Lee Harvey Oswald's letter requesting Communist membership on show for the first time
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
Magician, actor, and author Ricky Jay; Byron Smith for The Wall Street Journal
Ricky Jay still has the magic–whether buying books that feed his act or telling secrets at an upstate New York ‘Congress of Wonders.’
As one of the world’s most respected sleight-of-hand artists, Ricky Jay has amassed a peer group of top magicians and cardsharps, and a stable of famous pals, from Bob Dylan to David Mamet. These days, however, he probably spends more time hanging out with book dealers, he says. “I like them. They live by their wits and their knowledge.”
They also live off their earnings from insatiable collectors like him. At theNew York Antiquarian Book Fair, held recently in the cavernous Park Avenue Armory, he wandered the booths with some new acquisitions in hand, two books about hand shadows, and greeted many dealers by first name.
One seller asked his advice about a book whose blank pages reveal images when you blow on them, a specialty of Mr. Jay’s. Another tried to tempt him with a book of illustrations of London street people, published in 1649 and bearing a price tag of $75,000. To one silver-haired gentleman who tipped him off to a set of miniature playing cards, Mr. Jay said, “Thanks, kid.”
He incorporates the arcane history he studies into the patter of his one-man shows, several of which have been directed by Mr. Mamet. He has unearthed bizarre characters from the past—automatons, ceiling walkers, Lilliputians, master pickpockets—and used them to anchor his lectures and books, some of which are collectors’ items in their own right. These real-life characters no doubt informed the fictional characters he has played in TV shows and movies such as “Deadwood” and “Boogie Nights.”
Mr. Jay is preparing to share his expertise, especially in magic, at an event that he’s calling the Congress of Wonders. On July 11-14, in the upstate New York town of Rhinebeck, he’ll reveal “the truth about dishonesty,” or so the schedule promises. Organized by a promoter who books fantasy music camps with rock stars, the symposium also features a handful of speakers picked by Mr. Jay. They include Jules Fisher, a Tony-winning lighting designer who will discuss the craft’s often overlooked role in magic, and Michael Weber, Mr. Jay’s partner in a business called Deceptive Practices, which advises Hollywood productions on how to create illusions with props.
For Mr. Jay, the event is a first in that it will involve an unusual amount of mingling with nonmagicians, opening him up to the inevitable “How’d you do that?” Still, he has made it an indirect mission in his career to help people learn the difference between “good magic and bad magic.” His goal, in other words: showing the uninitiated how to discern when a performer is grounded in tradition and endless practice. “Magic is one of those arts where if you’re fooled, by nature you think that the person who fooled you must have been good,” he said.
At times, his protectiveness of the craft’s propriety has put him in the uncomfortable position of being “magic’s policeman,” he said. “One of the reasons that a lot magicians find me—elitist perhaps is the right word—is that most of them grow up with their Uncle Henry producing a nickel from their ear, and I grew up with [expert mid-20th century magicians] Dai Vernon and Charlie Miller, so my standards by nature are really high.”
Born Richard Jay Potash in Brooklyn in 1948, he learned magic from his maternal grandfather and made his television debut at age 7. Wearing a tailcoat, young Ricky turned a guinea pig into a bird. “Keep your eye on it, because straaange things are going to happen,” he says in a grainy clip from the TV show, included in a recent documentary film about him titled “Deceptive Practice.”
After training at the elbow of his mentors, Mr. Jay worked at bars (learning to manipulate beer-soaked cards), as an “outside talker” at a carnival and, later, solo in theaters where he performed with his sleeves rolled up. He was known for throwing playing cards with enough speed to bury them in watermelons. He shared a stage with Ike and Tina Turner and Timothy Leary, but eventually found a better fit with jazz artists; opening for rock band the B-52s, he got so mad at hecklers in the front row that he threw cards at them and drew some blood, he recalls.
Today, he continues to perform and almost always carries a United States Playing Card Co. deck, which he buys by the dozen. But much of his time is spent researching and writing about history’s human incongruities. At the book fair, he produced an iPad Mini from his jacket pocket to show his collected etchings of Matthew Buchinger, born in 1674. Though he was under 3 feet tall and had no arms or legs, Buchinger was expert in micrographic calligraphy, trick shooting, hornpiping and other feats. “He’s the major guy I’m interested in in the world,” said Mr. Jay, who plans to complete a book about Buchinger by the end of the year.
At one of his last stops at the book fair, as he checked out an old playbill for a Pittsburgh spiritualist named Madame Leicester, he said “Good God!” when he noticed one of his own publications behind glass. “Jay’s Journal of Anomalies,” a collected set of quarterlies he published in the 1990s, was going for $3,000.
Before moving on, he reluctantly agreed to inscribe the seller’s personal copy of his out-of-print book “Cards as Weapons,” published in 1974 and featuring an illustration of Mr. Jay with long hair and brandishing a card like a dagger. He said, “You know what this goes for now on the Internet?”
This Monday morning, the biggest news to hit the antiquarian book trade in roughly 400 years became public: my colleagues Dan Wechsler and George Koppelman, booksellers in New York City, unveiled a copy of a sixteenth century dictionary which could, quite plausibly, have once belonged to William Shakespeare – complete with annotations possibly in the bard’s hand and many tantalizing, if ultimately circumstantial, linguistic and stylistic links to his plays. I’ll leave it to better minds than mine to make a final determination regarding the dictionary’s provenance. Wechsler and Koppelman have laid out an entire volume of compelling evidence in their just-published book, Shakespeare’s Beehive (a copy of which I’ve just ordered); theFolger Shakespeare Library, the New Yorker, and numerous book bloggers have already begun weighing in, and I’m sure many more scholarly voices will be added to the fray over the coming months and years. I hope it’s years, not months. I hope it’s real, real enough at least to merit many years of scholarship – I really, really do.
But regardless what this volume turns out to be, whether the hundreds of annotations on its 400-year-old pages turn out to be the long-sought mainline to Shakespeare’s creative process or just a host of happy coincidences, the whole wonderful escapade serves to remind me that this pursuit my colleagues and I are engaged in, which so many days feels like little more than a glorified exercise in rag-picking, has resonances far beyond the little world of booksellers, librarians, and collectors we imagine, on our worst days, is the only one we inhabit. For books, to revisit Milton’s adage, “are not absolutely dead things, but do contain a potency of life in them to be as active as that soul was whose progeny they are…” *
So it goes with Shakespeare’s dictionary; and so, on a somewhat less magnificent scale, did it go for a handsome American Bible which I recently had the good fortune to shepherd from the floor of the New York Book Fair to my friends in the Special Collections Division of the University of Tennessee Libraries. Now, this wasn’t just any Bible: it was President Andrew Jackson’s family Bible, presented to him by the publisher in an elaborate gilt-stamped morocco binding on the occasion of his second inaugural. Through a fairly predictable series of circumstances – apathy, the contempt bred of familiarity, and the temporary impecuniousness of a Jackson descendant - the Bible had become separated from the Jackson family nearly 100 years ago and made its way, finally, through the wilderness, into the hands of a reputable bookseller; thence to the New York Book Fair; thence to me (reputable or not – you make the call).
Here’s what it looks like today:
The story unfolded quickly, and since it redounds only minimally to my credit (though a great deal to others’), I’ll share it briefly. It was early on day one of the New York Book Fair. I’d had a fairly miserable set-up (for those who may not be familiar with the realpolitik of antiquarian book fairs, many dealers – I’m no exception – do up to 90% of their business before the show even opens. As of Friday morning, I’d done just about enough to pay for my first night’s bar tab. Not good.), and I was sulking in my booth when my phone rang. On the other end was my friend Steve Smith, whose day job is Dean of Libraries at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, though for one week a summer he also joins me on the faculty of the Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar; we also share an appreciation for traditional Appalachian string band music, fine printing, and shaggy-dog stories with awful punch lines – needless to say, we’re fast friends. Steve had heard a rumor, just a vague rumor, that somewhere on the floor of the New York Book Fair – “I think it might be in the Serendipity booth,” he told me – a Bible once belonging to Andrew Jackson had been spotted for sale. “Would you track it down for me?,” he asked, “and give it the once-over?”
Would I! Sitting in my own booth had become torture at this point, and I was glad for any opportunity to get up and wander around - this, despite the fact that Peter Howard’s Serendipity Books hadn’t had a booth at the New York Fair in at least ten years, and Peter himself passed away three years ago now. Despite that red herring it didn’t take me long to track down the object of Steve’s desire – among my Americanist colleagues, Jackson’s Bible had apparently been creating something of a buzz all during set-up, though no one had managed to buy it yet, or to sell it over the phone. Happily, the Bible was in the booth of two of my best friends in the book business, Nick and Ellen Cooke of Black Swan Books in Richmond (that’s Nick down below, peeking through the stacks of his lovely shop, which is made lovelier still by the presence of Ellen, his wife, who is not in this picture nor, sadly and mysteriously, to be found in any other image of Black Swan I’ve been able to get my hands on. She is not, for the record, to the best of my knowledge, a ghost.). These are folks who’ve done me many a good turn over the years. Now it was my turn to do one for them (the antiquarian book business depends for its continuance, to a substantial degree, on good turns).
Nick and Ellen are the real heroes of this story. They’re the ones to whom Jackson’s Bible was first brought, in a woeful state of preservation – covers and spine detached, binding loose, but magically still complete, including the genealogical register completed by hand by Jackson’s daughter-in-law – some time late last year. They’re the ones who did the research establishing that the Bible was, indeed, what it was purported to be, and they’re the ones, most importantly, who put their money where their mouth was, ponied up the not inconsiderable cost to restore the binding, and took the time to catalog it and to bring it to the New York Book Fair, where news of its existence quickly spread as far west and south as Knoxville – as far, it turns out, as the news needed to spread. I called Steve back. “It’s here,” I said. “Is it real?,” he asked. “Yes,” I answered. “I want it,” he said. Done and done.
So, Steve is the other real hero of this story. Getting wind of a great treasure with deep and significant roots in Tennessee, the state for which his library is the rare book depository of record, he immediately did what he was hired to do: he tracked the thing down and, false leads and vague rumors notwithstanding, bagged his prey.
And so the deal was done: two days later I was in my van on my way to Knoxville, where Steve and his entire Special Collections staff were waiting for me. They even threw a party in my honor (well, actually, they were having a party anyway, and they invited me along). In a quiet room in a distant corner of the McClung Museum, I unveiled the Jackson Bible for a small party of librarians and library patrons:
Once I’d removed the Bible from its rolling case and the layers of bubble wrap in which I’d encased it for the journey (I mean, this thing was hermetically sealed and bulletproof: I’d made sure that if by some tragedy my van ran off a cliff in the Great Smoky Mountains, my van and myself might perish in flames but Jackson’s Bible would survive), everyone just stood and stared for a minute. I took a few moments to show off some of what I considered to be the Bible’s finer points – the elaborate red morocco binding, signed on the front turn-in by James Birdseye, the journeyman finisher who completed the gilt decorations, and the two pages of genealogical register, on which had been recorded General Andrew Jackson’s death, “peacefully, at home in the Hermitage, on the night of June 8, 1845″. There was a brief, slightly awed hush in the room. Then someone said: “I doubt he ever read the part about the Ten Commandments.” Someone else said: “I doubt he ever got past the Old Testament.” Someone else said, “I doubt he ever opened it at all.” At which point I knew this Bible had found its rightful home.
By Mark Tewfik
On April 6, the final day of the New York Antiquarian Book Fair, Daniel Wechsler, an exhibitor, asked me if I was free for dinner on Friday night. When I said I was, he replied, ”Dinner’s on me, but you’re not allowed to tell anyone about it and you have to bring a blank cheque.”
Five days later, sitting at the head of a table of nine, he had one more caveat. ”I’m asking you to hold onto this for nine more days. I’ve been sitting on this for six years and my life is about to change forever.”
Wechsler is 46 and tall, he has a gentle smile and real smarts. He studied history and English at Emory University, is married and has two boys. There are other strings to his bow: his documentary on the street photographer Matt Weber More than the Rainbow, will open shortly in theatres in Manhattan and his firm, Sanctuary Books, has a publishing arm.
Wechsler and fellow book dealer George Koppelman believe they have found the holy grail of English Literature: a copy of John Baret’s An Alvearie, or a Quadruple Dictionarie, published in London by Henry Denham in 1580.
What distinguishes this copy are the thousands of annotations throughout in a contemporary hand. They believe these annotations are by William Shakespeare. If they are right, they have found the source of some of the greatest ever plays and poems. It’s not just there are no recorded copies of books from Shakespeare’s library, there are only six accepted signatures by him and, possibly, one manuscript.
The book was acquired in late April 2008. Koppelman, the owner of Cultured Oyster Books, invited Wechsler to bid jointly on a book he’d spotted on eBay. ”George said, ‘hey, do you want to buy Shakespeare’s dictionary?’ ”
They agreed on a final bid of $US4300 and, on April 28, they got the book for $US4050. Wechsler is unequivocal: ”Only $US250 separated us from never having had this experience.
”We bought the book with the possibility that it was [Shakespeare's], but more seriously as an annotated Elizabethan dictionary.” He smiles, ”I mean, if we really thought it was his, we would have bid more than $US4300!”
Finds of this magnitude are always tainted with suspicion. However, it’s generally believed forging an entire book is simply too much trouble and will never realise the sort of return that forging a Matisse would, for example. That changed recently with the revelations of a forged copy of Galileo’s 1610 Sidereus Nuncius, the book that launched his career.
