My interest in antiquarian books dates from student days when I was Treasurer of the Oxford University Society of Bibliophiles. I was fortunate to be a member when John Sparrow was Honorary President of the Society, and an Honorary Fellow of All Souls, where stimulating meetings were held each term.
John Sparrow wrote my letter of introduction to Michael Brand of Marlborough Rare Books, who gave me my first job in the antiquarian book trade in 1979. It was a memorable experience, during which I met a number of the colourful and inspiring characters whom I would later have the pleasure of interviewing.
When Michael Brand died on 30 November 2012, the Newsletter of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association published A Foot on the Ladder, an article that I had originally written for the Bookdealer magazine on my time at Marlborough Rare Books in the early 1980s.
My career in books from Marlborough to the present day is summarised by Frank Herrmann in his review of A Book of Booksellers, my first volume of conversations with the antiquarian book trade, published in 2004.
“Sheila Markham joined Marlborough Rare Books in 1979 under the tutelage of the venerable Mickie Brand. After seven years she moved to work with Colin Franklin, the one-time publisher (Routledge Kegan Paul) who later became a distinguished bookseller outside Oxford. After three years she moved again – one learns from her book that booksellers tend to be pretty peripatetic – to Christer von der Burg’s Han Shan Tang. When she was made redundant in 1991, she decided to set up her own bookselling business and started the series of interviews for the Bookdealer. She also became the London representative of the renowned Stockholm bookseller, Björn Löwendahl, who produces what could well be considered the most stately and elaborate book catalogues in the business. Her bookish career, however, was yet to take another interesting turn when she became librarian of The Travellers Club in Pall Mall in 1994.”
Frank Herrmann’s piece appeared in Rare Book Review, 2005, and gives all the facts with one startling omission, namely that I owe my ‘second’ career in clubland entirely to him. Frank was Chairman of the Library Committee at The Travellers when I was appointed Librarian. This was followed by my appointment as Library Scribe at Brooks’s in 1998, where the distinguished book collector, Charles Sebag-Montefiore, is Chairman of the Library Committee.
My series of interviews with antiquarian booksellers and collectors, originally commissioned by Barry Shaw for the Bookdealer magazine, now appears in The Book Collector, and on this website. The Book Collector was launched in 1952 by Ian Fleming, who owned it from 1955 until his death in 1964. Widely regarded as the best journal of its kind published in the English language, Nicolas Barker was its distinguished Editor from 1965 to 2015; James Fergusson succeeded him in 2016, and the Summer 2018 issue of The Book Collector was the last under his editorship. James Fleming, the journal’s proprietor since 2016 and Ian’s nephew, is the present Editor.
In 2021 I was awarded Honorary Membership of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association in recognition of my work to celebrate booksellers and collectors from around the world.