The dust is now settling after the 45th ANZAAB Melbourne Rare Book Fair. Thankfully attending our second Fair was slightly less nerve-wracking than the first, and as fairly new contributors we are in a wonderful phase of awe and discovery. We came home feeling rather jubilant and keen to share our enthusiasm for all things bookish.
As with the preceding six years, the Rare Book Fair came at the end of Melbourne’s Rare Book Week, a cultural event that this year experienced an explosion in attendance. Several sessions booked out and where possible, repeat sessions were arranged. Organisers Kay Craddock and Jonathan Burdon appeared extremely serene although no doubt under the water’s surface legs were madly paddling. Rare Book Week also experienced an increase in interstate visitors and I can only see the trend continuing as word spreads about this world-class cultural event.
The increased interest in Rare Book Week led to a solid and sustained flow of visitors throughout the Book Fair weekend. We were delighted with our decision to upgrade from a ‘showcase’ to a proper stand as this allowed us to bring more stock and invite people into our space to browse. We engaged with many more people this year and entered endlessly fascinating conversations with all sorts of people including other booksellers. We shared a stand with Jennifer Jaeger of Ankh Antiquarian and she was a terrific fount of Book Fair know-how and advice. Jen is a formidable Egyptologist and several times I found myself drifting into her half of the stand. I’m still thinking about a lovely little Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam that I should have bought as soon as I saw it – the little treasure was quickly snapped up by a more decisive buyer.
Book Envy Highlights: This year one of Hamish’s highlights was to hold in his hands a first edition of Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. He discovered that on Peter Harrington of London’s stand. I gazed longingly at their first edition copy of Virginia Woolf’s Kew Garden. My favourite item however was Ein Anatomischer Totentanz (1926, inscribed) on the Ursus Rare Books stand. This unusual anatomy book is now on my wish list for my Dance of Death/In Memoriam collection (still in its infancy). Douglas Stewart’s Big Book was a treat to behold. This medieval choir book is definitely the most massive book I have ever seen and no wonder: it took an entire sheep to create each vellum page. The most beautiful book I saw was an illuminated manuscript on vellum brought by Jonathan Hill Bookseller.
Books We Acquired: This year we acquired another George Orwell first edition, The Lion and the Unicorn. If we come home with another Orwell first edition next year I think we can call it a tradition firmly established. That gem was on Adelaide’s Pop-up Bookshop. Proprietor Kate Treloar is the most recent ANZAAB member so we weren’t the newest kids on the block anymore. She and partner Nick also had a lovely copy of Elyne Mitchell’s Speak to the Earth (1945) which we acquired mainly for the lovely letter from the author addressed to its previous owner. The ‘funnest’ item we acquired was an early twentieth century Australian anti-prohibition pamphlet from Books for Cooks. Titled An Unusual Cookbook it is filled with exhortations to “Vote NO” and every recipe has alcohol as an ingredient. And the finest item we acquired was from Kay Craddock and is a lovely example of Australian Private Press craftsmanship: Rosemary Dobson’s Untold Lives, Brindabella Press, 1992, first edition. We look forward to cataloguing these as soon as possible, but please do not hesitate to contact us if you would like to reserve any of these items.
Making new acquaintances is always a highlight for us. This year we were delighted to meet David and Cathy Lilburne of Antipodean Books, Maps & Prints. Based just north of NYC they have a gorgeous collection of Australiana and more. Jonathan Hill (mentioned above) and his wife Megumi were delightful neighbours across the aisle, and Rose Counsell of Kagerou Bunko in Tokyo was a charming dinner companion. The ANZAAB dinner was delightful. A bow to Andrew Isles for the stellar organisation as well as his excellent wine choices.
This year the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers (ILAB) is offering 12 month mentorships to booksellers interested in developing skills in the rare and antiquarian book trade. ILAB membership is not a pre-requisite, making it a terrific opportunity for any open shop or online booksellers who are keen to move in this direction. I am participating in this scheme as a mentee and find my monthly skype sessions with Sally Burdon of the Asia Book Room in Canberra to be helpful, fun, informative and encouraging. In fact I am so delighted with the program I adressed the ANZAAB AGM on the topic and I will probably devote an entire blog to it in the not-so-distant future.
My last little book fair anecdote concerns the nineteenth century Japanese photographer Kusakabe Kimbei. A few months ago I had the opportunity to do an appraisal of a photo album of Kusakabe prints. I hadn’t yet discovered him and immediately fell in love with his delicately hand-coloured depictions of Japanese landscape, labourers and geishas. I was delighted then to find a whole archive of loose Kusakabe prints on Michael Treloar’s stand, and to share a little of my research with Mick and Tom who have always been so generous in responding to my rookie queries. What goes round comes round in the world of antiquarian books and printed works on paper.
Of course, as all good things must, the 2017 ANZAAB Melbourne Rare Book Fair came to a close, and the bleary eyed book fraternity packed up their books and said their farewells. We landed back in winterless Brisbane exhausted but enthused, armed with new knowledge, new ideas and new contacts. Watch this space.