Unlike the Galileo, it doesn’t purport to be a book by Shakespeare. This isn’t a copy of the First Folio, it’s not a manuscript draft of Hamlet. It’s only through the perseverance of Wechsler and Koppelman in following the trail and patterns of the annotations themselves that it seems even possible the annotator was Shakespeare. As the story unfolded over dinner, we learnt the blank cheques in our pockets were to buy a copy of Shakespeare’s Beehive, the 300-page book Wechsler and Koppelman have just published supporting their claim.
Wechsler and Koppelman aren’t alone in noticing the relationship between Baret and Shakespeare. In 1944, Shakespeare scholar T.W. Baldwin noted that Baret’s Alvearie was the standard dictionary of the day and that Shakespeare would have ”turned many a time and oft to Baret for his varied synonyms”.
Shakespeare’s Beehive begins by explaining first how Shakespeare could have come to possess the book. His childhood acquaintance Richard Field moved to London before him and apprenticed himself to the French printer Thomas Vautrollier. It’s speculated Shakespeare probably lodged with Field in London and Field may have helped Shakespeare acquire work as a proofreader for Denham.
Additionally, the annotator seems preoccupied with two letters in particular, and he imitates the capitalised entries in the Baret. The two letters: W and S. He does it five times with the W, three times with the S and with no other letter in the alphabet.
Most important are the multitude of examples connecting the annotations to text from the plays and poems. To cite just two, they show how a small circle beside the following entry ”Forsworne, perjured, false, that hath broken his oth” leads us directly to Sonnet 152.
In loving thee thou know’st I am forsworne,
But thou art twice forsworne, to me love swearing;
In act thy bed-vow broake, and new faith torne,
In vowing new hate after new love bearing:
But why of two othes breach doe I accuse thee,
When I breake twenty? I am periur’d most;
For all my vows are othes but to misuse thee,
And all my honest faith in thee is lost.
Another example is where the annotator has written beside the entry for ”Scabbard: vide sheath” the word ”vagina”, which is a Latin synonym. This immediately calls to mind one of the final speeches in Romeo and Juliet where awakening to find that her love has killed himself says:
Yea noise? then ile be briefe. O happy dagger,
This is thy sheath, there rust and let me dye.
Although sheath nominally refers to the cover for a sword, the sexual connotations of the word were not lost on Shakespeare. It’s important to recognise many of the synonyms only appear in this edition of Baret. The accumulation of annotations and the way they lead directly to the work, makes their case persuasive.
More intriguing still is the blank leaf at the end of the book on which the annotator has written 210 words in English and French. Wechsler dates the writing on this sheet to 1598 when Shakespeare was in the process of writing Henry IV parts I & II, The Merry Wives of Windsor and leading up to the writing of Henry V. Wechsler and Koppelman show how all of these words feature in the plays – and is of added significance as Henry V is the only play in which Shakespeare includes a substantial amount of French.
Despite the evidence, the fact the book is unsigned is a problem. Another potential issue is the annotations appear to be in several different hands.
However, this might not be as large an obstacle as it appears. Of the six accepted Shakespeare signatures, those known as examples B and C were signed on consecutive days and look distinctly different. Additionally, we know that in the Elizabethan period writing in a variety of hands was encouraged and seen as graceful.
From the beginning, they reached out to scholars for assistance. Wechsler says: ”They were extremely helpful giving advice but it was also clear that they weren’t going to jeopardise their reputations.”
Shakespeare biographer and scholar Stephen Greenblatt is enthusiastic about the dictionary as an unheralded Shakespeare source book. ”It would reinforce, in a fascinating way, Shakespeare’s passion for language. We know that Shakespeare had an eye out for unusual words – but we have only limited knowledge of where he went to find them.”
However, he’d ”not had time to weigh the evidence” of it being Shakespeare’s copy.
Wechsler is prepared for the fact that no matter how strong the evidence, some people simply won’t believe them. He also feels opening up the dictionary to scholars will reveal further evidence. ”If George and I can see this, what will they find?”
In their official statement, the Folger Shakespeare Library thought it ”premature to join Koppelman and Wechsler in what they have described as their ‘leap of faith’.”
Heather Wolfe, curator of manuscripts at the Folger, feels the ”handwriting is a big problem. The annotations need to be read against and compared to the handwriting of many other early modern annotators, not just Shakespeare’s.” Having said that, she agrees the book would be ”a great addition” to the Folger’s collection.
Folger director, Dr Michael Witmore, gives further perspective: ”A deeply early modern dictionary annotated in the playwright’s hand would have to be top of any Shakespearean’s wish list. But even if this isn’t Shakespeare’s handwriting, the annotated Alvearie is exciting because it gives us a glimpse into that creative encounter between an early modern reader and words on the page.”
So what is it? At the very least, the Alvearie is a now a recognised Shakespeare source book. At most, they’ve made one of the most significant finds in the history of literature. Invariably, the question of money comes into it. Wechlser is reluctant to discuss numbers, but ”after scholars have had time to digest the possibility and go over the evidence” they are looking to sell it.
To put it in context, the last First Folio to sell at auction made £2.5 million ($4.5 million) in London in 2006.
The dictionary is kept in a secure storage facility. It can be viewed online at shakespearesbeehive.com
Whenever I go visit my mother at her booth at the New York Antiquarian Book Fair, I stop by to say hello to friend Eric Chaim Kline. He has a vast inventory, including photography, architecture, Judaism, Weimar German and Third Reich, foreign language works in German, Hebrew, Polish and Yiddish. He’s usually busy with customers, but we take some time to talk. Going to Eric’s booth reminds me of the 1000+1 dissertations I could have written. The visual erudition at Eric Chaim Kline Books is immense.
This year, these Nazi election broadsheets were for me the stand out items at his booth. The objects in this particular group are not your run of the mill Nazi propaganda. Eric thinks they were intended as newspaper inserts. You can open them up and flip through several pages. Alas, I did not have the opportunity to take pictures of the inside pages. Eric was busy and I wasn’t going to bother him. But what struck me was the sophisticated graphic design. I think you can see how the layout is up-to-date super-modern.
I always figured that it was the Communists who pursued this kind of aesthetic. But here it is, Nazi montage. The difference between the two totalitarianisms was grossly overstated by Walter Benjamin in his essay on “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” Here, at least, the communist polticization of aesthetics is pretty much the same, visually, as the aesthetic aestheticization of politics.
As for anybody working on any of the aforementioned areas of scholarly interest would do well to check out Eric’s website: http://www.klinebooks.com/cgi-bin/kline/index.html. If your library has deep pockets, have them buy some books for their special collections.
NEW YORK—The New York Antiquarian Book Fair may be the best-known event during Rare Book Week, but many other events will also celebrate the printed word and the international community that keeps it alive—despite its rumored demise.
Whether the only pages you’ve flipped recently were virtual ones on your iPad or you have tomes on every shelf, everyone can find inspiration in print. Manuscripts, maps, and rare out-of-print editions come in all subjects relevant to anyone’s field of interest.
Those with a more artsy than literary bent can discover the ways in which innovative artists are reimagining books as art objects. These include the use of imaginative binding, sculptural elements, and borrowing elements from other printed forms such as maps and postcards. In many cases the books’ forms, artwork, and organization enrich the reader’s experience in unexpected ways.
The week, which runs April 1–8, starts off with the Chapbook Festival at the CUNY Graduate Center. While many events are of particular interest to the literary community, several major ones will draw a general interest audience.
As part of the festival, the Center for Book Arts will hold bookbinding workshops on April 1. All day on April 3, the book fair presents the latest work from 60 publishers around the country. Beginning at noon, Poetry Project will give a screenings of a 1970s television program called “Public Access Poetry,” in which performers and poets gave half-hour readings.
Harvard’s Leah Price will explore the big questions of contemporary literature—how to define the book in the age of digital publishing, e-readers, and Twitter. She lectures on “Books as Social Media” on April 2 at 6 p.m. at New York University’s Bobst Library.
Visitors are welcome daily at Bowne & Co. Stationers and Bowne Printers’ shop on Water Street, where they can learn how to print using a 19th century letter press.
Over the weekend, the inaugural Manhattan Fine Press Book Fair will take place as a downtown alternative and complement to the more uptown Antiquarian Book Fair. Appraisals are available Sunday 1–3 p.m. with admission.
As usual, Christie’s, Sotheby’s, Bonhams, Doyle, Heritage, and Swann will hold themed auctions. The Center for Book Arts will also hold its benefit auction.
For a full events listing, visit the Rare Book Week websiterarebookweek.org
Rare Book Week Comes to New York City in April
Antiquarian book dealers, collectors, and the intellectually curious will gather in New York City for Rare Book Week, April 1-8, 2014.
Coordinated by Fine Books & Collections magazine, Rare Book Week is the largest gathering of its kind anywhere in the world.
Rare Book Week is headlined by the 54th annual New York Antiquarian Book Fair, which runs April 3-6, but is preceded by several rare book and manuscript auctions, including those at Christie’s, Heritage Auctions, Sotheby’s, and Swann Galleries. Several more auction houses, including Bonhams and Doyle New York, will offer collections to round out Rare Book Week after the fair weekend. Rare Book Week also includes The Manhattan Vintage Book & Ephemera Fair, known as the “Shadow Show,”
and The Professional Autograph Dealer Association (PADA) Show.
Exhibits on tap during Rare Book Week include part two of the New-York Historical Society’s highly successful tripartite series, Audubon’s Aviary: The Complete Flock. The Rose Seder Book will be on display at the New York Public Library, and Columbia University is hosting a major exhibition focusing on the career of twentieth-century maverick publisher Samuel Roth. There will also be a total of four new exhibits at the Morgan Library & Museum including one on The Little Prince entitled The Little Prince: A New York Story. Additionally, The Grolier Club is hosting an exhibit on one of its founders, Theodore Low De Vinne, who was one of the most important American figures of the nineteenth-century book world.
According to publisher of Fine Books & Collections Webb Howell, Rare Book Week is, indeed, rare. “Throughout the year, there are book fairs, auctions, and events around the globe,” says Howell. “But you simply cannot find anywhere in the world the confluence of antiquarian book events found in New York during the first week of April.”
Fine Books & Collections will coordinate guest participation in events, including ensuring that people know when and where events are happening.
More information about Rare Book Week can be found on the web at www.rarebookweek.org, where events will be continuously updated and added.
For more information about Fine Books & Collections visit www.finebooksmagazine.com
I’d been told by rare book dealers I knew from the Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair that I needed to go to that show’s New York counterpart to experience the real thing. Both are sponsored by the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America (ABAA) and attract a roster of dealers from around the nation and beyond. But the New York version is bigger, better, more international, and more likely to be attended by the best collectors in the world, the dealers said.
Those who voiced these sentiments weren’t necessarily from New York. What they said had nothing to do with the celebrated Boston-New York rivalry. Even dealers from Boston urged me to take a bite of rare books in the Big Apple. So I went to the Park Avenue Armory for the 53rd annual New York Antiquarian Book Fair, where some 212 firms were exhibiting from April 11 to 14. What I found can be summarized in a phrase: It’s the same but different, and vive la différence. There’s no place like New York City.
Even just waiting in line to get into the preview, I spied many notables. They included Eric C. Caren of Lincolndale, New York, proprietor of The Archive, who introduced me to someone he characterized as the country’s preeminent collector of Mormon material. Wyatt Houston Day, founder of Swann’s African-Americana department, made his way past us as we chatted. So did Bruce E. McKinney of San Francisco, whose Web site, The Americana Exchange (www.americanaexchange.com), publishes an enormous statistical index of pricing history for books, manuscripts, and ephemera. Behind me was a man who publishes translations of technical books produced by a multilingual team of translators. Ahead, I recognized the white-bearded underbidding agent who tried to buy (up to $2.6 million) the record-breaking Francis Crick letter that sold at Christie’s for $6.05 million on April 10. (See the story about the letter on p. 14-C.)
It was an interesting gathering, and it would be an interesting night. In the first five minutes, I saw Lewis Carroll’s own annotated copy of Eight or Nine Wise Words about Letter Writing, priced at $25,000 from Benjamin Spademan Fine & Rare Books, London. I also saw a pair of size 34 monogrammed boxer shorts that had belonged to Eugene O’Neill. “One of only two pairs known,” said Dan Dwyer of Johnnycake Books, Salisbury, Connecticut, who was offering the blue-and-white pinstriped underwear for $1750. Moving on to the sublime, I saw F. Scott Fitzgerald’s walking cane given him by Max Perkins. Maker unknown, the circa 1927 cane was banded with a simple gold plaque inscribed by the editor to his author. It was priced at $75,000 by Ursus Rare Book, New York City.
Nicholas T. Cooke of Black Swan Books, based in Richmond, Virginia, had a Washington College report card, signed in 1866 by its then new president, Robert E. Lee. Six months after surrender, the Confederate army general headed the college, later renamed Washington and Lee University. The card bears no recipient’s name, but it was likely Lewin W. Barringer’s, said Cooke, who told me that diplomas signed by Lee are “floating around, but not many report cards, and few as dismal as this one.” Its price was $5000.
William Reese Company, New Haven, Connecticut, featured an Abraham Lincoln manuscript in the presidential hand that relates to Reconstruction and is therefore extremely rare. Undated but “almost certainly” drafted in the midst of the war, it discusses the president’s right to grant amnesty to Confederate prisoners, among other issues that demonstrate Lincoln’s farsightedness in shaping the future reunification of the United States, said the company’s fair catalog.The manuscript’s price was $475,000.
Seth Kaller of White Plains, New York, brought the “Lincoln Nomination Chair.” Made of bentwood hickory and painted black, it is the chair in which Lincoln was sitting when he learned he had received the Republican nomination for president in 1860. Kaller bought it at the James S. Copley Library sales at Sotheby’s on May 20, 2011. At the time, there was no convincing documentation that it truly was Lincoln’s, with Sotheby’s noting only that “Lincoln purportedly settled into this chair during his frequent visits to the office of Simeon Francis, editor of the Sangamon Journal in Springfield, Illinois.”
