A short post this week – mainly pictures (click to enlarge). At full stretch here at Tooting Towers with so much on. Just got back from a very happy afternoon showing some rare book librarians around some of the bookshops of Cecil Court. Everyone there in good form. Handover meeting in the morning as the new quartet take over the ABA Newsletter from tomorrow. House to tidy for Saturday’s big event. London Rare Books School next week – some completely new lessons, lectures and powerpoint presentations to prepare this year.
I’ll deal with the business of continuing to issue old-fashioned printed catalogues another time – do people still read them? Certainly mine aren’t working in anything like the way they used to. Are illustrations now compulsory? – and what does that do to the time, cost and economics of producing them? I may have to have a rethink on this.
The London International Antiquarian Book Fair Week began on the Saturday with the dulcet tones of Tim Bryars on national radio (BBC Radio 4) extolling the virtues of collecting maps and trumpeting the London Map Fair which opened later in the day. I didn’t actually hear this, I was still asleep (obviously, it was a Saturday) – but I’m told he was brilliant – and having heard him talking so elegantly and fluently off-the-cuff to the rare book librarians this afternoon, I too am beginning to wonder whether he really is “wirelessly connected to Wikipedia”, as the man from The Telegraph suggested the other day.
This, on the back of some other first-rate publicity, brought the crowds flocking – to the extent that (and never in over forty years have I heard this before) some of the dealers were overheard complaining that there were too many visitors to the fair. Ingrates!
A real joy to see so many younger people there, enthusiasm almost tangible, the collectors of the future making their very first purchases. Old friends too all around. Some spectacular material on display. A huge success.
Home to start making my own preparations for the ABA fair at Olympia a few days later. With a lengthy article for an academic press to finish, this followed the deeply traditional pattern of tossing the first books that came to hand into some cardboard boxes, ready to be flipped on to the shelves the other end. I suspect this is another area where I may have to rethink.
Just lining the books up on the shelves doesn’t seem to cut it any more. Everyone else at the fair seemed to have spent days curating their stand to look like a museum exhibit. All space, light and focus on the individual book. I can remember when the books used to be books you had heard of, or at least belonged to readily recognisable and well-thumbed categories – but that seems no longer to be true.
Much of the market now seems to be about recondite rather than just rare. Leo Cadogan lists among his specialities the subject of fantasy (before Napoleon). This has long disturbed me a little –did Napoleon crush our fantasies forever? Were they never to be the same again? Perhaps I’m simply being obtuse – but you get my drift* (see note from Leo below). Here’s the always amiable Leo at the fair, looking a little demented. In fairness, it was late on the last day when we were all going a little bit stir-crazy – and I had just told him that the fair was ending half an hour later than any of us thought.
Easily my favourite previously unheard of category was Amanda Hall’s shelf of Novels Owned by Royal Mistresses. How wonderful! And Amanda makes a very cogent case for them – mistresses with a professional need to be well-read, entertaining and up to the minute; cast-aside mistresses with wealth and leisure to indulge young writers.
As she says, there’s a Ph.D. in it for someone. I say shelf – but in this curated world, that amounts to four or five books at the most.
Meanwhile, my own jam-packed and wholly uncurated shelves were simply gathering dust – unlooked at and unwanted. Terrific results this year for almost everyone else. Longest queue to get in I can ever remember. Definitely time for a rethink. Must try harder at book-fairs.
* Note from Leo Cadogan
Thanks for the mention Laurence. Rather than categories, when I came up with my formula a few years ago I was trying for a broad set of parameters that would allow me then to buy what I deemed interesting books. Instead of “law, piety, reason, fantasy – before Napoleon” I could probably say “pre-c.1800 law, devotion, cultural and intellectual history” which is what I often say if asked. I still think the fair guide version is quite fun. In terms of actual curated categories, Amanda Hall’s books owned by royal mistresses is fantastic.