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

I assume from the wheelbarrow that they are all on gardening?

Brian Lake

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
Lebanon was a huge source of old books before the troubles began in 1975. When I was a student it was still a very open country and we were able to buy – under the counter – rather risqué material from an avant garde bookshop on Bliss Street. There were houses full of books in Beirut and I sometimes wonder where they are now.  

Nadeem El Issa

Interview of the week Tim Bryars

Tim Bryars

Shops are vital to the survival of the book trade. They should not be seen as a throw-back to another age or a dinosaur business model.

Read on ...

Latest updates

'We Are All Greeks'

Posted on 03/04/2021 at 17:04

On 24 March 2021 Greece began the commemorations to mark the bicentenary of the country's war of independence. Although the armed struggle against the Ottoman Empire began in Moldova, the first successful uprising took place in the Peloponnese in March 1821. In that remote corner of Greece, there is a remarkable library that deserves to be better known. The Public Historical Library of Andritsaina houses the magnificent collection of Konstantinos Agathophron Nikolopoulos (1786-1841), who formed it while living in exile in Paris for most of his life.  The poiema Karkinikon of Ambrose Pamperis, illustrated above, is one of the many bibliographical rarities in the collection. The poem is entirely written in palindromic style, in which each of the 416 lines can be read backwards and forwards. It opens with a portrait of the dedicatee, Tsar Alexander I, and was published in 1802 by George Vendotis, who compiled the Greek dictionary that Lord Byron carried on his travels. It was Byron's support for the cause of Greek self-determination that inspired Philhellenes everywhere to  regard the struggle as their common cause.  As Shelley declared in the preface to his poem Hellas, 'We are all Greeks'.

Booksellers' Labels

Posted on 01/04/2021 at 12:04

Alican Akın of Khalkedon Rare Books in Istanbul is a passionate collector of ephemera relating to the history of the antiquarian book trade. He is particularly interested in booksellers’ labels, the miniature tickets, often exquisitely designed and usually affixed to the corner of an endpaper. My interview with Alican will appear in the Summer 2021 edition of The Book Collector, and shortly thereafter on this website. The decorative label above belonged to a bookseller in the Ottoman era.

Just as an ex libris documents a book’s previous ownership, a bookseller’s label also contributes to our knowledge of its provenance. It provides a vivid sign post on the book’s journey from one owner to another. There's a Museum of Labels on the website of Plurabelle Books, where they are charmingly described as the postage stamps of books.

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