Coming up in early June are the two stalwart fairs of the London antiquarian book trade: The London International Antiquarian Book Fair, hosted by the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association (ABA), and The London International Premier Fair, hosted by the Provincial Booksellers Fairs Association (PBFA).
They now come under the umbrella of the newly revamped Rare Books London (RBL), of which ATG is the official media partner. RBL unites the growing number of related events that mark the May-June season for booksellers.
The ABA fair (June 1-3) might be the longer-established and swankier of the two events, but they have a comfortable co-existence. A visitors’ shuttle runs between them, a sizeable clutch of exhibitors (Aquila Books and Modern First Editions to name a couple) take stands at both and it is off the back of these events’ continued success that RBL developed.
This year the ABA celebrates its 60th anniversary and its final instalment before moving from Olympia London, which has served as its venue since 1998, to Battersea Evolution, home of the Decorative Antiques & Textiles Fair.
ABA fair chairman Tony Fothergill of Ken Spelman Booksellers is also chairman of the Olympia Book Fair Committee. He thinks the new venue may be better to encourage private business thanks to factors such as easy parking and the green expanse of Battersea Park.
“You can call it the 20-year itch,” he says with a laugh, “but then the fair has always moved around.”
When the event debuted in 1958 in Albemarle Street, the purpose was to provide provincial dealers with a temporary shop window in London.
“What has always been nice about moving to Olympia is that it made the fair as inclusive as possible. With the fair, you need all levels of the food chain. It helps to encourage trade-to-trade buying,” Fothergill says.
So, while established dealers use it as an opportunity to trot out some of their top stock, for others it is still a place to build a reputation.
This year’s Olympia is only the third fair for Anthony Smith since setting up his own business. He holds regular pop-up shops, and is wise to the opportunities fairs offer. While last year he shared a stand at Olympia, for his second appearance he decided to go it alone.
“I thought ‘why not give it my best shot’,” he says. He admits that it means spending more upfront so “it’s a bit of a gamble, but it’s a great way to access the sort of clientele that attend an international fair”.
Dealers bring a mix of perennial collectables as well as the weird and wonderful. New this year is Affordable Collectables, a series of tours highlighting volumes that might appeal to budding bibliophiles with less to spend.
The ABA’s usual battery of events in its LIVE! programme includes crafts such as calligraphy and bookbinding, as well as series of expert-led tours, on the Saturday.
Among the 180 standing at the fair this year are UK dealers such as Amanda Hall Rare Books, Thomas Heneage Art Books and Cavendish Rare Books. Dealers from further afield include Demian (Belgium) Antiquariaat de Roo (The Netherlands), Centralantikvariatet (Sweden) and Harlan J Berk (US).
“The fair is holding up well,” Fothergill says. “These are difficult, uncertain times and we’re pleased with the level we’ve got in and it’s confirmed our confidence in the move.”
Other events during Rare Books London
Rare Books London, of which ATG is media partner, has launched a new website and a longer run this year. Taking place from May 24-June 11, the event incorporates fairs, exhibitions, auctions, lectures and more. Below is a sample of the schedule.
Lecture at Bernard Quaritch
Collecting pains: symptoms and remedies for book lovers
Bibliophiles in St James: a walk about obsessive collectors
Sotheby’s auction The Library of William O’Brien
British Library tour Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths
Tour of ABA Fair
An introduction to rare books: a tour for children
Talk at Bonhams
A masterclass in book collecting
Performance at Dr Johnson’s House
An Introduction to Johnson
To book or reserve tickets or for more information visit rarebookslondon.com