The York Antiquarian Book Seminar – Second Edition (2015)
By Pauline Schol
After waiting at King’s Cross for a considerable amount of time for our train to arrive (first blamed on a ‘terrorist threat’, later referred to simply as ‘an incident’, and eventually on ‘a person on the track’), we finally arrived in York around supper time on Sunday.
We were expected at the Bar Convent at 8.30am the following morning, where we were greeted to YABS 2015 by the lovely Alice Laverty (Mrs Keel Row Bookshop). The day started with an introduction by the faculty, which consisted of Jonathan Kearns, Anthony Smithson, Simon Beattie, Justin Croft, Sophie Schneideman and the keynote speaker, Sally Burdon.
Day One was largely dedicated to teaching us about how to run a business, entrepreneurship and financial know-how, but we ended the day with Simon and Justin introducing us to the finer points of bibliographical description. The next morning we picked up where we left off and after a couple of hours we were given books to catalogue ourselves.
I was given a very interesting copy of “The Ballad of Reading Gaol” by Oscar Wilde. As this edition was printed on the recto of the leaves only, I was having quite some trouble paginating it. Even the Guvnor’s amazing “Cataloguing for Booksellers” booklet could not offer help [oops! – he’s just e-mailed me back telling me to look at p.34]. Someone had also rubbed out the second edition statement, making it look like a first edition. Quite the challenge!
I didn’t know York had so many bookshops. Apart from the ones we actually got to visit, we passed many more on our tour. At every shop we were given about twenty minutes to have a look around. Our group of twenty-seven students plus faculty members swarmed inside the tiny shops like ants, although I guess we were more like moths drawn to a flame. It was a smart move on someone’s part to show this many booksellers, librarians and other assorted bibliophiles these bookshops – many books were bought.
The day concluded, as was becoming quite the habit by then, at the House of Trembling Madness – a tiny pub above a beer shop. Not sure if the pub lived up to its name, or if it was the beer, or the many examples of taxidermy on the walls, but it did not take long for our imaginations to run wild. Putting our lessons to use, we came up with entrepreneurial plans involving systems, brand new specialities and whole new techniques of bookselling.
Our third and final day opened with a lecture by Sophie Schneideman on the Art of the Book. She talked about different techniques of printing and illustration, different bindings and a little bit on paper types.
Next was our first guest speaker of the day: Adam Douglas (of Peter Harrington) talked about Fakes, Forgeries and Theft, and showed us some examples that he had had to deal with during his career, such as forged signatures of Winston Churchill and Virginia Woolf, to the tale of someone who had produced an entirely faked-up copy of a book (including the binding).
During the afternoon, Nigel Burwood (Any Amount of Books) gave a highly amusing talk about how (not) to be a successful bookseller, while Ed Maggs (Maggs Brothers) showed us the ins and outs of cataloguing an archive. The honour of the final talk was given to Jonathan Kearns who gave the third and final instalment of his lectures on postmodern bookselling, giving us many useful tips on social media and how they can help you find more customers and followers.
After an open forum, we wandered down to a Greek restaurant where we continued our discussions over dinner. For those who did not catch a train home on Wednesday evening, a tour of the Minster Library was organised for Thursday morning. This beautiful library is able to continue to exist with the help of York University. The collections include many old manuscripts, although the special display the curator had put on for us was mainly of printed books. We began with some of the earliest printed books in their collection and continued into the modern era. We were shown some wonderful things, such as a small religious book owned by Katherine of Aragon, a Kelmscott Press book, some pamphlets advertising shows with lions and flying men, a bundle of letters in a satchel, and so much more.
So many thanks to all those who have helped organise this event. It has been a thrilling few days. Not only have I learned a lot about what it means to be a bookseller, but also (hopefully) how to run a successful business. I now feel so much more confident in my developing skills.