Marginal Notes 4: Our first fair

Marginal Notes 4: Our first fair

Tuesday, Jul 25, 2023

From Thursday 27 July until Saturday 29 July, 2023, the 51st Australian Antiquarian Book Fair ( will be held at Wilson Hall, The University of Melbourne.

This will be the tenth time that the Australian and New Zealand Association of Antiquarian Booksellers (ANZAAB) presents the Fair at Wilson Hall. Previous Melbourne venues include The Age Gallery (when in Spencer Street, Melbourne), Dallas Brookes Hall and, for many years, the Malvern Town Hall. Traditionally, the ANZAAB book fair has alternated between Sydney and Melbourne. The Fairs are affiliated with the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers (ILAB,, allowing international booksellers to participate.
The first Australian Antiquarian Book Fair was held in August 1972 (before the formation of ANZAAB in 1977) at the Robert Blackwood Hall, Monash University, in the suburb of Clayton, some 19 km south-east of Melbourne's Central Business District. There were eight participating booksellers from Australia – the Bourke Street Bookshop (Kay and Muriel Craddock), James Dally, Peter Arnold, Messrs Berkelouw, Kenneth Hince, Graeme Vanderstoel, Margaret Woodhouse and Gaston Renard – and two internationals – Jocelyn Baines, the Conrad biographer, representing Bernard Quaritch Ltd from London, and Reg Longden from Auckland. The fair, tagged by one journalist as ‘A coagulation of antiquarians’, was enthusiastically embraced by collectors.

'The reaction of collectors to the fair was like farmers at the breaking of a drought. What a supreme delight to meet a phalanx of dealers arrayed with their shiniest wares on display. More than one collector fell into an ecstatic trance. In a letter to Kay, a Japanese oil explorer recorded his experience at the fair:

Thanks to Frank Clune and his Ned Kelly’s Last Stand, before coming to Australia, I was well armed with those phrases such as ‘as game as Ned Kelly’, ‘Ned Kelly was a gentleman’ or ‘Such is Life’ etc, etc. On the 23rd August, ’72, ten days after my arrival, there held the first Australian Antiquarian Booksellers’     Fair at Monash University. Though I hadn’t got even a slightest notion of local geography, when I saw advertisement on The Age, I decided at a glance that I should visit the fair by all means. The evening came and I duly went there by taxi all by myself scarcely knowing what was awaiting me on my way home. At the hall, I found your stand and bought a very good copy of Sterne’s Tristram Shandy ($15) … I spent considerably long time and when I came to myself, there scarcely remain other customers and I went out of the hall. It was moonless night and to my astonishment, it was pitch-dark outside and I can’t find my whereabout. Except black night, not a figure, street-light, vehicle was to be seen and I crawled my way nearly on all fours, with much difficulty, came to Wellington Road. I waited and waited nearly an hour on roadside, until as if by a miracle, a vacant taxi passed by and I was saved at last!'

Extract (p. 147) from Rare. A life among antiquarian books by Stuart Kells. Folio, Sydney, 2011

As a fore-runner, the very first fair that my mother, Muriel, and I participated in was an Antique Dealers’ Fair held in Bendigo, Victoria, in the mid-1960s.