Kaller himself was skeptical about the chances that the proof could be found. “I bid because I enjoyed looking at it, and the downside was limited with an extremely low estimate.” After buying it, he told his staff not to bother researching it. “I said, ‘What are we going to do? Find a contemporary newspaper article talking about Lincoln sitting in it?’” But he was swayed to let them try, and after more than 100 hours of research, they found such an article printed while Lincoln was still alive. They also found documentation that Lincoln had been sitting in this chair when he received word that he had been nominated for the presidency.
“We were able to document an amazing chain of ownership,” Kaller said. “When an item captures my interest, we can take a chance, and once in a while it pays off.” Their research is now on his Web site (www.sethkaller.com), and the chair was priced at $150,000.
One thing about my New York experience was very much like the Boston experiences I’ve had. Only about half the items I ogled at this fair were books. Many of the rest, like the shorts, cane, and chair, weren’t even paper. I wondered if it was a failing in me to be attracted to non-reading matter, but one dealer was reassuring. “Everybody does it,” he said. “Visual objects are easier to grasp.” That’s also why antique maps have lately been doing well, that same dealer ventured.
Its visual impact was only one of the reasons Paul Cohen and Henry Taliaferro of Cohen & Taliaferro in New York City quickly sold their special copy of Joshua Fry and Peter Jefferson’s “A Map of the most Inhabited part of Virginia containing the whole Province of Maryland,” published in 1775. As the dealers told me, this is “the most historically important and beautifully colored example” of this edition.
The map once belonged to Michel Capitaine du Chesnoy, the Marquis de Lafayette’s personal mapmaker, and he used it as the pattern for one of the most important maps of the American Revolution, Lafayette’s large manuscript of his campaigns in Virginia. Copies of that are at Yale University, the Library of Congress, and Colonial Williamsburg, and each has a pencil-lined grid of Virginia east of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The grid was employed as the guide for transposing Fry and Jefferson’s geography onto the larger manuscripts. Capitaine du Chesnoy’s copy of the printed map has the same penciled grid extending to the Blue Ridge Mountains, but it was executed on a smaller scale, so that troop movements could be clearly delineated. It also could be folded downto a compact size that would have been easy to transport to a battlefield.
The shift from books to non-book items at the fair has been gradual but unstoppable, said Gregory Gibson of Ten Pound Island Book Company, Gloucester, Massachusetts, who specializes in marine and nautical history, voyaging, whaling, yachting, and other watery themes. “It’s not about books anymore,” he told me hyperbolically, citing the Internet as the biggest agent of change. “The fair is immeasurably different from what it was. What can we do about it? We just try to adapt. We can’t stop it. We just have to learn to figure it out.” For his part, Gibson said, ten years ago, he would have brought 170 books, but this year he brought exactly 17.
I like to think that the way book fairs have expanded their reach into other collecting areas demonstrates how great ideas take many forms. What we all have to dois what we’ve always done: recognize and champion the great ones.
Not all great ideas are as august as the Lincoln draft noted above. Sometimes they simply bring pleasure. Those who enjoy detective stories should give thanks to John B. Williams’s great idea. He wrote Leaves from the Note Book of a New York Detective: The Private Record of J.B., published in New York in 1865. The book, allegedly the casebook of New York consulting detective James Brampton, is considered to be perhaps the first depiction of an American urban detective hero. Cliff Graubert of the Old New York Bookshop, based in Atlanta, Georgia, had a first edition for sale in a custom slipcase at $8000.
Whether dealers asked higher prices at the New York show than they do elsewhere, I couldn’t say. I do know that the rare book arena of collecting is a comparatively inexpensive one to enter. I saw many items for under $1000 and noted only one item over $1 million at the fair. It was a copy of the so-called “ColumbusLetter,” offered at $1.3 million by Jonathan A. Hill of New York City. Published in Basel in 1494, it is Columbus’s account of his successful voyage of discovery, illustrated with six woodcuts. Many editions were published of this bestseller of its day. All are extremely rare. There is no known manuscript version of the letter, which is addressed to the Spanish sponsors of his voyage, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella.
Given all that, the price seemed fair to me, but others would probably disagree. “I don’t ‘get’ paper,” a clock collector said when I told him where I was going for the weekend. I thought of his comment when Lisa Holley, wife of dealer James Arsenault of Arrowsic, Maine, said to me early on the second day of this show: “In the big sea of people who don’t get it, it’s nice to be in a place where people do.”
The Arsenault booth had a good opening, Holley said that day. When we caught up with Arsenault via e-mail afterward, he told me: “We had a solid show witha nice mixture of retail and dealer trade. Opening night was stronger than usual. The scene in our booth became quite lively as soon as the doors opened, in part a consequence of being at the front.” Booths are assigned at ABAA shows through a lottery system. He added: “There were quiet stretches on Friday and the weekend, as is typically the case at this fair, but all in all it was quite satisfying. We met several new customers and expect good long-term results. New York is always worthwhile for us, and this year was no exception.”
Ian Brabner of Wilmington, Delaware, said: “This is the best antiquarian book fair in North America, so if it’s going to be a buying crowd, New York is the place where they’ll go. It’s a great show with a lot of energy, and a lot of interestingpeople come walking through, and they represent all kinds of collecting interests.”
Brabner calledthe crowd more “robust” this year than in recent years and partly attributed it to attention given to the fair by media. “There was more than I’ve seen in the past,” he said. “It’s hard to get traditional news outlets interested in these kinds of events,” he added, “unless there’s a celebrity sighting, and there are those at this fair.” He named, for example, Yoko Ono, who usually attends. He didn’t see her this time, but did see Ricky Jay, a celebrity as much for being a collector as for being a magician, actor, and writer. “That ended up being a story,” Brabner said.
What made me happiest, though, were news stories I saw that focused on “celebrities” such as William Henry Harrison, Albert Einstein, and Jonathan Swift, each of whom was represented in materials in dealers’ booths at the fair.
John C. Thomson of Bartleby’s Books, Washington, D.C., is the ABAA’s president. “I thought the energy at the fair was higher than it has been since the recession and felt an activity level there that seems to indicate that the market is rebounding,” he said. “My own fair was good. It wasn’t like the go-go years, and I didn’t hear people talking about having had their best fair ever. My sense was that most people talked about having a good fair.” These days, “good” is great to hear.
I have mentioned only a minimal number of international dealers because I chose to concentrate mostly on American items in the booths of American dealers for the readers of M.A.D. Sadly, that left about 80 booths unexplored—e.g., Abeceda Antiquariat, Munich, whose specialties include design, illustrated books, and photography; Librarie Bardon, Madrid, whose areas of concentration are exploration and Hispanica; Bibliopathos, Verona, whose concentrations are incunabula, law, and the Renaissance; and Librarie Alain Brieux, Paris, with offerings of books on medicine and science.
If you do go to this fair, even if you are a focused collector, reserve time simply to browse and possibly awaken new collecting interests. You’ll also want to visit the “shadow show,” the Manhattan Vintage Book & Ephemera Fair, managed by Flamingo Eventz. (See story on p. 29-B.) Make time for the auctions and auction previews, too. We went not only to Christie’s but to a sale at Heritage Auctions, a preview at Swann Galleries, and a display of highlights from a sale at Profiles in History in Calabas, California, scheduled for May 30. (On our “downtime,” we went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see the deeply moving exhibit Photography and the American Civil War. A review is in the works.)
Some people complained that it was too much book culture to absorb. Maybe so, but we added to the full immersion experience by staying at the Library Hotel (www.libraryhotel.com) at Madison Avenue and 41st Street, where each of the hotel’s 60 rooms is stocked with used books from a certain section of the Dewey Decimal System. Our room was 400.005, i.e., Middle Eastern language. On a previous stay, we got 1100.002, i.e., ethics, where I picked up a book I wouldn’t normally choose: A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by William B. Irvine. I highly recommend it.
The entrance to the circa 1912 hotel is on 41st Street, on a block that’s part of what’s called Library Way. From the second-floor breakfast room, one can see the New York Public Library at 5th Avenue and 42nd Street in the distance. Embedded in the sidewalk leading up to the library are 100 bronze sidewalk plaques featuring quotes about books and reading from literature. One says: “Where the press is free, and every man able to read, all is safe.” It’s from Thomas Jefferson’s “Letterto Colonel Charles Yancey.”
Jeremy Markowitz (left) and Tom McLaughlin of Donald A. Heald Rare Books, New York City. Their natural history offerings included a first elephant folio of The Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America by John James Audubon and Rev. John Bachman, price on request.
The first book illustrated by Rockwell Kent (1882-1971) was Architectonics: The Tales of Tom Thumbtack Architect by Frederick Squires. Published in 1914, this copy was $750 from Tamerlane Books, Havertown, Pennsylvania.
Kurt Vonnegut often signed books with a self-caricature like this one found in a first edition first printing of his 1969 novel Slaughterhouse-Five: or The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death. The book was offered at $6500 by B & B Rare Books, New York City.
Charles Agvent of Mertztown, Pennsylvania, asked $4500 for a handmade sign advertising Charles Bukowski’s first known poetry reading, at the Bridge, a bookstore in Los Angeles, December 19 and 20, 1969. It came with a 1994 letter from Bukowski’s bibliographer, Sanford Durbin, documenting its authenticity and telling a great story about how the sign was acquired.
Seth Kaller holds a copy of Thomas Paine’s Common Sense. Initially, Kaller explained, Robert Bell of Philadelphia published the pamphlet in January 1776, and it sold out quickly. Paine asked Bell to hold off on a second issue to allow time for supplementary work. Bell, seeking to avoid paying royalties, instead advertised an unauthorized “new edition,” reprinting the original. Furious, Paine went to William and Thomas Bradford to republish his original text along with additional material, including Paine’s first use of the phrase “the Free and Independent States of America.” This is the most complete of the first editions, said Kaller, whose price for his Bradford-published volume was $68,000.
Charles Agvent holds an autograph letter signed by Woody Guthrie discussing the folk music scene of his day and championing Pete Seeger. Written in several colors of ink while Guthrie was at the Brooklyn State Hospital, where he spent several years, the three pages were sent to the magazine Sing Out! in 1955. Agvent priced it at $15,000.
One specialty of Raptis Rare Books, Brattleboro, Vermont, is finance and economics. Titles of signed first editions in the vitrine included Value and Capital by J.R. Hicks, published in London in 1939, priced at $9500; John Kenneth Galbraith’s The Great Crash of 1929, Boston, 1955, $4500; and Paul Samuelson’s Foundations of Economic Analysis, Cambridge, 1947, $12,500. “The conventional view serves to protect us from the painful job of thinking,” Samuelson wrote.
Just before posing, Lorne Bair (right) of Winchester, Virginia, sold a Soviet propaganda poster. A specialist in 20th-century social movements, Bair filled the vitrine behind him with titles such as Josephine Herbst’s Nothing is Sacred (1928), $950; Mary Harris Jones’s The Autobiography of Mother Jones (1925), $500; John Steinbeck’s Of Mice & Men (1937), $1250; John Dos Passos’s One Man’s Initiation (1917 and 1920), $1200; and Eldridge Cleaver’s Soul on Ice (1968), $250. The dealer’s location isn’t known for radicalism, but Bair said, “I haven’t had a brick through a window yet.”
Anne C. Bromer of Bromer Booksellers, Boston, is pictured with Miniature Books: 4,000 Years of Tiny Treasures (2007), which she cowrote with collector Julian I. Edison in conjunction with a 2007 exhibition at the Grolier Club in New York City. The book is considered to be the first lavishly illustrated and authoritative book on the subject of books no taller than three inches. Edison, who lives in St. Louis, was at the fair looking for more miniature books, said Bromer. He has been editor of Miniature Book News for more than 40 years.
A first edition, first printing, of Richard Henry Dana Jr.’s Two Years Before the Mast (1840) was $10,000 from Peter L. Stern & Co., Boston. In entirely original condition, with its original tan muslin cloth covers and without repair or restoration, it is indeed a rare book.
This year the glass half full guys won out and the glass half empty crowd sent packing. Not everyone did well but many did and most saw enough success to feel the ABAA-Sanford Smith show partnership was yielding substantial returns. This year the traffic was strong and the audience ebullient. According to Catherine Zubkow who managed the fair, “attendance was north of 5,000.” More importantly exhibitors were happy and suggesting they’ll be back in 2014. Lorne Baer, the Virginia dealer whose focus is social movements and counter culture, had an exceptional fair. Collectors are collecting what they have experienced and dealers reflecting this in the material they bring to shows.
Book selling it turns out is not quite what the term implies at least in the rare book trade. Ten years ago the field was composed of sectors within the category – books, manuscripts, maps, and ephemera and all these sectors continue today. But as the recent ABAA fair in New York demonstrated dealer hopes and their emphases have shifted to the absolutely unique. What buyers want is the special and this is what dealers brought and by all accounts sold.
The street's were empty, the show was full.
The handwriting has been on the wall for years. Separate manuscript and ephemera fairs have developed and continue to expand while the book fair circuit has been culled. Collectors and institutions have always wanted what’s special. At this fair it was simply clearer that the field has shifted and is replacing some of the weakness in less expensive rare books with strength in the unique and unusual – often signed copies and manuscripts. It’s logical and encouraging.
This is not to suggest that the printed word has gone AWOL Booths had plenty of books, in fact they were in the clear majority but the emphasis, when dealers had unique material, was for the folks behind the counter to suggest those items get a careful look. The emphasis was on the unique and I suspect the most asked question “what do you have that’s special?”
