International trade was high on the agenda at the PBFA York National Book Fair with buyers hailing from the as far afield as the US, Singapore and Ireland purchasing bulk orders to take back and sell at home.
The event, which ran from September 15-16 at York Racecourse, was set over three floors and firmly held onto its title as one of the biggest book fairs in Europe.
With around 180 stallholders and close to 2000 visitors over the two days, it was deemed a success.
Nigel Parke from Undercover Books was one of the dealers pleased to be doing business with international buyers, having sold a stack of first editions to a Dublin bookshop. He said he was pleased that several books all went at the same time, netting him over £1000 for the single sale.
A dealer in Singapore had come on the lookout for a range of old cookery books to stock his shop back home and had hit the jackpot with Fay Bainbridge of Bainbridge Books. She specialises in the subject and sent him away with 15 books totalling £457 to be shipped right to his store.
Rab Mullin from The Gently Mad in Edinburgh sold a Dante’s Inferno featuring a Florentine hand-painted binding with gilt and vellum to the American trade for £1900. It was his first time exhibiting at this fair, having done Edinburgh and Melrose previously, and described York as “book heaven”.
Another successful sale to the US trade was from Neil Summersgill who sold an early book on witchcraft for close to £5000.
Hilary Farquharson was very pleased to sell a 48-volume set of The Waverley Novels by Sir Walter Scott to a US buyer for a few hundred pounds (per set) and said “there’s been a buzz all weekend” around the fair.
‘Biggest and best’
Dealer Peter Foster of The Frome Bookshop added: “Americans are nice and strong, Irish dealers too. York’s a very important fair; the biggest and the best. Long live York!”
Foster runs his small bookshop in Frome, Somerset, and does not sell online, so York provides a fresh marketplace to sell his stock. One of his successes was a 1580 ‘Barker Bible’ by Robert Barker which is on its way to the States after selling for £600.
International dealers also stood at the fair. Robert Baird from Salem, Massachusetts, said that “we like to come over to England to shop” and had made the choice to sign up this year because other dealers had recommended it.
One of Baird’s big sales was a collection of seven letters from Philip K Dick for a five-figure sum. A similar set, on his stall when ATG visited, had an asking price of £14,000.
Another highlight of the event was the popularity of children’s books.
York local Lucius Books sold a first edition of The Gruffalo for several thousand pounds on the Friday and Hertfordshire dealer Rainford & Parris Books sold a first edition Secret Garden with a £1750 asking price to a trade buyer. Helen Parris said that the copy was “almost like it had never been read which is quite a feat for a children’s book”.
Two of the local buyers that ATG spoke to were picking up children’s books.
Bertie Smith had come to the fair for the first time and fell in love with an 11th edition Winnie-the-Pooh. One of her favourite childhood books, she had seen it and bought it within 17 minutes of being in the fair for £180. She said: “It’s nice to have things like this to pass down.”
Shoppers Nadia Spencer and Aaron Ord had picked up three witchcraft books for £30, but their big purchase was Orlando’s Magic Carpet by Kathleen Hale for £65. Ord said that “was a hard bargain by the lady” but they had to have it.
Purchases by the general public picked up during the fair and even competed with the level of trade purchases.
The fair organiser noted the rise in private buyers spending perhaps reflected the “increase in ticket requests” from the PBFA website with 1233 requests, up from 950 last year, as well as the “large number of press articles that appeared pre-fair”.
Stella from Lycanthia Books was one of the dealers reporting strong sales to the general public and added that they were getting four-figure sales from these visitors, including a copy of All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque which went for just under £2000.
Tom Ayling from Jonkers Rare Books in Henley also sold a first edition of JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit to a public buyer for £1500.
Although these have relatively high price tags, the York National Book Fair has something to “suit all pockets,” said Georgia Mullen from Books Written By in Northampton. Demonstrating this was the purchase of a historical book about apprenticeships that was snapped up for £5 by a historian completing a PhD on historical social policy and apprenticeships.
Overall, the PBFA regarded the event as a great success with the takings by booksellers reaching £895,000 this year, “approaching the record £1m of 2022”.
The PBFA said that last year had been “buoyed by the influx of ILAB delegates, who spent very well” but that this year the “general trend is a marked movement upwards”, with takings of more than £5000 increasing for dealers and sales for below £1000 reducing.
The fair recorded 1028 visitors on its debut day and 924 on the second day.
The PBFA said in summary that “the fair has currently settled at about 180 exhibitors, down from the pre-Covid 220, but is turning over more money and getting great feedback from visitors for the additional circulation space to view all the stands.”
The 2024 York National Book Fair returns to the Knavesmire Suite at the racecourse on September 13-14.