A Trip to the Olympia Book Fair
By Ellie Aroney
introducing Douglas Stewart, Frank Werner of Brockhaus/Antiquarium, Edmund Brumfitt of Pickering & Chatto, and James Hallgate of Lucius Books
One of the reasons I love working as a bookseller is how often I get to travel and meet interesting people. Tomorrow I jump on a plane and head for London to promote the International Antiquarian Bookfair in Hong Kong. I will be attending the Olympia Book Fair, one of the world's most prestigious fairs. In the next few weeks I will tell you my experiences.
A fun day at set-up!
I went to the book fair yesterday and helped and watched most people set up. It was interesting just to be there to watch people and not have the stress of the situation take over me. I was very impressed by the use of porters at the show. It gave it a much nicer quality than if you have to do these things like moving boxes around yourself.
I walked around the fair and said hello to all those people I recognised. It was nice to see so many familiar faces. Although it was a little daunting to see how many people I will be introducing myself to. I don't think much will happen today because it is the first day of trade and I would hate to get in people's way.
After the fair, I went to dinner with Douglas Stewart. It was his first time exhibiting at Olympia. He explained that coming to this fair, was something he aspired to as a young bookseller. It was very obvious how excited he was and how much it meant to him. In celebration he produced a very sexy catalogue. A high gloss thick card with a strikingly beautiful cover. He told me that while he is at the fair he will be sending this same catalogue to his special customers!
For dinner we went to this cute little place called Maggie's in Kensington Street. It had hanging baskets of lavender and posies of dried roses and large bowls of fruit for decoration. The lighting was low and intimate and there was a jolly feeling within the cosy atmosphere. The meal and the staff was lovely. I had a great time with Douglas and his sweet, smart assistant Caitlyn Littlewood.
At the beginning of the fair, there is an exciting buzz. Trading has already begun before the doors have even opened.
Some people are stressfully putting the finishing details on there stands at the very last minute. Others have grins on their faces as they say hello to their good friends and colleagues. It is the greatest moment in every book fair. A room full of hope.
The books here are fantastic and at times to me unbelievable. Some things here I have only read about in books. Today, I look up close and even touch some pages.
There are beautiful books all over the hall. I like beautiful books, but today my favourite books are the fashion books. There are displayed men in military uniforms and women in various dresses. These images often coloured by hand. It is at this point today that I think, I was to open my own bookshop today, this is the material I'd like to deal in. Of course yesterday it was philosophical books, the day before medical books. But here lies the pleasure of a book fair. You see those books, those objects that hold something important in your heart, are important for you because of some small memory you have as a child or an adult.
As I strolled the book fair this morning, I met a man who quite striking turns out to be a charming and jolly man with an obvious love for ethnology. I saw some objects on his stand, things that I have never seen before. Palm bark books with a language that I don't recognise, and next to these, bamboo sticks about the length of a ruler with a similar script.
Frank Werner of Brockhaus/Antiquarium told me that these books are from a Batak cannibalistic tribe who designed their own language possibly before the Europeans. They were very beautiful objects, ones that I would have like to touch but didn't dare because of their meaning in history.
They were four objects in total. The first two were recipes for magical and medical positions which were illustrated with pictures to show the causes of the ailments. Another objects, this one bamboo, he told me is a threatening letter. “oh?” I said and he replied "I would not like to receive a threatening letter from a cannibal." I nodded my head in agreement.
Edmund Brumfitt from Pickering and Chatto
Edmund Brumfitt was one of the first international booksellers that I ever met. I'd just started working at The Cornstalk Bookshop and one afternoon had gone to an old friend's house for a get together. Edmund was there and spoke of a book shop in London that he worked called Pickering and Chatto. Quite a few years later I walked through Olympia fair I ran into his familiar face. I asked him how he is going.
He had a big grin on his face as he told me that he is well and still enjoying book selling after 12 years. Pickering and Chatto have been in operation for nearly two hundred years so Edmund is a relatively young bookseller. His stand was filled with interesting nick-nacks and ephemeral items. My eyes dashed around excitedly. I was unsure about which thing looked most interesting and so I said. "What is your favourite thing on the stand?" He pickedup and international fair book with glossy elaborately decorated covers. Within the covers is a sort of scrap book with among other things photographs and memorial cards. It was a really lovely item, and I immediately understood why he chose it.
Just before the opening I headed outside for a quick bit to eat. There was a long line of people trailing down the street waiting to get into the book fair. I entered the hall that was now filled with nervous booksellers.
When the doors opened and the people flooded in the temperature rose within the venue. People zipped from stand to stand hoping they haven't missed out. These customers may look like gentlemen, but when they are after a book you better move out of their way!
The space stayed lively until a few minutes to close. People walked from the venue with bags of books under their arms. I think this is a good sign.
James Hallgate would have to be one of the most level headed and lovely booksellers that I have ever met. There is always an air of calm about this man, even when setting up for a fair, one of the most exhausting times. From time to time James will visit us in Australia. He will fly all around the world to get that special book. The books he has on offer look pristine. He deals in modern firsts, in many ways a very tricky field. Whinnie the Pooh and artwork for a James bond cover are amongst his wares.
To be continued ...
The article was published on Introducing the Cornstalk Gang. It is presented here by permission of the author.
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