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Talks tours, and more at Firsts London

Are you new to the world of rare books, or just want an expert guide to the fair? Firsts' selection of talks and tours are a great way to learn more about book collecting and make the most of your visit to the fair. From deep-dives into beautiful botanical illustrations, to perspectives on careers in the book trade, these free events are a chance to meet experts and learn some of the secrets of the trade.

All talks will take place in the Talks Space on the top floor.

All tours will meet in the lobby. Signage will be provided to indicate the meeting point.

YABS Student Tour of Firsts London

Friday 17th May, 16:30

This tour is for prospective and previous students of the York Antiquarian Book Seminar, and will visit several YABS graduates at stands across Firsts London. It is excellent opportunity to network with other early-career booksellers and find out more about routes into the rare book trade. This tour will be led by YABS graduate Stephanie Wynn.


Dressed For Success: Judging a book by its cover with Jeremy Knight

Saturday 18th May, 15:00

Dust jackets are an area that has been driven by private collectors rather than institutions, who for many years treated them as fluff. Collectors, however, realised what a remarkable feature of the book they were. For a start, they had to tell at a glance what the book was about, 100,000 words had to be distilled in one image. Sometimes the author was involved in the design, often it was only the publisher, who may not even have read the book. They can be design masterpieces or catastrophies. This catwalk around the fair will reveal book couture at its finest with some shabby chic thrown in for good measure.

This tour will be led by Jeremy Knight, formerly curator of the Horsham Museum and part of The Book Collector's editorial board.


‘The Art of the Book’ - Colour Plate Natural History Books with Clare Marshall

Sunday 19th May, 12:00

How have colour plate books stayed desirable and highly collectible for 200 years? In this tour, Clare Marshall from Marshall Rare Books will explore their popularity, their relationship to science and exploration, and why books on birds are some of the most beautiful examples.


Modern First Editions with Les Ashton

Sunday 19th May, 13:30

Les Ashton of Les Ashton Rare Books focuses on a selection of books at Firsts to explain what really makes a book a ‘highlight’. He will be particularly focusing on Modern Firsts, i.e. Books from 1900 onwards. The tour will be emphasising the importance of dust jackets, signatures, associations, fashion and scarcity in making a title and a particular copy special. A great chance to learn more about twentieth century first editions from an expert, this tour is not to be missed by collectors and enthusiasts.


An Introduction to Book Collecting with Andrea Mazzocchi

Sunday 19th May, 15:00

Learn about the fundamentals of rare books with expert Andrea Mazzocchi from long-established dealer Bernard Quaritch. This tour will cover print history from medieval manuscripts to modern first editions, and look at trends and fashions in book collecting throughout the ages.


ARCHiOx at Firsts London

Friday 17th May, 13:30

In this presentation, Senior Photographer for the Bodleian Libraries John Barrett explores what happens when high-resolution 3D recording technologies are focused on the material culture of books. ARCHiOx (Analysis and Recording of Cultural Heritage in Oxford) is a project which uses exciting, new imaging technology, conceived by the Factum Foundation and has been successful in assisting with academic research and in revealing many incredible discoveries. Recordings of copper printing plates, Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock prints, maps, High Renaissance drawings, paintings and medieval manuscripts will all be explored and discussed.


Write Cut Rewrite: The Cutting Room Floor of Modern Literature with Dirk Van Hulle

Friday 17th May, 15:00

Before a book can be read, it needs to be written first. To write a great work of literature a writer needs to make sure that it ‘works’, that it somehow strikes a chord. A major element in this process is to ‘kill your darlings’ or the act of cutting. This form of creative undoing involves more than just authors cancelling words in their drafts. Writers are also readers; they take notes, some of which are processed in their own work, but many of which remain vestigial. Like vestigial organs, they have no direct function in the finished product, but they did have a function in the creative production process. The writer decided not to include them in their work. One would expect these ‘cuts’ to disappear in the waste-paper basket. But very often, writers do not throw them away and many of them are carefully preserved in libraries and archives. This peek behind the scenes, into authors’ workshops, reveals ideas that did not make it into our best-known novels, poems or plays, the evidence of which can only be recovered in manuscripts, held in archives and special collections.

This talk is led by Dirk Van Hulle, Professor of Bibliography and Modern Book History at the University of Oxford, and has been arranged in collaboration with the Friends of the Bodleian Library, the Firsts London library partner for 2024.


