Careers in the Antiquarian Book Trade

Most antiquarian booksellers enter the trade by first finding work with an established dealer, library or even auctioneer. Many also feel that their opportunities for employment are enhanced by some form of preparatory academic or professional training, and three possibilities are listed below.

The Institute of English Studies in the University of London runs the London Rare Books School, a series of five-day, intensive courses on a variety of book-related subjects.

An alternative is the M.A. in the History of the Book offered by the University of London Centre for English Studies which, although not formally recognised as a professional qualification (being a strictly academic rather than a practical course), would no doubt carry great weight with prospective employers. For more information consult the website or write to: The University of London, Centre for English Studies, Senate House, Malet Street London WC1E 7HU.

Also, the Department of Information Studies of the University of Wales at Aberystwyth runs both residential and distance-learning courses in rare book librarianship, which contain a great deal of cogent material. For more information, please visit www.dil.aber.ac.uk.

Moving on to contacting potential employers, the ABA handbook lists over 200 of the most reputable antiquarian booksellers in the UK, together with their special fields of expertise. There is also a full list of our members on the ABA website: Search for Booksellers. Prospective candidates without relevant academic qualifications are advised to do some preliminary research into the book trade. Printed overleaf is a list of books that might be of interest. Candidates should also familiarise themselves with the basic terminology and bibliography of the antiquarian book trade; a brief but very informative introduction to this subject, "The Terms of the Trade" can be found in the ABA Handbook and on the website. We also particularly recommend Carter’s "ABC for Book Collectors".

Bookdealers’ shops and offices can be visited and many exhibit regularly at book fairs. Book fairs can be a useful experience and also provide an opportunity to meet and talk informally with book dealers. This kind of direct approach, together with some perseverance, has paid off in the past; there are many now well established dealers (many of whom are listed in the handbook) who began their careers in just this way. You might also consider attending book auctions (Sotheby’s, Bloomsbury etc.) to get a flavour of the work of the main auction houses. Writing to book dealers, especially to those whose speciality is something that the candidate is particularly interested in, is the next step; remember to enclose a brief CV.

The ABA also carries on its website an "Employment" page showing "Situations Vacant" and "Emplyment Sought".  It is at: http://www.aba.org.uk/general-information/554-employment

Finally, the ABA would be pleased to accept a short paragraph - written by yourself – for publication in the weekly ABA Bulletin to members and on the "Employment" page of the website.

Please outline the following;

  • your interest in the trade and any particular specialities you might wish to aim for
  • your background, both education and employment
  • where in the UK you would like to work, and indeed, if you would be prepared to re-locate from your current home,
  • your full contact details.

If possible, please send your paragraph by email to the ABA Office:   This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .



Please note that there is nothing that can be regarded as a straight 'textbook' for antiquarian bookselling. These rather provide basic background reading about the trade, bibliography and book collecting which will be very valuable reading to anyone seriously interested in the trade.

  • Mandelbrote (Giles) (Editor) Out of Print and Into Profit. 2006
  • Rota (Anthony) Books in the Blood. 2002
  • Rota (Anthony) Apart from the Text. 1998.
  • Minet (Paul) Bookdealing for Profit. 2000
  • Bernard (Phillipa & Leo, with Angus O'Neill) Antiquarian Books: a Companion. 1994
  • Muir (P.H.) Minding My Own Business. 1981
  • Gaskell (Philip) New Introduction to Bibliography. 1972 (and later)
  • Muir (P.H.) Book Collecting as a Hobby, Letters to Everyman. [And] Book Collecting, More Letters. 1944-1949 (later reprinted in 1 vol)
  • Carter (John) Taste and Technique in Book Collecting. 1949 (and later)
  • Brook (G.L.) Books and Book-Collecting. 1980.

Uden (Grant) Understanding Book-Collecting. 1982.


We hope you have found this information useful. Please do not hesitate to contact the ABA Office if we can help further.

ABA, February 2010


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The Kelmscott Chaucer

The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer. The Kelmscott Press, 1896. One of only 48 copies bound in pigskin by the Doves Bindery

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Next Fair

Chelsea FairThe 24th Chelsea Book Fair will be held at the Old Town Hall, King’s Road, London on 7-8 November 2014.

The Chelsea fair has become a strong fixture in the November calendar for book collectors and dealers. Warmer than Boston, more intimate than York, less formal than Paris – Chelsea has it all.

For more information visit: www.chelseabookfair.com

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La chair est triste, hélas! et j'ai lu tous les livres.

Stéphane Mallarmé, ‘Brise Marin’ (1887)