The recent announcement of the upcoming 21st Chelsea Antiquarian Book Fair in the Chelsea section of London, UK is a refreshing reminder that while the wheels on the rare book bus sometimes grind they never stop. English booksellers, for five hundred years, have survived famines, invasions, recessions and depressions and of late battled both the economic downturn and the bruited ‘death of books’ at the hands of e-readers. You could then be forgiven for thinking the surf is breaking over the retaining walls but never fear. Booksellers have been hearing the end is near for so long it’s now a collectible category.
Booksellers today, as they have since Columbus discovered America, take the long view for on their shelves is all the evidence one needs that the printed word in its many forms has seen and survived worse countless times. In such turmoil as we experience today commitment to the ancient art of book selling is therefore all the more honorable for the greater efforts needed to achieve sometimes lesser rewards.
In November, on the 4th and 5th the diligent and faithful will gather in Chelsea to chat about, examine, purchase and sell collectible materials offered by members of the ABA, the Antiquarian Booksellers Association. For the antiquarian such opportunities bring confirmation, if any is needed that, while the world is aflutter, certain processes are durable, bending to the times but immutable in their character. For those wise enough to understand that history is a continuum this fair and others like it staged around the world carry the flame on into a future where important and collectible books, manuscripts, maps and ephemera will always have a place.
The Chelsea fair this year welcomes a number of new exhibitors and dealers who have not exhibited for several years. Together seventy-five or more than a third of the entire ABA membership will participate giving promise of a worthwhile event.