This makes sense for several reasons.
Just as collectors are keying on unique material so too dealers are shifting their ideas of what’s saleable. The conventional wisdom is that the unique is collectable and the common, described as two more copies than there are buyers for them, is not. It’s an over simplification but also often true. Institutions and collectors are coming to the great fairs looking for the unusual and this fair suggests to me dealers increasingly reflecting this.
From the Thursday evening preview and cocktail party on into the weekend traffic was strong and sales as always a matter of luck – the kismet of the right item, the right buyer and the right price. This time around the magic was in the air.
Per usual more than 200 dealers participated including a substantial contingent from Europe looking to escape their threadbare economies for a few days in the city that never sleeps [alone]. Hopefully they found what they came for.
For years it has seemed that for dealers there was time to dawdle, to watch and wait for an answer to the question – is this an economic downturn certain to be followed by recovery or, have we woken up to a new world? With the field now in noticeable transition and a tacit agreement emerging between buyers and sellers that is redefining their relationship best summed up this way; “what we can buy on line we will and what we can’t we’ll buy from dealers.”
So the code word going forward is what the secret password was for the fair just completed: special. Show me special. Do that and the crowds will hold up and the field return to good order.
As for what was until a few years ago the field’s bread and butter, the stock in trade rare book, such material will continue to find an audience but the price will be the subject of intense discussion. The web and databases such as the AED, available from phones, iPads and computers provide instant valuation and rarity calculations that are too accessible to ignore so increasingly dealers aren’t ignoring them and the frank discussions that then ensue are setting the table for serious collections.
After the fair I spoke with Howard of B. & L. Rootenberg about his recent experience and he agreed that manuscripts and unique copies have become the order of the day. He then mentioned a Schuyler family manuscript account book he owns from the early 19th century that’s both a good fit with my collection and an example of what book selling is becoming. And I’m interested.
So it was a very good fair. When the fair opened it was raining but inside sun and blue skies and it stayed that way all weekend. Mark Twain, as if speaking for the trade, had it right, “the reports . . .”
Occupying prime real estate in the Park Avenue Armory, the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America’s fair, ably managed by Sanford L. Smith & Associates, was again a winner at its April 12–14 edition. Six- and seven-figure price tags aside (although we did see one for $2 million!), the fair has great material in a range of collecting genres. Dealers from all over the United States and an ever-growing contingent of European dealers bring their best stuff here and what an eclectic mix of stuff it is!
Original writings from Bob Dylan, back when he was known as Bobby Zimmerman, vied for buyers’ attention with The Federalist: A Collection of Essays from 1787 by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay to a rare Sixteenth Century illustrated book by Francois Rabelais to Japanese erotica and more. Every genre was represented from autographs and mythology to scientific/medical illustrations, books/prints, artists books, incunabula, photography, illustrated manuscripts, bindings, private press, cartography and more. Plenty of nonbook items can be found as well here, from a life-size papier-mache gorilla to Cole Porter’s typewriter and even the chair Abraham Lincoln sat in when he was nominated to run for president.
Among the many standouts at the fair was a piece of English suffragette history in the booth of Paul Foster, London, which sold. An Art Nouveau silk embroidery, “Summer,” by Marion Wallace Dunlop, circa 1908, incorporated the suffragette colors (purple, white and green) adopted in 1908 by the Women’s Social and Political Union. Dunlop was known as “the first modern hunger striker” and was a talented artist who explored contemporary depictions of women in her art. The embroidery is stylistically similar to elaborate WSPU processions that Dunlop helped design in 1910 and 1911.
Another great item seen here was a Map of the Most Inhabited Part of Virginia by Joshua Fry and Peter Jefferson, 1775, offered (and sold) by Cohen & Taliaferro LLC, New York City. Dealer Paul Cohen noted this was a special copy of the map as it was colored more lavishly than most examples, and it had manuscript annotations by its first owner, Michel Capitaine du Chesnoy, Lafayette’s personal mapmaker.
Summing up the fair as “a great success,” Donald Heald, chairman of the fair and an exhibitor, heard many positive comments from participants. “I spoke to numerous dealers, who reported great success and achieved record sales,” he said. Heald also noted curators from major institutions, including the New York Public Library, Yale, The Library of Congress, Duke and the University of Virginia, were seen at the show.
“The New York Book Fair is, for us, the best fair of the year on every level. The material available to buy is superior, the presence of serious dealers, collectors and librarians — and the opportunity to interact with them intensely for a almost a week — is both exhilarating and productive,” said Kevin Johnson, Royal Books, Inc, Baltimore.
Many dealers reported having a good-to-great fair, with some saying it was their best show in years. Among pleased dealers was White Fox Rare Books & Antiques, West Windsor, Vt., now in its third year at the fair. Dealer Peter Blackman reported selling across the board of his stock, which is heavily tilted toward color plate books, illustrated manuscripts — illustration in general, mostly predating Twentieth Century. “I do carry a good amount of caricature, early Twentieth Century, and I was depleted of most of the items that I brought,” he said.
Another veteran was Jarndyce Antiquarian Booksellers, London, reporting record sales. “We were able to sell several important Dickens items — we are world specialists in this author — including first editions, autograph letters and manuscripts,” said dealer Brian Lake, president of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association in England.
Other items, mainly Nineteenth Century English literature, sold well to collectors and librarians. “Visitors to New York are keen buyers, and, in our experience, much happier than elsewhere to discuss their collections and what they are seeking,” Lake noted.
Johnnycake Books, Salisbury, Conn., made its larger sales in pieces of original art, like drawings by Cecil Beaton, and material related to Broadway and Hollywood, like lobby cards and annotated screenplays. “Johnnycake tried to bring material that was literary-related but unusual. Fairgoers seemed to be charmed by it, and it paid off, too,” said the dealers.
Charles Agvent, Mertztown, Penn., had slightly above-average sales this year, with robust follow-up sales after the show. “My best sellers seemed to be signed presidential books, hand colored plate books, and limited edition club books, areas in which I specialize,” he said. “New York is simply the best book fair in the world.”
Ken Sanders Rare Books, Salt Lake City, Utah, was exhibiting after a few years hiatus, and Sanders said the logistical challenges for him as a small book dealer were well worth it. “We had our best book fair in NYC ever, largely due to the success of some rare Mormon pieces we brought, including the sale of an unrecorded poetical broadside in the high five figures. The fair was extremely well organized, crowds were good all four days, and there was astonishing material for sale, sometimes at breathtaking prices,” Sanders said. The dealer also did well with his specialty of wordless novels (woodcuts) by the likes of Lynd Ward (God’s Man), Giacomo Patri (White Collar) and Franz Masereel.
Biblioctopus, Beverly Hills, Calif., also left the fair with a lighter load, seeing nearly $400,000 in sales, mostly books from 1684 to 1962. An unusual sale was a small set of silver coins (denari) minted during emperor Hadrian’s reign (117–137) imprinted with his portrait. “Coins are, after all, a form of imprinting, so not completely improper for a book fair,” noted dealer Mark Hime. An interesting item here was a pair of manuscripts by Bob Dylan, one written at a summer camp in 1956 (signed Bobby Zimmerman) and the other, a rare manuscript for “Man on the Street” from Dylan’s first recording session in 1961.
Sales were also good for Peter Harrington, London, who sold mostly classics by Charles Darwin, John Hobbs and Dashiell Hammett, as well as Thomas A. Goldwasser Rare Books, San Francisco, which sold a Nuremberg Chronicle, a rare Eighteenth Century slang dictionary, a fine Woody Guthrie presentation copy, and Twentieth Century art movement items.
A 40-year veteran of the book fair, Bill Reese of William Reese Company, Rare Books & Manuscripts, New Haven, Conn., noted “the New York Book Fair is the best rare book fair in the world; nothing else really comes close.” His sales were very strong this year.
Pierre Coumans Antiquarian Books, Brussels, Belgium, offered antiquarian books, European books in various languages, late Nineteenth–first half Twentieth Century, books on applied and decorative arts, pochoir portfolios of the 1920s, rare trade catalogs or children’s books with great visual impact, and works relating to Art Nouveau (Belgium was important for the development of this style) and Art Deco. “I found that the fair was very busy this year, with a lot of enthusiasm, and it went well for me,” Coumans said.
“Once again, the rare, unusual and fabulous condition took center stage,” said Jack Freas, Tamerlane Books, Havertown, Penn., who reported a good showing with sales every day of the fair. “We sold some very nice books, a painting, a Parian bust of George Stephenson [father of the locomotive] by Wedgwood and miscellaneous graphics.”
Also noting varied sales was Ursus Rare Books, New York City, which sold a Czech Modernist book, a Seventeenth Century Dutch festival book, a French study of perspective from the Sixteenth Century, and one of the original Hans Weiditz woodblocks for the 1537 edition of De Inventoribus by Polydorus Vergilius.
In its 35 years in business, Aleph-Bet Books, Pound Ridge, N.Y., has found this fair to be its strongest. Specializing in children’s and illustrated books, dealer Helen Younger saw much interest in first editions of children’s classics such as L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables and Crockett Johnson’s Harold and the Purple Crayon. Sales included first editions of The Cat in the Hat, the first Babar book, Histoire de Babar, and Louisa May Alcott’s first book, Flower Fables. Pop-up and movable books attracted much attention and this year’s most-viewed book was a limited edition, author-signed copy of The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.
Owen D. Kubik of Kubik Fine Books Ltd, Dayton, Ohio, noted interestingly that nearly half of his sales were not books. “We sold primarily historical manuscript/autograph material, including several albums of American Civil War autographs. We also brought several antiques to use as accent items in our booth and sold an antique silver/gold chalice and a Nineteenth Century Bohemian decanter set.”
It was clear that Priscilla Juvelis, Kennebunkport, Maine, had a good show. When asked about the show a week after its closing, she said she was still wrapping, packing and shipping. A few days later, she was able to report that the two designer bindings by Donald Glaister (director of the American Academy of Bookbinding) she brought to the fair had sold, and two of the three copies she had of an Australian book by artist Peter Kingston sold, as did unique books by Elizabeth McKee and Nancy Leavitt, noting, “In short, beauty sells.”
Longtime fair veteran Antiquariat Botanicum, Lynden, Wash., primarily sold books and manuscripts relating to medicine, botany, mathematics and science this year. While sales were down slightly from recent years, the dealer reported this as a very good book fair.
Another pleased West Coast dealer was Barry Lawrence Ruderman Antique Maps Inc, La Jolla, Calif. “The high point of the fair was seeing the reaction to our early Eighteenth Century manuscript pictographic map of the Silver Train [La Paz–Cuzco–Lima]. One client picked out several monkeys in a tree that I hadn’t noticed until the fair,” said Ruderman.
Seth Kaller, Inc, Historic Documents & Legacy Collections, White Plains, N.Y., had its best show in years. Sales included an Einstein letter that sold to a prominent scientist and several presidential documents. “The fastest sale we made was to a person who wasn’t at the show,” Kaller said, “Someone wandered into our booth, saw one of our Lincoln documents, and emailed a picture to a friend. A couple minutes later we had a new client.”
Among the many dealers capitalizing on the trend that the unusual and beautiful sells was Alain Moirandat, Moirandat Company, Basel, Switzerland. “I had an eclectic choice of books from the Fifteenth to the Twentieth Centuries. This year, I sold more from my modern stock, notably a rare ‘eroticum’ from the mid-Twentieth Century, Le feu au cul, an extra-illustrated copy which went to a new French customer.”
Books Tell You Why, Mount Pleasant, S.C., did well and plans to return next year. “We enjoyed a steady stream of visitors all weekend, though Friday and Saturday were the busiest for our booth,” said Kristin Masters. Focusing its booth on children’s books, modern first editions and antiquarian highlights, the dealers saw collectible children’s books and works by Charles van Sandwyk among its most popular items. Notable highlights seen here included a recently restored 1731 edition of Scheuchzer’s Physica Sacra and a first edition of James Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson, 1791.
Jo Ann Reisler, Vienna, Va., created a select booth of children’s books and original illustration art. Choice pieces by iconic illustrators like Arthur Rackham and Kay Nielsen were showcased. A noteworthy and quick sale was a 1915 letter from L. Frank Baum replying to a young admirer and including his thoughts on how to read the Wizard of Oz books and what he hoped to achieve in writing them.
The book fair will return next April. For information, www.nyantiquarianbookfair.com or 212-777-5218.
Priscilla Juvelis, Kennebunkport, Maine, sold two designer bindings by Donald Glaister, director of the American Academy of Bookbinding. The above image is Caliban Press’s The Tempest, designed and printed by Mark McMurray.
Paul Foster, London, sold this important and beautiful Art Nouveau embroidery, English, by Marion Wallace Dunlop that uses the suffragette colors adopted in 1908 by the Women’s Social and Political Union.
Giovanni Carlo Coppola’s "La Nozze degli dei favola…", lavishly illustrated account in 1637 of the wedding of Ferdinand II and the princess of Urbino, was offered at Librairie Camille Sourget, Paris.
Kevin F. Kelly, Bookseller, New Paltz, N.Y.
Jeffrey H. Marks Rare Books, Rochester, N.Y.
Jonathan A. Hill, Bookseller, New York City
Ursus Rare Books, New York City
A Kelmscott Press title, William Morris The Story of the Glittering Plain, 1894, was eye candy at Knuf Rare Books, Vendome, France.
Summer & Stillman, Yarmouth, Maine
By Isabelle Di Nallo Central Bucks South
Two Sunday mornings ago, while my teenage peers were still entangled between their sheets enjoying their beauty slumber, I was getting my nerd on.
