From the ridiculous to the sublime: the Provincial Booksellers Fairs Association didn't have a single cosplayer. In the absence of sex-starved, media-saturated teens, the PBFA book fair had to make do with distinguished gentlefolk.
The fair filled two large ballrooms in the Hotel Russell. Each bookseller had a small, neatly-assembled booth to sell their wares. Jackets and suits were de rigeur. Tea was also available. The whole thing was, in a word, British.
To further contrast with MCM, the PBFA wasn't about meeting creators or exploring new presses. This was about shopping. The hushed whisper of business filled both rooms, but, as the books here sell for hundreds (and thousands) of pounds, a certain amount of respect was required.
For those of us without hundreds (and thousands) of pounds, the PBFA is a like a museum, albeit one with discreet price tags on the exhibits. This is an opportunity to see a first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (with dust jacket; signed), or flip through a set of signed Leni Reifenstahl film posters. Ian Fleming was very well represented - early Bond books were on display with all the original covers.
As a rule of thumb, once you get into four figures, the market is dominated by non-fiction: early illustrated texts, natural history, exploration and military history. Of all the genre fictions, mystery is best-represented. Besides the ubiquitous Fleming, Agatha Christie, Dick Francis, Raymond Chandler and (happily) Dorothy Sayers were all on display. Fantasy is largely represented by those books that occurred before fantasy was even declared a genre - e.g. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. We only saw a few of the more modern books - a single Lovecraft, a couple by Philip K. Dick and a few earlier treats by Bradbury and Bester. Probably the best represented was Philip Pullman.
I'm not sure if this means there's a hole in the market (the few stalls with genre materials were very crowded) or just no demand. Booksellers are very, very savvy in their field of expertise - and the lack of high-powered genre trade was telling.
After gently man-handling all the books we could, we treated ourselves to a few old bookplates (£2 each) and ran off to Foyles. One can only hope that the purchases we made will someday merit their own PBFA attention...
The PBFA is a fun day, but go with the expectations of browsing, not buying. With the limited space and the distant travel, very few booksellers have the inclination to bring more than their very best. Either save up for one very special purchase, or just enjoy the show.