There were two antiquarian booksellers in London that were the focus of our trip for collecting purposes: Quaritch and Magg Bros. Ltd.
Our first stop was at Maggs Bros. Ltd., having been deposited on the doorstep by our private, book tour guide, Anthony Davis, and introduced to bookseller, Ben Maggs, who focuses his work on private press books as well as modern books. (That’s a Kelmscott Chaucer he’s holding open in the photo.)
Established in 1853, Maggs is one of the world’s largest antiquarian booksellers and an institution that I had heard about for many years. More recently, in my California Rare Book School course on Descriptive Bibliography, the instructor had mentioned Maggs as a place to visit in London and was kind to make an introduction to Mr. Maggs.
While the obvious goal of the bookseller is to make sales, we were pleased that Mr. Maggs seemed also happy to take the time to talk to us about books and book history in general. Why are books still important? What is a book? What is it about reading an analog book that is a unique experience? (On this, he recommended reading The Shallows by Nicholas Carr.) Where are books heading, including the book arts movement? What is the interplay between collectors, institutions, auction houses, and booksellers?
When it comes to working with booksellers and establishing long-term collecting relationships, sharing the values I have for stewardship and preservation in collecting seems like an initial priority. I want to work with booksellers who are not only interested in turning a profit, but who genuinely care about the literary content of the book, the quality of the printing, and the art of the binding. I would like to work with booksellers who seem to care where the books end up and how they will be cared for future generations. I got a sense from our discussions with Mr. Maggs that we could have these conversations with him and he would actually enjoy them as much as we do.
We did purchase a fine press book from Maggs, but more importantly, we came away with a feeling that we were welcome there as collectors and as bibliophiles who are curious to learn more about the profession. We enjoyed our conversation with Mr. Maggs, and I hope to see him next year when he visits for the bi-annual CODEX book fair in California.