Thursday, July 4, 2013

A visit to Cecil Court

On 20 June, eight special collections librarians from libraries around London and the South East gathered in Cecil Court, just off Charing Cross Road in London. Cecil Court, occasionally known as Booksellers Row, is filled with antiquarian and other booksellers who have held out against the tides of Amazon and London rent prices. We were met by ABA (Antiquarian Booksellers' Association) Council Member Laurence Worms and promised a glimpse into the world of buying and selling rare books.

The trip was organised in part at concern that many librarians haven’t had a chance to build relationships with booksellers, and Laurence introduced us to no fewer than seven different booksellers’ shops. Each told us a bit about their speciality, from the children’s classics of Marchpane to the modern first editions of Goldsboro Books – both of which had a few of us reaching into our pockets or even library funds. We saw the first atlas printed in English and discussed satirical maps at Tim Bryars, climbed down into a Dickensian basement full of sheet music at Travis & Emery and discussed catalogues of vice books – gambling, gay literature and westerns – at Natalie Galustian Rare Books.

We had been promised the opportunity to ask any question about the bookselling trade, and those we met answered our questions with as much honesty as possible. Frank discussions of pricing and the problems/opportunities of the internet took place alongside fascinating conversations on the history of mapping in Antwerp and the market for children’s books in China and Japan.

A trip to Cecil Court – and the opportunity to learn about and from the booksellers located there – should be a must for any rare book or special collections staff. I've already put it to use, purchasing a few small bits for the Museum of English Rural Life Library and dealing with a volume of Dutch maps found in our collections. Many thanks are due to the CILIP Rare Books and Special Collections Group and the ABA for organizing this one.

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