Bernard Quaritch Ltd. is one of London’s oldest antiquarian booksellers and played a fascinating role in book history going back to 1847. It’s hard to estimate the importance of this institution not only to the book trade, but to publishing and literary history as well. (For example, in the The Book Collector: Special Number for the 150th Anniversary of Bernard Quaritch (1997), there is an interesting collection of letters from William Morris to Quaritch.)
The team at Quaritch invited us to meet them during their morning tea and coffee break where we were introduced to the different departments and areas of interests of the different booksellers. It also gave us the chance to explain a little of our background and interests in collecting. Donovan Rees was our host for the day showing us around the new premises on Bedford Row as well as setting up a table full of books based on our interests in collecting. (Later during our trip to Oxford, Mr. Rees introduced us to the rare books curator at the Bodleian for a tour which I’ll blog about separately.)
Before our visit to London, we had shared some of the subject areas we were exploring and explained that as we were in the beginning of researching and formulating ideas for collecting, that we were going broad rather than specific at this point in time. Mr. Rees did an excellent job of putting a wide range on the table both in terms of price and rarity and variety of interest. The challenge of the day was not becoming too overwhelmed by the beauty and/or historical importance of some of these books. For example, we examined the first publication of Ada Lovelace’s work.
We spent the majority of a day reviewing the books on the table and learning. Bookseller Andrea Mazzocchi joined us later in the day with books from one of his specialties. He did an excellent job of teaching us about the unique publishing details and challenges in determining origin of these particular books. His enthusiasm for the books and their unique printing history was infectious. As a result, we ended up purchasing a few of the books that he shared with us.
One of the fascinating things about Quaritch was their archive of auction catalogs going back to the beginning of their establishment. These old catalogs have handwritten notes in them next to books that were purchased indicating which individual or institution purchased the book and the price point. This is an invaluable research tool for book provenance and one that they make available to scholars. Because of its rich history as a London institution, Quaritch has strong relationships with the British Library, the Bodleian, and other venerable libraries throughout the world. It was quite an experience to be welcomed into their operation and invited to learn more about their profession and collecting.