Firsts London 2024 dates announced

Firsts London 2024, the rare book fair at the Saatchi Gallery in Chelsea, London, will run from May 16-19. This year, the theme for the event is ‘The Art of the Book’ and will bring together beautiful books. The Fair will gather over 100 international dealers in the Saatchi Gallery to demonstrate the book as art and the art of the book.

From bejewelled bindings to pop-up books; from Japanese woodblock printing to illuminated Qur’ans; in books, the visual arts meet literature, and beauty may be admired in illustration and illumination; in calligraphy and cartography; in typography and photography; in printmaking and paper manufacture; and within the art of bookbinding itself. Book design represents shifting tastes and conventions through the centuries and across cultures, as well as revealing socioeconomic factors which influence their production.

Pom Harrington, Fair Chairman, said: “Firsts: London’s Rare Book Fair is the once-a-year showcase for the very finest stock from the British rare book trade, as well as some of the best offerings of the rare book world globally. Staging the fair within a strikingly modern setting at Saatchi Gallery has proved a resounding success in allowing rare books to take their rightful place alongside decorative arts and antiques. Now in its 67th edition, Firsts has cemented its position as an unmissable event on the international rare book fair calendar.”

The organisers of the event said visitors can look forward to some exceptional highlights, such as a beautifully illustrated art nouveau book from 1900 – Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s Der Kaiser und die Hexe, of which only 200 copies were printed. It will be on Michael Schleicher’s stand and has an asking price of £7,680.

Peter Harrington Rare Books will be showing three stunning bindings by Cedric Chivers, who patented his ‘vellucent’ bindings in 1898. A particularly attractive edition of Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene, pictured
and decorated by Louis Fairfax-Muckley from 1897 (£12,500); an 1893 Aubrey Beardsley illustrated Morte D’arthur by Sir Thomas Malory (£12,000) and a copy of the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám translated by Edward Fitzgerald, this one published in 1903, finely bound by Cedric Chivers after an art nouveau design by the illustrator Herbert Granville Fell (£9,500).

Camden Lock Books is known for offering a wide range of miniature books including a beautiful English Bijou Almanac for 1841, poetically illustrated by the Hon. Mrs Norton, of which only 14 seem to be in existence around the world (£1,950).

Paul Foster is bringing a book sometimes described as the first interactive book published, but certainly the first to use movable tabs. Le Livre Joujou by M. Bres (third issue from circa 1875) has 13 hand-coloured illustrated plates with pull tabs to change the image.

Beaux Books will be exhibiting first edition copies of all the books authored by Cecil Beaton during his lifetime and will also display several books with original jackets by Beaton, alongside posters and ephemera.

Among the artists’ books at Shapero Rare Books will be a superb example of Juste Présent, a collection of Tristan Tzara’s poems with illustrations by his long-term collaborator and friend Sonia Delaunay. Published in 1961, a period where Delaunay returned to the styles of the early years of her career, signed by the author and artist, including an additional signed etching hand-coloured in gouache by the artist in the original lithographed chemise and slipcase (£22,500).

This year, Firsts London partners with the Bodleian Libraries in Oxford. Richard Ovenden, Bodley’s Librarian, said: “We could not be more thrilled to partner with Firsts: London’s Rare Book Fair, for the first time. The Bodleian Libraries is home to more than 23 million items, including some of the world’s greatest treasures of rare books, manuscripts, maps, photographs, music and ephemera. Throughout the weekend attendees will have the chance to learn more about our work in acquiring, preserving, and gaining new understandings of old books with cutting-edge technology. We will also give a special opportunity to become a Friend of the Bodleian, receiving exclusive access to our events, exhibitions and to become a part of the Bodleian community.”

There will also be an extensive talks and tours program aimed at new collectors and bibliophiles of all ages as well as events for new book dealers.

Dirk Van Hulle and Mark Nixon talk about their recently published book Write Cut Rewrite: The Cutting Room Floor of Modern Literature; David Pearson will explore themes from his 2022 book, Speaking Volumes: Books with Histories; Peter Dazeley, celebrated photographer and author of Monochrome, will be chatting with Antiques Roadshow‘s Matthew Haley about his platinum prints; Nicholas Perkins, who curated the acclaimed exhibition Gifts and Books at the Bodleian Library in 2023, will explore some extraordinary gift books in this talk.

Tours include one by The Book Collector on the art of dust jackets; Clare Marshall from Marshall Rare Books will explore the popularity of colour plate natural history books; Les Ashton will focus on a selection of modern firsts and what makes them a highlight; and learn about the fundamentals of rare book collecting with Andrea Mazzocchi from long-established dealer Bernard Quaritch.