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The Chelsea Book Fair

One thing you do always know in advance about the Chelsea Book Fair is that it falls on the weekend nearest to Bonfire Night.  The ride home on the Saturday evening will be always punctuated by the crack of rockets and the fizz of flares lighting up the suburban skies.  

Chelsea Old Town Hall

Chelsea Old Town Hall

Predictable, warming and dependable – much like the Chelsea fair itself.  We don’t quite expect a full-on firework display – nothing that spectacular – this is more of a Roman Candle of a fair, just effortlessly repeating what it does well, year in, year out.   “You buy some books, you sell some books, it’s easy to exhibit, it works – it’s great”, was how one long-term exhibitor summed it all up.  And so it was again this year.  Figures are still being counted and double-checked, but the first indications are that the bodies through the door were at least as plentiful as last year, and that overall sales were comfortably up – especially and importantly to private customers.   Given the economic meltdown which appears to be engulfing us – or at least engulfing the writers of

Chelsea Interior

The Chelsea Book Fair

headlines – that is a truly remarkable thing.  Very well done Leo Cadogan, Marianne Harwood and all involved (and forgive me the “effortlessly” – I know it’s not, you just make it feel that way).

Numerous individual conversations bear out the figures. Two first-time exhibitors both very happy. Older hands by and large pleased, some extremely pleased and some downright jolly.  And certainly the pleased appeared heavily to outnumber the disappointed.  We bill it as the friendliest fair of the year.  So it is – and so it was once more.

Jenny Allsworth

The Friendliest Fair - Jenny Allsworth

From a visitor’s point of view, it’s just about the perfect fair.  Enough exhibitors and enough books to be sure you will find something – but not so many that you can’t get round to see everything.  Good books wherever you look and the bulk of them almost universally affordable.  And as much variety as anyone might wish for.



Another year, another Chelsea, and home happy with purchases to an excellent supper, some fireworks, family and friends.

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 introduced in 1997, 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 and at Gresham College. He teaches annually at the London Rare Books School and also organises the monthly Book Collecting Seminars at Senate House, University of London. 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”. A major essay on the same subject also appeared 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”. More recently, he 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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