BRITAIN’S largest book sale is on course to sell its millionth book in the Capital this weekend.
The Christian Aid book fair at St Andrew’s and St George’s West Church, on George Street, will see tables laden with more than 60,000 books, collectables, antiques, paintings, records, sheet music and toys.
Set up in the church doorway in 1974, the sale has grown from a hastily gathered table piled high with boxes to one of the biggest book events in the world – raising more than £2 million for charity in the last 40 years.
Among the treats on offer will be two 18th century editions of Shakespeare’s works – one by Samuel Johnson dating from 1793 and the other by Alexander Pope, published in 1723.
There will also be a copy of the Henry James novel Portrait of a Lady, complete with a hand-written inscription by Margaret James – the author’s niece – to Lady Ritchie, daughter of Victorian novelist William Makepeace Thackeray.
Sale convener Mary Davidson said it was “amazing that this remarkable item should turn up at a book sale in an Edinburgh church in 2016, exactly 100 years after Henry James’s death”.
Discerning buyers can also pick up the Memoirs of the Lady Hester Stanhope, written by the niece of William Pitt the Younger and published in 1846.
Lady Hester spent 30 years travelling dangerously in Syria and was the first European woman to visit Palmyra. Her extraordinary story is soon to be turned into a film by the makers of The King’s Speech.
Volunteer Ried Zulager, who has a PhD in Scottish history from Aberdeen University and who travels from Washington DC to advise on special books, said: “The sale is unique and we have people coming from all over Britain especially to visit us during Christian Aid Week.
“We routinely sell books to the British Library, Edinburgh University Library, the National Library of Scotland and even the Folger Shakespeare Library in America”.
Volunteer and retired GP Carola Bronte-Stewart, a descendant of the Bronte sisters, said the sale offered something for everyone – from children to grandparents.
She said: “It’s a fantastic thing. It’s a huge sale – and not just of books. They sell pictures, antiques and all sorts of interesting things.
“It’s a big operation. There are about 500 volunteers. I’m just a small cog in a huge wheel, and some come from really far away. There’s a lady I met who came from Berlin to help.
“The core people are the congregation of the church, and they are a very nice bunch.”
Bosses behind the fair, which will run from Saturday until Friday next week, said it was expected to attract around 10,000 people – raising £100,000 for Christian Aid. James Holloway, former Director of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery and convener of the sale of pictures, said: “The sale is particularly strong in paintings by Scottish contemporary women artists, including Lynn McGregor, Jennifer McRae, Moira Ferrier and Carola Gordon.”