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SECOND-HAND bookshops are closing in many towns and cities across the country, killed off by a combination of crippling business rates and the internet.

The fewer shops there are, the fewer visitors seek them out; the joy of browsing among the bookshelves may become a thing of the past. But some book fairs are doing well.

Sarah Key is owner of The Haunted Bookshop in Cambridge, and joint manager with her husband and business partner Philip Salin of the annual PBFA Cambridge Book Fair.

She is pleased to note that there is a record turn-out of 85 exhibitors at this year’s fair at the city’s Guildhall on Saturday and Sunday, February 18-19. What is Key’s take on the increase in exhibitor numbers?

“I think this is partly because PBFA is increasingly attracting new members who realise how much fun it is to travel about and meet new customers face to face,” she says.

“Auctions at the moment are not especially easy places to buy stock and the beauty of buying at fairs is that one can handpick stock and buy from dealers who have an established reputation.

“The possibility of a trade discount is much more attractive than often having to pay much more for a lot than one would want by outbidding the opposition. Plus then having to pay a buyer’s levy of up to 25% and another few per cent if bidding online.

“Similarly, at fairs you can sell without having to pay lumps of commission to websites or auctioneers and can feel far more in control of one’s business as a result.”

Key adds: “Perhaps the tide is turning away from ‘geeky’ bookselling to a more blue-collared approach?”

Her tip for the Cambridge fair is that “there will be ‘virgin stock’ on display from newly acquired collections, both modern and antiquarian, from several dealers who are known in the book trade for their good eyes, interesting books and keen pricing policies”.

Included for sale at the fair priced at £165 will be The Works of James Gillray, the Caricaturist, 1875, among 400 examples of the artist’s work offered by Derek Gilbert.

Laurence Sterne’s A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy was first published in 1768. He called the novel a “sentimental” journey because the point of travel was not to see sights or visit art collections, but to make meaningful contact with people.

An edition published in 1899 by Sands & Co is priced £3500 at the book fair with HM Fletcher. It is profusely illustrated by TH Robinson (1869-1964), a leading black and white illustrator of the early 20th century, overshadowed somewhat by the fame of his younger sibling William Heath Robinson.