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Interview with Pom Harrington, the ABA's new President

Pom Harrington is the new ABA President following the association’s annual general meeting held March 25th 2021. Pom has worked in the rare book business for more than thirty years, having grown up in one of the most respected bookselling families in Britain, working alongside his father Peter, and uncle, Adrian. In 1997, Pom joined his father in setting up Peter Harrington at Fulham Road in Chelsea and since then has helped grow the business into what it is today. A collector himself, Pom firmly believes that 'rare book collecting should be fun and personal'.

Congratulations on your new appointment to President of the ABA. Over the years, you have held several roles on Council, how are you feeling taking on this new role in 2021?

Having been involved at various levels over the years, it is a nice and proud moment for me. Originally, I started on the Chelsea Book Fair in the mid 90’s and became more involved from there. The last year has been a challenging time for the ABA, but thinking optimistically, I think there are some really exciting things around the corner and I am looking forward to leading the ABA into this new period.

Are there aspects of the role that you are looking forward to the most? Any challenges you are keen to tackle?

One aspect of working for the ABA I’ve really enjoyed and benefited from is meeting other dealers that I wouldn’t ordinarily meet. In the short time I have been in charge, I have already had interesting conversations with dealers I wouldn’t have otherwise have contact with.

For the year ahead, we (the ABA) have several new book fairs (online and physical) to oversee. A special one day, trade only fair in York, the Transatlantic Book Fair in July with the ABAA and of course Firsts London at Saatchi in October.

As Chairman of Firsts, we asked what dealers wanted for a book fair and the answer was a prime central London location. With Saatchi, we got it. A truly world class venue in a superb area. Following a couple of necessary postponements, we really are looking forward to putting a premier book fair.

The challenge is making sure all these components occur successfully both in attendance and financially for the ABA.

How has the trade changed or evolved during your time in the ABA?

First and foremost, the internet. The influence of the web cannot be overstated. It has swept through and those that have adapted to the changes are the ones that have thrived. The effects of the pandemic have accelerated the influence.

Second is the influence of the auction houses. They have gone from trade supplier to trade competitor. More and more they are striking out for the private buyer and sale. The larger auction houses are now becoming more and more retail shops. Watch out for “buy it now” and other private purchase opportunities from these houses. Coming soon.

Having been part of council for many years, as well as having been raised in a prominent bookselling family, do you have a philosophy for the Presidency?

Listen to ideas. We need new ideas all the time. There are many opportunities for us as a trade, but to get anything going requires a forum that allows this to happen. We have a lot of talented booksellers in our trade, and I will be inviting as many as possible to get involved with various committees and projects that are coming up. By bringing in more now, you increase the talent pool for future councils.

Many of our members have had a challenging year due to the global pandemic, do you have any recommendations or words of advice for our dealers as they transition out of the lockdowns and adjust to the ‘new normal’?

Watch out for your overheads, most have been quite spoiled by the reduction. They will come back. Also I think a bit of patience. Might take a while to get some of our old regulars back to the shops.

If you had not become an antiquarian bookseller, what profession would you have chosen to pursue?

No idea. I only really got involved because I had nowhere else to go. If you asked me as a teenager what I wanted to do, the only thing I was certain about was not being a bookseller. However after working a few months for my dad and uncle, I really got my teeth stuck into it.

Have there been particular ABA members over the years that have inspired you or impacted you positively?

I always admired the way Hilton Baynton Coward lead. He was kind to me as a youngster. In the US, Lou Weinstein was also tremendously supportive and very inspirational. The whole Heritage Bookshop model was a marvel to behold and one I aspired to.

Once the UK is out of lockdown, is there one particular restaurant or venue in London that you are eager to visit?

Dinner with my son and friends followed by a Chelsea Game. Been too long….