A view inside Firsts.

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The volume is one of an estimated 500-700 copies produced in a well-preserved contemporary binding. It was offered for £225,000 on the stand of Peter Harrington Rare Books.

The firm is run by Pom Harrington, who is also head of the fair’s organising body and trade association the Antiquarian Booksellers Association (ABA).

Before the pandemic he changed the event’s previous location, Battersea Evolution, to the Chelsea venue and it seems to have paid off. It closed with an impressive £7.2m in sales, more than doubling last year’s figure of £3m.


Among the highlight sales at Firsts was a first edition of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations offered by Peter Harrington for £225,000

New visitors

Exhibitors across the fair hailed the opening night party. For Dean Cooke it offered “a bit of punctuation”, starting the event off with a bang.

Although the new location means more cost up front, Cooke was among those welcoming the change. Apart from its accessibility to buyers, it also encourages a new sort of visitor, those who might not necessarily want to buy a rare book but come to the Saatchi and view the fair as an exhibition.


Banned books: Dean Cooke courted institutional attention – and made use of Firsts’ marketing materials – with his impressive display of an archive of 17th and 18th century Dissenters.

Opening day sales included classic titles such as a first edition of John Gould’s seven-volume The Birds of Asia (1850-83), which was available on the stand of Bruce Marshall for £225,000. From the same stand a buyer snapped up a 1777 German/ Latin second edition Folio of Mark Catesby’s Natural History, which was priced at £75,000.

York Modern Books parted with two of its – very different – highlights right off: one, a first English edition of Einstein’s Relativity and the other a two volume ‘autobiography’ of a cat at war. Both were offered for £10,000. The first of these retained its dust jacket and was in overall good condition.

The appeal of the second one-ofa- kind offering lay in its identity as a piece of social and military history.

The Alterbyografy of a Kamp Kat and A Kamp Kats Kollection of Kamp Karacter by Little Purr were written from the perspective of a cat living with the soldiers in an English military camp during the Second World War. It is filled with crayon illustrations of military life and was compiled by an unknown soldier.

Also on opening night, Maggs Bros sold a first edition of Dubliners by James Joyce, a prime example of a banned book.

The sale was a fitting result for the fair which had banned books as its theme. Dealers complied, bringing plenty of illicit authors, from Baudelaire and Marquis de Sade to Copernicus.

A first edition of Galileo Galilei’s Dialogo (1632) accompanied by his letter to the Grand-duchess of Tuscany (1641) were sold in the final hours of the fair by Sophia Rare Books of Copenhagen, Denmark, for over £250,000. The book had to be smuggled out of Italy in order to be printed in Leiden (Netherlands) while Galileo was under house arrest and forbidden to publish. Both this text and the particular letter accompanying it were also instrumental in the Inquisition trial conducted against the scientist by the Catholic Church.

Exhibitors return

Last year, the fair was reduced because of Covid restrictions and Brexit challenges hitting European dealers. For this edition 49 were added to the roster of around 120 exhibitors. One of the few that made it last year was La Feu Follet of Paris, which reported that the process of reaching the event was much smoother than before and that Firsts was a good fair for them.

Among the newcomers to this event was medievalist Sam Fogg, whose sales included a 19th century manuscript on yoga and a 13th century Himalayan Sutra written in gold.

Also standing were Daniel Crouch Rare Books, Biblioctopus from the US, Roland Belgrave Vintage Photography, Beaux Books and Amanda Hall Rare Books.

Traditional time

Next year the fair is due to return to its traditional springtime slot from May 18-21.