Peter Harrington Discover Stunningly Rare Series of Football League Books by Billy Johnston


PETER HARRINGTON, Rare Books Discover Stunningly Rare Series of Football League Books by Billy Johnston.

27th March 2015

Peter Harrington, the UK’s largest rare book seller and one of the leading rare book sellers in the world has discovered a stunningly rare series of football league books by Billy Johnston, the ultimate for collectors who operate within sports.

Peter Harrington Rare Books Expert Glen Mitchell says – “It’s interesting that the sort of statistical analysis which presently fuels millions of fantasy football teams, and drives the multi-multi-billion pound sports betting boom, began with a series of books, put out privately and none of them produced in more than 50 copies.“


JOHNSTON, W.M. The Football League.

The Competitions of the Season 1931 – … 1939. London: [for the author,] 1932-40


First editions, extremely uncommon, only 25 sets could possibly exist, and no set, not even single individual annual copies, traced institutionally.


“For eight seasons during the thirties Billy Johnston, editor of the Arsenal FC programme for many years, kept his own hand-written records on a season-by-season basis. He then privately published them in eight volumes, each limited to forty copies – results, scorers, transfers and much else of interest is presented in these unique and extremely scarce records, later published in facsimile by the Association of Football Statisticians” (Seddon).

The limitation was in fact variable through the publication’s brief history, no limitation is stated for the first year; ‘32-3 has a label mounted on the front pastedown to the effect that “The Edition is limited to Twenty-Five Presentation Copies”, and ‘33-4 has a similar label to the front free stating that “This Book is confined to 35 Presentation Copies”; ‘34-5, ‘35-6, and ‘36-7 have a printed statement of the limitation “to 40 Presentation Copies” bound in before the title, which in ‘37-8 and ‘38-9 becomes “50 Presentation Copies”.

Evidently the outbreak of World War II ended production for the duration, and it was never resumed. An excellent set of this highly desirable “black tulip” of football collecting, one of maximum of just twenty-five such sets possible.


8 volumes octavo, original red cloth, title gilt to the spines of all but the first year, and the upper boards of all, blind panel to the front board of the last five volumes. Somewhat sunned, rubbed, soiled, spines starting to split and chip head and tail, all hinges sound, endpapers browning and contents lightly toned, but remains a very well-preserved set.

Price tentatively selling it for: £15,000


Editors Notes

Peter Harrington was established in 1969 and specialises in selling and buying the finest quality original first editions, signed, rare and antiquarian books, fine bindings and library sets. In the 1970’s Peter Harrington expanded and started a successful map and print business and in 2000 they established The Chelsea Bindery which employs some of the finest binders in the world who make fine bindings, preservation boxes and restore books.

Peter Harrington have two impressive shops in London and books can also be purchased online at their fascinating website They have an enormous stock of fine books dating from the fifteenth to the twentieth centuries in a broad range of subjects including children’s, modern and classical literature, science, natural history, economics, politics, philosophy, history, photography, art, sports, travel and exploration. Their four-storey double-fronted shop at 100 Fulham Road, Chelsea, has more than 20,000 volumes and 6,000 prints and old maps whilst their recently opened NEW shop in Dover Street, Mayfair, has over 7,000 books arranged over two floors. The shops are open daily from Monday to Saturday and visitors who want to buy or sell books or just browse are warmly welcomed. Peter Harrington also exhibit regularly at book and antique fairs throughout the world.

Peter Harrington offer an ‘unconditional guarantee’ for each item they sell on its authenticity and completeness, as described in their literature. Throughout the year Peter Harrington produce a series of beautiful catalogues which contain the details of some of their most interesting books. These catalogues can be downloaded from their website or purchased in their shops and are works of art in their own right. They have also recently added over 50 NEW short videos to their website where their staff show and discuss the unique features of some of the most important books they own.


The company is now run by Pom Harrington (Peter’s son) who this year celebrates 21 years in the business. He has surrounded himself by over a dozen very experienced booksellers, many of whom are internationally known and all are as passionate about books as he is.

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