Cunning Plans…

I have been working on a couple of cunning plans recently. Both are ideas that I want to develop for my own business, but which may well be of wider use to the book trade in general. So here they are. Should you wish to get in touch with me about either, then do drop me a line at You are probably able to tell, these are both ideas at this stage – so they may well change over time. Evolution is a wonderful thing!

Staff for the busy bookseller

At the London fairs last year, I had conversations with several dealers, who found their movements were limited between the fairs, by being ‘one man bands.’ Those who were manning their booths at Olympia, found it difficult to get away to ILEC, and vice versa. Further conversations highlighted that bringing staff over to the UK from America or Australia (or even Europe) was prohibitively expensive when one takes into account flights, accommodation, food and other costs, on top of salaries.

tavistock stallIt became apparent, that a pool of knowledgeable freelancers, who could look after a dealer’s stand, help them set up, and talk usefully to the public would be a major asset. Several dealers have told me that they would book more fairs in the UK if they could use local staff. As a result, I am starting to build a list of freelancers, who would be available and willing to work for an overseas dealer at UK fairs on a ‘one off’ basis. Ideally, freelancers should already be involved in the book trade, whether as a dealer, cataloguer, shop staff, or even collector looking to start in the trade. Expert knowledge would not be required, but an ability to ‘look the part’ on a dealer’s stand would be. Actual rates of pay / arrangements would be between the dealer and the freelancer – this plea is just to start the ball rolling and get the list together!

A database of linguists

I have recently been trying to catalogue (or even identify) some Japanese material. This has left me in a quandary, as I cannot even begin to read Japanese.slavonic script

This set me thinking, there are many languages, and more importantly, alphabets & scripts, that I, and many others in the trade, cannot read.

I thought it may be useful to obtain a list of individuals willing to translate title pages / colophons (Not translate large texts – but to give basic bibliographical information on an unfamiliar texts).

Once I have established such a list, my intention is to hand it over to the two trade associations in the UK (ABA & ILAB) where it would be held confidentially.  If a member of either trade body required some advice on a text, they could contact their member organisation for a list of those willing to help in the specific language.  Access would be limited to the ABA and PBFA initially (or perhaps to ILAB members & the PBFA ?) The information would remain confidential, and would not ever be given or sold on.

Japanese_Rare_Books (454x270)My feeling is that dealers could choose to offer their service for free, or could specify a fee if they felt necessary. I believe that if offering this advice for free, it would be good practice if they were offered first refusal of any material they have assisted with before it goes on general sale. This would perhaps act as an incentive / gratuity to the dealer offering the advice. My assumption at this stage, is that most advice would be sought by showing a photograph or scan of the material, and that initial assistance could be given very quickly. If further help was needed, some payment may well be appropriate.

If you are interested in going onto such a database – or  have opinions regarding it as a concept, I would welcome hearing from you.

Noveau Calendar Art

I have been discovering the joys of Theo Van Hoytema recently. In particular I came across a bundle of his calendar sheets (which of course, I promptly purchased).

1732-3Van Hoytema (1863-1917) was Dutch illustrator and book designer. He was particularly known for his nature images (more specifically birds). He grew up in The Hague, and afterwards in Voorschoten. He took drawing lessons at the Academy of Art in The Hague, and through his Uncle’s contacts he studied at the Zoological Museum in Leiden.

Van Hoytema did not belong to a particular artistic group or movement. His work reveals a number of typical characteristics of the period 1890-1900: the influence of English illustrators such as Walter Crane – especially in the first two picture books, and the influence of Japanese prints. Art Nouveau styling elements, decorative and whimsical undulations, and distinct contours were employed, without losing sight of naturalism. He made many watercolours and drawings of plants and animals, which clearly reveal his appreciation for Japanese prints: he often outlined the separate areas of flat colour with ink, in imitation of such prints, and he could describe the characteristic attitudes of animals with a masterly economy of line.

1732-6His first illustrations were published in 1891, “How the Birds Came to a King.”  He followed this up with “The Ugly Ducking” in 1893 and “The Happy Owls” in 1895.

He married in 1891, but it was not a happy marriage, and did not last. He entered a restless period after the breakdown of his marriage, moving around, and staying for a while with his brother in London. Between 1904 and 1906 he spent time in a hospital, and a sanatorium for neurotics. On release, he lived with his sister in The Hague for the rest of his life. It was during this later period that he made the calendars which made him famous. Theo van Hoytema made 17 calendars. The final one, for the year 1732-81918, was somewhat sketchy, as it was in preparation in the year of his death, and was not completed as a full colour lithograph. There are collections of his work in the Museum Bijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, and the Rijksmuseum & Stedelijk Museums in Amsterdam. There is a road and square / park named after him in The Hague, with a memorial there.

Should the urge take you, please feel free to peruse our first offering of his calendar Lithographs by clicking here

Made in Chelsea

chelsea panorama

Last weekend, Marcia and I spent the weekend in Chelsea, at the ABA Antiquarian Fair. Above is a panoramic photo of the hall at the end of Thursday evening (I wanted to capture the hall without the dealers – an exhausted Marianne was just a bonus)! Click on the panorama to see it in all its glory.

As ever, the fair was full of some fabulous books, manuscripts and ephemeral items from around the world. Just behind me on the stage was an array of medieval manuscripts and incunabula. Ranging from a few pounds, to many tens of thousands, there was truly something for everyone. Even for Marcia – she picked up a small artists note book full of beautiful illustrations by a Victorian doctor, who caught yves_1typhus in the last major outbreak in London, whilst assisting the sick.

Another lovely item was the original sketch by Yves Saint Laurent – presented by one of our French colleagues.


On Pat Marrin’s stand, I found this lovely little picture of a bookseller. I am sure I recognize him from our dinner on Friday night (wonderfully arranged by Giles from Worlds End Books). Which reminds me – did anyone ever work out where the missing five hours went after the dinner?

And so, Chelsea is over for another year. Many thanks to Marianne, Ped (relaxing below at the end of the fair), Camilla (hiding in the video of the fair below) and of course, our wonderful ring master Graham York. Ever onwards to the next fair – for many this is Boston, but for me it will be the PBFA Kensington Christmas Fair.


A Video Vignette of Graham York

This is the first of what (I hope) will become a series of Video Vignettes for this blog. My grand plan (such as it is) will be to focus on people connected to the Rare Book Trade, and some items that catch my eye.  In the lead up to the Chelsea book fair, it is fitting that I start with Graham York from Honiton, who is the fair manager of the Chelsea fair.

If you haven’t yet got your ticket for Chelsea, then it is not too late – you can get one by clicking on the logo beneath.

chelsea logo

I hope to see you there. Don’t forget to come and say hello at stand 59 (In the small hall). Gifts of chocolate rarely offend!