Firsts Bookfair – London’s rare book fair

One of the most popular and prestigious rare book fairs in the world

Guest blog by Stephen Foster

This week, Firsts Bookfair returns to the Saatchi Gallery in Sloane Square.  It is the UK’s premium event for old and rare books but is also one of the most popular and prestigious rare book fairs in the world.

This fabulous venue is just a short walk from Sloane Square Tube Station on the King’s Road.  Run by the Antiquarian Booksellers Association, and open to the public between Friday 17 and Sunday 19 May, it is housed over three floors with exhibitors including not only some of the finest in the UK but from across the globe.

This year’s theme is the Art of the Book, and as usual, there will be some fabulous items on display, all of which can be purchased!

You’ll see everything from Illuminated Manuscripts and Incunabula, unique Archives and scarce author signed copies. These museum quality items attract the many libraries and institutions that travel from around the world to purchase for their collections. But as well as that, there is plenty on offer that will not break the bank.

Books can showcase the arts in so many ways, via the printing processes used, the typography, the skilled craft bindings.  Many well-known artists have produced books, and many great artisans have been involved in the fabulous illustrations and designs.

Image: Last year’s ‘Firsts’ Bookfair at the Saatchi Gallery at Sloane Square

Some of the most beautiful books ever produced in England

I’ve been a member of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association since 2000, and our summer bookfairs have always been a highlight of the calendar, but we’ve found a fantastic home at the Saatchi. A well-lit, spacious gallery, it provides an excellent space to allow us to show off the best of our books.

Last year one of my first sales was of the beautiful Eric Ravilious illustrated book High Street – the only major work with colour lithographs produced during his lifetime.

Images: Eric Ravilious’ illustrations for High Street

He was killed in the War, and the original printing plates were destroyed during the Blitz, preventing any reprint. The previous year, one of my colleagues sold a stunning copy of one of the most beautiful books ever produced in England, William Morris’s 1896 publication, the Kelmscott Chaucer.

Morris was inspired by Emery Walker  to set up the Kelmscott Press, just up the road in Hammersmith. Although we don’t have a copy of the six-figure original, we do have what I think is the best facsimile available of the beautiful Burne Jones illustrated book. It reproduces the Doves Bindery design on the cream Morocco binding, and it’s printed on a beautiful laid paper.

Images: Pages from the Kelmscott Press Chaucer

The very old and ancient are well represented at the event, but there is also the modern. Visually stunning books, posters and fine bindings from the 20th century and to date. First editions with their often iconic dustjacket artwork, Golden Age travel posters, and exquisitely executed designer bookbinding.

One of the more modern books we’ll be taking should feel especially at home in a Saatchi building. It is a special edition of Andrew Graham-Dixon’s book on Howard Hodgkin published in 1994.  Housed in a slipcase, it’s one of only 200 copies that were issued with a signed intaglio print, produced from one plate in two colours and hand-painted with red tempera.

Images: Andrew Graham-Dixon’s book on Howard Hodgkin

Free entry tickets to Chiswick Calendar subscribers

We’re offering a free entry ticket for Chiswick Calendar subscribers – you can download a ticket via the link on our website which gets you in for all three days.

Book tickets – Firsts Bookfair ticket link

We’ll be on stand K98, and you can view some of our highlights on the Firsts website, but we’ve also created a special catalogue of some of the books we’ll be taking.

Come to see the beauties on display, stay to meet the booksellers who know and love their stock, and maybe leave with a beautiful book that sparks a collection.

Stephen Foster is the owner of Foster Books at 183 Chiswick High Rd. 

Foster Books is a member of The Chiswick Calendar’s Club Card scheme. See Stephen’s discount offer to subscribers here: Foster Books Club Card offer

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