I found myself in the Big Apple among some of the most expensive books in the world. That’s right — I was at the Antiquarian Book Fair in New York City.
Holla! Where my bibliophiles at?
I am what one might refer to as a “seasoned bookie.” And when I say one might refer to, the only person to ever do so is me.
This was the second time visiting the Armory on Park Avenue and if last year was any indication of how my second trip would turn out, I was sure to be in for a treat.
Last year, I saw two celebrities perusing the aisles, Steve Martin and Caroline Kennedy. While they admired the books, I admired them. Unfortunately, though, there were no celebrities shopping for a signed American staple to add to their collections, or to start one of their own. To be honest, deep down, I secretly hoped Justin Timberlake was a closet bibliophile.
This aside, the experience as a whole was intellectually stimulating and alluringly fascinating. The price tag on the entire room was easily millions of dollars, with the average book costing around $30,000. It quickly became a personal game to locate the most expensive and the cheapest item at the fair.
The cheapest artifact was a 1930s map of Los Angeles priced at $35. It was in a pile of older paper materials, such as a personal note from Ray Bradbury and other famous writers.
For some time, I thought I had found the most expensive book: a first edition of Andreas Vesalius’ “The Fabric of the Human Body,” which was the first comprehensive illustrated text on anatomy, and was priced at $450,000.
My assumption was quickly shattered when I stumbled upon a series of books from a seller located in a corner — $500,000, $600,000, $650,000 …
The prices quickly rose until I saw it: $1 million. It was a book from the 1400s that many museums and historians use to study Western culture. It was also a book that could pay for my college tuition 20 times over.
The million-dollar baby was a prime example of the ranges in historical time periods, from the 1400s illuminations to present-day inscribed copies of “Harry Potter.”
There were certain items or books that were priced at thousands of dollars that left me wondering “What makes these books so special?” But I refrained from asking my question, which I’m sure would have been met with condescending looks from strangers. Instead, I opted to pretend to know what “The Hunting of the Snark” was. Along the same lines, I found if you had to ask how much something cost … you could most definitely not afford it.
Besides having books, the fair had a lot of other material, often autographs from either presidents or celebrities. Most notably were President Reagan’s re-gifted Lilly Pulitzer tie, John F. Kennedy’s personalized cigars and humidor and a signed note from Napoleon Bonaparte. All of these autographs and re-gifted ties were snapshots of history. And all available for the affordable price of $30,000 or more — if you are a rich celebrity.
After seeing repetitive $30,000 price tags, I finally saw a signed Marc Chagall book for only $450 and exclaimed, “That’s such a deal!,” thought about the $20 that was in my pocket, and said, “Well … relatively.”
Kicking it back with books in New York City was a day well spent. I may not have purchased any books or autographs, but I got some insight into the intricacies of writers and read many of their inscriptions.
As a seasoned bookie, it’s safe to say I just may love book fairs.
Magician, actor, and author Ricky Jay, the subject of the new documentary called ‘Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay,’ inspects a deck of cards from the 1700s he found at the New York Antiquarian Book Fair. (Byron Smith for The Wall Street Journal)
Jessica Mitchell of Bromer Booksellers from Boston, Mass., shows visitors some of their unique ‘miniature books’ at the 53rd Annual Antiquarian Book Fair held in New York this week. (Cassandra Giraldo for The Wall Street Journal)
BY BARBARA BASBANES RICHTER ON APRIL 19, 2013 9:13 AM
The fifty-third annual New York Antiquarian Book Fair welcomed booksellers from all over America, and many came from across the Atlantic as well. French sellers presented their treasures with typical Gallic flair, charm and grace. Below I share three of my favorite bouquinistes at the Fair and some of their eye-catching wares.
More than two dozen dealers at the Fair specialized in children’s books, and two were from Paris. Michèle Noret, whose shop is nestled in the tony sixteenth arrondissement, brought lovely examples of children’s literature from around the globe. Her most intriguing items were Soviet-era volumes printed for budding Communists. One choice example was a second edition 1927 primer called Lenin for Children. Available for two thousand dollars, the book includes thirty-one full-page illustrations by Russian painter Boris Mikhailovitch Kustodiev, whose paintings had previously shown at the 1906 Paris Salon.
Hailing from near Montmartre in the eighteenth arrondissement, Chez les Librairies Associés brought books covering a wide thematic selection (such as calligraphy and moveable books). They also enticed passers-by with beautiful children’s collectibles. Among their wares were seven titles illustrated by acclaimed Russian artist Ivan Bilbin, known for his renderings of Russian folk tales. One of those volumes, from the 1937 Père Castor series, was a fine first-edition of H.A. Andersen’s La Petite sirène for $350.
Libraries Benoît Forgeot (you’ll find them on rue de l’Odéon in the sixth) brought an outstanding collection of illustrated books celebrating holidays and festivals spanning the fifteenth to the nineteenth centuries. Available for a tidy $80,000, one particularly sumptuous volume was a perfectly conserved depiction of a 1688 regatta. The boating event was organized in honor of the marriage of Ferdinand de Médicis, Grand Prince of Tuscany and Yolande-Béatrice. Fourteen gorgeously illustrated in-folio plates by Alessandro Della Via portray the extravagant festivities. An image from the book also graced the bookseller’s most recent catalogue. (see right)
POSTED ON APRIL 17, 2013 BY GEORGE
I had no business being there. I didn’t have the cash, nor the time, nor the eye to really have a good understanding of what I was actually doing there at the New York Antiquarian Book Fair, and I certainly didn’t have the moxy to go up to these bibliophiles and talk shop, though I desperately wanted to. The last book I read was on a Kindle for goodness sake, and I feel extremely guilty about that.
But there I was, at the Antiquarian Book Fair, passing stalls, walking around with a catalog and wallet as if I did belong there and as if I did have the money to make it rain on some illuminated manuscripts.
Sadly, I was a little too chicken to take a photo, but this one is courtesy of Raptis Rare Books.
I got there when it opened, walking in at the discounted student price and feeling like I stuck out due to my age (as everyone in line seemed to be the elderly) and due to me sweater (a bright pinked striped one). But I decided that I would own it, hoping that I could play off both factors. Maybe I was a possible buyer. Maybe I was the wealthy daughter of one of these pretty brownstone owners along Fifth Avenue. Maybe I was a Winston Churchill enthusiast and heard that his letters would be there.
I walked around briskly, noting the gleaming white stalls, the wooden folding shelves, and the books laid out, wrapped in plastic. I stood at the glass cases, feeling safe to read the descriptions and prices, which scared me off from lingering too long. James Joyce’s Ulysses at $220,000? Roald Dahl’ Charlie and the Chocolate Factor for $2,000? Ian Fleming’s bond books at almost $700 each?
I looked around to see what type of people were actually purchasing these things. There were the professor looking types with tweed, tortoise shell glasses, and elbow patches. There were the women in pairs, who chummily went up to vendors and asked and joked. There were the people with singular goals in mind, asking for Jewish texts, loose leaf papers, and letters, before heading in the opposite direction when they heard a negative.
I walked around, standing stupidly in front of cases, looking around to see what I was supposed to do exactly, but no one bothered me when I went up to their stall. No one asked if I was interested or forced me to look at more expensive books, all of which I figured would happen in a normal department store. I felt self-conscious and nervous, regretting this entire outing and wondering how soon was too soon to leave.
I made a quick round the entire joint, before I realized that I’d only been there for ten minutes. I already purchased a ticket, though. I had to stay longer. So I braved up to a few of the Atlanta booths, thinking that some homesickness would be a guide. I read the small cards placed in front of the books on display and marveled at the signed copy of Gone with the Wind, before heading to another. I at least started venturing towards the shelves, where books innocently sat, as if they weren’t hundred of dollars. I didn’t touch anything, keeping my hands to my catalog, close to my chest, but man did I want to.
One booth was full of colorfully faded kids’ books, from The Wizard of Oz to Where the Wild Things Are, and I found a small shelf of Louisa May Alcott and L.M. Montgomery that piqued my interest. I read the spines and felt my fingers flex at the idea of reaching for it. I looked over at the vendor to see if she was watching me closely, but she sat at the counter, a bored hand resting under her chin. She couldn’t care less what I did really.
But I chickened out.
I walked away, promising myself a different outcome at the next booth I chose, so following the heart, as I did with choosing the Atlanta booths, I stumbled into Jonkers’ Rare Books, chosen because of its location being Oxfordshire, England. And it was when I was giving a shaky smile as a greeting that I saw it on top of the glass case: a maroon binding of Emma. I smiled more assuredly at the vendor, who sat politely in the corner as I looked, pretending to be interested in the C.S. Lewis collection. I asked him about his location, we talked about Oxford, and I hedged towards the glass in what I hoped to be a really cool, calm fashion.
I asked about how he found books, what sort of places they went to get them, what was the best find, and he politely answered everything in his clipped British accent, though I could tell that he was being painstakingly patient in his response. He told me that if I needed any help to let him know, and I smiled, brightening up at the thought, and I asked if I could open the case. He gestured politely with a “yes, of course,” and off I went, sliding the glass with as much fluency as a seal lion would. There wasn’t necessarily a handle. After a few tries and gestures to the man that I could do this, I did fulfill that promise.
I made a grab at the set of Mansfield Park sitting on top on a glass shelf. I held it as carefully as I could, flipping through it with careful reverence–careful, because I wanted to look like I wasn’t a noob entirely–and I flipped to the title page to read the date and publisher. The date was right. The publisher was too. I felt myself start to shake in anticipation as I carefully pealed away a sheet to read the first lines.
A first edition Mansfield Park!
I looked around for more. I picked up the C.S. Lewis. I opened the Tolkien. I went back to Austen. I felt myself shake as I read through a copy of Sense and Sensibility, admiring the marbled cover and reading lines, admiring the page numbering in the center right above the words, the large font and big margins, the odd yellowed paper that was slightly see-through, the random spacing in some sentences. I especially loved how the printing would sometimes repeat a word from the bottom onto the next page (I laughed at myself when I read “Fanny” at the bottom, leading to the next page, then “Fanny” again at the top after I turned the paper. Double Fanny, I thought childishly). I savored holding the book, running my fingers on the smooth spine, looking at the edges, opening, then closing it to look and commit to memory. I looked over my shoulder at the vendor, before looking at the book in my hands.
Could I smell it? A part of me really wanted to. I bet it smelled amazing, all old and slightly mildewed from the years. I held it up as if I were nearsighted, but I almost jumped when the vendor behind me greeted someone suddenly, and I turned to find another interested party, looking through.
So close. I placed the books back properly, making sure not to knock anything down as I went, hearing my sister say that “I would be the one to knock down an entire case of antique books.”
These books I held were in the hundreds, thousands of dollars. They were almost two hundred years old, and their keepers were letting the riff-raff off the street (me) handle them? Without gloves? I felt like a dieter standing in Jimmy Johns, taking in the free smells.
Soon, I was off. I decided to stick with English booksellers since they would be more likely to carry the classics I wanted. One booth had a whole shelf of Austens, but on closer inspection, these marbled copies with their Moroccan leather binding were from the 1910s. They had descriptions to loved ones in them. I looked through, admiring the illustrations inside, before searching again.
I prided myself that I knew the publishing dates for her works, and like a snob, I went through stalls, scoffing at later editions, puffing myself up with this knowledge.
I stumbled on the entire serial of George Eliot’s Middlemarch at one stall, and I asked the vendor about it. We talked about how monthly serials worked, and he pointed out how one of the sets I held in my hands was actually resized, cut, and bound previously. Though, he added a little proudly, the copy that I had in my hands still had the paper cover that it originally came in. The green front, he explained, was protected because of its bindings, and was much nicer, he boasted, than one that sold at auction for $50,000. I thanked him for his time and returned the book to the glass, extremely carefully.
I did get to loiter around the illuminated manuscripts, studying an open page of The Book of Hours,summoning up what I remembered from my medieval women’s class, when a nice vendor lady came up and spoke to me. I just told her that I loved looking at the pages, and she offered me a catalog, which I agreed with, until I realized that she might think I was a prospective buyer.
“I can’t afford this,”I joked, handing it back to her. ”Like any of these. I just like looking at them.”
She laughed. ”I can’t either, but it’s okay,” she said in a conspiratorial whisper.
I made my way towards some of the Italian and Parisian book vendors, admiring their Dantes and Kants. The books were beautifully old. Some so worn that I couldn’t read the spine, but admired the care that kept it together.
And then, I found the last London book vendor that I missed. It was wedged between a German art book dealer and an Americana booth. I went in because I saw Wilkie Collins on the shelf and I wanted to look through it.
Inside was a printed slip of paper, describing the book’s worth and binding, and then there was a little humor biography over Collins, describing his bachelor status and the women he loved. Just from that description, I wanted to look over more of the classics, I pulled a few more, chuckling at a few.
I was sitting down Thomas Hardy, when I saw the 1895 version of Pride and Prejudice, the one with the peacock on the cover. It was in amazing condition. Green leather and marble paper inside. Other than the slight discoloration of a few of the pages, it was in really nice condition. There were also copies of her other works, and I flipped through each, hungrily.
I stayed at that booth for a long time, replacing and picking up Austens, my mind working into a frenzy of what-if: like, what-if I bought it. How amazing would that be to have? A true classic edition of one of my favorite writers. That would be fan-tastic.
Only, this copy of Pride and Prejudice was worth seven month’s rent for an apartment in Queens. The volumes of Sense and Sensibility was worth a month more. Who had that kind of money to burn exactly? Sometimes, I dislike rich people. I’m sure that they get to purchase old Jane Austen books and smell them all they want.
I chose against sneaking in a whiff at this stall though. There were too many people around, and I already felt creepy picking up and replacing so often. They would never allow this at Jimmy Johns with their sandwiches.
