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Rare Books London - An Interview with ABA Secretary Camilla Szymanowska

Rare Books London, the capital's new festival of old and rare books, will bring together booksellers, auctioneers, collectors, readers, experts of various professions all linked to the world of rare and antiquarian books. We spoke to Camilla Szymanowska, Secretary of the British Antiquarian Booksellers Association (ABA) about this exciting new initiative.

Published on 20 Feb. 2018

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Rare Books London, the capital's new festival of old and rare books, will bring together booksellers, auctioneers, collectors, readers, experts of various professions all linked to the world of rare and antiquarian books.
We spoke to Camilla Szymanowska, Secretary of the British Antiquarian Booksellers Association (ABA) about this exciting new initiative.



Rare Books London is a new festival? Camilla, could you please describe the idea behind the festival and why you are launching this initiative?

Rare Books London started off in 2015 as a collaboration just between the ABA fair and that of its sister association the PBFA. Looking at what other people have been doing so successfully round the world, especially in Melbourne, and most recently in Edinburgh, and at the amazing resources London has at its fingertips, it seemed natural to open the brief far wider this year. The rare book community of London has rallied round the cause, which is very encouraging!

Please share some highlights with us and where can the tickets be obtained?

Almost all events are bookable at rarebookslondon.com. My top picks are "An Introduction to Johnson", which will see an actor declaiming from the works of Samuel Johnson, in Dr Johnson's own house, followed by sherry. Maggs Bros are also opening their new Bloomsbury doors to the public for the first time, for an evening colloquium about the trade. And of course, the ABA's own fair at Olympia, which is now celebrating our 60th year.

You have been Secretary of the Antiquarian Bookseller's Association (ABA) for just over two years, would you share some background of your own career in the antiquarian book trade with us?

Despite having grown up as a voracious reader and studied classics and literature, rare books were never really on my radar. That all changed on a Sunday afternoon in early Summer, when I met Christopher Sokol of Sokol Books Ltd, who was kind enough to give me my first proper job, with early books and manuscripts. From there I moved on to Quaritch, and then to the ABA.

Why do you feel festivals and rare book weeks are the way forward?

We have to be proactive about reaching out to possible new collectors. Someone who goes to a lecture about rare books this year may be persuaded into a book shop down the line. Not everyone has the confidence to go into a book fair right away. The more people who know about rare books, and are talking about them, the better. Rare Books London provides the chance to learn about old books, to handle them, to go into the premises of the best dealers in the world. It also showcases some of the world's finest collections and most famous collectors. I just wish I could go to all the events!

Finally, for our overseas visitors, where do you find some calm after an eventful day in London?

I think a walking tour of literary London with either Alice Ford-Smith (The Walking Librarian) or Anthony Davis (Booksteps) is well worth doing. Coincidentally, both are participating in this year's festival. I'd also very much recommend a trip down to the banks of the Thames. It is incredibly peaceful by the water, and of course there is always the chance of finding treasure, just like the mudlarking urchins of long ago did.


Camilla, thank you very much for the interview. We wish you, your team and all partners and participants a succesful and exciting time and we hopefully see the festival being repeated in 2018!

For all info about Rare Books London, visit the website www.rarebookslondon.com

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