By Emerson Richards-Hoppe, Mobilis Books

Mobilis stand at Cambridge
PBFA Fair Experiences from the Perspective of an Early-Stage Bookseller 
 
It was in a Holiday Inn in Brittany, France, about a decade ago that a life-altering thought struck me: curation and collection of historic materials is the way to share history and show its relevance to diverse audiences. I had been living in Paris for a year, and working on my PhD in Comparative Literature, but I kept circling back to the wonder I felt when I got to handle a real medieval manuscript. Thus, began my drive to learn about the material object in order to get books and manuscripts into hands, hearts, and collections—institutional and individual. 

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I began gently playing with bookselling in fall of 2019 and established Mobilis Books in 2021, drawing the name from the motto of the Jules Verne’s Nautilus: Mobilis in Mobile (mobile in the mobile element). In November of last year, I attended the York Antiquarian Book Seminar with the goal of curating my own stand at a fair within a year of attendance. In just shy of that one-year mark, I will have debuted Mobilis Books at four PBFA fairs: Cambridge, London Summer, York, and the upcoming new Oxford venue. YABS prepared me and the Cambridge fair, which is my home-base, was my first opportunity to put what I had learned into practice.  
 
I’ve been around antiques collecting and dealing my whole life and I have worked in Special Collections libraries and private dealers in the U.S. and U.K. in various professional capacities for nearly a decade. Mobilis Books consists solely of myself (and occasionally my husband), so I was a bit worried about being able to navigate the many necessary tasks of the Cambridge fair. Fortunately, as YABS had suggested to me, the community of antiquarian booksellers is a warm, welcoming, and helpful one. Offers to bring me coffee, to sit at my stand if I needed to step away, and to help me plan for future fairs were abundant and I was grateful for the help and support.  
 
With this experience in hand, I was confident to sign up for the London International fair, which I found to have a different tenor than Cambridge. While in Cambridge most of my sales came from trade, at the London fair most came from the public, though the footfall seemed much less dense than Cambridge. I thought that there were a lot more people browsing for fun than with collecting intention. York was my most successful fair to date—perhaps a combination of the nature of the fair and me adapting what I’m learning. 
 
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I’m still using these fairs within my first year to figure out strategies—what types of materials sell where and to whom, do I need to adjust my prices, how should I best display items. My career goal, when I was further indebted to academia, was to become a Special Collections curator (and I may still get there someday!), and that is the guiding principal that I have: I buy materials that I want to tell the story of; my online presence is a wholistic catalogue; and, my fair presence is my opportunity to curate a display that people can have a part of. I have a better sense of the depth of information that my bibliographic descriptions should convey, what sorts of materials I should showcase, and that I can recalculate some of my prices to accommodate for the fact I’m not losing a percent to online commerce when I do a face-to-face sale.  
 
At Oxford, I will display a table and a bay—my largest set-up yet. I’ve got some new ideas for how to best share the wonderful Victorian cloth bindings and the interesting interiors of the leather-bound antiquarian books. My goals for the upcoming year include bringing Mobilis Books to an American-based fair, compiling at least one printed catalogue, and creating educational resources for non-specialists. 

Date Published 5th October 2023
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