Founded in 1906 and the oldest organisation of its kind in the world, the ABA is the senior trade body in the UK and Ireland for dealers in antiquarian and rare books, manuscripts and allied materials. Its membership also extends to many leading booksellers overseas. Run by a professional secretariat under the overall control of a democratically elected President and Council, the Association is the antiquarian book trade’s professional and regulatory body. Its ethos is one both of high professional standards and the provision of continually expanding support and services for its members.
Members are elected solely on the basis of proven experience, expertise and integrity. They are expected to observe the highest professional and ethical standards and to foster mutual trust between the trade and the public. Applicants for membership must have been professional antiquarian booksellers for two consecutive years before becoming eligible for Associate Membership and usually five years for Full Membership. All Members are bound by the Articles of Association and Rules, as well as the most stringent Code of Good Practice yet adopted anywhere in the world of books.
The display of the ABA badge pledges members to:
• the authenticity of all material offered for sale
• the expert and proper description of all such material
• the disclosure of all significant defects or restorations
• the clear, accurate and professional pricing of all material
• the fairness and honesty of offers to purchase
In support of its members, the ABA works in several main areas: in providing various platforms for members to promote and build their businesses; in fostering and promoting the antiquarian book trade as a whole; and in offering professional and advisory services. Among the principal benefits of membership are the following:
ABA Book Fairs
The ABA runs the highly publicised Firsts - London's Rare Book Fair which is held in London each summer and attracts a large number of exhibitors and collectors from the UK and overseas. The smaller but equally popular Chelsea Rare Book Fair is held in early November. The fairs are widely promoted and advertised across all media channels, and have proved over many years to be consistently the most successful and financially rewarding of all the UK book fairs. On conjunction with the PBFA, annual book fairs have been established in Edinburgh, previously Bristol, with a new fair being organised for 2024. The association has run a number of successful online book fairs, particularly Firsts Online.
ILAB Book Fairs
The ABA works closely with its colleagues overseas through the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers (ILAB) and full members are entitled not only to display the ILAB badge but to exhibit at all the great international book fairs sanctioned by the ILAB throughout the world. It is not possible for a British bookseller to exhibit at these ILAB fairs except through membership of the ABA. Full members receive an internationally recognised ILAB trade card and all members are entitled (and encouraged) to attend the ILAB Congresses hosted every other year by a different National Association.
The ABA website displays increasingly large amounts of information about the Association, about its booksellers, about books and bookselling, reference sources, and about current advice and regulations.
The directory includes the contact details of every member, including e-mail and website addresses, specialities and opening hours. There are also geographical and speciality indexes for easy cross-referencing. The directory is updated and reprinted annually and is widely distributed at ABA book fairs, at major book fairs in the USA and Europe, to our counterparts in the ILAB, to libraries and the media, and to members of the public through the ABA office and members’ shops. The last edition was printed in 2018. Please visit our Find a Bookseller for the most up to date list of our members.
The Office, situated in Central London, has a team consisting of the Secretary (Riley Grant), Marketing and PR (Rachel Chanter). Office hours are usually 9.30am to 5.30pm and, whilst providing day-to-day advice and service to members, the Office also handles a great number of calls from the public and trade alike, requesting information about the buying and selling of books. In particular, members of the public telephone regularly looking for booksellers who are specialists in particular areas and the office can help put them in touch with the most suitable members.
ABA Newsletter and Bulletins
The Office publishes a weekly news Bulletin which is distributed by email or mail. The Newsletter is published two times a year and contains articles, letters, reports, reviews, advertisements and notices relevant to ABA members – and acts as a forum for the free exchange of views on topics affecting the book-trade.
The ABA Library contains over 1,000 bibliographical reference works built up and added to over many years. The Library Catalogue may be consulted on the ABA website, or copies are available from the ABA office. Books are available to all members for short-term loan and the Library can be visited on request. It remains an invaluable resource for members without ready access to the major institutional reference libraries.
The Library is accommodated at Peter Harrington, London, currently awaiting a permanent new home.
ABA Benevolent Fund
The Benevolent Fund, built up by donation over many years, is used generously in time of need to support all existing and former antiquarian booksellers and their dependants.
ABA Educational Trust
The ABA Educational Trust exists to promote and support education and research across the entire field of rare book studies and antiquarian bookselling. This includes, but is not limited to, the following: the organisation and funding of courses, bibliographical research, support of apprenticeship including cataloguing skills, encouraging the reading and collection of books, promotion of exhibitions and publications, making grants to individuals and institutions, research into the history of the book, liaison with and support of rare books librarians and archivists, promoting lectures and seminars, and awarding bursaries and grants.
