Finders Keepers: Specialist dealer of the world’s most sought-after rare books, London-based bibliophile Pom Harrington, tells Eleanor Cording-Booth about his greatest literary find (arguably, it found him) and the book he’ll keep forever.




Pom Harrington is the owner of world-renowned Peter Harrington Rare Books, founded by his late father. Pom joined the family business straight from school and continues to unearth and sell some of the most important literary treasures in existence. The collections that have passed through his hands over the years encompass a variety of genres and titles, from Harry Potter to the early works of Shakespeare.

With two stores in London and a presence at leading collectors fairs around the world, Peter Harrington is currently preparing to exhibit at TEFAF (The European Fine Art Foundation) in Maastricht, the Netherlands, from 9th-14th March.



My greatest find: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

My most extraordinary find wasn’t a book I sought out because it wasn’t even known to exist – it was presented to me on a plate, as it were. Going back about 12 years, we were exhibiting at a fair and it was quite a boring afternoon so we were checking the emails and there was one from a lady who was looking to sell a first edition of Frankenstein. It is a rare book but what made this copy so valuable was an inscription from the author Mary Shelley to the poet Lord Byron.

When the book was written, the young Mary Shelley and her new husband were staying with Lord Byron in Geneva. They were playing a game, writing ghost stories, and that’s how Frankenstein was conceived. On their return to England, Mary wrote and published the novel, then she went to find Lord Byron to give him an inscribed copy.

When we received the lady’s email, we didn’t believe it initially and assumed it must have been make-believe or a misunderstanding until we read the details. It had been discovered by her grandson in her late husband’s library and they had already been to the Bodleian Library who had confirmed it as authentic. At this point, we went into competition mode against three other firms but won the agreement to sell it for them. There was a bit of fanfare and we had a great event where we did a talk and had the book on display, then we sold it the same evening. If you were playing fantasy book inscriptions, you couldn’t really make it up. Finding a Frankenstein that’s inscribed is amazing but the fact it’s Lord Byron, it couldn’t be more perfect. It turned out to be one of the great discoveries in the collection of literature.

A rather nice follow-up to the story is that after the book was sold, its original owner contacted me again to say she hadn’t wanted to ask before as it seemed unfair to make it seem like part of the agreement, but now the sale was done, would I give her grandson a job. I thought, you know what, anyone with the instinct to pick that book off the shelf is good enough for me and I said yes. 12 years later, he’s still with us and he’s made his way up through the ranks to become a very good bookseller.

The book I’ll keep forever: The Gremlins by Roald Dahl

I’m known for collecting Roald Dahl and this goes back about 30 years as I wasn’t a huge reader as a kid, but I resonated with Roald Dahl and really enjoyed reading his books. My dad had given me an inscribed copy of The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar for Christmas and that was the start of my collection. Since then, I’ve been adding every first edition of his books – all inscribed – and I try to find the best inscribed association possible, so if I find a better one, I’ll keep that and sell the old one.

Ultimately I’ll sell everything as it’s been a project and I’m nearly there, but there is one that I’ll really struggle to let go of and it’s Dahl’s first book, The Gremlins. I’ve got a thing about authors’ first books because it’s where it all began. If you read Roald Dahl’s biography, Boy, he says that he went to boarding school at seven years old and he was trained to write a letter to his mother every week. This was something he continued right through school and adulthood, until his mother died.

After her death, he got all the letters back and they formed the basis of Boy. So, it just shows the depth and strength of their relationship. My copy of The Gremlins came out of nowhere about five or six years ago. I found it at a little sale in the countryside (someone had tipped me off about it) and it’s inscribed ‘Mama with love from Roald’. I think it’s such a poignant inscription and I can feel quite teary about it. Writing to your mum has such an emotive feel and that’s where his career began.

I will sell my complete Roald Dahl collection one day and The Gremlins will be included in that but I’ll probably find another copy as I’ll struggle to part with the one I have – it really is a special item.

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TEFAF Maastricht

Peter Harrington is currently preparing to exhibit at TEFAF (The European Fine Art Foundation), which will run 9-14 March in Maastricht, the Netherlands.

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