Back in 1761, a young couple named Sotheran set up a bookshop in York. Now based in London, Sotheran’s Rare Books and Print Gallery enjoys an international reputation. It is the oldest trading antiquarian bookshop in Britain and quite probably the world.

In 1768, the company purchased the library of Laurence Sterne, followed over the years by the libraries of, amongst others, Charles Dickens (1870), Bishop Gott (1907) and Sir James Stirling (1917) – starting a precedent in the market for scientific books.

Sotheran’s London base was set up in 1815 by Thomas Sotheran, who had recently arrived from York. He opened a small bookshop in Little Tower Street in the City, later moving to Piccadilly. Portraits of Thomas and his wife, Maria, still hang in today’s shop.

In 1909, Sotheran’s commissioned Frances Sangorski, considered the Michelangelo of the bookbinding world, to bind an illustrated edition of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. The sole instruction was that it was to be “the greatest modern binding in the world”. The finished work took two years to complete and was sumptuous beyond belief, incorporating 1,050 precious stones, each set in gold, 1,500 richly tooled morocco leather inlays and elaborate wood marquetry. The book was displayed at Sotheran’s to coincide with the coronation of George V before an American buyer was eventually found. Unfortunately “The Great Omar” was not long for this world as the book was dispatched to the States on board the Titanic.

The company, which has survived nine reigning monarchs, has been graced by Royal patronage several times, including King Edward VII and George V.

Pierre Tzenkoff, Goyard, malletier, maison fondée en 1792, Paris, Devambez, 2010

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