A 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.
Anyway, 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.
By 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.
Speaking 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.
I 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. The 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.