Early June in London has always been books and maps season, but this year the four fairs that make for a destination ‘event’ have synchronised into the space of a week.
The venerable Antiquarian Booksellers Association fair, rebranded to target the millennial collector as Firsts: London’s Rare Book Fair, will continue to run simultaneously with the PBFA London Antiquarian Book Fair.
However, for the first time they are joined by Etc Fairs’ Bloomsbury Summer Book Fair and The London Map Fair.
The line-up means that a new bibliographic show opens every day from June 6-9, giving buyers plenty to choose from across a relatively short stay in the capital. ABA secretary Camilla Szymanowska describes it as “a four-daylong festival of fairs during the traditional June dates that avoids school and bank holidays and gives more time for visitors to see, handle and buy books”.
Some sacrifices have been made – not every dealer can, like, Peter Harrington, take stands at all three book fairs and the popular niche fair organised by the Ephemera Society was unable to find an available venue at the same time this year. Instead it will be held on Sunday, June 2, at the Holiday Inn, Bloomsbury.
This four-day festival of fairs gives more time for visitors to see, handle and buy books
However, on the basis that the customer is king, the concept is sound. As Pom Harrington chairman of Firsts, puts it: “The New York Antiquarian Book Fair is today’s number one event. But London has the auction houses, the dealers and the museum collections to rival it. We can be number two.”
Firsts: London’s Rare Book Fair (ABA) – June 7-9 at Battersea Evolution
The largest and grandest of London’s summer book fairs is Firsts: London’s Rare Book Fair, organised by the ABA. Renamed for this staging, the event returns to Battersea Evolution, where it moved in 2018 after around 10 years in London Olympia.
The name has raised some eyebrows among the traditionalists (the event so long known as the London International Antiquarian Book Fair is enjoying its 62nd staging) but some subtle rebranding is part of a push for a new audience and a better reflection of what now constitutes a rare book fair. Pom Harrington, chairman of the fair, says the term ’antiquarian books’ “doesn’t cover what is on offer at the event”.
He adds: “Firsts are what we deal in. It might be the first book to show a tomato, the first map depicting America or a first edition of Harry Potter.”
The Battersea fair – opened this year by writer, comedian and rare book collector Stephen Fry – hosts 150 leading dealers from 15 countries bringing some of the highest-quality (and most expensive) material available on the market.
Two new collaborations feature this year. Biblio joins as official partner, replacing, after three years, Amazon-owned Abebooks, whose heavy-handed approach towards some of its dealers had caused a day-long boycott of the site last year.
Shakespeare’s Globe has also joined as charity partner and will display volumes from the rare book collection, bequeathed by the New York-based collector and author John Wolfson. For the event, Wolfson has picked out 16 rare volumes – including the copy of the First Folio he purchased in the 1970s from London dealership Quaritch. Accompanied by a troop of Shakespearean actors, he will address the audience on the opening day of the fair.
For those seeking extra stimulation away from the merchandise on offer, there is also an exhibition of bibles mounted by The International Society of Bible Collectors (look out for the copy of the ‘Wicked’ Bible of 1631 containing the infamous misprint ‘thou shalt commit adultery’) and a series of talks that include Unreal City: Journey to the dark side of London by photographer Adriaan van Heerden and Collecting the Medieval Book in the Industrial North West by Cynthia Johnson from the Institute of English Studies.
The final day of the fair is Discovery Day, and from 1pm-3pm visitors can bring up to five bibliographic items to be appraised by a panel of experts.
The London Map Fair – June 8-9 at the Royal Geographical Society
The 40-dealer annual London Map Fair, which previously took place in mid-June, has moved forward a couple of weeks for this staging. It now runs from June 8-9 at the Royal Geographical Society in South Kensington.
“The difficulty in renting viable exhibition space in London means that the fairs have drifted apart in recent years, but it is terrific to see them come together again,” says Tim Bryars, exhibitor and co-organiser of the fair. Having the events coinciding “will certainly be great news for dealers, curators and collectors travelling from a distance, whether from across the country or across the world”.
Dealers offer a huge range of maps, dating from the 15th-20th centuries, at prices from just £10 to £100,000. Bryars describes the event as “the largest as well as the oldest specialist fair of its kind in the world and the ideal opportunity to handle original material, meet experts and enthusiasts. and buy your first map.”
Cold War cartography, an area of increasing collecting interest, is a theme of this year’s event. Alexander Kent, author of The Red Atlas, will give the fair’s lecture, Cold War Cartography: Unravelling the Secret Soviet Military Mapping Programme, while exhibits across the stands include a 1987 serio-comic map of Ronald Reagan’s world view by David Horsey, a cartoonist who worked for the Seattle Post Intelligencer.
“Thirty years on, it is fascinating to see how the world and attitudes have (and have not) changed,” says Massimo de Martini of The Altea Gallery, which offers the map for £1600 (see Maps feature).
PBFA London Antiquarian Book Fair – June 6-7 at Ibis London Earls Court
The Provincial Booksellers Fairs Association (PBFA), which hosts multiple events across the year, has for a long time staged its London summer fair to coincide with the ABA’s event. Held in the Ibis hotel in west London’s Earls Court, it offers both exhibitors and visitors a lower price point.
Organiser Marc Harrison, who runs the fair with his wife Marcia, says it “has long been one of the most important in the PBFA’s fair calendar” and welcomes the extensive weekend of book activities that it will herald this year.
More than 100 exhibitors include many leading names in the book trade such as Lucius Books, White Eagle Books and Shapero Rare Books.
The return of a shuttle service that will carry visitors between the PBFA and ABA’s events on June 7, Firsts’ opening day, is a particularly welcome feature this year.
“As fair managers our first priority is always the satisfaction of those who are visiting the fair and hopefully buying,” says Harrison.
Bloomsbury Summer Book Fair (Etc Fairs) – June 9 at the Royal National Hotel
The Bloomsbury Summer Book Fair is one of many events that Etc Fairs runs throughout the year but organiser Kim Jeffrey describes it as “a highlight of the year and a fair that offers something a little different”.
She says: “This is the first year we’ve been synched up and we’re trialling all being on the same weekend. We’re hopeful for a successful event. Our fair is more diverse than the others. Exhibitors don’t have to be a member of an association to stand and visitors can pick up books and other printed material across the whole spectrum of the trade.”
The fair hosts around 100-120 exhibitors.