It’s often the telling detail that counts. The detail in this case was pointed out to me by Philip Burden (Clive A. Burden Ltd.) at the London Map Fair last weekend.
A tiny ducking-stool tucked away on the outskirts of Richmond in Yorkshire on his stunning early eighteenth-century map by Robert Harman – one of only three known copies (and very pleased to see British Map Engravers cited in his catalogue description). You can see the whole map in the photograph of Philip and his charming daughter at the fair.
It was one of those sublime you-don’t-know-what-you-are-looking-for-until-you-find-it moments. But there it was – the perfect piece of antiquarian technology to employ at our ABA Council meetings. Droning on too long – duck! Completely off the point and wholly irrelevant – duck! You get the idea. Not that any of my colleagues would ever be guilty of any of these things, naturally – just teasing. They give up their unpaid time, work extremely hard for the rare book trade at large, and only seldom get thanked for it. They are a splendid bunch really – and I thank them now (but they’ve been warned).
No need to safari far this week as so many ABA members turned up for the London Map Fair at the splendid Royal Geographical Society. I ran into Christopher Sokol whom I’d missed a couple of days earlier – and his interns too. Also hunting for stock were Robert Frew and Philip Curtis (The Map House). My Spanish counterpart, Gonzalo Pontes, President of AILA, was over from Madrid and evidently enjoying himself.
And then there were the exhibitors – forty or so of them in all – eight locals, another half dozen from the UK, seven from Germany, five from the USA, four from France, three from Italy, and others from Belgium, Canada, Holland and Greece. The biggest event of its kind in Europe – and a feast of fine material wherever you looked. From the ABA – there was Jonathan Potter in his regular spot on Stand No. 1 just by the door – former ABA President and former ABA Treasurer both – never was a man more unthanked, but still genial, still brimming with enthusiasm – and still with a mighty impressive stock. He’s also one my colleagues on the ABA Council I was so unfair on above – but Lord knows how many years we have been friends. Next door was Philip Burden – extraordinary things on display as always – glossy new catalogue to hand – and a new generation of Burdens coming through. Really must get out to Rickmansworth for that lunch we’ve been talking about for far too long.
Massimo De Martini of the Altea Gallery on St. George Street, one of the fair’s organising committee, was in bright spirits – enthusing about the number of new collectors at the fair, as was his assistant, Miles Baynton-Williams (this week wearing his Altea hat). Meanwhile, hidden away in the Lecture Theatre, brother Ashley Baynton-Williams–
my colleague and co-author – was handling session after well-attended session of introductory talks on map-collecting. Poetic and graceful moments as he had his audience hold up old maps to the light to reveal to them the world of chain-lines, watermarks, and possibly other evidences. A hungry rush as each session ended of enthusiastic new collectors in search of prey.
Excellent work from Ashley, who between talks used some fairly forceful selling techniques on some map-dealers who had so far refrained from buying that essential work of reference, British Map Engravers.
Up the stairs at this delightfully meandering fair (spread over at least nine rooms), to find
Nigel Garwood and Rainer Voigt (Garwood & Voigt) with a rich array of their usual tempting material at all kinds of prices. Nigel’s also one of the fair’s organisers. Very taken with his circular map of London (Ashley later bought it). Farther along to what is always a slightly disturbing moment – there on adjacent corners – not one, but two, of my former assistants –
Philip Sharpe and Michael Jennings– each now with his own successful and thriving business.
How nice to get some documentary pictures of them doing some work for once (you know I don’t mean it) – bless you both.
On through a couple more rooms filled with some really outstanding maps to find the real star of the show – Tim Bryars. Working relentlessly with his team to run the fair, keep everyone happy, promote it and publicise it. He dragged me off first to do a radio interview with a journalist, then (on the Sunday) a joint television interview – don’t know what happened to the footage – cutting-room floor probably – but I thought he and I were rather good in a wholly unscripted and off-the-cuff dialogue on his delightful nineteenth-century map of British light-houses.
One point the man from the BBC did make was that he really hadn’t expected to find so many young and (by implication) perfectly normal people visiting the fair. He was obviously far too polite to say that he imagined it would all be crusty old buffers like myself – but I haven’t had a nuance bypass yet. He was right – there were extraordinary numbers of younger visitors – drawn no doubt by the very extensive advance press coverage the fair had attracted – but also, I suspect, by the large amount of social media attention – particularly on Twitter. Tim’s very adroit at all these things – he was on the radio again on Tuesday, talking about the history of the Charing Cross Road and the new Charing Cross Road Festival. Very glad he’s the ABA Press Officer. The ABA too has joined the twittering classes – follow us if you wish – it’s @CrustyOldBuffers – no, no, no, of course it’s not – slip of the mind, that’s just how I think of it – it’s actually @BooksellersAnon. Past 500 followers now and rising.
Opposite Tim was another old friend, the ABA’s only member from Greece, Louise Bryan – using her full name now and trading as Mary Louise Bryan. How nice to see her back in London. Reunited with Tim from their Paralos days – and of course Paralos-founder Panagiotis Chantziaras was there too – his top-pocket as always filled with the pencilled and labyrinthine calculations of an extensive international trade. The First Lady and Miss Tilly popped in to say hello to them and arrange to link up when they holiday in Greece shortly – and I’ll be in Athens to give a paper in October.
Round another corner and there is Ian from Peter Harrington, another old map-trade friend, looking very pleased at having just sold something rather good – or perhaps it was that Ashley had only made him buy one copy of British Map Engravers.
One final room. Yet another old pal – Steve Luck (Tooley, Adams & Co.) – not looking a day older than when I first met him. A strict diet of maps – and he had some beauties – must be good for you. He made the, I believe, excellent point that really good examples of maps – a Speed with fine contemporary colour say, or a large separately published map known only in a handful of examples – don’t carry anything like the premium in price that they should – and are still distinctly undervalued.
And probably the most spectacular display of all belonged to Daniel Crouch – a newish member of the ABA but already a real force at the top end of the trade. A magnificent event, beautifully staged and managed. Visitors up by a third this year, I am told – it certainly felt like it. Busy all day on both days. Packages being wrapped all around. Very well done all concerned.