The internet, we know, has done much to make collecting rare and antiquarian books accessible to a broader, ‘less male’ audience, while also maintaining it as a specialist pursuit.
Events such as the annual ABA Chelsea Rare Book Fair play their ‘accessibility’ part too.
Held this year on November 1-2, once again in Chelsea Old Town Hall, the Chelsea fair is positioned as the more bijoux companion to the ABA’s flagship Firsts event in June at Battersea Evolution.
“Battersea is where you look to sell your very big-ticket items, with four- and five-figure price tags,” said Neil Pearson, of the eponymous dealership, an exhibitor at Chelsea and Battersea. “At Chelsea, you’re looking to sell at three and four figures, and below.”
Pearson added that the “modest” price of stands at Chelsea means “you don’t have to worry about selling your most expensive book to cover your costs”.
Variety of prices
This year’s Chelsea fair – the 29th edition – had 85 vendors and the usual variety of items and price points.
First editions from the 15th century through to modern day jostled for space with signed manuscripts, Victorian advertising posters and whimsical board games.
Buyers could have a Victorian silk bookmark for £10 from Quadrille’s stand. For those with much deeper pockets, a first edition of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Ernest, one of a 100 signed by the playwright, was on offer from Paul Foster Books for £37,500.
Christian White of Modern First Editions declared the event “my best Chelsea ever by a long distance,” adding that “buyers devoured things on Friday afternoon”.
Pearson agreed that vendors “can’t complain about the footfall” at this year’s Chelsea fair. “I’ve sold quite a bit and importantly at an event like this, I’ve bought as well,” Pearson said.
The actor-cum-dealer was looking relaxed in the fair’s final stretch – thanks, he said, to this fair’s ability to ensure “that a lot of business happens before the event actually opens”.