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March 11, 2021

Luxuria Lifestyle interview Bernard Shapero – Rare book expert

Shapero Rare Books is an internationally renowned dealer in antiquarian & rare books, and works on paper. Their specialists have between them over 250 years of experience in the book world, with particular expertise in fine illustrated books from the 15th to the 20th century, travel & voyages, natural history, literature (including modern first editions), children’s books, guidebooks, Hebraica & Judaica and works of Russian interest.

The Shapero gallery specialises in both Modern & Contemporary Art and Historical Prints & Watercolours, across a broad range of subjects. Shapero Modern, set up in 2014, focuses on modern & contemporary prints and works of art, curating several shows annually on topical themes in the collection. They also specialise in historical prints and original works of art across a broad range of subjects, from antique architectural and natural history prints to modern pochoir plates, as well as photographs from vintage to modern art.

Luxuria Lifestyle were lucky enough to interview one of the founder Bernard Shapero:

When was the company started Bernard and why?

As I said in an interview 20 years ago ‘I’m 100% a book person’. I began my bookselling career more than 40 years ago, dealing in books when I was still at school. When I left at 16 I took a stall in Gray’s Antiques Market, here in Mayfair, before moving ten years later to a purpose-built shop and gallery in Holland Park. In 1996 I moved the business back to Mayfair and we’ve been here ever since.

Who is in your team or do you work alone?

We have an incredible team of rare book and works of art specialists as well as a loyal band of support staff, about 20 in all. Our rare book specialists have over 250 years of knowledge between them, each with their own specialist field. For me it’s colour plate books and Judaica, but others specialise in Travel & Voyages, Literature, Modern Firsts, Children’s books, Russian books, Natural History. In fact, we have just expanded our areas of expertise by opening an Islamic department headed by my latest hiring, Roxana Kashani, who has a wealth of knowledge on Islamic and Middle Eastern books and manuscripts. We also have specialists in decorative prints at Shapero Gallery and Postwar & Contemporary prints & multiples at Shapero Modern.

Where are you based and how do you sell to your clients?

In the latter part of 2020, just before Lockdown 3.0, we moved from our home of 25 years, a townhouse in Mayfair, and expanded into three new locations close by. Our bookshop and offices can now be found on the first floor at 106 New Bond Street, whilst we have a ground floor (and basement) gallery for books and works of art at 105 New Bond Street. In addition, Shapero Modern has a superb new space in a purpose-built gallery on the ground floor at 41 Maddox Street. We are very much looking forward to welcoming people back to all these venues, from Monday 12th April, when new and returning customers will find a wealth of new material on show.

The pandemic has obviously brought plenty of challenges with it. Prior to the world shutting down 20% of our business was online and 80% face-to-face. We would normally expect to be travelling throughout the year exhibiting at rare book and art fairs around the world: TEFAF in Maastricht and New York; Frieze Masters and Masterpiece in London; and rare book fairs from San Francisco to London, and Paris to Hong Kong. As well as welcoming new and existing customers and clients to our bookshop and gallery. Now however 80% of our business is online but we expect the balance to change as the vaccination programmes roll out worldwide.

What makes you a rare book expert?

That’s simple – 40 years of dealing in books and works on paper. Knowledge is key. The more books, or examples of an artist’s work that you see, the more you understand about them. There is a lot of information available on the internet but you need to know the books to be able to interpret the information and apply it. Is it really a fine copy? Is the colour right? These are all questions you can only answer when you’ve spent time looking at the books themselves.

What type of clients do you do business with in the UK and Internationally?

Many of our customers and clients are book lovers and collectors, but we also work with people on a regular basis who are buying one-off presents, as well as designers and art advisors building libraries and art collections for their clients. The relationships we build are key to the business as are our many longstanding loyal customers, some of whom have become friends over the years.

Can you define what is classified as a rare book for us?

A rare book doesn’t necessarily have to be an old book, and an old book won’t necessarily be a rare book. A good example of the former is the first edition of the first book in the Harry Potter series. That was published in very small numbers and is now highly sought after, so it’s rare. Other books are rare because they had a limited print run or because they are rarely found in fine condition or simply because they are exceptional, perhaps in their binding or perhaps in the beautiful plates they contain.

What is the average cost of one of your books and how are books valued? Are they classed as investments?

We have books ranging in price from a few hundred to several hundreds of thousands. Obviously most books fall somewhere in between. Right now you can buy a copy of Seamus Heaney’s anthology of poems Room to Rhyme for £650, or the King of Sweden’s copy of one of the Italian artist Giovanni Piranesi’s most famous works Vedute di Roma for £200,000.

With the increase in the diversification of financial assets many people have looked at ways to spread their wealth across a broad field of assets, including art and book collections. These same assets can then be used as collateral for loans whilst still being appreciated by their owners in their homes.

How have rare books increased in value over the last 10 years on average?

Traditionally the world of rare books has generally been more stable financially than other areas of the art market, which are notorious for their exaggerated peaks and troughs. In recent years however some books have increased in value spectacularly, in particular: Darwin’s Origin of the Species; J.K. Rowling The Philosopher’s Stone; Adam Smith The Wealth of Nations.

Do you work with interior designers?

Over the years our specialists have worked with designers around the world, both with rare books and with decorative prints, and of course with Postwar and Contemporary prints and multiples. We have particularly strong ties with designers working in the UK, the USA, Hong Kong, Singapore and Korea, helping them to realise the schemes they are creating for their clients.

Of course something we have always known, but that many people have discovered during the pandemic, is that the books on people’s shelves say a great deal about them. In the past people have focused on the art on the wall, but now with many people sitting in front of bookshelves for their video calls, it’s the books on those shelves which are getting most scrutiny.

What role do you see books playing in decorating homes and for interior home design?

• A room without books is like a body without a soul – Cicero
• There is no friend as loyal as a book – Hemingway

As the Roman statesman and scholar Cicero once said: ‘A room without books is like a body without a soul’. Books provide an almost infinite palette to work with, both in terms of the client’s interests and the designers creativity creative. Our specialists have provided libraries for clients in the past both on themes related to the books subject matter and on colour relating to their exteriors. There is a princely palace in Europe wherein the books in the library are arranged by colour: one room is filled with entirely red bindings, another green and so on. Other, often older libraries, are filled with creamy vellum bindings which add a sense of history and warmth.

Books however are, as Stephen King remarked ‘a uniquely portable magic’. They sit silently on the shelf waiting to show off their magic.

Bernard Shapero is the CEO and Founder of Shapero Rare Books

W: Shapero Rare Books
A: Shapero Rare Books, 106 New Bond Street, London, W1S 1DN.
T: +44 (0)20 7493 0876
E: information

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