YABS Careers in Rare Books Panel

Friday 17th May, 18:00

With over 300 students having graduated from the York Antiquarian Book Seminar it's becoming difficult to find an early career book seller who had not been to YABS. This panel discussion with three YABS graduates from the last three consecutive years will discuss the impact YABS has had on their various careers and the wider trade. Hosted by Anthony Smithson, co-founder of YABS and co-owner of Keel Row Books Ltd near Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, the panellists will discuss how YABS has been a game-changer for the rare book industry in the UK, simultaneously demystifying the sometimes opaque world of the antiquarian book trade whilst providing students with the essential tools to make a living in this all encompassing of professions. The panellists will also be answering any questions the audience may have about YABS or career progression in the world of rare books.


Speaking Volumes with David Pearson

Saturday 18th May, 12:30

Books have been valued and consulted for centuries, though we often think of them mostly as words on pages, containers of knowledge, stories, ideas. But there is so much more to books than words; the ways they have been made, marked, decorated, mutilated and collected can tell us all kinds of interesting things. From the moment they leave the production line, books begin their own individual journeys, with successive owners leaving traces behind showing how they were used (or not). Books come to life when they are owned, and looking at this kind of evidence shows us what impact particular books had on previous generations. David Pearson will explore these themes, using his 2022 book, Speaking Volumes: Books with Histories, illustrating books from many centuries, in libraries around the world. He will look at books owned by kings and schoolboys, ones that have been censored or shot at, ones that have been rescued from dangerous places. He will also reflect on the importance of this kind of evidence in an increasingly digital world, when the words may be so readily available online. Afterwards, you should never look at (or collect) books in quite the same way again – or, you will look for so much more than just the words.

David Pearson is a leading expert on the history of books, after a lifetime spent working with them, writing about them and owning them. This event has been arranged in collaboration with the Friends of the Bodleian Library, the Firsts London library partner for 2024.


Monochrome with Dazeley

Saturday 18th May, 14:30

Join celebrated photographer Dazeley who will be talking about his fabulous book Monochrome. These images of plants, animals, and flowers are produced by hand and made with the original Platinotype method devised by William Willis in 1876. Platinum prints have a distinctively rich, luminous quality with great shadow detail and warmth. Printed on high-quality paper with metallic inks and casebound with a ribbon, Monochrome is a fabulous book appealing to the photographer, art, or nature lover.

Dazeley’s career has spanned over 60 years, in 1976 he started working out of his own studio in Chelsea, London. He is a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society, which is the highest distinction of the RPS and recognises original work and outstanding ability. Furthermore, Dazeley is a life member of the Association of Photographers and was awarded a British Empire Medal in 2017. His great gift is “making the ordinary look extraordinary”. This will be a chance to hear this distinguished photographer in conversation and to purchase his book afterwards.

This event is organised in association with BADA Friends.


Gifts and Books: From Early Myth to the Present with Nicholas Perkins

Saturday 18th May, 16:30

Gift-giving is fundamental to human societies, and for as long they’ve existed, written texts have been woven into patterns of generosity and exchange. In this talk, Nicholas Perkins explores some extraordinary gift books; introduces narratives about giving and receiving from ancient times to the present and across cultures; and reflects on the idea of storytelling itself as a form of gift. From ancient Sumeria to contemporary children’s literature, and from Chaucer’s pilgrims to Ebenezer Scrooge’s unexpected visitors, the power of the gift enriches and complicates the stories we tell one another. Nicholas Perkins is Professor of Medieval Literature at the University of Oxford, and a Fellow in English at St Hugh’s College, Oxford. He is the author of several books on medieval literature and culture, and curated the acclaimed exhibition Gifts and Books at the Bodleian Library in 2023.

Quotes about Gifts and Books'This lovely book will give great pleasure to very many readers.’  - Philip Pullman

'A wonderful book … A thought-provoking collection, and beautifully produced.’ - Professor Dame Marilyn Strathern

This event has been arranged in collaboration with the Friends of the Bodleian Library, the Firsts London library partner for 2024.


Other Events

Early Career Booksellers' Brunch

Saturday 18th May, 10:00

To coincide with Firsts London 2024, The Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association is delighted to host a networking brunch for early career and emerging booksellers. Join us at Saatchi Gallery on Saturday 18 May for this networking opportunity. Light refreshments will be provided. The event will run from 10:00-11:00, followed by a tour of the book fair, led by Euphemia Franklin of Maggs Bros Ltd. Spaces are limited, so please get in touch to express your interest in attending. This event is primarily aimed for booksellers in the first 10 years of their careers, irrespective of age.

The event will take place in the café.