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The Provincial Booksellers Fairs Association (PBFA) kicked off its 54-date annual calendar of fairs at York Racecourse with what it bills as the UK’s biggest one-day event of its type.

Visitor numbers exceeded 1000 for the first time – up 25% on last year – bolstered by an impressive number of younger buyers. The view along the aisles was regularly punctuated by pink hair and piercings. Book collecting is not just a sport for the middle-aged: the internet and the vogue for retro is helping to pull in the millennials.

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Organiser Philip Morris noted that York’s central location draws dealers from across the country. “North meets south here and that’s exciting for the trade because both sides get to see stock they don’t encounter at other fairs.”

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What was behind the fair’s marketing success? “We started a Facebook group in September and kept at it,” said York dealer Jeanette Ray. Combined with the longer-established material such as posters and flyers, it lured in curious twenty-somethings who were quick to engage with what they found on arrival. Their interest in owning a bit of the past, however, did not mean they all flocked to the most traditional antiquarian material.

“I’ve sold so many £3 sixties paperbacks I’ve lost count,” said local dealer Louise Harrison of Addingham’s TP Books. “Trade during Friday’s set-up was good and I sold a lot of Blyton first editions but it’s very different today. Someone bought a load of science fiction just because they liked the covers – they’d never heard of the authors!”

Arturio Books was another exhibitor with stock that fared well with younger buyers, offering modern firsts, vintage crime and plenty of James Bond. Owner Michael Hollins has turned his 20-year book collecting hobby into a business and was “well on the way to £3000” by noon.

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Eye-catching jackets and a clutter-free display technique appeals to design-conscious millennials.

This was just his fourth fair and his first York one-dayer.“The challenge for me now is to keep on buying so I can keep on selling,” he said. Hollins made a good start with his purchase of a 1969 letter from Scottish author George MacDonald Fraser thanking writer Dennis Wheatley for his glowing review of his first Flashman novel.

“It’s important for me as a new bookseller to build up clients. If I can offer them top-quality material at the best price, I’m far more likely to develop long-term relationships, “ Hollins added. “The PBFA are very welcoming. In the short time I’ve been a member the guidance I’ve got from fellow dealers has made it seem easy.”

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This 1956 thriller, ticketed at £300, raised a smile.

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Elsewhere at the fair, manuscript material and photograph albums proved popular. Illustrator and designer Mark Hearld took a professional interest in an 1864 school-book from Heworth, once a village but now a suburb of York itself. “It’s all hand-written by somebody called Daniel Scoby and the calligraphy is stunning,” he said. “It’s amazing to think it’s survived all this time.”

A member of the PBFA, Jeremy Carson has collected, written about and dealt in old books for over 25 years. 

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