In the end, I didn’t buy anything, like I could anyway, and I sauntered out of the book fair feeling slightly more happy that I stayed.
I texted my sister, Sam, about how my gloveless hands got to touch a first edition Mansfield Park, and she replied that that must’ve made this entire move to New York worth it.
I only had two words for her then: Hell. Yeah.
By the fourth day of the New York Antiquarian Book Fair, I still had not found a copy of “Moby-Dick.”
It was Sunday afternoon and I was walking my final rounds of the Park Avenue Armory an hour before closing, my weariness only matched and surpassed by the booksellers themselves. In the dark hallways and in the giant, vaulted convention space, dealers went about their final sales with a heaviness that hadn’t existed during the perky Thursday night preview. Now, instead of talk of arrivals and hotels, there were arguments about departures, discussions of delayed planes and irritable fussing over early morning flights.
“I’m getting cranky, and that’s not a good sign,” one bookseller said sharply, ducking out of their booth to get a midday drink.
I was weary in a different way, not from working, that is, but from having a college student’s budget and an enthusiast’s passion through four whole days at the fair.
Now in its 53rd year, the New York Antiquarian Book Fair is, if not the largest book fair in the world, then certainly the most important one, rivaled only by London’s in June. Boasting more than 200 American and international dealers (and there were more European dealers this year than any prior), there were so many rare books, maps, manuscripts and autographs that I began to look at the thousand-dollar price tags with a kind of unaffected glaze.
I’d been searching since Thursday night for what I thought would be in abundance: A copy of Herman Melville’s great American epic “Moby-Dick.” I knew from research that it wasn’t “too common” to be at a fair where thousands of dollars for a book was expected — premier online bookseller ABE Books listed the first edition for between $60,000 and $80,000. However, instead of finding the great white whale, I’d found Hemingways. Fitzgeralds. Joyces. Burroughs’s. Roths. Pynchons. There were multiple Cathers, several Faulkners, an affordable Murakami that I almost convinced myself was worth $500. A signed David Foster Wallace for over a thousand dollars, by the end of the fair, was starting to sound like a steal.
It wasn’t that I wanted to buy a copy of “Moby-Dick” — like I said, even $500 I couldn’t justify — but I was surprised by its noticeable absence. I’d expected to be able to count the copies on fingers and toes, but rather I spent my last day at the fair desperately hunting for one last chance just to lay my eyes on a first edition (seeing a Melville signature I’d given up on entirely).
That’s not to say my time at the fair was a disappointment, though; I’d seen things I had never seen before, and will never see again. There was an $85,000 transcript on fishing from Ernest Hemingway at one stall. For $250,000, some of J.D. Salinger’s letters. $395,000 for an inscribed first edition of James Joyce’s “Ulysses.” And $712,500 for a corrected typescript of the first part of “Finnegans Wake.” I’d seen signed first editions of seemingly every great piece of literature since the turn of the century, held pieces of paper worth as much as my private university tuition, and looked at manuscripts illustrated by hand hundreds of years before I was born. I’d studied J.D. Salinger’s handwritten comments on the cover designs of “Catcher in the Rye” and “Franny and Zooey” as well as Abraham Lincoln’s chair and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s cane. There was a copy of “A Clockwork Orange” signed by both Stanley Kubrick and Anthony Burgess as well as Mick Jagger’s handwritten lyrics to “War Baby.” A copy of “Wuthering Heights” was mislabeled as being “By the author of ‘Jane Eyre.’”
Daniel R. Weinberg of the Abraham Lincoln Book Shop described the fair as being a “museum,” and indeed it was exactly that — a museum where every item was for sale.
“This is the best book show in the world — and that’s not me telling you that, it’s from the dealers and exhibitors,” Sanford Smith, the fair’s programmer, said.
Smith, whom I met by the entrance, seemed like the only person left who still had any energy by Sunday afternoon (“Oh, I’m fine,” he told me when I asked how he was holding up, “I’ve been doing it for so many years”).
“There’s a huge selection,” Smith went on to explain. “Over there, for $17.50, you can find Big Little books. Keep looking, and you’ll find books for a quarter of a million dollars.”
Smith explained that most buyers have a particular niche interest. Modern first editions. Audubon bird books. Murder mysteries. Maps. Ian Flemings. Melvilles (or maybe that’s just me). Everyone, Smith said, is a collector of something or another, be it books or matchbooks.
“What do you collect?” Smith asked me.
“I don’t know — nothing.” I hesitated, looking around, suddenly embarrassed that I couldn’t afford anything in the entire room. “I guess I keep all my concert and movie tickets.”
“So you collect tickets then,” Smith said. “Everybody collects something. Right now I’m collecting Big Little books and shooting targets from Coney Island.”
With the fair’s program that he handed to me, I was able to locate the stall of Bartleby’s Books, manned by Karen Griffin. Regretfully, she didn’t have a copy of any Melvilles with her, although she was a fellow enthusiast, explaining that she and her husband, John Thomson, had read “Bartleby the Scribner” to each other on their honeymoon.
“I actually read ‘Moby-Dick’ to have something to talk to him about,” Griffin admitted.
And although Griffin didn’t have any Melville’s, she knew someone who did — a very weary bookseller, Peter L. Stern. He unlocked his cabinet to show me three Melvilles, albeit not the one I was hunting: “Omoo,” “Fifty Years of Exile” and “Library of American Books.”
Stern, who had no time (or patience) to talk, told me, “There are a lot of ‘Moby-Dicks’ around” when I commented on their conspicuous absence. Although I’d spent four days scouring booth after booth, I didn’t immediately doubt him — afterward, in conversation with other attendees, I realized that it was truly impossible to see everything at the fair in only four days.
I never found the white whale (but I haven’t given up searching, despite the ominous warnings offered to me by Melville about obsession). I did, however, find a different animal book to covet, a first edition of “The Maltese Falcon” at B & B Rare Books, which I fell for immediately due to my romantic attraction to its gorgeous spine and the eponymous falcon on its cover.
Thinking of it now, I recall Sam Spade in the adaptation. Somehow, it seems fitting to end my experience with his words:
Detective Tom Polhaus, picking up the falcon: Heavy. What is it?
Sam Spade: The — stuff that dreams are made of.
Detective Tom Polhaus: Huh?
Only unlike Polhaus, I think now I understand.
(Photos: Bauman Rare Books — sold copy of “Moby-Dick”; New York Antiquarian Book Fair flyer; author’s own)
ON AND BETWEEN THE COVERS: THE NEW YORK ANTIQUARIAN BOOK FAIR
If there is one art that expresses both visual and intellectual delight it is surely that of the rare book. For, both on and between the covers, one finds content of curiosity, bindings of beauty, and illustrations that stir the imagination.
We begin our journey, most appropriately, with an atlas at Daniel Crouch Rare Books. John Seller’s “Atlas Maritimus” or a “Book of Charts” is the first sea atlas by an Englishman in England. Printed in London by John Darby for the author, it is, as Mr. Crouch notes, “the Atlas Maritimus’ of 1675, the first English attempt to challenge the Dutch monopoly in printed sea atlases.” This edition contains 30 maps and charts, all of which are of particular note. The folio with engraved frontispiece displaying portraits of Sir Francis Drake and Thomas Cavendish includes 30 double page engraved charts mounted on paper, illustrating “fine original hand-colour” charts. Only one of two examples extant, Seller’s Atlas is a rare item, indeed.
A smaller folio from a different part of the world is Goya’s first edition of “Los Caprichos,” 1799. Offered by Bauman Rare Books in New York, this extraordinary volume is complete with 80 etchings and bound in full mottled brown calf gilt with red morocco spine label. According to the bookseller, this is Goya’s rarest book, it is “one of only a few copies sold in Madrid by Goya himself and one of the first copies printed.” The book form enabled the artist to paint his voice in a different way. David Bauman notes that “Los Caprichos” (the artist’s “satire on human folly), names the work after his desire to indulge his caprices in a format different from that of the commissioned paintings he usually created. More than a series, Los Caprichos offers a kaleidoscopic view of evil.”
Back around the world to California where we find Kelmscott Presses’ Chaucer. Located at the Weinstein’s Heritage Books Shop, this fabled edition printed by William Morris in 1896 is only one of 425 copies on paper. This volume includes eighty-seven woodcut illustrations after Sir Edward Burne-Jones, redrawn by Robert Catterson Smith. It is printed in black and red in Chaucer type. Rachel Weinstein notes that “included with the volume is a rare bifolium proof with two conjugate trial leaves with variant typesetting for the opening page of the Chaucer and its conjugate leaf. These trial pages were set using one size smaller type then is found in the final production. By using the smaller type, one extra line of text has been added to the first page. Also included with this is a proof leaf again of the opening page, but with the text area blank. All these leaves have Burne-Jones’ woodcuts and in and of themselves are quite rare.” The cover itself is a work of art. After a design by Morris, the blind binding is made of white pigskin with “Geoffrey Chaucer” tooled on top and “Kelmscott” at foot. Doves Bindery was the only special Chaucer design Morris completed.
On the cover of this next spectacular tome is a modernist geometric image of Sapho. Back on European shores, Sims Reed Rare Books is listing a most sumptuously leather bound volume of “Poemes de Sapho,” Paris 1950 illustrated by Marie Laurencin. The Robert Bonfils binding, so beautifully rendered, is made of full tan crushed morocco with Bonfils’ signature gilt monogram. Inlaid sections of cream and burgundy crushed morocco form a “stylized female figure with lyre.” Laurencin’s first drawing features “the portrait head of a young woman face on with flowers in her hair.” One of 180 copies, this is just “one of three hors commerce copies on Auvergne with an original signed drawing by Laurencin.” It’s provenance is that of Robert Bonfils himself, with a presentation from Laurencin, two original drawings and two suites of illustrations.” The “Poemes de Sapho, for it’s full artistic array, is a work of art, both on and between the covers.
GOYA, Image Courtesy of Bauman Rare Books
BETWEEN THE COVERS, Image courtesy of Weinstein’s Heritage Book Shop
Image courtesy of Sims Reed Rare Books
TUESDAY, APRIL 16, 2013
Spring in New York means it’s time for the Antiquarian Book Fair. As usual the event proved as splendid as it was engaging, for both historians and sauvants of rare books, prints and maps from around the world.
Dealers from France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom were among the biggest players as were so very many American rare book dealers.
The opening photo above came from the stunning booth of Les Trois Islets, a rare book dealer from France. The picture below shows a fabulous tome, The Voyages and Adventures of Fernand Mendes Pinto, an Engish edition from London 1653. Earler Portuguese editions, not to mention Latin editions of this volume, are equally sought after. The dealer is Frederik Muller Rare Books of the Netherlands.
And if Mendes Pinto is not enough, Muller has quite many Jesuit maps and books relating to the Age of Discovery. For example, St. Francis Xavier, 52 missionary letters in Latin and published in Antwerp in 1657.
If the Law is your interest, there’s the famous French Ordonnance de Louis XIV,
which lists the Colbert Reforms. The work dating from Paris in 1667, was the first in a long series of legislation by Jean-Baptiste Colbert whose grand reform programme “would provide a model for the enlightened despots of the next century.” The book is being sold by Leo Cadogan of London, himself a sauvant of fine books and literature of ages past.
And yes, comparatively speaking, there are more modern selections…
And birds, butterflies and browsers….
New York City was a happening place for book collectors and book sellers this past weekend. We made the trip to the Big Apple to combine a visit with our son and to take in the 53rd Annual New York ABAA Book Fair and the Manhattan Vintage Book & Ephemera Fair (AKA “The Shadow Show”).
The ABAA Antiquarian Book Fair was held again at the beautiful Park Avenue Armory at 643 Park Avenue. Although you enter the fair through an atmosphere of dark wood paneling, chandeliers and stained glass…
This is one of the few places you will see booksellers dressed to the nines (we are generally a casual lot – sometimes downright scruffy, even). Security is tight. Your coat and any bags must be checked at the door. Much of the best that is available and collectible in the whole wide world of books is on display here, everything from signed modern first editions to ancient maps and manuscripts. Prices ranged from around $50.00 to rarities running into five and six figures.
We attended on Friday at noon, the first general opening of the show (there is a preview night on Thursday evening, with a $50.00 entry fee for the privilege). There is a vibe of tension and excitement in the air – booksellers pay a premium to exhibit here — they are all hoping to “crack the nut,” and there are collectors roaming the aisles who are willing to drop serious cash. The attendance seemed high — the crowds grew as the afternoon progressed.
It is always worthwhile to attend this fair, to see what is being offered, some of which you may never see again anyplace else. It should be considered a learning experience as well an opportunity to buy.
We were happy to see Earl and Michael Manz, father and son team of Yesterday’s Gallery and Babylon Revisited Rare Books at their booth, where I purchased a lovely first edition of Twenty-Four Hours for my Louis Bromfield collection. (Thanks for bringing it to the Fair, Michael!)
They specialize in books from the jazz age and depression era in beautiful old dustjackets. We share their area of interest, and it is always a joy to roam their booth or website.
Nearby we found another favorite bookseller, Robert Dagg, of Robert Dagg Rare Books, San Francisco, California, whose specialty areas are Modern First Editions and Mystery and Detective Fiction.
The Manhattan Vintage Book & Ephemera Show, or “Shadow Show” is held in a lovely building at 135 West 18th Street, and is a much more relaxed atmosphere. This show ran Friday, April 12 from 5-9 p.m. through Saturday, April 13 from 8am – 4pm. We were waiting at the door on Saturday at 8am.
53rd Annual Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America – New York Antiquarian Book Fair – Park Avenue Armory
Entrance to the New York Antiquarian Book Fair
Michael Manz and Earl Manz of Babylon Revisited / Yesterday’s Gallery Rare Books (my husband Ron is on the right).
