Today we begin the first in a new blog series, Books Not Borders or perhaps we should call it Livres Sans Frontières?
Breaking down the barriers of the rare book and print world, this weekly series will introduce you to the many specialists who make up the team at Shapero Rare Books, Shapero Gallery and Shapero Modern and give you an insight into the world they inhabit - surely the most fascinating trade there is (we swear we're not biased!)
This week we sat down virtually with our sales director, Jeffrey Kerr to discuss all things bookish...
Jeffrey began his career at Maggs Bros. in 1988 working in the Travel department for nearly 20 years, before moving on to become Managing Director of Heywood Hill in 2008. Subsequently he crossed over into the auction world as International Client Strategy Director for Christie’s, working with a wide range of specialist departments across the globe. He joined the Shapero team in 2017 and continues his travels (COVID-19 permitting!).
How did you get in to rare books?
Purely by chance is the short answer. The longer version is that having left University I made my way to London and found myself sitting next to the husband of a headhunter I was working with at a very good lunch one Friday. He turned out to be a well-known antiquarian bookseller and at some point during the lunch he said simply 'My friend Hugh is looking for a new assistant', and so it was that I went to see John Maggs. The minute I crossed the threshold of 50 Berkeley Square I knew this was the place for me and as the interview turned into a tour of the building and then tea with some of the booksellers I became utterly captivated by the place, the people and the idea of a life in books. For despite being a passionate bibliophile from an early age it had never occurred to me that one might make a career out of it!
What is your favourite rare book?
That's like asking 'which is your favourite child?' Each one is precious and important in its own way. However, if the library was burning and I could choose just one book, I'd probably grab John Webber's 'Views in the South Seas'. The only colour plate book resulting from Captain Cook's three voyages to the Pacific, it gives a fascinating insight into how Europeans first saw the Pacific and its peoples. It's also not too big, so one could carry it through the inferno to safety!
What's the most expensive book you've ever sold?
If you include my time in the Auction world, it would probably be a Medieval Flemish Illuminated Manuscript Book of Hours which was compiled in 1500-1520. As part of the inner sale team we saw it sell in New York for the equivalent of over £8,000,000. That was quite a day. It is now on exhibition in a national institution.
The rare book world is global, where has this job taken you?
Mainly to North America, with occasional forays to Europe, and I include Istanbul in that. I was also lucky enough to go to Australia in 2018, but the majority of my biblio travels have been in the United States. Over the years I've been fortunate enough to see some of the world's most important collections in the hands of both Institutions and private collectors, from East to West coasts and plenty in between including a few magical places like Larry McMurtry's book town: Archer City.
Any advice for budding young collectors?
Buy the best copy you can afford and follow your passion.
If you had to choose one book currently on the shelves at Shapero to add to your own collection, what would that be?
Only one book? That's a tough one. Probably the King of Sweden's copy of Piranesi's 'Vedute di Roma' which is bound with Francesco Piranesi's Pompei. These are the finest engraved views of Rome and some of the finest architectural views ever produced. To have a copy of these stunning views which once belonged to Gustave III, King of Sweden, to whom Piranesi dedicated Antichita Romane, would be the icing on the cake of any collection!
Last but not least, what does a book specialist read - desert island book choice?
Thanks to my good friends at the Barnes Bookshop I am now reading Natalya Semenova’s fascinating biography of Sergei Shchukin The Collector. It tells the story of the Russian textile magnate who used his fabulous wealth and his extraordinary eye to put together one of the world’s greatest collections of modern art. However, for my desert island I think it would have to be Pride & Prejudice by Miss Austen.