Monday, 3 December 2007

Designer Bookbinders Annual Bookbinding Competition

Having been asked for the second year running to be a judge for the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Associations prizes given at the Designer Bookbinders Annual Bookbinding Competition, it was a special pleasure to attend the private view on November 17th at John Rylands University Library. I had not revisited Manchester since I was a student there in the early 80s. I loved it then and I love it now – the skyline has been completely transformed, there are new buildings everywhere but somehow the city has retained its unique charm and continues to have a real buzz and edge. I also managed to take in a great Jill Scott gig at the Academy down by the university.

The set book for the competition this year was this:

The Somme: An Eyewitness History'
288 pages, with 16 pages of black and white photographs

“Commissioned by the Folio Society to commemorate the ninetieth anniversary of the battle of the Somme, this magnificent and moving book relives the most terrible military campaign in British history through the accounts of participants from both sides, from the generals at the headquarters to the ordinary soldiers in the trenches.”

I thought that there were many terrific interpretations, not least one copy of the book bound as a kitbag complete with whistle and leather pouch (by Shelley Richards, probably my personal favourite in the whole competition); there was much use of representations of poppies, mud and barbed wire, others more understatedly had names of the fallen in gilt or blind. Two of the prizes my colleague Michael Silverman and I awarded were for books other than the set book however. I’m told that lettering is just about the most difficult aspect of binding and it has to be said that a number of entries were let down by it, making Laurence Worms’ (Ash Rare Books) lettering prize all the more essential.

It was all in stark contrast to last year’s entries when the set book was A Book of Mediterranean Foods and Other Writings by Elizabeth David, also published by The Folio Society, 2005. Particularly striking was a copy of the book bound by Mary Norwood with a rather beautiful silver fish appearing to be leaping through it:

(Image courtesy of the British Library)

Here is a list of the 2007 prizewinners:

The Mansfield Medal for Best Book in the Competition
Dominic Riley

Folio Society prize for the Set Book
1st Prize: Dominic Riley
2nd Prize: Ann Tout

The Clothworkers' Prize for Open Choice Book
1st Prize: Dominic Riley
2nd Prize: Kaori Maki

DB award for Forwarding
Simon Haigh

DB award for Finishing
Mariko Whiteway

The Arthur Johnson Award (judged by Bernard Middleton)
Simeon Glyn Jones

The Elizabeth Greenhill award for Gold Tooling

Pamela Richmond

The Ash Rare Books Lettering award
Margaret Willmer

The J. Hewit & Sons prize
Derek Hood

The Harmatan Leather Ltd prize
Yuko Matsuno

The Judges award (donated by Maggs Bros)
Kaori Maki

The Shepherds Falkiner Fine Papers prize
Andrew Brown

Four Highly Commended Certificates (given by Antiquarian Booksellers Association)
Judith Ellis
Vivien Frank
Tatjana Gretschmann
Shelley Richards

Monday, 26 November 2007

Ron Taylor

On Monday 19 November Julian Rota, George Lawson and other members of the staff past and present gathered at the City of London Cemetery, Manor Park, to attend the funeral of Ron Taylor. Ron, who was 79, had been a Director of the company and headed our Antiquarian Department from 1964 to 1990.

The service was a non-religious celebration of Ron's life set to the music he had chosen, from Oscar Straus and Jerome Kern to his beloved Edward Elgar. He was buried in the cemetery's woodland setting and since he was a life-long committed secular socialist we think he would be pleased to know he was not far from the burial place of George Foote, the founding editor of The Free Thinker, and Benjamin Gardner, a Labour MP for West Ham for some fourteen years.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

International Book Fair in Hong Kong

For the last few weeks we have been preparing for a trip to Hong Kong, where we will be exhibiting at the International Antiquarian Book Fair.

It is very exciting to be involved in this event, the first international antiquarian book fair held in China. Customers are welcome to visit us at Stand 31, Pacific Place Conference Centre, 5/F One Pacific Place, 88 Queensway, Hong Kong, between 30th November and 2nd December.

Monday, 1 October 2007

Hearing the sad news of the death of Philip Callow prompted me to revisit some of the other books featuring booksellers which I have enjoyed. George Sims sprang immediately to mind. He was a good friend to my father, a first-rate bookseller himself (we also recommend his Rare Book Game trilogy), erstwhile consultant to Bertram Rota Ltd and a much missed, highly charismatic, somewhat eccentric individual. I have a copy of The Last Best Friend inscribed to me which features Ned Balfour, a dealer in manuscripts and autograph letters, and explores “the quirkier fringes of the book world”. See also

Then there is Cliff Janeway, Denver-based bookman and hero of Booked to Die and The Bookman’s Wake, and, a little tangentially, the police procedural The Death of an Ardent Bibliophile by Bartholomew Gill who also wrote The Death of a Joyce Scholar.

Arturo PĂ©rez-Reverte produced The Club Dumas in 1993, echoing his previous work The Flanders Panel, both set in the world of antiquarian booksellers, the former becoming Polanski’s The Ninth Gate featuring Johnny Depp.

If you’re looking for a real page-turner though, try Robert Lindsey’s A Gathering of Saints. It’s one of a number of books on the subject – the Mormon forgeries of Mark Hofmann - but it’s a great thriller whether you are interested in books and manuscripts or not.

Thursday, 27 September 2007

Philip Callow (1924-2007)

We were very sorry to hear of the death of Philip Callow on September 22nd. The novelist was a customer, and the writer of his obituary called us to obtain a copy of The Hosanna Man. This, his first book, brought him recognition but also unfortunate controversy. A Nottingham bookseller claimed that one of the characters, Thompson, was modelled on himself, and threatened legal action. To me, Thompson seems no more nasty than the many other (unfounded) stereotypes of the bookseller in literature - and certainly not a spot on Arthur Gwyn Geiger in The Big Sleep.

In a rare instance of publishers listening to booksellers, Cape withdrew the novel and pulped all the remaining stock. First Editions are subsequently scarce. Not surprisingly, we fielded many phone calls this week from customers hoping to obtain a copy of the book. For all those who were disappointed, here's a picture of the colourful dust-wrapper.

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

The Cycle by Neil Bousfield

Neil Bousfield is the only artist I know to produce a wood engraving of a Job Centre. While this image is a powerful expression of the tension between two brothers competing for little benefit, both the subject and the artist's medium are handled with delicacy and skill.

The print is one of two hundred in Neil's 'novel in wood engravings', The Cycle, which he brought in to show me recently. The narrative of The Cycle refers to a pattern of social exclusion repeated through the generations in a family who escape their difficult reality through crime and alcoholism.

The Society of Wood Engravers think Neil's work is great, and have kindly sponsored him through recent printmaking projects. Nonetheless, with such an epic project before him, Neil took a very economical attitude to the job, and disciplined himself to produce one engraving every day. The consequent integrity of art and politics calls to mind the book works of Frans Masereel. As Neil left the shop, he was talking of an upcoming print series which will portray different aspects of the city of London. I can't wait to see it.