My first sustained encounter with rare books was straight after my final exams at university, when I had a library job that included wiping the dust off rows and rows of seventeenth-century volumes - which I enjoyed doing! I liked looking at the volumes (I was probably not the most efficient cleaner). I really got started with an interview at Quaritch, in 1997, at the end of the summer after university. It was arranged for me by a family friend. I was at that point selling leather jackets in Camden Market in London. I think it gave me an edge in the interview to be able to say that not only did I like books (in common with many other people) but I was used to selling things.
When did you open Leo Cadogan Rare Books and what do you specialize in?
I opened Leo Cadogan Rare Books in late 2007. I specialize in cultural and intellectual history from the Renaissance period up to about 1800. I offer books, manuscripts, prints and ephemera illustrative of the life, studies and interests of people of these times. I always look out for the unusual and passionately want to engage people with these old cultures. Early books have to stand side-by-side at book fairs with items that have a lot more obvious cultural impact (say a first edition in dustwrapper of your favourite novel) and I relish the challenge. I began Leo Cadogan Rare Books working mainly in legal history. Legal history is a subject that, following an MA in Renaissance Studies that I took time out of the book trade to do, I subsequently undertook graduate work in. As a bookseller, showing the life in the dry and scholastic subject of Early Modern law was a good way to begin my business - both because there were institutions collecting it and because the working outlook (finding interest in things that immediately seem culturally foreign to many of us) set me up well. Nowadays I look in several other areas besides law and my material is increasingly visual (although to some extent it has always been).
What do you love about the book trade?
We are so lucky to get to handle the materials we do. It is also a trade where people celebrate when you do something ambitious and one that admires care and the development of expertise. Colleagues are tolerant and generous, with their time, favours, and sometimes their prices. With our customers as well, the trade at its best inhabits a unique, serious but friendly space.
Describe a typical day for you:
An ideal day involves making an early start on cataloguing some interesting items, catching the post and email as they arrive, perhaps in the afternoon getting down to the libraries (particularly London Library, British Library, also Warburg Institute) for research, finishing off descriptions in the evening. But there’s plenty else going on - admin, some auctions, travel, book fairs in London, the US, and Europe, and a demanding toddler.
Favorite rare book (or ephemera) that you’ve handled?
Maybe it’s the copy of the first humanist Latin collected works of Aristotle (1496) that, so I discovered, had belonged to a famous Renaissance cardinal, book-collector, and patron of philosophers called Domenico Grimani. Visually and in its contents, this Aristotle is a really impressive book, and this copy had a very appropriate and evocative original ownership which was shown by a large painted armorial. But there was more to find out. Part of Grimani’s library had been destroyed in a fire in the seventeenth century but another section was put on the market in Rome in 1546. My copy was part of that latter hoard because it was subsequently acquired, probably in a Roman bookshop in the 1560s by a Croatian/Slovenian theology student in Rome called Antun Vramec. He was later to write an important vernacular chronicle printed in Ljubljana in 1578. What a chance that a book should - randomly - have not one but two important Renaissance owners, both in the city of Rome. Vramec disposed of the copy in the city before he left, for Zagreb; after other owners it ended up in an ecclesiastical library in Rome. By around the end of the seventeenth century the copy acquired a typical Italian vellum library binding, but a section of discolouration on the first page showed how the front cover of an earlier binding had broken. The book sums up to me how much interesting history and archaeology there can be in rare books.
What do you personally collect?
I make little starts to collections. I sometimes buy ‘beyond speculatively’, things that appeal to me for reasons sometimes not immediately explicable, and where I certainly don’t know where they are going to fit, or indeed whether they will stay private possessions or become (or stay) part of the stock. It can be a good exploratory process. Sometimes I find an interesting theme doing this, and I then discover other people are also interested in it - and buying that material can then become a straightforward, and rewarding part of my business. I do also occasionally buy old Spanish prints for my spouse, who is an Early Modern art historian.
What do you like to do outside of work?
Reading, general cultural consumption, consumption of food, travel, family life.
Thoughts on the present state and/or future of the rare book trade?
We’re at an interesting time. For different reasons, in the cultural spheres there’s an explosion of interest in external engagement - engagement with people outside of academic or professional siloes - and there’s also an explosion of interest, in academic worlds and society more widely, in material and visual artefacts, and broadly in ‘stuff’. Although it may not be the actual cause of these changes, this is an environment where social media has a strong and positive role to play. The book trade can and does take part vigorously in this broadening world. This is all good, and there is a lot of young interest in the book trade, which is great. On the other hand, I hear concerns about the trading volume - the amount of new cash coming into the book trade as compared to earlier times. I am involved in an interesting new outreach project - I co-organize a new high-end books and arts fair in London in the autumn, called INK (or Inkfair London). Last year was its inaugural, and we had encouraging results. Helping run INK certainly keeps me focused on and inquisitive about the wider environment we are working in.
Any upcoming fairs or catalogues?
I have two little lists that I hope to publish soon. One is on science and medicine, and the other contains ephemeral items from the incunable and post-incunable periods. I am doing the Oakland book fair in February, the New York book fair in March, and straight after New York, am co-exhibiting with other dealers from Britain’s Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association, at an important antiques fair in London. Looking ahead, I have fairs at London Olympia at the end of May, and two more in London at the end of October/beginning of November (INK and the Chelsea Antiquarian Book Fair). There may be more events, and I have various further plans for catalogues. I am busy![Image copyright Claudio Corivetti]