The 2023 Edition of Firsts, London’s Rare Book Fair, will host an incredible collection of books, manuscripts and ephemera. Fair highlights include handwritten pages by Thomas Cromwell and Charles Dickens, Shakespeare-related items, fantastic Coronation memorabilia and more.
Firsts, London’s Rare Book Fair, has unveiled some of the highlights of their 2023 edition, which will take place from 19-21 May 2023. The fair will host over 100 international antiquarian dealers at the Saatchi Gallery in Chelsea, who will be bringing a wide range of books, manuscripts and ephemera.
It will be an opportunity to see these remarkable objects up close and allow seasoned and aspiring book collectors to expand their collections. Below, we look at some of the fair’s standout items.
Shakespeare: 400 Years of Influence
Many exhibitors will be bringing items responding to the theme, exploring the long-lasting reach of the First Folio, which is celebrating its 400th anniversary this year. A copy of the First Folio will be presented by Peter Harrington, allowing visitors to admire this iconic piece of literary history alongside a Third Folio (below) on sale at Jonkers Rare Books’ stand.
It is arguably the rarest of the four 17th-century folios of Shakespeare’s plays, as most of the copies of The Third Folio were destroyed in the Great Fire of London.
The fair will include many other artefacts from the Elizabethan age. Bruce Marshall Rare Books will exhibit an amazingly preserved example of Queen Elizabeth I’s Second Great Seal, an iconic item from Shakespeare’s day. The seal was created when Elizabeth was trying to cement her public image.
Christian White Rare Books will bring a signed document by Shakespeare’s long-term patron, the Lord Chamberlain, George Carey, Lord Hunsdon, dated 1st January 1598, when the Bard was working on Much Ado About Nothing. Carey’s company, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, held the exclusive rights to perform Shakespeare’s works, usually at the Globe Theatre.
Meanwhile, Jonkers Rare Books will display a copy of Madagascar, the first edition of the 1638 book of poems by William Davenant, Shakespeare’s godson, which includes the poem ‘In Remembrance of Master William Shakespeare’.
The fair will include many other editions of Shakespeare’s work in the centuries since its original publication. A beautiful copy of Twelfth Night illustrated by Eric Ravilious will be displayed by Ashton Rare Books, whilst E.C. Rare Books will present a Clarendon Press limited edition miniature of Shakespeare’s poem ‘Venus and Adonis’ (1905).
New exhibitor Kagerou Bunko will bring a first edition of the first Japanese translation of the Merchant of Venice (1883) by Tsutomu Inoue, illustrated by the artist and printmaker Utagawa Yoshimune II.
Shakespeare’s work was introduced to Japan relatively late, after the opening up of the country during the Meiji era. Unusual items testifying to Shakespeare’s long-lasting influence over popular culture include a carved oak library chair incorporating characters from The Merry Wives of Windsor.
Glimpses of History
Outside of this year’s theme, visitors can see the words of authors and historical figures in their own hands.
Amongst other items, this year’s fair will include:
- A handwritten letter by Thomas Cromwell organising the marriage of his son Richard.
- The complete handwritten manuscript of Arthur Conan Doyle’s story ‘The Bully of Brocas Court’.
- One of only five handwritten pages from Charles Dickens’s manuscript of The Pickwick Papers to still remain in private hands.
York Modern Books will present another remarkable item: Howard Carter’s personal address book, featuring approximately 200 addresses, handwritten by Carter in pencil, including that of his benefactor Lord Carnarvon.
In this Coronation year, John Atkinson Fine and Rare Books will bring the archive of Ivy Godley, assistant to Sir Norman Hartnell, the designer of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation dress.
The archive, on sale for £50,000, includes a framed sample of the original fabric used to make the dress, alongside other items relating to Hartnell’s workshop.
This year’s fair will also feature two items of film history. Clive Farahar Antiquarian Books will present two prototype maquettes of the iconic BAFTA trophy developed in the Art Bronze Foundry of Chelsea by American sculptor Mitzi Cunliffe.
Hyraxia Books will be bringing a series of previously unseen storyboard drawings made for the opening scenes of the first Superman film in 1978.
Many of the books at Firsts originate from the collections of prominent cultural figures. Peter Harrington Books will be displaying a copy of Wisden’s Cricketer’s Almanack, the most valuable book on the sport in a copy, once owned by the BBC Test Match Special commentator John Arlott.
Meanwhile, Jonkers Rare Books will be presenting T.E. Lawrence’s personal copy of his memoir, Seven Pillars of Wisdom.
Opening hours and ticket prices:
Thursday 18th May, 5 pm – 9 pm – Tickets £50 – available online HERE
- Friday 19th May, 11 am – 8 pm – Tickets £10 – available online HERE
- Saturday 20th May, 11 am – 6 pm – Free entry
- Sunday 21st May, 11 am – 5 pm – Free entry
Address: Saatchi Gallery, Duke of York’s HQ, King’s Road, London, SW3 4RY.
More information on Firsts, London’s Rare Book Fair, is available at www.firstslondon.com.
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