Going to the Races

Or to be more precise, going to the race-course: the two-day PBFA fair in York, held at the local race-course, with a curious backdrop of betting windows, echoes of the language of the track and a jaunty, sporty feeling of backing your fancy. Not at all inappropriate, for the professional bookbuyer (and probably, I suspect, some amateurs) buying a book at a fair is often a matter of taking a punt – a calculated gamble.

An enormous fair – well over 200 exhibitors. Certainly the biggest in the British Isles, the biggest in Europe they say, and quite possibly the second largest in the world. Plenty of people to say that it has grown too large – the public don’t like it, they can’t get round it all in a day. Possibly true, but I can’t imagine people being lured back were there to be a stern promise of fewer books and fewer booksellers next year. It is surely the sheer size that brings people in from all over the world – the knowledge that there is bound a book for you.  That no-one can have looked at everything. There must be something hidden on one of the multiple floors that no-one has yet spotted. Certainly there were both exhibitors and visitors from the very top end of the London trade. And there were too some very good booksellers that we seldom or never see exhibiting in the south.

This is one of the great successes of the British trade in recent years. Record figures were again posted this year. Let us cherish it. And let us congratulate the booksellers of York who have put so much effort into making it such a perennial success. Take a bow.

About Laurence Worms - Ash Rare Books

Laurence Worms has owned and run Ash Rare Books since 1971. He represented the antiquarian book trade on the (British) National Book Committee from 1993 to 2002 and has been six times an elected member of the Council of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association. He was largely responsible for drafting the Association’s Code of Good Practice first introduced in 1997 (and its recent update), served as Honorary Secretary of the Association from 1998 to 2001 and as President from 2011 to 2013. He is a former member of the Council of the Bibliographical Society and continues to serve on the Council of the London Topographical Society. He writes and lectures on various aspects of the history of the book and map trades, and has lectured at the universities of Cambridge, London, Reading and Sheffield, as well as at the Bibliographical Society, the Royal Geographical Society, the Warburg Institute, the National Library of Scotland and at Gresham College and Stationers' Hall. Published work includes the compilation of fourteen ‘lives’ for the “Oxford Dictionary of National Biography”, a number of articles for “The Oxford Companion to the Book” and the chapter on early English maps and atlases for the fourth volume of “The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain”. Essays on the British map trade are also appearing in “The History of Cartography” published by the University of Chicago Press. His long-awaited “British Map Engravers”, co-written with Ashley Baynton-Williams, was published to critical acclaim in 2011. He also contributed the numerous biographical notes to Peter Barber’s hugely successful “London : A History in Maps”, co-published by the British Library and the London Topographical Society in 2012.
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2 Responses to Going to the Races

  1. Steve Liddle says:

    Bang on, Laurence. Very well put. Another very interesting thing about the giant York Fair is the number of younger people that you see visiting. They may find it overwhelming, they may find it intimidating ( it’s a tough call for the most seasoned of trade visitors ), but they will never again think that the only place you can buy an old book is on Ebay or Amazon ( they have never heard of Abe ). And that’s the message the trade must get across.


    • ashrarebooks says:

      Steve – yes, you are right about the number of younger people. And a very pleasing number of younger booksellers, too. It’s a curious thing about ABE. Some sectors of the trade seem to be wholly persuaded they can’t live without it – although patently they could. The online customers will follow the books wherever they migrate. And yet out there – in the real world – it’s a name that means virtually nothing. An endemic short-termism we must try to escape from.


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