There was a time when a telegram addressed simply to ‘Bookmen: London’ would find its way straight to one of the best-known and longest-established names in the world of antiquarian bookselling - Henry Sotheran Ltd, which celebrates its 250th anniversary in 2011.
Although Sotheran's can lay claim to the identification of the previously-unknown fifth edition of Shakespeare's Venus and Adonis, the rediscovery of a large part of Sir Isaac Newton's library (acquired by Trinity College, Cambridge at the instigation of John Maynard Keynes), and the sale of Charles Dickens' library, the story now published is far more than a simple narrative of these great bookselling coups. Bookmen: London recounts the company's origins as a bookseller in 18th century York satisfying the tastes and interests of Enlightenment readers, its relocation to Regency London and growth to be the largest bookselling business in mid-Victorian London, and its appointment as antiquarian booksellers to King Edward VII and King George V in the twentieth century. In doing so, this book provides a fascinating (and quite probably unique) narrative of the evolution of the antiquarian book trade in Britain over 250 years, and documents Sotheran's work with such noted bibliophiles as Henry Clay Folger, John Pierpont Morgan, and Enriqueta Rylands, who were engaged in creating the libraries which today bear their names and rank among the world’s greatest.
In his detailed and well-researched work - which is an important contribution to book trade history - Victor Gray explores many aspects of antiquarian bookselling: the lives of the company's booksellers, the financial underpinning of the business, the impact of war on buying habits, and changing fashions in catalogues and advertising. Meanwhile, a cast of curious and colourful characters weaves its way through the long and continuing life of a company which is still, 250 years on, one of the great names in its field, and the oldest antiquarian bookseller in the British Isles, if not the world.
Victor Gray was formerly the County Archivist of Essex and Director of the Rothschild Archive, where he co-edited The Life and Times of N.M. Rothschild, 1777-1836 (1998) and edited The Colours of Another Age: the Rothschild Autochromes, 1908-1912 (2007). He was Chairman of the National Council on Archives from 1996 to 2001 and President of the Society of Archivists from 2005 to 2008, and has served as a member of the Lord Chancellor’s Advisory Council on Public Records, the Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts, and the Board of the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council. A keen collector of dictionaries, Gray has a lifelong interest, personal and professional, in books and manuscripts.
Victor Gray: Bookmen: London. 250 Years of Sotheran Bookselling. London 2011
Sotheran's invites dealers and bibliophiles to the book launch on May 31st from 6 to 8 pm in Sackville Street (London).