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Valentina Rudnitskaya

Published on 23 Feb. 2018


Valentina Rudnitskaya: United Kingdom 2012

I am a rare book specialist from Moscow where I attended the courses held by Professor Olga Tarakanova at the Moscow State University of the Printing Arts. I finished my studies in 2009. For some years I had been working both in the antiquarian book trade and in the advertising business. Now I am a third year PhD student writing my thesis about advertising in the Russian antiquarian book trade. 

To take part in the ILAB Internship Program is a great honour and a great opportunity for me. From 21st May to 18th June 2012 I spent four weeks at Christopher Sokol Books in London. The accommodation was provided by Mr. Anthony C. Hall, a specialist in Russian and Eastern European Studies, including books in Russian.

First of all I would like to say that I am very grateful to Laurence Worms and the Antiquarian Booksellers' Association (ABA), to Norbert Donhofer and the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers (ILAB) and to Christopher Sokol and Anthony C. Hall for the organization of this internship. Also I want to thank Olga Tarakanova, Alena Lavrenova, Eric and Alisa Waschke for giving me the opportunity to take part in this internship.


The London International Antiquarian Book Fair

The first week of my internship was full of impressions. It was the week before the oldest antiquarian fair in the world opened its doors to visitors: the London International Antiquarian Book Fair. So I was lucky to attend the fair as a member of an exhibitor’s team. It was a great experience.

I arrived in London late in the evening of May 21st, and my internship started early in the morning. One could imagine what a busy time it was! Christopher Sokol's team was preparing the books for the Olympia fair. They should be transported to the National Hall at Olympia that morning. 

For me it was the first time to take part in such an event. And I had the chance to compare it with Russian fairs, especially with the Moscow Antiquarian Book Fair. The London Fair gave me a great opportunity to meet more than 150 booksellers from all over the world at one place, to observe how they prepare for the fair, what they prefer to exhibit as the best part of their stocks, how they promote their businesses and how they establish relationships with prospective buyers and colleagues.

These are some aspects which I have noticed:


  1. The London International Antiquarian Book Fair at Olympia is an exciting show for booksellers and collectors and at the same time it is a great cultural event. Besides being a market place, it is also a place where various lectures, demonstrations and activities are held by dealers, bookbinders, authors and collectors.
  2. On the book fair website the exhibitors have the opportunity to show the highlights of their offers.  Thus they are able to attract the attention of their customers already before the fair. And the customers have the chance to contact the booksellers and to ask for more detailed information or to buy a book even before the book fair is officially opened. 
  3. The book fair organizers collect an enormous amount of anonymous data for their book fair statistics. They intend to monitor the book fair’s general success as well as the sales figures for each day.  For me it was especially interesting to observe how booksellers promote their businesses and how they established contacts with colleagues and customers. 
  4. Most booksellers prepare a special list  - or even a well designed printed catalogue - of the books, manuscripts, autographs and prints offered at the fair. Full descriptions of each item are available upon request. They also distribute promotional material such postcards, bookmarks and recently published catalogues. Some of these ads are really creative!
  5. During their conversations with customers most booksellers ask about their special interests. They inquire if they wish to receive catalogues by mail or whether they prefer digital versions via email. Many dealers also send out individual lists with interesting new arrivals from the fields of interest of their customers. That’s why they ask collectors and colleagues to leave their contact details. After the fair most exhibitors have collected lots of new information for their customers’ databases.

All these observations were really useful for me, and I am sure that my experiences at the London International Antiquarian Book Fair will help me to establish my own business relations in the future.  

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Valentina Rudnitskaya: United Kingdom 2012

First of all, I’d like to mention: Sokol Books is a small London company run by Mr. Christopher Sokol himself, the founder and director, Grant McLean and Brooke Palmieri as his associates. There are also two interns: me and Laura Lebarbey, a young antiquarian bookseller from France. Sokol Books has been dealing in books printed before 1640 as well as medieval and Renaissance manuscripts for over thirty years. The stock of books and manuscripts is very wide: it includes books written in different languages (many are in Latin, some in modern European languages, very rarely in Russian) and on many different themes such as mathematics, travel, medicine, botany, and so on. The whole stock is divided concerning the price into books under and over £ 2000. The company isn’t a traditional open antiquarian bookshop, because most books are sold through catalogues (1 or 2 catalogues a year), on book fairs and via Internet. Nevertheless, customers are always very welcome to visit Sokol Books’ Mayfair premises, to look at particular items, to seek advice and to find inspiration. The main duties of the employees at Sokol are describing and evaluating the books. Much time is spent on bibliographical research which is academic, scholarly and precise.

My internship gave me the opportunity to observe the everyday business of a foreign antiquarian book company and to participate in this work.
My first task after the London International Antiquarian Book Fair was unpacking and checking all the books together with Laura from France, and, afterwards, putting the books back into the shelves. This gave me a chance to take a closer look at the books (and to take an unplanned fitness exercise).

Among my duties during the internship were such things as:
1. browsing the printed and online catalogues of different auction houses to search for books and manuscripts printed before 1640.

Through this I got a good insight into the structure and stock of British auction houses trading in old books. In Great Britain antiquarian books are sold both on specialized rare books auctions and on general antique auctions. I also studied the catalogues of auction houses in France, Portugal, Netherlands etc.
2. taking pictures of books.

Before the internship I had some experience in photographing rare books, but at Christopher Sokol’s office I had all the facilities to do it in a professional and comfortable way including proper lighting and a camera tripod. I hope I made good pictures which will be placed in the upcoming catalogues.
Besides that, I’ve been taught to use a database, which contains such valuable data as:

- all buyer’s contacts (which are supplemented after every fair),

- the current stock,

- an archive of sold books.

The database facilitates the everyday work. You can the search the whole stock, compile special lists concerning themes and prices, design and print a particular card for every book with all basic information to present it properly at an antiquarian book fair.

On one day I visited an auction at Christie’s together with Brooke Palmieri. The bidding was very active and the prices climbed very high. Later that day, Lawrence Worms – the ABA President – visited us to gather information for an article about Mayfair booksellers to be published in his blog The President on Safari.
I was very delighted, when Christopher Sokol told me to describe an old Russian manuscript – a church service book “Menaion for June” written in Old Church Slavonic. I hope, I did it in a proper way and justified the expectations.

I learned the principles of book description and how they are used at Sokol Books. The description should be very detailed.  It should contain: bibliographic information, the condition of the book, whether it is damaged or in perfect condition, a summary about its author and the particular edition as well as an outline of the role which the book played in history.

Besides, I’ve learned how to check book descriptions in printed and online catalogues, how to check if a book is complete or not and how to collate the pages. I used reference books such as Adams, Brunet, Graesse, STC, and Hain. Now, as I am acquainted with Christopher Sokol’s reference library, I understand that a serious, professional antiquarian bookseller should know as many languages as possible so that he is able to work with the great variety of bibliographies and dictionaries which are printed worldwide. The bookseller’s profession presupposes encyclopedic knowledge.
To be continued.

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