There is little that is more enjoyable than going to an antiquarian book fair. If you love books, if you love old books, then an antiquarian book fair is a wonderland for you. I have been going to one book fair which is held every second Sunday of the month for the last 8 years. Out of this pilgramage I have built a library collection of old books going back as far as 1698.

The bulk are 19th century, a few are 18th century and then there a couple which are 17th century. If you do not know this book market then you would be forgiven for thinking I am talking about treasures and high monetary values. Actually, I very rarely spend more than £2 a book and my largest financial investment was £25 for one book which I thought was very special. Yesterday, for example, I spent a total of £32 for which I brought home 17 books. That’s less than £2 a book on average.

Why are they so cheap? Well no-one wants them. Book collectors look for top quality condition, first editions, known titles and known authors. They collect books to stack on a shelf and accumulate value as an investment. I collect books because I want the content and am mad enough to believe that an 1854 book about all of the industrial processes in Britain is something worth preserving.

Do I pick up a bragin or even a treasure? Yes, occasionally I get something special but the value shown on antiquarian book sites can be misleading. There are many books which are up for sale for £100 or more but that does not mean they sell! the truth is that people are dreadfully optomistic about the value of old books and many people think that because a book is old it must be worth money. That simply is not the case.

Here is a list of what I got yesterday.

 

8 books of the 16 book set The History of England by Hume and Smollett. Published by James S. Virtue, undated but believed to be approximately 1873.

Why did I make this purchase?

This is a beautiful treasure of information and insight. There are reports and information within these volumes which I suspect would be very hard to glean elsewhere. For example, when browing, I came across a report from 1867 of the deaths of two British army officers in the city of Kamakura, Japan. Only a dozen lines or so but enough to reveal names, regiment and details of their murders at the hands of Japanese citizens. This set is filled with valuable historical, sociological and ecomomic information.

What attracted me to this set?

Immediately I could see that these 8 books were good quality in their day. They have gold leaf on the page edges external to the binding. They also have gold leaf embossed designs on the spine and red board covers. This was not a cheap set in its day. The condition is not perfect but mostly the covers just show the signs of reasonably wear over a 140 year life span. The insides of the books are crisp white with strong ink and no foxing. Overall, these are in good condition.

Did I know anything about the authors or the publication?

No.

How much did I pay?

£1 a book, £8 in all. It is important to note two things, these books are not anything that would really interest a serious collector and I do not collect them as an investment but purely to save and preserve the information they contain.

Research once Home:

Beautiful set incorporating all four volumes in 16 books. No publication date but around 1873. Invasion of Julius Caesar to the end of the reign of James 2 by David Hume; from the reign of William and Mary to the death of George 2 by Tobias Smollett and from the accession of George 3 to the 37th year of the reign of Queen Victoria by E. Farr and E.H. Nolan. Red embossed cloth binding gilt illustration on front and spine. Many engravings throughout, most with original tissue. All page edges are gillt. Binding is tight and foxing is slight. Spine ends bumped and scruffy but in very nice condition overall. Size: 4to – over 9¾” – 12″ tall. Bookseller Inventory # 21296  source: Sale posting on Abe Books. where a full 16 book set is offered for £433.

London and its Environs, James Elmes, Jones & Co, London 1827 -1828 -1829-1830

Why did I make this purchase?

This looked like a peach. There was no front plate so no publication details. There was a lovely personal library plate in a style of illustration which really suggests the 1920’s. Clearly the book itself is Victorian, possibly even earlier.

What attracted me to this book?

This is is one of my targets when I go to the book fair; old book about London on the cheap shelf. Everything about the look and feel of this book said it was a winner. The style of cover and binding suggested it was definitely over 100 years old and could be up to 150 years old or even more. The style of font also suggested this could be the early first half of the nineteenth century. Inside there are engravings of country houses none of which is dated after 1829.

The condition of the book is fair. A bit of wear externally but the spine is strong. The pages have some foxing but it is all legible. Clearly a second volume as the pages start at p.139.

Did I know anything about the authors or the publication?

Yes, this is quite a well known publication and is referenced in many other works on London within my collection. I believe that I may have a copy of a much later edition after 1890 but I am not sure.

How much did I pay?

This wonderful little book was £2

Research once Home:

Once home I was straight into Google on this one because I was sure it was a gem. I found the title available on ABE books and the image shown is identical to the book sitting on my desk now. I am fairly confident this is a first edition but if not, as it cannot be proven, then it is certainly prior to 1830.

Abe Books 1827 first edition $255

A Hackney Camera 1883-1918, Hackney Workers Educational Association, London (undated publication but post 1974)

Why did I make this purchase?

Absolutely stunning content.

What attracted me to this book?

