Air Miles with Bernard Shapero

1 Mar 2020 by Hannah Brandler
Bernard Shapero

Bernard Shapero is an international dealer in rare books, and is founder and chief executive of Shapero Rare Books in London’s Mayfair.

What attracted you to the profession?

The excitement of owning and handling something from the past, touching a piece of history, whether it be something very minor or an item of great importance.

What has been the most rewarding experience when travelling for work?

For me travelling abroad gives you the opportunity to see people in their own environment as this gives you a much greater understanding of their lives. I feel that the more people travel the more tolerant they become.

Favourite bookshop abroad?

The Strand bookshop in New York. They sell everything from paperbacks to true rarities, with a great selection of art books.

Which book has left a lasting impression?

I have had the great privilege of owning a copy of the first printed Bible after Gutenberg’s. This one was made in 1462 at Mainz, Germany. It was in a beautiful 15th century binding and complete in two volumes. I sold it for a seven-figure sum.

How do you source international rare books?

Often the hardest book to find is the one that is rare but not very valuable. Value is based on supply and demand, so a very rare book that not many people are interested in can have a low value but be incredibly hard to find because people don’t bother to offer or advertise it.

Is it difficult to travel with fragile books?

We send books all around the world on a daily basis. As long as they are packed well there is no risk.

Has the rare book world changed with the arrival of the internet?

It has become increasingly levelled. Everyone uses the same standard methods of buying and selling. The only difference now is how developed the market is in a particular country and how commercially aggressive the dealer is.

Have any books inspired your travels?

My career started with buying and selling Baedeker and Murray guide books. Part of the excitement of dealing in rare books was reading these 19th century books about exotic countries which describe the people, hotels, monuments and everything one needed to know as an early traveller. They transport you back in time, you can relive history.

What are some of the rarest books in the collection?

My shop now carries a very large range of books, with a focus on large illustrated books of travel and natural history, and a really good selection of English and Russian literature. The world has become more specialised but I am holding out and keeping general, I love the diversity.

Are your customers largely international?

We sell to the whole world, that is the beauty of books. They are global and the range of subjects that books encompass is universal.

What is your dream destination?

I would love to visit New Zealand, it looks spectacular.

What's your indispensable travel gadget?

I am not really into gadgets but always travel with an iPad.

What's your IFE pick?

I like watching comedy programmes on flights, it’s always nice to be in a good mood on planes, otherwise they can be a little boring


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