Bright Young Things: Pom Harrington

Our series profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers continues its trip across the pond today with Pom Harrington, the proprietor of Peter Harrington, in London.  Peter Harrington will be exhibiting at the Olympia Book Fair in London, which began today and continues through Saturday.

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NP: Considering you grew up in one of Britain’s most prominent antiquarian bookselling families, did you develop an interest in rare books early in life?  Or did you come to it later? (On a related note, did you always plan to work in the family business, or did you consider other options first?)

PH: I have been surrounded by books all my life, so I actually was quite blasé about rare books. I am not a strong reader so I had little reason to show much interest in them or the shop until I needed a summer job. I spent most of my teenage summers working in the shop for pocket money, but had no real plans to work in the family business. I had a quick fling with University and when that didn’t work out I started to look at the shop more seriously. I eventually asked my Dad for a job when I was 19. He actually said no! It took a bit of persuading for him to change his mind. He felt that I should do an apprenticeship elsewhere first. But to cut the long story short, at 19 I began to work full time for Harrington Brothers as it was then for my father and Uncle Adrian.

NP: When did you take over Peter Harrington and under what circumstances?

PH: Adrian and my Father went their separate ways after selling the business property. My father, I think might have retired at this point, but with me now 22 and chomping at the bit to do business, we set up Peter Harrington on the Fulham Road. Initially my father had control, but he was fairly good at letting me get on with it. We were already exhibiting at the American shows and I was starting to do these on my own with an assistant. In February 2001, my father was diagnosed with throat cancer which forced the situation and I took over the day to day running of the shop.



NP: What does Peter Harrington currently specialize in?

PH: Our strength is in English books. Particularly Literature and high spot collecting. We try and make sure we always have something special to show, be it a 1/100 signed Ulysses or a Shakespeare folio.

NP: What do you love about the book trade?

PH: It is still for the most part an honourable business, your word, trust and reputation mean everything. I can walk into virtually any ILAB bookshop in the world, one I have never been to or done business with before and leave with a valuable book on invoice. This is done on trust and honour. I have also developed many great friendships over the years with booksellers all over the world.

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

PH: There have been a few. I have bought Mark Twain’s copy of Huck Finn, Shakespeare’s first folio, Presentation Galileo, Newton Principia Mathematica. All amazing and brilliant books.

NP: What do you personally collect?

PH: In 1994, I started collecting Roald Dahl. He’s about the only author I read as a child. He was inexpensive then and I always thought he would become more collectable. The collection has become more serious in recent times and I have all his books.

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

PH: A Walter Scott novel. I’d be left alone and not disturbed.

NP: Thoughts on the future of the book trade?

PH: It’s changing fast. The internet is continually having a strong effect on our business. Those who adapt best will thrive. On this basis, there are some young talented booksellers starting up and using this to make up for small stock and tight funds.

NP: Tell us about your exhibit at the Olympia Book Fair and any upcoming catalogues you have in the works:

PH: We have taken two stands this year. [71 and 83] One for books and the other is for our gallery. [Here is Peter Harrington’s catalogue for the fair]. I have been putting together a large amount of book related art and wanted a way of displaying them properly. So we have the usual Rackham and Shepard artwork, but also a recently acquired collection of watercolours of the Brock illustrated Pride and Prejudice and Emma. We are always working on catalogues. In the summer, we will produce two new ones. A specialist 75 Great Books and then a larger but more regular catalogue.

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