ABA members are also closely involved with teaching at the London Rare Books School, summer courses on a variety of subjects connected with antiquarian bookselling run by London University. In conjunction with the University, the ABA also organises widely publicised monthly seminars on book-collecting. Plans are also in hand to develop further training and professional development opportunities.
The Office operates a ‘Book Security’ service whereby any items lost or stolen may be reported in a brief message to all members, to other associations, the police, and the major auction houses. The ILAB database of stolen books contains international records as well as ABA records dating back to 1988. Members may use it to carry out “Due Diligence” searches. Countless books have been recovered and thieves intercepted as a result of the book security system. Warnings of other frauds, “scams” and even the latest internet viruses are also rapidly broadcast to members and advice is available on how to deal with them.
ABA Conciliation Service
Complaints by members of the public or disputes between booksellers, both in the UK and abroad, are comparatively rare, but details of any such complaint or dispute may be forwarded through the ABA office for resolution by the Standards Committee: firstname.lastname@example.org.
ABA Liaison and Influence
The ABA and its views are formally represented not just within the ILAB, but also on such bodies as the British Art Market Federation (BAMF), the National Book Committee and the Advisory Committee on the Export of Works of Art. The ABA’s voice is heard – and there is no doubt, for example, that the system of export licences relating to manuscripts and inscribed or annotated copies of books would be that much harsher and more onerous were it not for the ABA’s influence. The ABA also has a liaison committee to discuss matters of mutual interest with its friends in the PBFA, other comparable associations and major libraries.
ABA Regions, Social and Other Events
The ABA membership is very loosely broken up into regions throughout the UK. These regions meet occasionally for social occasions and visits to libraries and other places of professional interest. Other national social events, such as holiday and Book Fair parties, are also pleasant opportunities to meet new people and catch up with old friends.
One of the major ways in which the ABA helps its members is in using the combined weight and authority of the Association to obtain direct financial savings.
ABA Insurance Scheme
Members of the ABA spent many months in discussions with various insurers, brokers, and members of the insurance industry before coming up with the ABA Insurance Scheme – a policy devised specifically for booksellers and covering many areas not covered by conventional policies. Savings were dramatic and when the scheme was first launched many members found that their insurance premiums were cut by half. The scheme is operated by Richard Thompson (Insurance Brokers) on the ABA’s behalf.
Access to Online Databases
The ABA maintains a group deal for access to OCLC.
Every bookseller dealing in antiquarian, rare or second-hand books should aspire to belong to the ABA. This applies equally to booksellers in the United Kingdom and to those in countries overseas without a comparable national association of their own. The ABA badge displayed in premises and on stationery already counts for much – with much credibility gained through publicity of its centenary year in 2006 – and as the world begins to see the dangers of dealing with the unaccredited and the uncontrolled, especially via the internet.
Membership of the ABA is the only measure of your full acceptance into the world of your fellow professionals – of acceptance by your peers. It provides you with an independently-assessed legitimacy as a professional bookseller not obtainable through any other means. And – as we know from any other form of activity – there is no reason at all for anyone to choose to deal with someone who does not belong to the appropriate professional body. The membership of the ABA is small, deliberately so in many ways to maintain the emphasis on standards, but the Association would nonetheless be all the better for being that much larger. Every new member makes us that much stronger and more powerful – better able to provide and negotiate services – and every new member can bring his or her own voice, view and ideas. The ABA is run on entirely democratic lines – there are annual elections to its Council – and there are committees covering every aspect of the trade. If you have the proven experience, expertise and integrity, then we would all profit from your membership. The widest benefit that accrues is the collective one arising from the collaborative efforts of the very best booksellers working in the United Kingdom and across the world. Although we all value and cherish our independence, there is no need to stand alone.
Applications for membership are welcomed from professional booksellers of two or more years’ experience (for Associate Membership) and of five or more years’ experience (for Full Membership) whatever their background or level or style of trading. The criteria for membership are solely those of experience, expertise and integrity. The only further stipulation is that we have agreed with our colleagues in the ILAB that booksellers whose principal place of business is outside the United Kingdom must first belong to their own ILAB-affiliated national association if there is one.
The 2023 annual subscription for Full Members is £500.00 and for Associate Members £175.00. Both levels of subscription attract VAT. The usual entrance fee is currently being waived.
If you trade in antiquarian, rare or second-hand books, or associated materials such as manuscripts, ephemera, antique maps and prints, photographs, etc., and are interested in becoming a Member – then contact the ABA Office at:
Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association, First Floor, 21 John Street, London WC1N 2BF
Tel: 020 8004 9512 - email: email@example.com.