First trade edition of Twenty-Four Hours (NY: Frederick A. Stokes, 1930)
Robert Dagg, Robert Dagg Rare Books, San Francisco, CA
Ricky Jay can throw a playing card 90 miles an hour into a watermelon. He’s also known to champion fellow eccentric entertainers like Le Petomane, the “master flatulist” of France. Moviegoers may recognize him as a regular presence in the films of David Mamet and Paul Thomas Anderson. But Mr. Jay is truly famous for his sleight-of-hand. Some of his illusions are so stunning that they leave spectators teary-eyed—out of amazement, or perhaps fear—and the essence of his craft, which he’s been studying obsessively for six decades, is enmeshed in secrecy.
So when two filmmakers, Molly Bernstein and Alan Edelstein, approached the conjurer, actor, historian, collector and writer about making a documentary about his life and work, Mr. Jay was reluctant. This was some 15 years ago. “His whole life is about secrets and control, and a filmmaker wants to reveal secrets and explore them, so there’s a natural difference of agenda there,” said Mr. Edelstein.
It took the filmmakers more than a decade to lure their subject into the light, but “Deceptive Practices: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay,” is finally ready for its theatrical premiere on Wednesday at Film Forum, where it will screen for two weeks before a wider release. The documentary provides a riveting look at Mr. Jay’s arduous, arcane pursuits through the prism of those who taught and inspired him to be one of the world’s great magicians—the kinds of entertainers who populated his 2011 book “Celebrations of Curious Characters”: strongmen, cannon-ball catchers, limbless jugglers, con men, and the like.
As a boy in Brooklyn, his first mentor was his grandfather, Max Katz, a serious amateur magician (and professional accountant). Other masters he learned from that appear in the film: Al Flosso, Slydini, Cardini and two men, Charlie Miller and Dai Vernon, whom he sought out in Los Angeles as a young rising magician. “I’m much more interested in lesser-known eccentrics and characters and performers,” Mr. Jay said during a recent interview at New York’s Antiquarian Book Fair, where he was repeatedly accosted by dealers bearing greetings. “Like Matthew Buchinger, who was born in Germany in 1674, had no arms or legs and yet did magic, and had 14 kids, and made the most extraordinary calligraphy.”
As Ms. Bernstein and Mr. Edelstein can attest, issues of trust and discretion are touchstones in his life. “I know people who make a living as card cheats and dice hustlers, and the fact that they’re willing to share secrets of the trade with me is terrific,” Mr. Jay said. “And when they ask me not to talk about it I don’t talk about it. I learned this at a very early age. Honoring these pacts are a defining part of both my professional and my personal life.”
The saga of making the film began with Ms. Bernstein, who became an admirer of Mr. Jay after reading his 1986 book, “Learned Pigs and Fireproof Women: Unique, Eccentric and Amazing Entertainers.” She started thinking about a documentary after seeing his solo 1994 performance, “Ricky Jay and His 52 Assistants,” directed by Mr. Mamet at the Second Stage Theatre. “I was completely mesmerized by the show,” she said. “I was so taken by his language and his style and his ability to make a small, sophisticated New York audience gasp.”
She recommended the show to an illustrator friend, Peter Kuper, who penned a whimsical cartoon, “Waiting for Ricky Jay,” while queued up in an unsuccessful attempt to get in. Mr. Kuper parlayed the cartoon into tickets and eventually a friendship with Mr. Jay, and it was through him that Ms. Bernstein contacted Mr. Jay’s manager to explore the possibility of a film. The manager declined, saying he was too busy.
Ms. Bernstein and Mr. Edelstein tried again about a year later, this time through Mark Singer, the author of a 1993 profile of Mr. Jay in the New Yorker, and arranged a meeting. Mr. Jay was reticent, having had a bad experience with a BBC film crew. “Certainly I was skeptical at first,” he said. “But I met with them a couple of times and I liked them personally. Equally important was the idea of letting it focus on my mentors.”
Filming began in 1998 when Mr. Jay reprised his “52 Assistants” show, and it continued in drips and drabs for several years when there was money, opportunity and time. “It just became part of the fabric of our existence,” Ms. Bernstein said. “We started gradually to get to know each other and Ricky started telling us when he was doing interesting things and asked if we wanted to shoot. We kept chipping away at it and as we got to know Ricky better, we got more access.”
Their portrait grew richer. They filmed Mr. Jay performing at the Old Vic theater in London in 1999; discussing his collection of antique dice at a Los Angeles bookstore; illuminating 19th-century spirit photography at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; hanging out with his stage crew at the Carnegie Deli. They also researched Mr. Jay’s place in the history of magic. They found material in the Smithsonian archives; images of him as a child magician at the Newark Sunday News; and material from periodicals at the Conjuring Arts Research Center in New York. Mr. Jay, too, dug up archival material from his life covering a wide range of activities.
“I’m a lucky guy to be able to do all these different things that I like,” he said. “I’m able to be more cavalier than most people about turning down work that I don’t like. I work with books, I have a consulting company, I have worked as a curator and an archivist. None of these things I dislike.”
Perhaps most important to him, though, is that element of confidence—the “deceptive practice.” Mr. Mamet, a longtime friend, said Mr. Jay recently revealed to him one of his great secrets of magic. “He initiated me into this world,” Mr. Mamet said. “I was very stunned and very touched. It was a great honor. You want to know what it was?”
Yes, came the answer.
“Of course I can’t tell you.”
BY REBECCA REGO BARRY ON APRIL 14, 2013 8:42 AM
Yesterday I posted about my Friday at the Manhattan book fairs. I returned to the NYABF fair at the Armory on Saturday for another few hours of intense browsing. My first stop was row E, having only made it as far as D the day before.
The double booth belonging to Ian Kahn/Lux Mentis and Brian Cassidy Bookseller, located in E, is the fun stop on the book fair tour. Fine press, avant-garde, music-related, and sex-related books and ephemera. A set of pink undergarments fashioned out of strips of pink paper on which are printed slang terms about women? Seen at Lux Mentis. A 1968 paper dress of Andy Warhol’s soup can design given away by Campbell’s to women who sent in two can labels and $1? Seen at Brian Cassidy.
I also attended the Book Collecting 101 Seminar run by Brad and Jen Johnson of The Book Shop in Covina, CA. It was a great seminar on the basics, covering insuring collections, packing/shipping books, and my favorite, the “Don’t list”: Don’t Follow Fads; Don’t Buy Blindly; Don’t Settle, and Don’t “Invest.” I was also reminded that a $5 Mylar cover is a necessary investment for a fine book (Note to self…).
Other booth highlights included Phillip J. Pirages, where I scanned some stunning illuminated manuscript leaves. They don’t fit into any of my three main collecting paths, so I sadly passed on them. At Les Enluminures, I picked up the catalogue for its current gallery show of medieval manuscripts, Paths to Reform, and I’ll be nearly as happy paging through it.
Two purchases were made in the final hour — both in the natural history/nature literature category, a collection my husband and I share — which caused us to meet two booksellers we will surely seek out at future fairs: Jeffrey H. Marks and Jeff Bergman.
The NYABF is still open today. Happy hunting.
BY REBECCA REGO BARRY ON APRIL 13, 2013 9:13 AM
I don’t recall seeing a copy of E.B. White’s famous book in my browsings yesterday at the New York Antiquarian Book Fair during the day or the Manhattan Vintage Book & Ephemera Fair in the evening — but who knows, there is so much to see, and my eyes give up before my feet do. In four hours at the Armory fair, I stopped in most booths in four rows (Row E, I’ll see you later today!) which may seem slow going to some, but I try to look closely and chat with the booksellers when they’re not too busy with other clients. Here are some highlights.
Ken Lopez is offering this rockin’ copy of Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest — it was fully marbled in psychedelic pinks by Kesey himself. Inside, Kesey has also signed it in block lettering. Lopez knows of only one other book treated by Kesey in this way. Also in Lopez’s booth: an advanced reader’s copy of The Name of the Rose inscribed by Umberto Eco–what bibliophile wouldn’t want that?
Between the Covers had an interestingly covered book that caught my eye: the Cincinnati edition of Robert Owen’s New View of Society wrapped in a homemade newspaper dust jacket dating to 1827. At Estates of Mind, I enjoyed seeing a early draft manuscript page from Thoreau (personal favorite) as well as Walt Whitman’s own copy of Leaves of Grass, in which he lettered his name on the title page. Other fun finds: collectible editions of Baudrillard and Foucault (!) at Athena Rare Books, Cole Porter’s typewriter at Schubertiade, and I saw so many first editions of Fowles’ The Collector that David Lodge was a breath of fresh air at Gekoski.
After a two-hour eye rest, I traveled downtown to the “Shadow Show.” Melissa Sanders was exhibiting as Red Queen Book Arts for the first time in New York with her list of book arts, fine press, artist’s books, bindings, miniatures, and more (she also has books from Ken Sanders). Her display case is filled with the unique and interesting, e.g. Ed Bateman’s artist’s book, Gutenberg.
Mosher Books has a beautiful Haberly book: The Keeper of the Doves, authored, wood-block illustrated, printed and beautifully bound by poet-printer Loyd Haberly, and published by Seven Acres Press in 1933. As usual the Country Bookshop of Vermont is a reliable purveyor of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century literature. We left the fair with one book, purchased there.
NOT everybody gets it. For some people old documents, however historical, are little more than humdrum records, created to be filed for reference and cited when necessary, the documentary backdrop of grander happenings, with signatures that do no more than guarantee their authenticity. And for those with that point of view, autographed items other than formal documents — say, the back of an envelope — are merely fetishistic totems, and perhaps a little silly.
But for those with a more romantic perspective, autographs have something like souls. They are the molecules of history, vibrant links in important chains of events. Even less momentous pieces like signed photographs bear the spirit of the signer, and the occasion.
“Autographs provide a great connection to the people and events that shaped our time,” said Seth Kaller, the vice president of the Professional Autograph Dealers Association, which is holding its annual show on Sunday at the Lotos Club in Manhattan. “And they capture, in a way that other collectibles don’t, the immediacy of creation and of the event. Holding a document that, say, Abraham Lincoln spent his time writing and signing is as close as you will get to shaking his hand. When you buy a document you’re buying a moment of his time.”
There are also more practical reasons to collect of course. “Some people buy for investment,” said Bill Ecker, whose New York company, Harmonie Autographs and Music, specializes in classical music composers and performers. “And sometimes parents will buy a musician’s autograph for a child who is a budding virtuoso, as a form of inspiration.”
The association, which represents about 50 dealers from around the country, promotes a high-end form of collecting. Although a few members offer movie star, jazz and 1960s pop music items, most specialize in presidents, statesmen, scientists and other more august figures. You won’t find much sports memorabilia (“unless it’s Lou Gehrig,” Mr. Ecker said) or any hip-hop artists.
Some of the nearly two dozen dealers who are attending the association’s show will also have booths at the larger 53rd Annual New York Antiquarian Book Fair, a four-day event that runs through Sunday at the Park Avenue Armory. The book fair is not primarily autograph oriented, but signed editions turn up there, and the points of connection between the markets are so strong that the autograph association always schedules its show to coincide with the book event.
The association’s star this year seems to be Lincoln, whose signatures have always commanded high prices but who has been particularly in vogue since Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” hit theaters in November. Daniel Weinberg, whose Abraham Lincoln Book Shop in Chicago specializes in its namesake as well as the Civil War and other presidents, is bringing several tantalizing items, including a check that Lincoln wrote to one John Armstrong — a neighbor who did carpentry work for him — in February 1860, shortly before he was nominated for the presidency. Mr. Weinberg’s research suggests that the check was to compensate Armstrong for work he did on Lincoln’s outhouse.
Mr. Weinberg is also bringing a piece that has already generated some debate among Lincoln experts. It is a brief letter endorsing a request by Sister Mary Carroll, a wartime nurse, for an extra Catholic hospital chaplain. It is dated Sept. 22, 1862, the day Lincoln signed the preliminary version of the Emancipation Proclamation, and is one of only four known Lincoln signatures from that day.
But there are a few anomalies. Although the text is in Lincoln’s hand, he did not sign the note until later, and in a different ink — possibly, Mr. Weinberg suggests, because Sister Mary returned and asked him to sign it. Mr. Weinberg says that a forensic study of the signature indicates that it is in ink that was in use at the time.
The signature itself is also odd. Typically Lincoln signed official documents with his full name (as presidents are required to do) and unofficial ones as A. Lincoln. In this letter, for which Mr. Weinberg is asking $125,000 (compared with $13,500 for the outhouse check), Lincoln appears to have started writing his full name and then changed his mind, signing Ab. Lincoln instead. It is the only known example of his signing that way.
Mr. Weinberg said he had no doubts about its authenticity. “I also have the only known example where Lincoln misspelled his name,” he said. “He wrote Linclon, then crossed it out and signed it correctly. But I’m not bringing that to the show. That one’s mine.”
For Lincoln enthusiasts the show’s centerpiece is not an autograph but an unusual drawing by Pierre Morand, a Frenchman who befriended Lincoln and executed several well-known sketches, including one of Lincoln leaning against a tree and reading a newspaper in 1864.
After Lincoln was assassinated in April 14, 1865, Morand followed his body to New York, where it lay in state at City Hall. He sought permission to sketch Lincoln in his coffin, which was denied, but he did so anyway, apparently bribing a guard for access. He completed a pencil sketch at 2 a.m. on April 25. When he returned to his studio he made an intermediate ink portrait and then a final version. The portrait that Mr. Weinberg is selling — his asking price is $375,000 — is the final one.
