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The First Peter Harrington Catalogue: Celebrating Four Decades of Rare Books in Chelsea

The cover of the first Peter Harrington

The cover of the first Peter Harrington catalogue, 1969.

Next year will be the 45th anniversary of our founding as booksellers in Chelsea, and as we look to the future we’re also mindful of our past. Pictured above is our very first catalogue, published in 1969 by Peter Harrington, the father of current proprietor Pom Harrington.

Born in London in 1942, Peter was the son of a book collector. As a young man he often accompanied his father on book-buying trips to the countryside, and realised that there was a market for these books in the city. He began buying them to resell, and in 1968 took a stall in Britain’s first covered antiques showplace, the Chelsea Antiques Market on the King’s Road. At first Peter only sold books a few days a week, along with other types of antiques. He was successful enough that within a year he was able to quit his day job and become a full-time bookseller.

Peter’s first catalogue was published in 1969 and is not dissimilar to the catalogues that we issue today. He focused on travel books and also included large selections of literature and illustrated books. All three are still specialties of our shop.

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But not everything has stayed the same, and comparing the catalogue’s contents with the modern rare book market reveals some interesting changes. In 1969 Peter offered a first edition of Dombey & Son in contemporary half calf for only £10 (£244 when adjusted for inflation). Today a similar copy sells for £450, an 85% increase in value. Likewise, a first edition of  Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens bound in red morocco was listed at £25 (£611), and today the same edition in a similar binding is £1250, a more than 100% increase. There are a number of reasons for these remarkable figures, but they are due largely to the growth of interest in the books, combined with an ever-dwindling number of copies in collectible condition. Of course, some of the books featured in 1969 have not made these spectacular gains, but overall the catalogue demonstrates the steady growth of the market over the past fifty years.

In 1971 Peter’s brother Adrian joined him, and the firm became Harrington Bros, which by the mid-90s owned the entire antiques market. In 1997 they sold the market and each brother founded his own shop. Adrian set up in Kensington Church Street and we opened for business as Peter Harrington in a bright, multi-story shop on the Fulham Road. Peter’s son Pom, who had begun working with his father as a teenager, took over the business in 2000. Since then we have continued to expand by widening our literary stock, establishing the Chelsea Bindery, and incorporating the neighbouring Old Church Galleries which was founded by Peter’s wife Mati in 1989.

Thanks to all our customers, fellow dealers, and Chelsea neighbours who have made the past four decades a success. We look forward to many more catalogues to come!

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1 Comment

  1. John Sims April 11, 2013

    Small niggling correction: Chelsea Antiques Market was the second covered antiques market in London. The first was opened a couple of years earlier by Bennie Gray in Barratt St by the back of Selfridges.
    Peter had use of the window at Chelsea and the first book I remember him putting in there, under a spotlight, was Fox’s Book of Martyrs. It soon sold. Peter’s rise in the trade is amazing. He started, not even with a complete stall, just the side wall of a stall and bought at least some of the stock with a loan of £500. And, as you say, eventually bought the whole market. He claimed that he went into the business because he was an addictive buyer, and only by selling the books he bought, as fast as possible, could he feed his addiction without going bust.

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