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Medieval manuscripts, modern firsts and anything in between will be on offer side-by-side in the early weeks of June, when collectors gather in London for the series of fairs and auctions known as Rare Books London.

Among the events are those staged by the Antiquarian Booksellers Association (ABA), the Provincial Booksellers Fairs Association (PBFA) and Etc Fairs, as well as the London Map Fair.

In a new model this year all four run during the same week, offering a wealth of buying opportunities – provided visitors have the requisite energy and transport links.


Offered at 'Firsts: London's Rare Book Fair' for £95 by Beaux Books, this 1930 Art Deco cocktail menu comes from Scott’s Restaurant in Piccadilly and is illustrated by Edward Hynes.

First things first

The grandest event is the ABA’s Firsts: London’s Rare Book Fair, sporting a new title. It highlights a stance of embracing more recent and less traditional material along with antiquarian books.

“Firsts are what we deal in,” said chairman Pom Harrington of Peter Harrington. “It might be the first book to show a tomato, the first map depicting America or a first-edition Harry Potter.”

It runs from June 7-9 at Battersea Evolution, the trendier venue it moved to last year. Among the highlights is a German edition of the travels of Ludovic di Varthema (1515), the first illustrated edition and the only known coloured copy.

The author was one of the earliest documented travellers to the Near and Far East and also made the first recorded visit by a non-Muslim European to Mecca.

It is offered for £325,000 by Antiquariaat de Roo, a Dutch dealership and one of the many foreign attendees standing at the fair as a member of the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers (ILAB).

While this event has the highest price points, there are plenty of three- and four-figure works available from the 170 UK and international exhibitors.

For example, a first UK edition of Catch 22, the classic satire of the Second World War by US author Joseph Heller, is offered by Worlds End Bookshop for £1000, along with various other 20th volumes and older works such as John Baskett’s 1724 Book of Common Prayer (£3250).

Major dealers including Maggs Bros, Daniel Crouch and Bernard Quaritch regularly exhibit here, but it is also a chance for younger and smaller firms to offer their wares.

Among those also showing are Alembic Rare Books, Beaux Books, Gilleasbuig Ferguson and Modern First Editions.

Meanwhile, Shakespeare’s Globe, Firsts’ charity partner, stages an exhibition of highlights from the John Wolfson Collection including the First Folio he purchased in the 1970s. Another loan display comes from The International Society of Bible Collectors, which includes a fragment of the Gutenberg Bible and a copy of the ‘Wicked’ bible of 1631, which contains the misprint instruction “thou shalt commit adultery”.

Tours, talks and demonstrations are scheduled throughout and on June 9, members of the public are invited to bring up to five items to be appraised by experts.