I hadn’t been to an event like this for a couple of years, so enjoyed my visit to York Racecourse on Friday, to what is billed as Britain’s largest Antiquarian book fair.
I didn’t buy much, though. The fair is aimed at book collectors, and I’m more of a book amasser, whose books pile up uncontrollably. I’m a reader, and never unduly concerned about fine bindings or complete dust jackets. My book-buying policy generally is to go for the cheapest copy on www.bookfinder.com that doesn’t sound utterly revolting.
The York fair had over 200 dealers exhibiting, and most of them were after the big spenders. They brought the items from their stock that were collector-catnip. I find it slightly depressing to see old books in immaculate condition. Aren’t they meant to be read? This especially applies to children’s books. There is a monstrous demand for Enid Blyton that is reflected in the silly prices being asked: £2,350 for a Famous Five book, anybody? I had a couple of Famous Fives when pre-teen. They fell to bits from re-reading, and that’s what ought to happen to children’s books – not being wrapped in cellophane and kept away from jammy fingers.
There were some interesting books. I was fascinated to see the special luxury first edition of Not So Quiet.., published by that crafty man Netley Lucas/Evelyn Graham/ Albert Marriott in a nice binding, on special paper, and signed by the author. The signature is ‘Helen Zenna Smith’ in big flamboyant handwriting. Writing expressing the character of theatrical Evadne Price rather than that of self-loathing Helen, the narrator and supposed writer of the book. That was going for £195. I was almost on the verge of being tempted to buy it, but I’ve got two copies of the book already – a modern paperback and a copy of the Newnes edition published when Marriott went bust. I got that for £7.50 from a market stall in Oxford. That’s my usual sort of book-buying.
There was a first edition of Goodbye to All That going for £1500. Was it the same copy that I saw at York two years ago, offered at £1200? I suspect so. If I won the lottery, I’d like that book. (It’s a first edition worth having, because it contains all the bits that Graves was forced to cut out because of legal threats. Even the 2014 special Penguin edition does not quite reprint the original text.)
I saw several books whose titles I noted for later checking on Bookfinder, to find a more reasonably-priced copy.
The book I slightly regret not buying was a signed first edition of A.P. Herbert’s Half-Hours on Helles. It was actually cheaper than some of the unsigned editions available on the Internet. The one I was tempted to buy but I’m glad I didn’t was the pamphlet edition of Auden’s Spain – I’ve found it much cheaper elsewhere.
Among the books I did buy were two with Great War themes. I’m currently rather interested in books that begin in WW1 and go on to WWII. Vera Brittain’s Account Rendered does this, so I bought it for a tenner. I’ve started it, and it’s readable and quite involving so far. I paid a bit more for F. Britten Austin’s The War God Walks Again, a 1926 book of stories all imagining future wars.
There were some very beautiful books at the fair, lovely objects. But as usual I came to the conclusion that events like this are not really aimed at people like me whose interest is in what lies between the covers of a book, rather than its outside.