June 2015 | Rebecca Rego Barry

Postcard from the London Antiquarian Book Fair

Guest Post by Eliza Krigman

Bookman.jpgThis past Thursday I spent a few hours at the London International Antiquarian Book Fair held at the Olympia National Exhibition Center. This marked my first foray into the world of rare and old books.

Not long after I made my way onto the exhibition floor I came across John Windle, owner of a San Francisco-based shop. Windle was eager to show me a copy of Uncle Tom's Cabin in which Harriet Beecher Stowe had written her favorite quote at the start of each book and signed it. I was struck by the quality of her penmanship, which remained very good despite the age at which she had written it (in 1894, two years before her death at age 85).

uncle toms cabin.jpgAntiquarian book dealing is "one of the very last businesses that is truly collegial," Windle told me. Without a contract, people send each other very expensive books through FedEx because there is so much mutual trust, he added. The only way people make money, he continued, is by helping each other. Immediately I felt welcomed in my new environment.

I moved along the conference center, which was busy but not hectic. Given that the fair was competing with the sun outside, I was surprised that the attendance was so high. I next visited the booth of Adrian Harrington Rare Books, a bookseller based in Kent, England. Jon Gilbert, the attendant at the stand, drew my attention to a signed first edition of Towards Zero, an Agatha Christie novel. For a mere £2,500 ($3,800), the book could have been mine.

Christie.jpgAnd since I was in England, and the date of my visit (May 28th) happened to be Ian Fleming's birthday, I thought it only appropriate that I spend a little time looking at a first edition of Casino Royale, published in 1953. Only 4,728 of them were ever produced, Gilbert told me. He happens to be a Fleming expert and has written an award-winning bibliography of the famous author's work.

After a quick coffee, a showcase at the booth of California bookseller Biblioctopus featuring a notebook page with handwritten lyrics caught my eye. It turned out to be the scrawl of Bob Dylan. The songs weren't his--although he did make minor alterations to them--but he had written them down in preparation for some of his initial performances in New York's Greenwich Village in 1961. A hardcore Dylan fan can own it for £50,000 ($76,000).

--Eliza Krigman is a journalist based in London who frequently writes about culture, gender and technology. Find her on twitter @ekspectacular, get in touch at eliza@elizakrigman.com, or see more of her work here www.elizakrigman.com.

Images: Credit Eliza Krigman.