York Antiquarian Book Seminar 2023: Review

Jon Baker, 2023

Attendees at this year's YABS

I was in York for this year's YABS, the York Antiquarian Book Seminar. Now in its ninth year, it is modelled on the highly successful Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar (generally known as CABS, and now based in Minnesota), which has been running for over 40 years. Both courses have been styled ‘bookseller boot camp’ and offer an opportunity for anyone considering entering the book trade a crash course in how to be a successful bookseller, though over the years we have had students, for example librarians or collectors, who are simply interested in the workings of the trade and learning about it ‘from the other side’.

Last month's four-day course opened on Monday with a fascinating talk by this year’s keynote speaker, Amanda Hall, who spoke of how she became a bookseller and her ongoing fascination with 18th century imaginary voyages to the moon. The following day, by happy coincidence, our speciality dealer lecture was given this year by Simon Patterson of Hyraxia Books who carried on where Amanda left off by looking at 19th and 20th century speculative fiction. 

Other sessions covered buying books, with Stephen Foster and Anthony Smithson of Keel Row Books; evaluating, pricing, and selling; book fairs and running an open shop; Jonathan Kearns on databases and websites; Sophie Schneideman on ‘The Art of the Book’ (illustration processes); Adam Douglas of Peter Harrington and I on bibliographical description and cataloguing, as well as Adam’s fantastic talk on fakes and forgeries. We also had visits from Lucy Evans of Senate House Library to take a lecture with me on selling to libraries, and the ABA’s marketing manager, Rachel Chanter, who spoke about bookselling with social media. 

For some years, we have enjoyed the hospitality of Prof. Helen Smith of the University of York’s Centre for Print where the students get to try out some hands-on printing for themselves. Likewise, another evening we visited three of York’s bookshops - Lucius Books, The Minster Gate Bookshop, and Janette Ray - who stayed open late specially for us. 

It’s always wonderful to meet the students each year, who came from a range of backgrounds, whether working for another bookseller, running their own business, or perhaps thinking of doing so. This year was particularly international with students from not just the UK, but the USA, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, Sweden, and Australia, and we were fortunate to have a number of scholarships kindly provided by a variety of sponsors.  

If you’re interested in applying for next year, you can contact the ABA Secretary Riley Grant, as places always sell out very quickly. 

Simon Beattie is an antiquarian bookseller, translator and composer, and a resident faculty member at the York Antiquarian Book Seminar