to join his parents' business. If he had other ideas about his vocation, he kept them to himself. Reading books, and (for a little pocket money went a long way then) buying them, was the staple of his life. One of his favourite haunts was the premises, two houses full of books for sale, with more and a private library in yet another house next door, of a secondhand bookseller called Mathews. Every plane surface was filled with books, and the further parts could only be reached by tunnelling through book-piles. Mathews turned nothing away, and it was there that Stevens Cox acquired his remarkable knowledge of all the different kinds of book there were. He might have remained a book-loving hairdresser, but for a strange chance: the octogenarian owner married a wife who could not abide the dusty rubbish (as she saw it) that infested her new abode. Inspiration came: Stevens Cox borrowed money from his father, raised a mortgage, and bought the two houses and 75,000 books. A vast and dusty stock, not easily distinguishable from an almost equally large private library, remained with him throughout his bookselling career. He also became, and remained, a publisher: A Note on Henry Irving by Froom Tyler (1931) and Date (1935), Hubert Nicholson's poems, appeared under the imprint of the Coleridge Bookshop, as it now became. When the Second World War came he volunteered for the Royal Navy but was drafted into the Bristol City Police, in which he had some odd experiences. …