Published: July 17, 2001
By Laura Beach
LONDON – Visually it may be the least compelling of London’s five major June shows, but the June 7-10 Antiquarian Book Fair is one of most stimulating entertainments on this planet. This year, its staggering range was summed up by the offerings of two London dealers: an illuminated Persian manuscript dating to the Fifteenth Century at Sam Fogg’s, and a nearly new copy of Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary, retailed by Adrian Harrington for £175 pounds (1 pound = $1.40).
The show is organized by the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association (ABA), which, at 95 years, is the oldest organization of its kind in the world. The ABA fair sets up at Olympia 2, a wing of the giant exhibition center off Hammersmith Road in Kensington. It coincides with the first weekend of the Summer Olympia Fine Art and Antiques Fair, held in the same building.
Proximity to Olympia should have guaranteed the success of the Antiquarian Book Fair, or so many first-time book-fair exhibitors believed. But this year’s show drew a gate of 3,372, down several hundred people from a year ago.
Judging by snatches of conversation overheard around town, many hoped-for American collectors arrived in London mid-week for the opening of the Grosvenor House Antiques Fair, staying on through the weekend for the Hali Antique Carpet and Textile Art Fair and the International Ceramics Fair and Seminar, thus missing the book fair altogether.
The Antiquarian Book Fair fits more neatly into a trilogy of book shows that includes one held at the Hotel Russell, on Sunday and Monday, June 3 and 4, and at the Commonwealth Institute, on Friday and Saturday, June 8 and 9. Both were organized by the Provincial Booksellers Fairs Association (PBFA), which advertised “80 tons of books and prints,” an enticement for any professional.
Organizers put total Antiquarian Book Fair sales at £3.7 million. Slightly more than half of the transactions occurring on opening day. Despite the overall decline in foreign visitors, dealer-to-dealer trading kept ABA’s receipts – about £25,033 per exhibitor – to within ten percent of last year’s high. Sorting out the reasons for the drop isn’t easy, but it is clear that online trading has diminished the role of book fairs.
Dealers also speculate that hysteria over foot-and-mouth disease, which has kept travelers away from Britain since February; the weakened global economy; and unfavorable exchange rates for continental buyers cut into the Antiquarian Book Fair’s attendance.
Nevertheless, several dozen members of the Grolier Club in New York were honored guests at the ABA preview on June 7. New York dealer David Fandetta described brisk trading that night, noting, “Anything French is still selling well. Botanicals have always been good. Travel literature was hot. You know, the Empire still exerts a hold on the British imagination.” Hayden & Fandetta featured the lushly beautiful illustrated book, North American Sylva, published in six volumes between 1859 and 1865. With tooled leather bindings, the luxurious tomes were $16,500.
The Antiquarian Book Fair’s 149 exhibitors come in equal numbers from Britain, Europe and the United States. Big names included Bauman Rare Books of Philadelphia; Heritage Book Shop of Los Angeles; and James Cummins Bookseller of New York.
Also present was Robert F. Batchelder; Buddenbrooks of Boston; Donald A. Heald of New York; Michael Hollander of San Rafael, Calif., Krown & Spellman Booksellers of Culver City, Calif; Ken Lopez of Hadley, Mass.; Rulon-Miller Books of St. Paul, Minn.; Lame Duck Books of Boston; Jeffrey D. Mancevice Inc of Worcester, Mass.; Howard S. Mott of Sheffield, Mass.; Peter Stern & Company of Boston; Gerald A.J. Stodalski of Manchester, N.H.; and John Windle of San Francisco.
Show highlights included Shakespeare’s first collected edition. Known as the First Folio, it was published in 1623, seven years after the playwright’s death. Simon Finch Rare Books Ltd. offered the volume at an undisclosed price. It had previously been advertised at £465,000. Because 500 and 600 copies of the desirable book were printed, it is not actually considered rare.
The London dealer also featured Macer Floridas, a second-edition copy of the first printed herbal. Circa 1496, it was £45,000. Dating to 1762 was a series of views of Venice, £21,000.
A. Sokol Books of London offered a first illustrated edition of Giorgio Vasari’s 1568 classic, Lives of the Artists, illustrated 30 years after publication by Jacob II de Gheyne of Antwerp, pupil of the engraver Hendrick Goltzius, the inventor of chiaroscuro. The treasure was marked £24,500.
Bernard J. Shapero Rare Books of London had on hand a first-edition copy of the Description de l’Egypte pendant l’expedition de Vivant Denon, inspired by Napoleon I’s North African campaign. Consisting of 12 volumes with 894 plates, the Orientalist tract was £110,000.
For lovers of the arts, Sims Reed, Ltd., presented George Smith’s designs for household furniture and interior decorations. The London dealer billed the large paper copy, £16,000, as “the most luxurious of early Nineteenth Century pattern books.” A volume illustrated with 109 original lithographs and nine woodcuts by Pierre Bonnard, 1900, cost £22,500.
Hoping to attract new-world buyers, Altea Maps and Books of London prominently displayed one of the earliest wall maps of the Americas. By Willem Jansz Blaeu, circa 1620, the map predates the Dutch disclosure of its 1622 discovery of LeMaire’s Strait in the Tierra del Fuego. Found in Italy and bearing some restoration, the colorful relic was £130,000. Kings Court Galleries of London also lined its walls with framed maps and prints, including a 1799 map of New England, £4,800.
Michael Finney Books and Prints of London had a wall of boldly graphic engravings by the classical master Piranesi. A large Coliseum view was £1,350 pounds. A pair of striking steel engravings of 1795, depicting a famous English naval battle of a year earlier, was £1,800 pounds. Satirical prints by Hogarth were mostly back at the dealer’s Museum Street shop.
At Maggs Brothers Ltd of London, a group photo by Bassano of Churchill and his staff in the garden of 10 Downing Street during the two-week conference in which D-Day was outlined cost £35,000. At Heritage Book Shop, a signed Elvis Presley manuscript written in his own hand while in Germany serving with the US army was £32,500.
Some other notable first editions: The Naked Lunch by William Burroughs, 1959, signed by the author, £500 at Bernard J. Shapero, London; Ulysses by James Joyce, published by Shakespeare & Co in 1922, £23,000 at Peter Harrington, London; Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets, signed by the cover artist, £2,500, and Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie, 1936, £7,500, at Adrian Harrington, London; and one of 250 copies of Portrait of Lady by Henry James, 1882, £12,250 at Maggs Brothers Ltd, London. Ian Fleming’s James Bond and Tolkien’s Hobbit popped up all over the floor.
For those who couldn’t make it to the 42nd Antiquarian Book Fair, the ABA operates a search engine for books, manuscripts, maps and prints at www.rarebookfinder.co.uk. Its Web site is www.ABAinternational.com. Additionally, many fair exhibitors operate their own sites. Addresses are published in The Handbook of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association, available from Sackville House, 40 Picadilly, London W1J ODR.
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