Sir David Attenborough reveals his most treasured book in his rare collection

By Rose Adams | 24 May 2018 | Culture

The Blue Planet broadcaster opened the ABA Rare Book Fair at its new home in Battersea

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* Sir David Attenborough was at the event which was packed with a plethora of rare and antique books, manuscripts, maps, prints, ephemera and original artwork. [Image credit: Iona Wolff for Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association]

On Thursday 24 May acclaimed broadcaster and naturalist – and avid collector of rare books – Sir David Attenborough was in attendance to declare the 61st ABA Rare Book Fair London officially open. With a reputation for drawing literary collectors from across the globe, the London fair is a haven for collectors and booklovers alike, filled to the brim with rare and antique books, manuscripts, maps, prints, ephemera and original artwork. 

Blue Planet creator Sir David, 92, is an Honorary Member of the ABA – which this year has moved to new venue in Battersea Evolution – and welcomed the 180 exhibitors, literary fans and investors with a enthralling speech about his own personal relationship with books.

“It is a delight to be here at the first ABA Rare Book Fair at The Battersea Evolution. My own evolution as a book collector started [when I was] quite young. Quite truthfully, the first book I bought was actually Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species," he said. 

"I was 15 and I bought it at a place Church Gate Book Shop in Leicester, which is now one of the extinct bookshops of the whole geniality. Yet, I can tell you I bought there because, like all of you, I write where I got it, when I got it, how I got it and how much I paid for it in my code, written carefully with a soft pencil – not on the nice picture, but on the blank side of the front fly leaf."

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* Broadcaster and naturalist Sir David Attenborough was in attendance to cut the ribbon and declare the 61st ABA Rare Book Fair London officially open, with a typically engaging speech. [Image credit: Iona Wolff for Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association]

But despite its great sentimental value, Sir David admits it was a happy accident that his copy remains one the most highly prized in his collection. “I was a naïve chap and I didn’t buy a first edition," he said. "My copy is a 13th edition and, for those among you who know Darwin, will know that the 13th edition was actually the first time in any of his books that he used the word 'evolution'. Just 1,250 copies of the 13th first edition are printed, and so it’s surprisingly difficult to get – but I’m open to collectors!”

Highlights on offer at the fair include the first edition of The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien (1937) sold by Peter Harrington Rare Books for £100,000. The novel was one of only two copies rushed off the press before publication so that Tolkien could present it to a local publisher. The Sopwith Strata (1839) sold by Ken Spelman Books Ltd for £95,000, is one of the very first, and most extensive, cross sections of the geology of Britain. A copy of Ian Fleming's Diamonds are Forever (1956) signed by the author was sold by Adrian Harrington Rare Books for £32,500 – an exceptional, fine, first edition copy. 

But with so much on offer, what exactly is it about book collecting that enthrals Sir David most? 

“The printing, the previous owners, the binding; the sheer joy that you get when you put a new book on the shelf – although if you aren’t very careful, you forget to read it," he laughed. "I have already noted here one or two little numbers that might follow The Origin of Species and I’m delighted to be able to purchase them today."

The Rare Book Fair is on until Saturday 26 May.

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* Blue Planet star Sir David, 92, who is an Honorary Member of the ABA , enthralled the crowd with anecdotes go his personal relationship with books. [Image credit: Iona Wolff for Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association]
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