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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 at the University of London runs the London Rare Books School, a series of five-day, intensive courses on a variety of book-related subjects. Also at London University are our free monthly public seminars on book-collecting, held at Senate House, generally on the second Tuesday of each month during the academic year. There is also now (from 2014) the annual York Antiquarian Book Seminar, providing three days of intensive training.

An alternative is the M.A. in the History of the Book offered by the Institute of English Studies at the University of London 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.

Also, Aberystwyth University runs both residential and distance-learning courses in rare book librarianship, which contain a great deal of cogent material. For more information, please visit this link to the University website. There are a number of similar links to be found in the Links section of the website.

Moving on to contacting potential employers, the ABA Handbook lists over 250 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 here on the website. Prospective candidates without relevant academic qualifications are advised to do some preliminary research into the book trade. 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 by Roger Gaskell can be found in the ABA Handbook and on the website at Terms of the Trade. We also particularly recommend John Carter’s ABC for Book Collectors, as revised by our honorary member Nicolas Barker.

Booksellers’ 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. 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 booksellers, especially to those whose speciality is something that the candidate is particularly interested in, is the next step: remember to enclose a brief CV. Social media also now play their part and it is probably worthwhile following the ABA on Twitter (@BooksellersAnon) for all manner of things relating to the rare book trade, including the occasional announcement of a work opportunity. Links to the Association’s accounts as well as to all our individual members on Twitter, Facebook, etc., are given in the Links section of the site.

Elsewhere on the website there are our current pages for Situations Vacant and Employment Sought.

Finally, the ABA would be pleased to accept a short paragraph – written by yourself – for publication in the weekly e-mail ABA Bulletin to members and on the Employment Sought 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
  • your full contact details

If possible, please send your paragraph by email to the ABA –


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.

  • Terms of the Trade by Roger Gaskell and Coming to Terms with Manuscripts by Roy Davids, both available on the website.
  • 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
  • Carter (John): ABC for Book Collectors. 1952 (last revised edition, 2006).
  • 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 one volume).
  • 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 [revised September 2014]