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About Festival Art and Books

We started in the rare book dealing business as Mark Faith Books in January 2003, mostly as a hobby. This was an on-line shop business and covered a wide range of popular modern authors. At the time, many well established rare-book dealers who had physical shops were not using the internet, as they are today. Many on-line dealers, too, were hobbyists and part-timers just starting up. Ebay was then climbing to new heights and consumers were starting to get used to the idea of buying on-line from all over the world, not just from their local or national dealers.

Ebay and the internet had a crucial impact on rare books dealing and the market for all collectibles for that matter. With the new global view, which Ebay and the internet provided, many items, which collectors thought were rare, turned out to be not so scarce. This in turn reduced the prices which customers were willing to pay. Auction sites allowed people who had found treasures in their attic to compete with long established, expert dealers, in turn challenging how dealers conducted their business. Part of the transparency was the now open availability of information and specialized knowledge, which dealers previously held as their main competitive advantage. With auction sites, anyone could become relatively well informed about rare books by spending a few hours on the internet researching their area of interest. Prior to this, they depended on monthly collector magazines, fairs, and specialist dealers to advise them on what was what.

The downside of the internet then, even today, was deciphering from all the information overload, what was credible and actually true, versus what was conventional wisdom, popular opinion, or simply outright fabrication. Frankly, many dealers were caught out, in particular what they were charging for now relatively common books as evident from the internet. While it was wonderful to have more choice and lower prices at their finger tips, customers now had to decide who they wished to do business with and not just on what. This was a significant change in markets where only a few specialist dealers had the main share of business and best stock, like Tolkien books, or where there were had no specialist dealers at all, as with Wilbur Smith books (our two areas of specialization) and where you could become an expert quite quickly. The internet opened new doors, but also upset the established markets and key players.

New and old dealers were suddenly placed on an equal footing for a time and both would have to rise to the new challenges the WWW offered. Many book dealers at the time with physical high street shops did not survive the changes, but neither have the many hundreds of internet start-ups from the time who failed by not providing the most basic of customer service. Perceptive customers, then and now, felt the internet ought to make things easier and faster, a convenience for them and not just for the seller/dealer trying to increase profits, whether they were buying on-line or in person. Those on-line and physical rare bookshop dealers at the time who understood this enjoy a combined on-line and physical shop business today.

However, our path took a slight detour before we got to where we are today. We discovered back then that established collector customers were having a difficult time adjusting to the market changes the internet brought. They also still demanded personalised customer service and were not going to be fobbed off with some on-line gimmick, peddled by someone providing poor service. They wanted to continue to enjoy their collecting hobby, not have to learn a completely new technology and way of buying. They asked us to find their rare books for them because they liked our great service. We then went from general rare book dealer to specialist dealer providing a bespoke sourcing and buying service for an ever-smaller circle of serious dedicated collectors. We felt that in order to provide a highly personalised service without creating a conflict of interest trying to sell the same book to the whole market; we would slow down our general on-line sales from 2006 and take care of a handful of special customers.

These customers would include private museums, institutions, celebrities, and wealthy individuals building collections of specific authors. In the area of Tolkien collectables, this would include art and other memorabilia. Actually only a small fraction of our business with regard to Wilbur Smith and Tolkien, particularly the latter, was conducted over the internet. Despite this, we transacted millions of pounds sterling in rare items. Over this period, if it came on the market or even if it was sold privately, the most important and rarest items passed through our business. This is how we became such experts even though we were relatively new to the market. This included a signed Hobbit book, which sold for £54,000, and a Lord of the Rings set for £75,000, the highest prices at the time ever achieved for these books. We also handled many dozens of pieces of original art and limited prints through our business. This is how we know so many artists producing work inspired by Tolkien, and still work with them today. Unlike the situation with many authors, books and art form a single market for collectors of J.R.R. Tolkien.

In 2010, we finished acquisitions for a major private Tolkien museum and decided to return to dealing Tolkien items to the public, including now a speciality in Tolkien-inspired art. Our aim was to create a festival - Festival in the Shire. This was both to create a major event for fans as well as a world centre for collectors of Tolkien books and Tolkien inspired art. We had many famous artists and authors speak at the event. Thanks in part to this event we are now one of the largest and most recognised dealer of collectible Tolkien books and art in the world. While we still deal in Wilbur Smith books, this collector market has shrunk and it is only a small portion of our business now.

The Festival was designed to bring all facets of the Tolkien fan market together under one roof and one major event. While many film and book fans collect, serious collectors are fewer in number and we still provide bespoke services for those wishing to build a complete Tolkien collection without the hassle and without it taking all their free time. They let us do the work for them, sourcing and buying rare copies of books as well as art and other items.

With a world recession in progress affecting the economy in the UK, we feel there is not a market at this time for another major Festival this year. We continue to hold small exhibition and fan events, both for fans and serious collectors. We will held a dinner and talk event in April and a large Hobbit celebration event in the Netherlands in September. We now enjoy equal sales in fantasy art as we do in books, having established ourselves on-line. While marketing and selling art on the internet is here to stay, seeing art in person is important, especially for higher-value pieces. We believe that this is more about the overall nature of collecting and less to do with the technology itself. Whilst we sell all over the world, if you are in the UK, and would like to view on of our paintings please get in touch.

We also plan to expand our fantasy art selection. It already includes classic Rock album covers from Tolkien inspired artist, but will include more album art and book art from classic children’s authors.

Contact Mark Faith on markfaith@festivalartandbooks.com for further information.

Click here for more background information on Mark Faith.