A busy week – but aren’t they all? A meeting of the ABA Website Committee – very happy to welcome Justin Croft to join us on that. His new post on his own blog, by the way, a riveting account of a nineteenth-century prediction of the death of the book (link in the blogroll to the right) completely outshines anything you might come across here. Do read it – it’s also now featuring on the front page of the ABA website.
I also sat in on a meeting of the ABA Planning Committee – lots of ideas bubbling away there – a new tier of associate membership, ABA online book auctions, joint catalogues utilising the ABA’s own mailing list, a book-collecting competition for young collectors, campagning and publicity ideas, etc. Then on to an excellent talk from Dr. Paul Goldman on Pre-Raphaelite books and illustration – the latest in the highly successful joint ABA / Institute of English Studies seminar series. Fascinating material on that extraordinary phase in British illustration – and the Senate House Library kindly conjured up some rarities from its collections to illustrate the theme.
Also found time to get my summer catalogue to the printers – to do some preparatory work on the real history of dust-jackets for this summer’s London Rare Books School – and to pop in and see how Valentina Rudnitskaya (the ABA’s first ever Russian intern) was getting on with her placement at Sokol Books Ltd. Mayfair is not all that far as the crow flies from Upper Tooting – but this was still a safari to a world apart. To a boy from the suburbs like myself, Mayfair always remains that rich and raffish realm of romance celebrated by Michael Arlen –
rounding every corner I still expect see to the fabulous Iris Storm sliding out of her sleek yellow Hispano-Suiza in her jaunty green hat worn pour le sport.
Not a dust-jacket in sight at Sokol Books of course. We all call ourselves antiquarian booksellers, but we trade in very different ways. Some more stylish than others, and some decidedly more antiquarian than others. And tucked away behind a discreet door in Mayfair we have one of the most stylish and most genuinely antiquarian of them all. Christopher Sokol has been collecting books since childhood and dealing in them since undergraduate days. It shows. He deals in virtually nothing dated later than about 1640 – early English and European printed books, mediaeval and renaissance manuscripts.
I found Valentina rather possessively clutching an early Slavonic liturgical manuscript she had been helping to decipher – and if you want, say, the earliest edition of Chaucer still obtainable (at least complete), or the Aldine edition of Euripides (1503), or the first edition of Richard Hakluyt’s iconic Principall Navigations, Voiages and Discoveries of the English Nation (1589), or a cautiously titled denuniciation of that favourite of the Virgin Queen, Robert Dudley – Discours de la Vie Abominables, Ruses, Trahisons, Meurtres, Impostures … Le my Lorde de Lecestre Machiaveliste (1585), or that delightful atlas of islands, L’Isole piu Famose del Mondo, by Thomaso Porcacchi (1572), or the first edition of Aaron Rathborne’s The Surveyor (1616) – then head straight off to the Sokol Books website, where you will find them all (and a host of other glorious things besides).
Rather in two minds about Aaron Rathborne of course – the book is certainly the first comprehensive English text on surveying, but on the back of it he was granted a royal privilege giving him a complete monopoly on the production of English town-plans. As, so far as we know, he didn’t produce any – he single-handedly caused a complete hiccough in English mapmaking for a generation. I hold him personally responsible for there being no fresh maps of London until the 1650s – but that’s perhaps by the bye.
Christopher Sokol himself wasn’t around yesterday – but his engaging interns (a French one as well) were being shepherded about their business and instructed in the handling and cataloguing of these truly wonderful books (not just early but beautiful copies) by his assistant, the delightful Brooke Palmieri – herself something of a star turn in the blogosphere (her Bloggers of the World Unite piece – something I urged you all to read a few posts back – is also now on the ABA website). All in all, a very pleasant afternoon (and just time to watch a bit of cricket in a rare hour of sunshine at the Oval on the way home).