Diana Parikian: Noted antiquarian bookseller

When she realised the mark-up on an array of Erasmus first editions she knew she had to become a dealer

Oxford, Sunday. Diana Parikian showed me Italian books, mostly obscure ones with illustrations, including a tiny emblem book honoring the ninetieth birthday of Pope Clement XI in 1702. The emblems are tucked into little floral pockets..." Thus Roger Stoddard, curator of rare books at Harvard, in a memorandum of 1985 on his first European acquisitions trip.

These and other such books were the stock-in-trade of Diana Parikian who has died aged 85, one of the first female antiquarian booksellers in a male dominated trade. She made her name if not a fortune ("I'm not a good businesswoman") by dint of book-hunting in the byways of continental renaissance and baroque literature. She never sought to compete for spoils with the established grandees of the trade, Georges Heilbrun and André Jammes in Paris, or Carlo Alberto Chiesa in Milan, but her expertise and scholarly approach enabled her to take her place at their table on equal terms. More than that, she had a joie de vivre that made her excellent company. Italy was her happiest hunting ground; she was as familiar with the backstreets of Perugia as the arcades of Turin. The art galleries and restaurants too.

She became an authority on emblem books and iconography before they achieved cult status, at a time when the bibliographical reference tools were limited or out of date. Her Latin was a premier dog-Latin, sufficient to buy and sell neo-Latin poetry to John Sparrow (his collection now at All Souls), the British Library, Harvard, Princeton and the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington. Art historical texts, the theatre and opera libretti were further specialities, to which more recently she added conjuring books. Bill Kalush in New York became a client: "He knows far more about his subject – which is not conjuring per se, but the art of deception in the largest sense – than any bookseller does. So you can always learn from him... Also he buys every edition of every book, a bookseller's dream". In all she issued 82 catalogues in 50 years. She knew she had arrived when a distinguished old-timer in the trade put his arm around her shoulder to say "Diana, your latest catalogue, I've read it from beginning to end and there isn't a single author I recognise."

Diana Margaret Parikian was born in London in 1926, the eldest daughter of George Carbutt, chartered accountant. She grew up in Chelsea and was educated at Francis Holland School for Girls and later at North Foreland Lodge where she first encountered Amaryllis Fleming, who was later to play cello in the Parikian-Milne-Fleming Trio. In 1944 she joined the WRNS, serving at Stanmore and Bletchley Park. After the war she attended the Royal College of Music, studying cello and piano; it was here that she met Neville Marriner, her first husband, by whom she had a son, the clarinettist Andrew Marriner, and a daughter, Susie Harries, author of the recent biography of Nikolaus Pevsner.

In 1957 she married the violinist Manoug Parikian, Professor of Violin at the Royal Academy of Music. Not one to kick her heels in a hotel bedroom as he performed in the concert halls of Europe, she took to the bookshops. At first she operated as a "runner", trafficking books from one dealer to another, in particular to Jacques Vellekoop of EP Goldschmidt in Bond Street, who taught her much. "Yes, duckey, that's simply lovely, but now bring me the second edition because..." And when she discovered the scale of mark-up on an array of Erasmus first editions she had sold him (the friendship unimpaired), she recognised that it was time to turn dealer proper, working first from London and then for 22 years from a comfortable old rectory at Waterstock, the family home where she brought up her two sons, Stepan and Levon.

In 1981 she was inspired by Colnaghi's exhibition "Objects for a Wunderkammer" to explore the history of the Wunderkammer, or private museum, and to document its circuitous progress from haphazard cabinet of antiquities and objects of wonder to the more extravagant cabinet of objets de virtu to meet the appetite of a baroque prince, and its transformation into a public museum. She assembled a core collection of 16th and 17th century source books in conjunction with myself, and Paul Grinke catalogued them with learning and wit ("Clearly everyone wanted an Egyptian mummy, a Mexican idol and a Greenland kayak, the blue chips of the curieux, but most collectors had to settle for a piece of bitumenised criminal, a late Roman inscription or an Egyptian scarab").

It was a pioneer catalogue in a field now much studied, and originally issued in very small numbers, it was reprinted in 2006 with additions and further illustrations. A second reprint will appear later this year. The books themselves were purchased en bloc by the Getty Museum in California.

Diana never succumbed to collecting herself but she enjoyed aiding and abetting Manoug in a 30-year pursuit of Armenian printed books from the 16th to the 19th century. On his death in 1987 he bequeathed the collection to Eton College Library. Diana always used the Armenian alphabet for the cost-coding of her books, something that may baffle the provenance detectives of the future but will stand as a hallmark of books of distinction in libraries the world over. Her living legacy is the band of present-day booksellers and librarians whom she fostered by friendship, hospitality and example.

Diana Margaret Carbutt, antiquarian bookseller: born London 20 October 1926; married firstly Neville Marriner (one son, one daughter), 1957 Manoug Parikian (died 1987; two sons); died 3 April 2012.

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