Bright Young Things: Ed Nassau Lake

Our series profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers continues today with Ed Lake of Jarndyce Booksellers in London.  Ed's father, Brian, is the proprietor of Jarndyce Booksellers, which was founded in 1969.  Our Bright Young Things series is migrating across the pond for a few weeks in celebration of the upcoming Olympia Antiquarian Book Fair, from May 24th - May 26th in London.

NP: What is your role at Jarndyce?

EL: The privilege of working at Jarndyce is that no one day is ever the same as the next.  I do everything from cataloguing to packing books, designing our website, and organizing our first forays into the world of American book fairs.  I have designed catalogues and calendars, overseen photography, created a greeting card business, cleaned drains, cooked lunches, and occasionally sold a few books .

NP: How did you get started in rare books?

EL: Jarndyce is a family business and, although there was no pressure to join, I started work in 2007 having previously been a chef for 4 years.

NP: Favorite or most interesting book you've handled?

EL: Items stick in my memory for different reasons - mainly for beauty, scarcity or historical importance.   For sheer beauty I remember a stunning folio Baskerville Bible; a scarce regional Newspaper, Creswell's Nottingham Journal, has stayed in my mind because of its elaborate masthead. We currently have Dickens's own reading copy of Mrs Gamp, annotated by Dickens, signed and presented to his Boston publisher - the copy from which Dickens read on his final American reading tour.  To think of where that book was, what it was a part of, and whose hands it passed through is incredible.  

NP: What do you love about the book trade?

EL: Having studied history at University I love the academic aspect of bookselling, the challenge that you face when opening a book or looking at a manuscript, of making every item into a story, whatever it is worth.

Where my dad loves the thrill of buying - I am slowly gaining the confidence to follow my instincts in that department - I enjoy selling; building relationships with our customers, learning from them and developing a greater understanding of what it is they are searching for.  It sounds corny to say but seeing someone walk away delighted with the book they have just bought, whether it costs £10 or £10,000 is why we do what we do.  Or at least it should be.

NP: What do you personally collect?

EL: I am running out of wall space but I collect original posters - I've thought of just buying food related designs and original artwork but I'm failing miserably and just buy what my eyes like.  

NP: If you could live inside the pages of any rare book, which would it be?

EL: Rather than being inside the pages of any book I'd like to be the pages on which letters and documents were written; to see Thomas Clarkson pen his letters to Wilberforce or Dickens writing to his mistress Ellen Ternen or settling down at his desk to write another chapter of Great Expectations.

NP: Do you plan to take over the family business one day?

EL: Who knows what the future holds but at this point in time, yes, I see myself working here for a long time to come.

NP: Thoughts on the future of the trade?

EL: There are a lot of talented booksellers doing things their own way and with a great deal of style in their presentation.  For those setting out on their own, a small stock of scarce and unusual books seems to be the way things are heading.  In general, manuscript material and one-off items are certainly where the interest is; universities and collectors who have everything are now searching for background material to supplement existing collections.  I recently attended an excellent seminar on bookselling and the internet.  Although it has altered the way in which we can sell books and to whom, the fundamental relationship between collector and bookseller remains the most important part of our business.

NP: I understand your father will be chairman of the Olympia Book Fair in May.  Could you tell us about the fair and what you will be exhibiting there?

EL: Brian and his Committee - and ABA Events Organizer, Marianne Harwood - have worked hard to attract a record number of exhibitors in this time of financial austerity.  We look set for an exciting fair with a lecture programme, live demonstrations and activities including bookbinding and calligraphy, guided tours of the fair (for new collectors) and an ABA Roadshow valuing the hidden treasures among visitors' books.  In the year of Charles Dickens's bicentenary, we will be exhibiting items from our catalogue, The Library of a Dickensian, including the reading copy mentioned above and numerous other presentation copies and manuscripts.  We try to bring a wide variety of items to reflect our 18th and 19th c. stock - anything from Penny Dreadfuls to fine three-decker novels, political pamphlets to satirical prints.

[Be sure to check out the website for the Olympia Book Fair for further details on the programmes and events mentioned by Ed].