Rare Books London 2016 – Notes from a Young Collector

Kayleigh BettertonA guest-post from Kayleigh Betterton

As we come to the end of yet another London International Antiquarian Book Fair, the fifty-ninth ABA summer Fair to be precise, collectors’ pockets are feeling a little lighter and our Twitter feeds are now full of Instagrammed photos of illuminated manuscripts, fine bindings and dealers behaving badly at the exhibitors’ wine reception.  Customers and dealers alike are now making their way back home to unpack their treasures, or, if you’re in any way like Benjamin, to revel in the fact that ‘ownership is the most intimate relationship that one can have to objects’ … even if you’re now having to survive on Waitrose Essentials pasta for the rest of the month in order to ‘balance out the books’, so to speak.

fostersAnyway, enough philosophising, this year’s theme at Olympia – The Gothic – was a popular one; with stalls sporting a wide and varied range of Gothic works (although I’m not entirely sure if the PBFA dealers down the road at the ILEC got the memo …).  Peter Harrington put on a fine display, as per, with their Gothic display-case featuring the first edition of Stoker’s “Dracula”, with its impressive yellow cloth, amongst others.  On the Thursday evening, when Laurence and I had a wander round, they were also relating the story of Sammy Jay’s discovery of Mary Shelley’s copy of “Frankenstein”, inscribed to Lord Byron, as their Gothic anecdote for the weekend.  Stephen Foster, on the other hand, had a collection of exquisitely bound Jane Austens on display; with the celebrated Hugh Thomson 1894 edition of “Pride and Prejudice” and J. M. Dent’s “Northanger Abbey” (at least it’s Gothic pastiche) taking pride of place on his shelves.

congaBy the time I arrived back at Olympia on the Saturday, the tours were in full flow; with Jonathan Kearns giving an energetic talk about all things Gothic. Whereas Ben Maggs and Alice Rowell from Maggs Bros. were taking a more decadent route – with a tour and talk about the Book Beautiful (I hear that green velvet waistcoats and a glass of prosecco in hand were an obligatory aspect of this one). Here they are in all of their dapper glory, and as one Twitter user pointed out, looking ready to start a bibliophiles’ conga line … now that really would be a sight to behold.

silverpointsSpeaking of Maggs … They had a fab nineteenth century display on show this weekend (probably courtesy of Alice, a fellow lover of all things fin-de-siècle).  John Gray’s “Silverpoints”, with the cover, initials and typography designed by Charles Ricketts, was especially tempting and was much talked about at the 1890s Society meal on the Friday evening.  Maggs also had another beautiful Ricketts-designed work for sale, the first book published by the Vale Press in 1894, “Hero and Leander”. With woodcuts, initials and borders all designed by Ricketts and Shannon – another prime example of late nineteenth-century publishing.

bladesI did have my eye on an early twentieth century Pseudonym and Antonym Libraries reprint poster, featuring Aubrey Beardsley’s iconic Girl and Bookshop design, up for sale. However alas, it became the-one-that-got-away, when after a brief five-minute lap of the PBFA Ibis Hotel hall, I went back to discover that it had already been sold!  Do not fear though, I didn’t leave empty-handed … I chanced upon a lovely miniature of William Blades’ “The Enemies of Books”, published in 1985 by the Catherijne Press and as I had appropriated Blades’ title for my own MA dissertation, I thought that it was an opportunity not to be missed.

The fair also allowed us to spread the word about the University of London’s first Society of Bibliophiles: the more observant of you may have noticed our new flyers nestled in amongst the dealer catalogues at the fair.  flyersThe flyer had details about the launch party (check out the new Soc’s blog for more details – https://uolbibliophiles.wordpress.com/) and with it, we’re hoping to trap and seduce a new, young, breed of bibliophile. That said, Robert Weaver of Dulwich College and Jonathan Cooper of Papplewick School, have already begun this process by catching them early and could both be found on Saturday, giving their boys a tour of the fair.  Cooper’s boys, the Bibliomaniacs, were even trying their hand at dealing and had been made honorary members of the PBFA. When I caught them towards the end-of-play on Saturday, they informed me that they had been doing a roaring trade and had nearly sold all of their stock. A hopeful and heart-warming note to leave the fair on.

With this in mind, I will now leave you back in the safe blog-posting hands of Laurence, however I’m hoping he will be kind enough to let me guest-post again with more information about the UoL’s new Society … so please do watch this space.

Kayleigh Betterton is a book-collector and ardent Victorianist; dividing her time between teaching at a school in South London and writing her PhD thesis. She is passionate about educational research partnerships between the state and independent sector and is also writing about the psychologies of collecting in the fin-de-siècle. She is a member of the Half-Crown Club, a book-collecting society that meets at the Athenæum, and is also the founder of the University of London’s first Society of Bibliophiles.

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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7 Responses to Rare Books London 2016 – Notes from a Young Collector

  1. James says:

    Any more details of the 1890s Society would be appreciated as I’m not getting much help from Google.


    • kbetterton says:

      Hi James, apologies for taking so long to reply. The annual dinner is all that’s left of the old 1890s Society… but do not fear! Myself and the lovely Lucy Dawkins from Loughborough University, wish to reinvigorate the Society. There will be a Facebook page up and running soon and I believe that Lucy is currently arranging a meeting in July for all those interested- email me on uolbibliophilessoc@gmail.com if you wish to come along or if you just wanted some more information on it all. Kx


  2. Did Kayleigh not know there were other tours on Saturday conducted by other Exhibitors at Olympia who were not London based ? Similarly did she not notice Gothic related items for sale on the stands of Exhibitors from outside – we do exist – really we do !


    • kbetterton says:

      Sorry Roger! I promise that i’ll try to avoid provoking non-London bookseller existential crises in future, by providing a more varied coverage (if Laurence will let me…). My apologies once again. Kx


  3. Sorry – that should have been ” Exhibitors from outside London ……… “


  4. Tom Z says:

    Hi Kayleigh,
    I just discovered your post and now I’m even more sorry I didn’t go. But that would have meant falling back on something even below Waitrose essentials pasta. Anyway, your UoL Society sounds great and I immediately thought, “why haven’t we got something like this in Berlin?” I hope to see you at the Athenaeum, maybe this time we’ll have more time to talk.
    All best, Tom


  5. kbetterton says:

    Hi Tom,
    And oh dear… something worse than Waitrose Essentials? Who knew such pasta existed!
    I will make sure to bring you a launch party flyer to the Athenaeum meeting in September. The launch is on the 28th October, put the date in your diary.


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