Thursday, June 4
An Evening of Bibliomania

By Celia Claase

WiPS members were the guests of book antiquarian Lorence Johnston and his assistant, Nicole Mansour, at Lok Man Rare Books on Thursday. Lorence began the evening by describing his journey in setting up what must be Hong Kong's most beautiful and intimate book shop before going on to explain what makes a book valuable and to share some of the personal encounters he has had with customers at 6 Chancery Lane.

He told us of a lady who came through the door and asked if he had any books on geology. She was looking for a gift for her father for his 70th birthday and said he had a considerable interest in the topic. While Lorence had books on geology, he thought that a gift on such a significant birthday should better typify the father-daughter relationship; it should be a tangible reminder of the times the two had spent together.

After browsing the shelves, the lady bought a first edition of a book her father as a young man had often read to her as a child. It was a far more meaningful present.

Lorence believes that as more and more authors publish online, a demand will emerge for the physical copy to be more creatively designed and printed on better paper so that they attain a greater intrinsic value. In such a world, private home libraries will acquire a status comparable to luxury cars, market-driven works of contemporary art or wine collections.

Lok Man Rare Books is a sacred space where are displayed beautifully printed and bound books of discovery, histories, biographies, fables and fairy tales. Several retain their original dust jackets and many are signed by their authors. Seven hand-made horsehair-filled leather Art Deco chairs and tribal rugs add comfort to the home-style library atmosphere.

Some books have rough page edges because they were bound with the pages joined: to be split with a paper knife - its original purpose. Other books are finely gilded. We get to feel the leather of a rebound Winnie the Pooh collection.

The books in this space are carefully conserved against the onslaughts of time: from humidity, geckos, fish moths, cockroaches and sunlight. Most books are sourced and shipped to Hong Kong from across the world. They stand cover to cover, showing off their spines: classic novels; poetry; childrenˇ¦s stories; and traveller's tales. They all wait - for appreciative hands.