Thursday 24 May 2018

David Attenborough Officially Opens the ABA Rare Book Fair, Battersea, London

Now, clearly I'm not a serious collector - I don't have the cash to pursue rare book collecting, but I will openly admit that I have a passion for books.  I was blessed that I grew up in a house with  shelves groaning under the weight of books stacked three deep, and we've always tried to ensure that there are plenty around for Ruby to pick up whenever the mood takes.  It seems to have worked as she has a constant and ever-growing pile on her bedside table.

I'll happily lose hours on end in second-hand bookshops, soaking up the aroma that you only get from  musty old dust jackets, so when I got an invite the the ABA Rare Book Fair today I was intrigued. But when I heard who would be opening the fair, well I couldn't turn down the opportunity to be in the presence of the great man.

We've all heard Sir David Attenborough's voice on the TV, veering from soothing tones to passionate animation and hearing him speak live was a real honour.

Sir David Attenborough opens 61st ABA Rare Book Fair

Sir David Attenborough officially opens Battersea ABA Rare Book Fair

Not surprisingly, the first book he ever remembers purchasing was a copy of Darwin's classic The Origin of the Species. He recalls buying it in a shop in Leicester at the age of 15 for one shilling. This wasn't a First Edition, but the 13th edition, notable as this edition was first time in any of his books he used the word 'evolution', and with a run of only 1,250 copies it is now considered quite rare.

Aptly, this ABA Rare Book Fair, now in it's 61st year, is held in Battersea's Evolution in the heart of Battersea Park and just a hop across the bridge from Chelsea if you happen to be visiting the Flower Show this weekend.

ABA Rare Book Fair 2018

If you're thinking that maybe this isn't for you, please don't be put off attending a fair like this thinking it will be full of earnest and stuffy bibliophiles. People were more than happy to chat to a mere amateur like me and where better to start than attending one of their 'visiting your first book fair' talks.  In fact there is a wide range of talks and workshops sure to interest everyone, from the BBC's Antiques Roadshow book expert Matthew Haley guiding you on a search of the 'pleasingly affordable and collectible' delights on offer (10:30 Saturday), to the hand-press printing stand situated near the entrance with the St Bride Foundation - find out more about the original Fleet Street printers and their fascinating history.  I can recommend spending some time in the very good company of Mark Cockram  who knows all there is to know about book-binding.  In his intimate workshops he'll guide you through the principles of making a pamphlet book, and in a short 25 minutes you'll have made your very own creation to take home.

Mark Cockram Book Binder

Wondering around the stalls is a feast for the eyes with ancient manuscripts and maps on display, exquisite coloured plates, all manner of ephemera, beautiful book-binding patterned and marbled papers and ornate calligraphy.

If huge leather-bound gilded tomes are not your thing, then you can marvel at the modern classics like a set of first edition Fleming Bonds or Terry Pratchett works.  For those of us more financially endowed, perhaps peruse the First Edition JRR Tolkien's Hobbit, one of only two copies produced so that the nervous new author could show it to his local publisher.  This particular one was then bound and bejewelled and is now for sale for a cool £100,000.

The fair is totally free to enter, the workshops are free too, and families attending on Saturday can go along to the children's tour at 3pm.  Go to the website to sign up for free tickets to enter. The fair is only on until Saturday 26th May so do try to make it. Open from 10am-7pm on Friday 25th and 10am-5pm on Saturday 26th.  Combine it with an afternoon in the park, a visit to the boating lake cafe, or a wonder around Chelsea and Sloane Square soaking up the Chelsea Flower Show excitement and the spectacular floral arrangements on show at numerous Chelsea shops this week.

Thank you to the ABA for inviting me along.