I set out on a Sunday when the TTC closed the Bloor line (of course) to visit The Monkey’s Paw at its new west-end location. Infamous for being a shop of curios and The Biblio-Mat machine,which spits out odd and old books for just a toonie, I’ve always been curious about it! Like a wayward protagonist of an Agatha Christie novel I couldn’t quite understand why I was so nervous about visiting I lingered in the doorway for a while before going inside.
With the sweet smell of old books, musty carpets and antique furniture, you feel like you’re trespassing in the personal collection of an eccentric billionaire who invited you to a dinner party at his mansion on a stormy night. It’s the little details that count. A fake raven peering down on you in the company of a ceramic clown bust and the eponymous monkeys holding out their paws greet you at the checkout desk. Soft, mysterious music which seems impossible to place maintains the atmosphere and encourages you to let your imagination run away full throttle. On this particular day, there was a kid inside the store with his dad running around peering at things with a magnifying glass. When he got tired of that, he decided to take up filing some of the books… truly strange. It was like being on a Bryan Fuller set — eerie and quaint.
The books are well selected but expensive. If you’re looking to impress with a vintage two volume collection of Van Gogh drawings, it will set you back $50. There’s no doubt each tome is selected with quality, interest, and aesthetic value in mind, though. Beautifully bound old reference books on any topic you could want from machine engine repair to snakes of Ontario can be yours from $60 to $300. They make no effort to hide the fact that their focus is antiquarian and you won’t find anything made after 1980 in the store. My personal favourite find was a book on living in the Rocky Mountains as a woman published in the late 1800s.
If you’re on a budget, they do carry vintage Penguin or Pelican Classics from $16 plus other fun curios like insects sealed in lucite, vintage road maps, and old ink stamps. I’m not sure if the stamps are actually for sale, and frankly I was a bit too scared to ask. And then, of course, there is The Bilio-Mat machine! At $2 a book how could anyone resist? I didn’t have any change on me but fear not, because the young and not-scary-at-all shopkeeper has envelopes of toonies in the desk for those of us who only carry twenties.
The Biblio-Mat is a beautiful seafoam green that makes a satisfying clunk as it dishes out a fun old piece of the past. I got a slightly tattered 1959 edition of In Search of England by H.V. Morton which comes with fifteen illustrations and an endpaper map. My travel companion for the day went home with an even rattier book about 1950s Papua New Guinea. If you’re looking for the perfect gift for a friend who finds themselves drawn to murder mystery parties, Wes Anderson films, and vintage sherpa jackets then this shop is a definite hit, just be prepared to pay for it. Or, if you’re like me, take them to The Monkey’s Paw with you and spend an afternoon putting toonies in The Biblio-Mat and you might have the perfect day. Curation is definitely their expertise, whether of books, furniture, or oddly disturbing tchotchkes, and it’s worth the trip for the experience alone.