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Maria Rodionova

Published on 23 Feb. 2018


Maria Rodionova: Australia 2014

I have already spent two and a half weeks in Australia. First 10 days I spent in Sidney with Paul Feain. Paul is the owner of Cornstalk Bookshop and Sidney Rare Book Auctions. It is a great chance for me to work with him, because I work in an auction house in Moscow and it is really interesting to get new information about the auction business. Now, after 35 years, Paul is selling his real estate and going to close the shop in April, but he is pushing ahead with the auctions. The next auction was on Saturday, February 22nd and I participated in the preparation of this auction. I made some book descriptions for the auction catalogue, but principally, I worked with Paul's reference library. This library is great! I really enjoyed working with it.  

One of the most interesting events was my visit to two huge auctions. I've never seen anything like that! In a huge room you could see everything: furniture, paintings, books, pottery, antique sewing machines or a big sculpture of a pink Hippo. And, of course, books. But I will tell you about Paul and his auction house next time.


For now I would like to write about the last week, which I spent in Canberra with beautiful Sally Burdon - owner of the shop Asia Bookroom and Immediate Past President of ANZAAB. It was a great opportunity for me to work with Sally. Asia Bookroom is a bookshop specializing on new, out of print and antiquarian books of Asian interest. Their stock extends from modern books to rare antiquarian volumes, including a wide variety of books published in many parts of the world, some of which are rarely seen outside of Asia.

Their assortment mainly consists of the scientific editions, nevertheless includes almost everything relating to Asia that you can imagine - from dictionaries and grammars, history, politics, anthropology, religion, art to books on anime, manga, martial arts, cookery, children's books and more. Actually, Asia Bookroom is one of the most remarkable shops I have ever seen. Cozy situation, friendly atmosphere and a great number of really wonderful books - this is Asia Bookroom.

In Canberra, I learned a lot of new and useful things for further work with books. Sally taught me how to work with the website and software store (I was just shocked by the simple and convenient program which regulates the activities of the store), showed me some very useful sites that make the work with antiquarian books much easier, explained the methods of attracting customers and working with them, which I think will be very useful for us. In addition, Sally shared with me knowledge on auctions in Australia and in Europe that I am sure will help me to write my thesis.

And still, I can't fail to say what a wonderful cultural program I had in Canberra. I visited the beautiful National library and amazing exhibition "Mapping our World", I was deeply impressed by the National Museum, and, finally, I was in the National Art Gallery, where, by the way, I saw paintings by Russian artists and even a couple of Russian art books. So I'm really enjoying my time in Australia. I got a lot of new skills and knowledge and I hope to learn more.

To be continued …


My last two weeks in Australia

So now I should tell you about the last two weeks that I spent in Australia. Basically, during those two weeks I worked with Paul Feain at his auction house - Sydney Rare Book Auctions - and at Cornstalk Bookshop. There I had an opportunity to consider the huge number of completely different books. Especially I was surprised to find a few Russian books. Some of them were in English, which was absolutely no surprise to find them there. Others were in Russian and about Russia and I was very pleased and astonished about that. Two wonderful girls who worked with Paul, Krista and Olivia, showed me some very interesting things. For example, the way they work with eBay. Of course, I knew how to operate this site, but in Australia I learned for the first time how useful it is when you work with antique books and how easy it is to handle it. It is amazing, but sometimes even the obvious can be an eye-opener. All in all, I can say with confidence that I had many pleasant and useful minutes in Paul's shop, which unfortunately has already closed down, and aside from the fact that I learned some interesting things about books, I got great pleasure staying there.

Most of the time I spent with Paul in his auction house. Two auction houses are engaged in the second-hand book trade in Australia, and one of them belongs to Paul. It was a fabulous experience for me because I am also working at an auction house in Moscow. And I had an amazing opportunity to compare antique book auctions in Russia and in Australia.
I was surprised about such a small amount of auctions in Australia, while in Russia this form of selling antiquarian books becomes more and more popular. However, differences were not the only thing. I was struck by the descriptions of the books. I must say that I really enjoyed doing this job and I am so grateful to Paul for giving me the chance to work with his books. It was wonderful!

First, I could work with Paul's reference library. It was literally amazing. I guess I have never seen a bookseller who had such a great reference library. It includes a large number of directories, Australian, British, American and other books, and all sorts of art encyclopedia, references to detective literature and bookbinding. I had great pleasure to see these books. Second, I had the opportunity to make descriptions of a couple of books for the auction catalog. I was able to get acquainted with the principles of the descriptions of the books showed (I was surprised how much they differ from ours), hold in the hands many wonderful books about everything from aboriginal art to wine books.  However, one of the most interesting events for me in Australia was the auction itself. Of course, I should tell you about the preview party! This was a very cute and funny event. It took place a couple of days before the auction and everybody, who was going to visit the auction house, came to the party, saw the books, discussed recent book (and not only) news, learnt from the organizer of the auction about the most interesting lots, enjoyed wine and fruits. The party had a very friendly atmosphere, and it was very interesting for me to listen to the "book talk".

The auction amazed me with an incredibly successful organization and agility. 217 lots were sold in little more than an hour. I really liked the idea of combining several books on one subject in a large lot. I think this is a very convenient practice, both for buyers and organizers of the auction. Australian art books were mainly at the auction. I especially remember several journals of the Strand Magazine with first publications of Sherlock Holmes stories. I love Conan Doyle and it was a great pleasure for me to hold this book in my hands and read (quite a bit of) the great detective in the original. Also, I really liked a couple of lovely Victorian yellowbacks, some 19th century children's books and a few books on aboriginal art with really beautiful illustrations.

I was very interested to see the auction system and compare it with the one I know from Moscow. I noticed that there are some differences. For example, our starting price for the auction's books never falls after the start of trading. I know, that such practice is common in the world, but I’ve never seen this live. In addition, I was surprised with the number of people buying books via Internet. A lot of people do that.
Some of the most interesting points were the ups of prices for some items. For example, one of the top lots - Eighteenth Century Compass and Sun Dial (wonderful item!) started with a bid of 100 AUD and was sold for 5.500 AUD!  This auction definitely became one of the most interesting events for me. It was an amazing experience.
Finally, I have to tell how glad I was to meet such beautiful people like Paul Feain and Sally Burdon. They are really good professionals and very lovely people. It was a great work and life experience for me. My trip to Australia brought me some ideas and I hope I will be able to make them reality. And of course I have to thank ILAB, Norbert Donhofer, Olga Tarakanova and everybody who is involved in the ILAB Internship Program for giving me this opportunity.

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