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A life's work brought to book.

Stephen Biscoe writing in the Yorkshire Post, June 1994.

The world's largest international bookfair, held in London, is run by a committee whose chairman has a bookshop in York.

On the floor is a broken book with a kneeling figure bent over it: the frnt cover has become detached and a voice exclaims: 'This is interesting!'

We are in the first floor office of Ken Spelman's bookshop in Micklegate, York. Tony Fothergill is on the floor and his partner, Peter Miller, is giving an interview. As for Ken Spelman, whose name the bookshop bears in relief lettering on its front, he has nothing to do with the business now and lives in Norfolk.

At 47, the boyish-looking Miller is a main player in the antique book trade which reaches its annual climax with London's Antiquarian Book Fair at Grosvenor House, London. He is chairman of the organising committee, a position of power and authority which is at odds with the man seated in Ken Spelman's chair.

He is, he insists, an administrator more by omission than by commission, having slipped into it unawares. Secondly he never intended to be a bookseller: his greatest regret in life, he says, is that he went to university, instead of art school.

It was his decision to read history and fine art at York which led him into his present job. Miller, however is not disgruntled, nor is he insensitive to the "little explosions of pleasure" which, he says, occur every day.

One of them just happened when Fothergill, down there on the floor, identified the broken Bible as being a 1598 Geneva edition which had belonged to Henry, Prince of Wales, the son of James I. Henry's death, at the age of 15, resulted in the eventual succession to the throne of his brother, Charles, whose reign culminated in civil war, Parliamentary supremacy, and his own execution.

To hold that Bible is to become close to one of history's great "ifs", provoking the thought that English history might have been very different had its owner lived to be king.

History would also have been different - albeit on a somewhat smaller scale - had Peter Miller become an artist instead of a bookseller. At the very least, University College, London, would not now be offering a postgraduate diploma course in antiquarian bookselling.

It is probably the only course of its kind in the world and it has come into existence because of a conversation at a party between Miller and 2 other booksellers, in which they bemoaned the lack of training opportunities for people starting in the profession. The idea of a postgraduate course hardened up and it will be offered from this October. It is attracting international interest and Miller will be one of the lecturers....

Twice married, with one grown up family and a second one not yet in its teens, he seems to have achieved prominence with little effort... it sounds a rather haphazard form of progress, especially for one so methodical in other respects because, while Miller would like to have been an artist, he is - and always has been - a collector. And collectors are methodical people.

He began with stamps, moved onto books and then to Staffordshire figues and Blue Transfer ware, and now he collects pictures....

When he got to York University he was still buying books and his favourite bookshop was Ken Spelman's.

"I got to know Ken", he says, "and I started working for him in the summer to fill in and earn some money."

It was intended as a temporary arangement because his long-term plan was to go into museum work, but the bookshop work suited him so well that he joined Spelman full-time. And then came an extraordinary offer: Spelman, wanting to retire in a few years' time, offered him a partnership, with no capital involved.

"I was only 21", he says, "and at the time it seemed I was getting trapped. My contemporaries at York, who were beginning careers in London, were baffled by it, but Ken made me feel better about it by saying I could get out whenever I wanted."

Miller now knows that he seriously undervalued what Spelman was offering, which amounted to 25% of the business, plus the freehold of the building.

In a curious way the story has repeated itself: at the age of 26 Miller was in complete control of the business which rolled along pretty much unchanged for a few more years until another York University student came to work on a temporary basis.

This was Tony Fothergill. Miller says: "he was bright and keen and interested and I thought, if I was going to hang on to him, I'd better offer him a partnership".

That partnership is probably the key to Miller's later involvement in the 2 national organisations which stage the London international and the York national bookfairs.

Many booksellers work on their own and cannot get away from the day-to-day running of their businesses to sit on committees: Miller can and, while he denies that he is a keen committee man, he does admit that he likes getting up to London for monthly meetings. They allow him to keep in touch with people in the trade and they mean that he can get to the capital's art shows.

Miller after all, is as much an art lover as he is a bookseller.