Fairs | May 2023 | Alex Johnson

Firsts London Highlights Preview

Clare Hughes Photography

London Firsts book fair

More than 100 international antiquarian dealers will descend on the Saatchi Gallery in Chelsea for Firsts, London’s Rare Book Fair, running this year May 19-21.

Many exhibitors will be bringing items responding to the fair's theme 'Shakespeare: 400 Years of Influence', exploring the impact of the First Folio which is celebrating its 400th anniversary this year. A copy of the First Folio will be presented by Peter Harrington, alongside a Third Folio on sale at Jonkers Rare Books’ stand, arguably the rarest of the four 17th century folios of Shakespeare’s plays since most copies of The Third Folio were destroyed in the Great Fire of London.

Among items with a Shakespeare theme will be:

  • A beautiful copy of Twelfth Night illustrated by Eric Ravilious will be on display by Ashton Rare Books
  • E.C. Rare Books will present a Clarendon Press limited edition miniature of Shakespeare’s poem Venus and Adonis (1905)
  • New exhibitor Kagerou Bunko will be bringing a first edition of the first Japanese translation of the Merchant of Venice (1883) by Tsutomu Inoue, illustrated by the artist and printmaker Utagawa Yoshimune II.
Shakespeare's Third Folio
Jonkers Rare Books

 Shakespeare's Third Folio

Letter by Oliver Cromwell

 Letter by Oliver Cromwell

Drawing of Paddington Bear, Peggy Fortnum, from Paddington On Top (1974), Courtesy of Jonkers Rare Books (1).jpg
Jonkers Rare Books

Drawing of Paddington Bear, Peggy Fortnum, from Paddington On Top (1974)

The historie of the great and mightie kingdome of China (1588)
Douglas Stewart Fine Books

The historie of the great and mightie kingdome of China (1588)

The Whale, Herman Melville
Peter Harrington Rare Books

 The Whale, Herman Melville

Wilfred Scawen Blunt, The Love-Lyrics - Songs of Proteus (1892)
McNaughtan's Bookshop

Wilfred Scawen Blunt, The Love-Lyrics - Songs of Proteus (1892)

Other highlights include:

* An amazingly preserved example of Queen Elizabeth I’s Second Great Seal, an iconic item from Shakespeare’s day, from Bruce Marshall Rare Books  

* Jonkers Rare Books' copy of Madagascar, the first edition of the 1638 book of poems by William Davenant, Shakespeare’s godson, which includes the poem In Remembrance of Master William Shakespeare.

* A signed document by Shakespeare’s long-term patron the Lord Chamberlain, George Carey, Lord Hunsdon, dated January 1, 1598, around the time that the Bard was working on Much Ado About Nothing, brought by Christian White Rare Books

* The complete handwritten manuscript of Arthur Conan Doyle’s story The Bully of Brocas Court

* A handwritten letter by Thomas Cromwell organising the marriage of his son Richard

* One of only five handwritten pages from Charles Dickens’s manuscript of The Pickwick Papers to still remain in private hands.

* Howard Carter’s personal address book, featuring approximately 200 addresses, handwritten by Carter in pencil, including that of his benefactor Lord Carnarvon, presented by York Modern Books

* A series of previously unseen storyboard drawings made for the opening scenes of the first Superman film in 1978, brought by Hyraxia Books

In this Coronation year, John Atkinson Fine and Rare Books will be bringing the archive of Ivy Godley, assistant to Sir Norman Hartnell, the designer of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation dress. The archive includes a framed sample of the original fabric used to make the dress, alongside other items relating to Hartnell’s workshop.

Many of the books present at Firsts originate from the collections of prominent cultural figures. Peter Harrington Books will be displaying a copy of Wisden’s Cricketer’s Almanack which was once owned by the BBC Test Match Special commentator John Arlott. Meanwhile, Jonkers Rare Books will be presenting T.E. Lawrence’s personal copy of his own memoir Seven Pillars of Wisdom.

There will also be a series of talks and tours including:

* May 19, 5pm: Routes Into Rare Books - YABS tour of Firsts with Emerson Richards-Hoppe, the owner of Mobilis Books who will provide a useful introduction to the York Antiquarian Book Seminar

* May 20 2.30pm: In Love with Shakespeare, with BBC Antiques Roadshow regulars the antiquarian book dealer Justin Croft and antiquary, broadcaster and writer Jeffrey Munn talking about Shakespeare and how his work has influenced their lives.

* May 20 4.30pm: Treasures of the Lambeth Palace Library, an illustrated talk by its Librarian and Archivist Giles Mandelbrote about the history of the historic library of the Archbishops of Canterbury and the national library and archive of the Church of England

* May 21, 1pm: Modern First Editions: Firsts London Highlights with Dr Les Ashton who will focus on Modern firsts from 1900 onwards and what makes a book a ‘highlight’

* May 21, 2.30pm: Good worts? Good cabbage! - Food in the World of Shakespeare, a tour lead by Suzanna Beaupres of Peter Harrington who will be exploring works from exhibitors on this theme