Sheila Markham

in conversation

The originality of Sheila Markham’s conversations with the antiquarian book trade is the privileged insight they give into the quirky yet fascinating world of rare books, demonstrating how very much alive it is today.

She allows every bookseller his or her own monologue to talk about what interests them in their job, how they fell in love with books, or their views on the current state of the trade. Each bookseller has an individual voice – be it modest, earnest, anxious, ironic, zestful, measured, proud, humorous, business-like, secretive or nonchalant.

- Michael Meredith


Sheila Markham’s role is that of a silent recording angel, benign and encouraging, bringing forth occasional glissandos of egotism and ambition, wistful memories of happier or more profitable times, and occasional revelations of life in the real world as Buddhist monk, fashion photographer, drystone waller, bus driver, actor or pedagogue.

- Paul Grinke


An invaluable mine of fact, anecdote, memories, few lies and no statistics. Thank God for all the persons that Sheila Markham has immortalized, and all the rest that she has yet to reach.

- Nicolas Barker


Sketch by the Victorian artist John Leech

Those look like my books, but I ordered a blue wheelbarrow.

Sean Oliver

This sketch by the Victorian artist John Leech (Mary Evans Picture Library) appears on the dust-jacket of the two volumes of Sheila Markham’s conversations with the antiquarian book trade published in 2004 and 2014.

The sketch lends itself to a caption competition. If you would like to enter, please send your suggestion to

The Voice of Experience
When I look at financially successful businesses, there always seems to be a certain ‘regularity’ of stock. But I like to buy something I have never seen before; the filter of interesting material inevitably brings one into contact with interesting collectors.  

Robin Greer

Interview of the week Anthony Rota

Anthony Rota

Ideally, a new person should start in a busy general bookshop. Even dusting the stock teaches you a lot about relative scarcity – how often do you dust the same book? That tells you something about supply and demand.

Read on ...

Latest updates

William Poole Remembered 1935-2021

Posted on 18/02/2021 at 14:02

There are booksellers who have continued to work after the deterioration – or even complete loss - of their eyesight.  William Poole was born blind and still managed to become a bookseller, which must surely be a unique achievement. It was a privilege to interview William in the autumn of 2013, when I went to the flat in New Bond Street that he shared with his lifelong companion Patrick Pollard. I’m very grateful to Patrick for letting me know the sad news of William Poole’s death last month at the age of eighty-six. If you haven’t read William Poole’s interview, perhaps I might encourage you to do so in memory of an extraordinary man and a hugely inspiring member of the antiquarian book trade.

The photograph of William Poole, with Patrick Pollard on his left, was taken during an auction at Burgersdijk en Niermans in Leiden in 2017.


An eight-hour cocktail party without any drink

Posted on 18/02/2021 at 13:02

Although I interviewed George Ramsden twenty-one years ago, it is still one of my  favourite interviews.  The news of his sudden death in 2019 at the age of 65 came as a great shock to the many people who had known and admired him.  Described by The Times obituarist as an eccentric and unworldly bookseller, Ramsden began his career working for John Saumarez Smith at Heywood Hill, a shop once described as an ‘eight-hour cocktail party without any drink’. By the time I interviewed Ramsden, he had opened Stone Trough Books in the bibliophile city of York, and had just published his magisterial catalogue of the personal library of Edith Wharton, which he had painstakingly reassembled. We met in London on one of Ramsden’s monthly visits to the PBFA book fair at the Hotel Russell. It was mid-winter and very cold, but Ramsden wanted to be photographed outside in order to show off a new overcoat, of which he was very proud.  After the interview was published in The Bookdealer on 17 February 2000, Ramsden wrote me a charming letter saying that he had shown the ‘coat photo’ to his son (aged ten), who had asked eagerly ‘Will the Queen see it?’


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