Latest from Lockdown: Firsts Online, Collaborative Catalogues and Virtual Fairs

Firsts London
by Silke Lohmann

We are now in week nine of lockdown in the UK and a lot has happened during a time when our lives have been restricted so dramatically. The antiquarian book world seems to have got on with it and it has brought about some fantastic collaborations among dealers and some new ways to run book fairs and sell books around the world.

The pandemic may have made book collecting even more global as the local shops are closed and none of the fairs are taking place in physical format, we have become even more open to buying online.

The 2020 edition of Firsts London sadly had to be postponed to 2021, but from 2pm GMT on Friday, 5th June the ABA's first digital fair will open with the best items from each exhibitor. It will feature items from top international dealers including Sophia Rare Books (Denmark), Antiquariat Dasa Pahor GbR (Germany), Imperial Fine Books Inc (USA), Bruce Marshall (UK) and Charlotte Du Rietz Rare Books (Sweden) to name a few. Each exhibitor has been invited to showcase up to 12 highlights from what would have been their exhibited stock at the annual fair in London. This smaller showcase of items has encouraged the dealers to upload many of their most interesting and significant pieces, creating a remarkable and diverse selection from around the world.

The ABA has been showcasing highlights on the fair website for years, so it was relatively easy to enhance that function and give visitors a better virtual fair experience with all items searchable by category, dealer, and keyword and each listed highlight features a brief description, condition, and price with a contact link to the dealer. It will be open until 11th June.

At the same time, across the pond, the ABAA are also launching their inaugural Virtual Book Fair. It will be opening at 10 am EST on Thursday, 4th June until Sunday, 7th June and promises new acquisitions and rare and unique items available exclusively at the online book fair. Marvin Getman is also holding his first-ever virtual book and paper fair in June.

We reported on the opening of Salon du Livre Rare in Paris last month (the online fair closes this Saturday, 23rd May) and on the 1st May the organisers could already report a real success of their first venture into virtual fairs with 9,000 unique visitors in the first three days and 55,000 downloads of the exhibitor catalogue and 24,000 weblinks activated. The physical fair will now take place from 17th to 20th September 2020.

The wonderful collaborations between book dealers is definitely a positive result of Corona. One of the latest catalogues on our website is by Susanne Schulz-Falster, Amanda Hall and Deborah Coltham, who wanted to keep up some semblance of normality and followed up on their first joint venture 'A School Day in Books' with a catalogue that might reflect the very different lives that we all rather abruptly find ourselves living.

Discombobulation, or Musings on life in Lockdowntries to capture some of the principal preoccupations facing us all at the moment. Included are books, manuscripts and ephemera on treating and caring for the sick and vulnerable, but also those encouraging self improvement and taking up new hobbies, home entertainment and well-being & fitness. Last but not least there is a section on 'what the future holds'. This catalogue is very much a product of its time and it shows the wonderful collegiality of the book trade.

While the antiquarian book trade seems to have been adapting to the new situation as quickly as possible. Institutions often tend to be less flexible due to their dependence on physical visitors. Among those asking for support is the Globe Theatre, which was last year's charity partner at Firsts, and which usually operates without public subsidy. It is not eligible for an emergency suppprt package made available by Arts Council England and as a result the theatre may not be able to survive the crisis and is currently asking for donations.

The Dickens Museum is in a similar situation and it sadly coincides with the 150th anniversary of the author's death when many events had been planned. In Sussex the Charleston Festival had to be cancelled and the Charleston Emergency Appeal has been set up to help with the regular income needed to support the home of the Bloomsbury Group. 


Below image: One of only five pages of The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club manuscript by Charles Dickens remaining in private hands [c. April 1837] by exhibitor Peter Harrington

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