Books, glorious books. Is there anything more precious than words printed on a page? When the written language was invented, it transformed the human race. With the ability to record events, memories, and ideas, people were able to pass down their knowledge from generation to generation without risk of the information being lost or forgotten. You could say that books formed civilisation.
Today there are all kinds of books: fact, fiction, philosophy, poetry, how-tos, and they all come in varying quality - not just in terms of content, but in appearance as well. I know they always say never judge a book by its cover, but there is something inherently more special about a leather bound hardback than there is a paperback, even if the story inside is exactly the same.
I think it is partly because it suggests that more love and attention has gone into the making of it. Today, books are all created in mass by machine, so the personal touch is not there, but centuries ago, books were all made by hand. They would be written by educated men of the church in beautiful calligraphy, then carefully and painstakingly bound. Just one book could take years to produce, which is why they were so expensive.
When William Caxton brought the printing press to England, it created uproar. People believed it was corrupting the words of God. While this does not concern me in any way, I do sense the loss of that unique touch that each book would have had.
Still, without Caxton, books never would have been affordable to the common people, so we have a lot to thank him for. Binding books was still a labour of love, and the hard work and dedication that went into making them clearly shows.
If you like these books of old, then you won't want to miss the PBFA London International Antiquarian Book Fair. Taking place over the 14th & 15th June at the ILEC Conference Centre in Earls Court, the fair is run by the Provincial Booksellers Fairs Association. Founded in 1974, the association grew out of a want to provide booksellers a shopping window in London. Over the last forty years, their members have gone from just twenty to over five hundred, and they exhibit regularly at PBFA events.
Exhibitors this June will include Bauman Rare Books, Toby English, Westfield Books, and many more. Entry is free, but the books most certainly are not. These rare, vintage, 1st edition, and signed books are unsurprisingly pricey, so unless you are a serious collector, it will be a browsing only experience. Among the highlights of the show, the cheapest book is called Machine Gun Training and costs £150. On the other end of the spectrum you will find an eighteen volume Regency Binding collection with fore-edge paintings in a glass display cabinet for £9,750.
But to me, the price is inconsequential; it is the experience that counts - being able to admire the craftsmanship, touch the pages, and learn about the books.
The fair will be open on Friday between 2pm-7pm, then again on Saturday from 10am-4pm.