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

English is such a wordy language.

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
The only thing you learn about a customer online is their credit card number, which, although useful, is the least interesting thing about them.  I prefer to sell a book face-to-face.

Jeff Towns

Interview of the week Placeholder image for Nigel Williams

Nigel Williams

The stimulation of dealing in modern firsts comes not so much from the content of the books as from the aesthetic pleasure of finding rarities - and finding them in attractive condition.

Read on ...

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A Mighty Slab of our Culture

Posted on 22/01/2023 at 15:01

If you’re reading this, you’re probably already interested in the rare book trade and its practitioners. And so I have no hesitation in recommending a recent book by Marius Kociejowski, poet, travel writer and A Factotum in the Book Trade, to quote the title of his volume of memoirs. Marius believes that bookshops are magic places, but fears that their future is at stake ‘and with it goes a mighty slab of our culture’.

A distinctive figure in the London book trade since 1978, Marius began his career with Bertram Rota, and later worked for Peter Jolliffe (Ulysses Bookshop) in Museum Street, and Peter Ellis in Cecil Court. There are memorable pen portraits of Marius’s colleagues and customers – past and present – including Edith Finer, whose shop in Cecil Court was later occupied by Peter Ellis. Marius’s description of Lady Finer’s business includes this quotation from my interview with her in 1992, ‘There’s a difference between books as a way to make money, and books as books. It makes me sad when I hear of people going into the business as a business. I love my books and I want to sell them as books.’ The full text of Edith Finer’s interview is available here:

A Factotum in the Book Trade is published by Biblioasis, Windsor, Ontario, 2022, £13.99, ISBN 978-1-77196-456-2. It’s easily available online, but please buy it from a bookshop.

London Rare Books School 2022

Posted on 27/06/2022 at 11:06

Leo Cadogan and Angus O'Neill are the tutors for the course on the Modern Rare Book Trade which starts today at the Institute of English Studies, University of London. It was a great pleasure to find my two volumes of conversations with the antiquarian book trade on the reading list for the course. I hope to have a third volume published in time for next year's LRBS.

A Poland & Steery Co-production