What’s the significance of the London event in the PBFA annual calendar?
Huge. It’s our biggest fair in the south of England and second only to the York Fair in September, which is the biggest in the country, if not Europe. That makes this a major event for book lovers.
The London fair has been central to our calendar for 40 years now. It started at the Russell Hotel, then the Commonwealth Institute, then Novotel and now the ILEC Conference Centre in Earls Court.
How many exhibitors are there?
We’re fully booked with over 100 because this year the timing is perfect. Major book dealers from across the world will be in London either for us or for the ABA’s Firsts fair in Chelsea. Some are exhibiting at both. For some of our new members this will be their first experience of a major London fair; others are returning for the 40th time!
How many visitors does the event typically attract?
Around 1500; this has been pretty consistent but this year we’re looking to increase that thanks to sponsorship from Forum Auctions. They will be promoting it via their website, mailing list and social media.
What’s the story behind the sponsorship?
It’s a new venture for us and it makes perfect sense. Forum is the leading auction house for books and the PBFA is the biggest organisation of professional book dealers. They are helping us publicise the event and we are featuring them in the catalogue and with a stand at the fair itself.
We’re like-minded; books are in our blood. Forum’s Poppy Walker says it best: “What we have in common – the desire and ability to sell books – far outweighs the historic perception that auctioneers and dealers are competitors. We exist and work in a symbiotic relationship and look forward to seeing many of our friends at the fair.”
Who attends fairs like this?
It’s not just collectors of books and maps these days; ‘works on paper’ would describe it better. That means photographs, art, ephemera, posters, manuscripts and more.
We know that a lot of national and international trade will be coming. The unknown quantity is the general public. The PBFA was set up nearly 50 years ago to ‘bring books to the people’ and this is a perfect example of what we do. Existing collectors are as keen as ever but what we as an organisation need to do now is attract new collectors and help them with their collecting.
How can the PBFA achieve that?
It has to start with friendly, well-publicised fairs like this. Experience shows us that once we get new customers through the doors they tend to come again and again. We were all at Cambridge in February and we’d never seen so many young people there. It seems we’re an ‘Instagrammable’ event; an experience which is something different. We need to build on that and turn visitors into collectors.
What can we expect to see?
Everything from kitschy paperbacks for a few pounds right up to cornerstone works for hundreds of thousands. And everything in between, of course. Modern book fairs are incredible places; full of the things you would expect to see and also things you never imagined.
Unique items like manuscripts, personal papers and bookcover artwork are selling well now and I love scouting round for things like that. It’s awesome just to spend a few minutes with something like an unpublished story by Cecil Beaton, for example.
Every fair is a new adventure – you never know what you’ll find!
Who’s the person organising it?
The fair is in safe hands as it’s being managed by Miranda Pratt of Hereward Books who has been organising fairs for decades. She’s got a team of helpers, including me, and we’re working together to ensure it all goes smoothly.
The PBFA’s London International Antiquarian Book Fair takes place on May 20-21 at the ILEC Conference Centre, IBIS London Earls Court, 47 Lillie Road, London, SW6 1UD