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I’ve always enjoyed the international nature of the book trade. Buying books from all over the world, and selling them to collectors all over world: what could be better than that? Livres sans frontières. The coming month will see me do just that. This week, I shall be in Stuttgart for the 54th Stuttgarter Antiquariatsmesse. Then, two weeks later, I travel to Oakland for the 48th California International Antiquarian Book Fair. Both fairs will see lots of British booksellers in attendance, whether ‘shopping’ or as exhibitors. 

There’s always a certain buzz about Stuttgart: the first major fair of the New Year, everyone keen to get hunting to see what they can find. I can remember going to my first Stuttgart fair, back in 1999. In those days, you still had the ‘running.’ For those who never experienced it, I shall explain. At German book fairs, there is usually a general fair catalogue, which lists details of certain books the various booksellers will be exhibiting at the fair. Importantly, these books must be available when the fair opens: exhibitors are not allowed to sell anything listed in the fair catalogue before the fair. That used to mean that if you really wanted something listed in the fair catalogue, you had to run for it when the fair opened. People would employ young, athletic types (often local students) to run for books. Or you could run yourself. You had to get there early, of course, perhaps an hour before the fair was due to open, to make sure of your place in line. Then, when the fair opened: stampede! People would tear down the steps into the hall, zigzagging past the various booths, to try and claim their prize: the chance to buy a book. This made the opening of German book fairs rather thrilling. Also dangerous. If you got in the way of the runners, you were a goner. (I distinctly remember in my first year at Stuttgart a colleague positioning me so I could see the spectacle before warning me: ‘Don’t move.’) It really was a case of every (book)man for himself. 

Runners at the Hamburg book fair

I only ever ran once myself. I got there early, jostling for position with the student runners and, as I recall, someone from the Schiller Museum, who was after something for the collection. He was a nice chap, and we chatted happily the hour or so we waited. The doors opened. We ran. He fell (misjudging the steps). I jumped over his prone form, and raced on. This really was the ‘thrill of the chase.’

In 2009, in the interest of safety (for both people and books: the runners could easily crash into a booth), this all changed. Now, at the Stuttgart fair, you have 45 minutes to register your interest in any book listed in the fair catalogue. If, after that time has elapsed, you’re the only one interested, you can buy it. If more than one person is interested in a book, they draw lots.

I’m glad I experienced the running phenomenon. It was exciting, as either participant or spectator. I ran; I survived; I got my book. I hope the Schiller man got his.  


*With thanks to Dr Björn Biester of Aus dem Antiquariat, and the Verband Deutscher Antiquare, for the images.



Learn more about the 48th California International Antiquarian Book Fair here and here...