As part of our Books not Borders series, where we're breaking down the barriers to the rare book world, introducing you to the many specialists at Shapero and exploring the world they inhabit, we're interviewing Julian Mackenzie, our Senior Travel Specialist.
Julian has been in the rare book trade for over 40 years, and his knowledge of rare books and their values expands well beyond works on Travel and Exploration. When not working he is a keen practitioner of Chinese martial arts and is a part-time instructor in Tai-Chi. His other favourite pastime is walking his dog. He holds a law degree from Cambridge University.
How did you get in to rare books?
By Chance. I was living above a record shop in Cambridge next door to G. David, the great local antiquarian bookshop, and saw a sign in the door advertising a vacancy. I got the job, managed to be an hour late on my first day, and have been in books ever since.
What is your favourite rare book?
One that evokes the past, that captures a time we can now only glimpse. Preferably with great provenance.
What's the most expensive book you've ever sold?
At Shapero there is a constant procession of books of great value – atlases, natural history folios, landmarks of science. I work with travel and exploration, generally a more modestly priced field and don’t really focus on price. In any case, some books are worth more than money: I recall having T.E. Lawrence’s copy of Arabia Deserta, and Stanley’s copy of Livingstone’s Missionary Travels – how cool is that?
The rare book world is global, where has this job taken you?
The usual places on the rare book circuit, the U.S.A., most of Europe, Qatar, South Africa, Hong Kong, Tokyo. Alas the stays are too short to really get to more most places. I probably enjoyed Tokyo the most – such a strange, exciting city.
Any advice for budding young collectors?
Learn as much about your subject as you can – knowledge is everything.
If you had to choose one book currently on the shelves at Shapero to add to your own collection, what would that be?
England is blessed with great architecture and I would get years of pleasure from a set of Tipping and Avery’s English Homes.
Your new catalogue Exploration & Travel has recently been published, what are some personal highlights from the collection?
This has been a really difficult catalogue to put together. Buying opportunities have been as rare as the books themselves. Fortunately I was sitting on a collection of books on Ethiopia, in the hope (abandoned) of doing a specialised list. This formed the backbone of the Africa section. I was also lucky enough to buy a good group of Ottoman books. Items I particularly like are the two manuscript/typed items in the Africa section: the Abyssinia travel diary, 1912 (Item 1), difficult to decipher but very evocative of the time; and Item 44, Press, A banker in Abyssinia (item 44), very readable and really should be published. It really captures the tension between the Italians and the British.
What do you think it is about Travel that makes for such an exciting area of book collecting?
The astonishing bravery of many of the explorers, who were literally going into the unknown as far as they were concerned, often poorly equipped, and a long way from home with no easy means of communication.
Given you’re our resident Travel expert, where have your personal journeys taken you?
My most frequent travels have been to Central America. I have particularly enjoyed Guatemala and Honduras. They are both a bit edgy, I guess, but at least you are not completely overwhelmed by the commercialization you find in the Yucatan. The Mayan ruins at Copan are completely other-worldly, and Copan is pretty safe (or at least it was). My most memorable journey was through the Algerian Sahara. Tamanrasset in the Hoggar left quite an impression.
If you could pick only one book from the catalogue for your personal collection, which one are you taking and why?
Press, A Banker in Abyssinia. For the reasons given above.