Melbourne RARE BOOK FAIR 2016

This year marked the 44th ANZAAB Rare Book Fair and the 1st for Archives Fine Books. We sold some books, we bought some books, we made some rookie mistakes, and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Engaging with the incredibly diverse book-and-printed-works-on-paper collecting community that gathers for this annual event was invigorating, educational and fun. My only disappointment was a lack of spontaneous performance of poetry, prose and song at the formal ANZAAB dinner, but the lively conversation and slightly outrageous in-house storytelling at our table more than made up for it. To be honest I was grievously anxious before the whole affair, and my post-fair enthusiasm is part exhaustion-induced delerium and part honest thrill at having sold books and ephemera to institutions, private collectors, and to one other dealer. I’m sure Hamish and I will be digesting the event for some time to come, but here’s an immediate reflection (and a little Book Fair history) for those who would like to know more.

The Australia and New Zealand  Association of Antiquarian Booksellers (ANZAAB) formed in 1977 with the objective of promoting the growth and health of the local antiquarian book business. One of its key activities is organising book fairs and in the past forty years it has organised forty-four fairs. While most of these have taken place in Melbourne and some in Sydney, local Brisbane collectors may recall one taking place at the Old Museum a few years ago. Unfortunately this was not well attended by booksellers or collectors, and it may be some time before another major fair is attempted here. Nevertheless, my experiences over the past year have encouraged me to think about ways to host smaller events to bring fine antiquarian and collectable books together with fine people here in Brisbane (more on this to come – watch this space).

The ANZAAB Rare Book Fair closes the annual Melbourne Rare Book Week. In 2012 Kay Craddock and Jonathan Burdon conceived of and organised Melbourne Rare Book Week, partnering with institutional, historical and literary societies to create a lush program of events to celebrate rare books, shine a light on literary history and to fascinate and educate novice and experienced collectors alike. This year 55 events were presented over 10 days with one of the of the highlights being the special exhibition by The University of Melbourne of recent additions to the Kerry Stokes collection. This included Cronica Cronicarum, a rare 16th cetury scroll, with hand-coloured woodcut illustrations, printed on vellum in 32 sections pasted together to form an 11 metre roll, recording the history of the world. If Melbourne’s Rare Book Week and Rare Book Fair aren’t already on your calendar for next year make sure you pencil in the dates July 20 -30, 2017. We didn’t make it down early enough to attend any of the sessions this year (blame the grievous pre-fair anxiety), but now that we’ve ‘broken the ice’ we’ll be sure to make it down a little earlier next year.

Now to the nitty-gritty of our first fair experience. Let’s talk about the rookie mistakes. Nothing too awful, but we’ll be investing in road cases for travel to future fairs. Our boxes arrived with some puncture marks but fortunately no major damage to stock. And we’ll remember to bring an invoice book next time so when the Rare Books Librarian of a major institution wants to take a book away with an invoice we can say Yes, of course, no problem. Fortunately he was happy for us to send the book with an invoice post-fair. On the up-side,  and attending to the principle of make it easy for the customer to pay, we took a fabulous EFTPOS device  that was easy for us and for the customers to use. No doubt we made other rookie mistakes that had the more experienced booksellers chuckling or shaking their heads, but they had the good grace to do so out of sight and earshot. The wonderful thing is we can now plan to do it all again next July and do it better. And take more catalogues – we ran out on the first night!

We had a great location: first on the left as you entered the fair. We were often the first stop for many browsers and were opposite Jeff Maser from Berkely and his wife Andrea who had a popular stall and were great to talk with in the quiet moments. One of the ‘high spots’ of the fair was Douglas Stewart’s editions of Sydney’s first newspaper, which went on sale for a cool $575, 000. Ursus Rare Books from New York had some incredibly beautiful art books, Fuchsia from Maggs in London showed me an engraved convict’s remembrance token, and Kay Craddock had a delectable collection of British Private Press. As happened last year, I have come away coveting items I saw on Mick Treloar’s shelves, and lamenting the fact that I did not get into every shelf of every bookseller who attended. We did find some treasure, though, and are particularly pleased with our acquisition of Nineteen Eighty-Four, by George Orwell (first edition).


Now it is time to get back to pricing, cataloguing, and shelving. As the Buddhists say, before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water; after enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.