London’s two rare book fairs both achieved encouraging results last month.
Firsts: London’s Rare Book Fair, the ABA’s flagship event at the Saatchi Gallery, ran from May 18-21, returning to its traditional spring slot. Visitor numbers were up, with footfall rising 31% on last year’s edition.
Organisers and booksellers alike have faced ongoing trials posed by Covid and Brexit and overseas exhibitor numbers were lower than in the past (out of around 100 dealers, 22 came from abroad).
However, some of the biggest names in UK bookselling attended and racked up major sales.
For example, Bernard Quaritch sold the manuscript of William Pitt Amhurst’s Embassy to China which was listed at £125,000.
The unpublished work offers an eyewitness account of a diplomatic mission to China from 1816-17.
Daniel Crouch Rare Books sold a collection of proofs and sketches by Harry Beck for the London Underground map, which was ticketed at £50,000.
The group of works included an annotated proof of the first 1933 edition of the plan, an annotated proof of the 1940 edition, a sketch and map of the Victoria Line and sketches of the interchange with the Victoria Line at Euston and Kings Cross.
Other exhibitors included Grosvenor Prints, Shapero Rare Books, Beaux Books and, among the international dealerships, Books for Cooks from Australia.
Over in Earls Court, the Provincial Booksellers Fairs Association held its London International Antiquarian Books Fair from May 20-21.
It reported taking more than £650,000, despite exhibitor numbers being slightly down on last year.
The PBFA reported that 30% of dealers took five figures, including one who made £35,000, all with sales of £100-1000.
“That’s proof that the demand for keenly priced items is still there”, said the organisation’s publicity manager Jeremy Carson. He added that one exhibitor made £25,000 on Suffragette material and another £5000 on the decorative arts.
For many rare book dealers, the year is driven by an extensive programme of fairs, whether national or international.
April featured a string of events including The Capital Art Fair in Washington DC, the Oxford Premier Rare Book Fair and the 63rd New York International Antiquarian Book Fair.
Many will continue on to events in the US, Brussels and Italy, but arguably the biggest upcoming event in the calendar takes place in Germany.
Stuttgart Rare Book Fair, the country’s leading fair for the rare book and prints trade, is returning for its first in-person event since the pandemic.