This is a small cheaply produced booklet containing just photographs and small captions. The photographs are all enigmatic and of great historical vale in my opinion.

Did I know anything about the authors or the publication?

Nothing at all.

How much did I pay?

£2

Research once Home:

None.

London Lanes, Alan Stapleton, Bodley Head, London, 1930.

Why did I make this purchase?

Only 88 years old and so not really my target purchse but the subject matter is really good. Covering 39 ‘lanes’ found in London, each with a pencil drawing illustration by the author, this is a fascinating take on London history.

What attracted me to this book?

This is one of those I pick up and sort of wonder if it is for me or not. Inside, like often happens, I found a bonus, a press cutting fromThe Evening Standard, Tuesday, July 23rd, 1974. Such small discoveries always get me excited. The article is a full page story by Simon Jenkins entitled “The Lost Lanes of London”. The book itself is in reasonable condition and the content looks fascinating.

Did I know anything about the authors or the publication?

Absolutely nothing.

How much did I pay?

This was a £2 purchase.

Research once Home:

Abe Books. £8.15

The Early Days of the Sun Fire Office, Edward Baumer, Sir Joseph Causton & Sons, London, 1910.

Why did I make this purchase?

The cover has a fantastic embossed design of the original Sun fire plate. In side there are several fold out maps of London dating 1600, 1666 and 1707. Excellent condition and interesting topic.

What attracted me to this book?

My wife found this one.

Did I know anything about the authors or the publication?

No, I had not seen or heard of this one before.

How much did I pay?

I paid £4 for this one.

Research once Home:

Abe Books. £2.87

London Characters and Crooks. Henry Mayhew The Folio Society London 1996

Why did I make this purchase?

This is a purchase which is out of my normal remit inasmuch that this is a modern book, barely out of its pram! However, this is Henry Mayhew, a reprint of his 1851 work which is an absoilute classic. On these grounds alone the information inside warranted adding this to my collection.

What attracted me to this book?

Quite simply that it is a reprint of the 1851 classic by Mayhew.

Did I know anything about the authors or the publication?

Yes, Henry Mayhew is one of the great literary figures of the 19th century. That many people will not know him says much about the fleeting nature of fame which is a lesson the ‘celebrities’ of today would do well to learn. Mayhew’s fame as the co-founder of the satirical magazine Punch is compounded by his ground breaking work work London Labour and the London Poor.

How much did I pay?

This was a £2 purchase

Research once Home:

Abe Books. £12.95

Richard Cobden and the Free Traders, Lewis Apjohn, Walter Scott, London 1886

Why did I make this purchase?

This was spotted by my wife. She has a really good eye for a book and I would say that 20% of my collection at least are down to her. The cover of this book has a quite beautiful decoration in the style of William Morris. the subject is interesting and very pertinent to our times when protectionism appears to be coming back into international politics.

What attracted me to this book?

A good looking book in good condition with an interesting and topical subject centred on the life of a famous Victorian Liberal, Richard Cobden. 1886 is a good date and there is a fine copperplate ink signature inside the front cover; William Pate, 1889.

Did I know anything about the authors or the publication?

Nothing about the author but I had studied Free Trade and Liberalism in the 19th century when at Ruskin College.

How much did I pay?

This great little book was £4

Research once Home:

Abe Books. 1885 edition £23.50

The Towns of Roman Britain, John Wacher, Book Club Associates, London. 1976.

Why did I make this purchase?

This subject is very interesting.

What attracted me to this book?

I just hadn’t seen a book on this subject before and this one looked comprehensive. There are maps of each of the Roman Towns and in some cases there are several maps of the same town showing different stages of development.

Did I know anything about the authors or the publication?

Nothing at all.

How much did I pay?

This book cost £4.

Research once Home:

Abe Books. £0.72 Obviously it looks like there are plenty of copies of this book and they can’t give them away. Does this worry me? No, absolutely not. I don’t collect these books for their value but for their content.

Chronicles of Bow street Police-Office, Vol II, Percy Fitzgerald, F.S.A., Chapman and Hall, London 1888.

Why did I make this purchase?

This is a great subject. In my collection I have several books from the Victorian period about crime, the police and the lives of police officers. These include the diary of a Bow Street Runner and the biographies of two Victorian police officers. Just a winner everyday.

What attracted me to this book?

The content.

Did I know anything about the authors or the publication?

Had not seen or heard of this one before.

How much did I pay?

This was a £4 purchase.

Research once Home:

Klime. $95 for both volumes

London, its origin and early development, William Page, F.S.A., Constable and Company, London, Bombay, Sydney. 1923

Why did I make this purchase?

London being the topic.

What attracted me to this book?

Just the topic.

Did I know anything about the authors or the publication?

Nothing at all.

How much did I pay?

£2

Research once Home:

William Page.

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