Other presidents command respectable prices too, even those who you might not think have large constituencies. Consider, for instance, poor William Henry Harrison, the ninth president, who served a mere 32 days before dying from pneumonia. That made his presidential papers real rarities, and Mr. Kaller’s prize piece is a letter appointing an attorney general signed on Harrison’s first full day in office, March 5, 1841.
At $145,000 the Harrison letter is the priciest of the 100 items he is bringing to the show; the low end, he said, is around $500. Between those extremes Mr. Kaller has several letters from John F. Kennedy — one supporting minimum wage legislation as a senator (signed “Jack” in 1957), for $2,700; a 1956 letter supporting medical research, for $4,000, and a letter from 1949, when he was serving in the House, acknowledging the receipt of a resolution supporting a united Ireland from a Roman Catholic foresters group for $10,000. (A handwritten postscript reads, “I naturally support your resolution wholeheartedly.”)
If the signatures and memorabilia of presidents and other leaders are the show’s most expensive items, other fields are heftily represented. David Lowenherz, the proprietor of Lion Heart Autographs in New York, will be showing a 1940 typed letter from F. Scott Fitzgerald to his secretary encouraging her to chase down $475 that is owed to him. (Ailing and debt ridden, he would die a month later.) Mr. Lowenherz said he hopes to sell the letter for $10,000 and is asking $25,000 for a short 1954 typed letter from Albert Einstein in which he responds skeptically to a Brooklyn correspondent’s proposal for a peace campaign. (“You can be sure that one can achieve nothing solely by preaching reason,” he wrote.) A three-page handwritten letter from Jonathan Swift seeking to procure a clerical position for a friend is also $25,000.
Mr. Ecker, the classical music specialist, said the price range in his field is enormous. A letter or a score page from Bach or Beethoven will cost upward of $80,000, given that most of their writings are in museums. Handel is especially hard to find. Mr. Ecker said that the last Handel piece he recalls seeing was an order for beer that sold at auction for $130,000. Yet for most composer letters, he said, “it depends whether it really says something, or whether it’s just, ‘I enjoyed eating sausages at your house.’ ”
More casual composers’ signatures — signed programs or photographs — are particularly desirable if they include a musical quotation from one of their works. Mr. Ecker will have examples from Benjamin Britten, Georges Enesco, Paul Dukas and Bohuslav Martinu, all in the $1,200 to $1,300 range, at the show.
Among performers, Mr. Ecker said, golden age opera singers have generally retained their allure, but with some surprising fluctuations. “There is a strong market for someone like Jussi Bjorling,” he said of the Swedish tenor, who died in 1960, “because he didn’t sign much. But the generation of collectors who have the things he did sign is beginning to die off, so those are beginning to turn up.”
Caruso, long the gold standard among tenors, has fallen in value over the last decade. “One reason is that he signed so much,” Mr. Ecker said. “He was very generous. He’d go to a fair and whip them off.” But unusual Caruso autographs are still premium items. Mr. Ecker’s prize Caruso, at the moment, is a large autographed poster menu from Feb. 5, 1916, when the Lotos Club honored him at its annual State Dinner. Caruso signed the poster, as did the conductor Artur Bodansky, the composer Victor Herbert, the bass Andrés de Segurola and other stars of the time.
Among the show’s relatively few popular music items is a set of Beatles signatures on two pages from a fan’s autograph album, priced at $6,500, and possibly a bargain given that a signed copy of a “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album cover recently sold for $290,500.
You might think that letting go of these items would be hard for dealers, whose expertise is often nourished by enthusiasm for the material at hand. Some say that it is indeed difficult, but most have developed strategies to deal with the sweet sorrow. One dealer said that he has gone as far as negotiating visiting rights with buyers.
Some dealers maintain collections that do not overlap with what they sell. Although Mr. Lowenherz’s varied stock includes letters from presidents, politicians and inventors, for example, his own collecting specialty is Robert Frost.
Mr. Kaller said: “I really do get joy out of just being able to handle these things. And I’m in the habit of not competing with my clients. But if I had hundreds of millions of dollars, I would be a collector rather than a dealer.”
A version of this article appeared in print on April 12, 2013, on page C34 of the New York edition with the headline: Lincoln Scribbled Here: Strokes That Fascinate.
April 12, 2013 8:09am | By Elizabeth Barber, DNAinfo
The New York Antiquarian Book fair includes pages of manuscript by The Door’s singer Jim Morrison.
LENOX HILL — More than 200 book dealers from around the world convened at the Park Avenue Armory on Thursday for the launch of what “60 Minutes” deemed “the best book fair in the world.”
The New York Antiquarian Book Fair, a four-day event running Thursday though Sunday, features an massive collection of rare books, maps, photos, and manuscripts, including letters penned by Eleanor Roosevelt and notebooks belong to The Doors’ Jim Morrison.
“There is nothing else like it in New York,” said Jill Bokor, director of marketing at Sanford Smith, an art and antiques management company that has run the show for 25 of its 53 years. “It has been repeatedly called the best, most comprehensive book fair in the world.”
The fair, which last year drew upwards of 7,000 visitors, is an opportunity for collectors to score literary finds that range from the compellingly rare to the straight-up eccentric — that includes modern first editions and illuminated medieval manuscripts, as well as books of 1920s mug shots and Utah broadsides condemning Mormonism.
“What they’re not looking for are things to read. They’re looking to add to their collections,” said Bokor, who said that visitors come in search of items as specific and esoteric as “Latin books on horticulture”
Though primarily a celebration of the written word, the fair is not strictly books-only. Among the items for sale is the chair in which Abraham Lincoln was allegedly sitting when he was told he’d been nominated for the presidency. One dealer has also brought a collection of what Bokor called “mildly pornographic items,” including a bra and panties set made out of book pages.
The fair’s hours are Friday noon to 8 p.m., Saturday noon to 7p.m., and Sunday noon to 5 p.m.. The fair will also have book experts on hand to offer informal appraisals on Sunday from noon-3 p.m.
Greg Gibson – rare book dealer, proprietor of Ten Pound Island Book Company, ABAA member, and a distinguished author – has just released his new noir crime novel “The Old Turk’s Load”. The story, which takes place in 1967 Manhattan, is highly praised by the New York Journal of Books:
“(The) character descriptions … shine like pistols in sentences that burst like bullets … The Old Turk’s Load is probably the fastest neo-noir read on crime novel shelves. Exquisitely hardboiled, this crime novel is the perfect beach read for those nurtured on Tarantino and Spillane.”
Greg Gibson will be exhibiting at the New York Antiquarian Book Fair this weekend and will be signing copies of his new novel, with all profits going to the ABAA’s Benevolent Fund. In his blog Bookman’s Log he writes about the fair, his novel and New York in the 1960s.
(Please take a moment to read Marianne Moore’s wonderful poem from which this week’s title is stolen.)
Impossible to go about packing up for the New York Book Fair without remembering fairs past – the leaky Armory of old, the cramped Americana Hotel, the fresh start with promoter Sandy “he made the trains run on time” Smith. All those early bookfair expeditions to the Big Apple for the Trinity, Greenwich Village, and Park Avenue events, staying with pals in Jersey City and Brooklyn, and Puffy’s or the Raccoon Lodge, or Walker’s in Tribeca. We were young then, and didn’t need to sleep. And later, staying like grownups in a real hotel – the lovely old Barbizon, with Anne Marie and nine-year-old Celia.
Or the year they had the Rodney King sympathy riots down in the Village, or the weekend it got so hot all the lilac bushes blossomed, exploded, and died. Then there was that one New York fair at which I actually made a lot of money. Yes, the memories crowd in.
My family lived on Long Island in the early Sixties, and Manhattan was just a commuter train ride away. Of course it was a different city then and, in memory, more appealing. Glitz has replaced what seemed to me interesting squalor; the crowds are impossibly dense now; there is no “cheap” anymore. Maybe the worst part is all those people hooked up to invisible devices talking out loud on the street. We used to have people talking on the street in the Sixties, but…
I used that “remembered” New York as one of the settings for my novel The Old Turk’s Load. And when memory failed, as it so often does, there was plenty of help. Two of the reference books I relied on for writing about Manhattan back when are New York 1960 (part of a wonderful decade-by-decade series on “architecture and urbanism between the Second World War and the Bicentennial,”) and Kenneth Jackson’s Encyclopedia of New York published by Yale and the NY Historical Society. You wouldn’t believe how much fun it is to browse through these 1300 page monsters.
After a while it becomes possible to inhabit a place in one’s imagination.
One of the characters in The Old Turk’s Load is a shady real estate developer who has his offices in the Tishman Building at 666 Fifth Avenue. (Yes, it really exists. They shot the roof scene in Exorcist II there.)
I chose the building because it has a big, red, satanic “666” at it’s very top, perfect site for a morally challenged character to roost.
According to New York 1960, the Tish was built in 1957, and was considered a marvel of modern design. The lobby was particularly Fifties surreal, so I put a glimpse of it in my book.
This week, while I’m in New York doing the book fair, I’ll steal some time to revisit the real places inhabited by my imaginary characters.
Here’s one that’s New York bound, with real characters and real places…
b/w pen sketches in text, carte de visite and prints tipped in, colored chart. Folio. About 170 pages manuscript entries.
This is a journal written by lieutenant D. F. Webster aboard the USS Lancaster in 1864-65, when she was in the Pacific Squadron. The text features long descriptions of Central and South American ports, people, and surrounding country, recaps of revolutions, Lincoln’s assassination, earthquakes, slaving episodes, and a 25 page description of the Sandwich Islands in 1865 – this part alone occupying about 8500 words. Perhaps the most interesting single event is his account of the capture of the notorious “Salvador pirates,” The journal is illustrated with a few ink sketches of such things as cock pits and native craft; it also has a cdv of a woman of Lima in her characteristic costume, several wood engravings pasted in, a colored map of North and South America, showing the track of the Lancaster, and a full page calligraphic emblem or design in which the officers of the Lancaster are named. As a rather spectacular addition, the journal is accompanied by more than 50 cartes de visite, including 10 of Hawaii, and 21 of Panama and Lima with his notations in manuscript on the back, and a leather album partially filled, presumably with portraits of family members. Also cvds of the Lancaster and of the Mare Island Navy Yard where he lived in 1866, and 7 cdvs of naval officers. Entries are clear and legible. Bound in quarter reverse calf over marbled boards. $7500
(Published on Bookman’s Log, presented here by permission of the author.)
NEW YORK—This weekend the Park Avenue Armory will host a celebration of human curiosity. The New York Antiquarian Book Fair returns for the 53rd year, this time with over 200 exhibitors of rare books, manuscripts, maps, and ephemera.
Lovers of knowledge, exploration, and history will find something to love, whether their interest be geography, travel, botany, biology, natural
science, religion, language, music, or literature.
Exhibitors Cameron Treleaven of Aquila Books and Helen Kahn, both from Canada, share a booth and a love of travel.
“I’ve always been fascinated by explorers who didn’t know where they were going to go, or whether they knew they were going to get there,” said Kahn, who deals in mainly early travel books to the East.
Treleaven, who brought a selection of North Pole and Arctic exploration books from Calgary, explained the value of antique books in today’s knowledge-driven world.
Content is a huge determinant in demand. Cornerstone books—those that are relevant from different standpoints and fields of study—are most sought after.
“The more broad the range of subject matter, the more demand for the book,” he explained.
Aside from subject, the next determining factors for value are the condition of the book, its rarity, whether it is signed by the author, and its binding type, he said.
“The tooling, the gold gilding, and hand-sewing are really lost arts,” he said.
Big ticket, leather-bound tomes aren’t the only items that collectors are looking for, though. Antipodean Books, Maps, & Prints sells a collection of magazines, historical newspaper issues, and postcards—”things that people would have tossed at the time,” said owner David Lilburne. “These are the things that fall through the cracks.”
Lovers of literature should not miss “Farewell to Sherlock Holmes” at the booth of Estates of Mind. The framed illustrated manuscript is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s statement marking the end of the famed mystery series.
History buffs should see the collection of American documents at Timeless Values, including a print of the Declaration of Independence worth $45,000. It is one of only 4,000 copies.
High Ridge Books is displaying several large wall maps. The star of the collection is a huge one of the United States created during the Civil War. Another features the five boroughs of New York City, circa 1849, when Queens was farmland. Central Park was not yet designed, and most settlement was concentrated in Lower Manhattan.
Hailing from Stockholm, Sweden is Charlotte du Reitz, who specializes in books about Asia and Africa. Her booth features phrase books used by travelers and missionaries. She also carries studies of China, Japan, and Africa written by explorers and scholars, reminders to we abusers of the Internet that the world was fluently connected long before we could zoom around on Google Maps.
The Internet has been a mixed blessing for the rare book business, said du Reitz. On the one hand, the digitization of old books makes knowledge available to a greater number of people and draws attention to the wealth contained within them, but also makes competitive pricing challenging for dealers like her.
“So many books are on the net now, and people can check prices and order books from anywhere,” she said. “Everything is visible. But people have to remember that provenance is important.”
The New York Antiquarian Book Fair runs from April 11 through 14 at the Park Avenue Armory. Visit http://www.nyantiquarianbookfair.com for more information.
More than 200 dealers from around the world will present their wares at the 53rd edition of this redoubtable annual event. Sunday, from 12 to 3 p.m., is Discovery Day; visitors can bring by their holdings for informal appraisals with dealers. Should be a nice time. —A.R.
Park Avenue Armory, 643 Park Avenue, New York, 5–9 p.m., $40 for preview with others hours and various ticket prices through Sunday
More than 200 dealers from around the world will present their wares at the 53rd edition of this redoubtable annual event. Sunday, from 12 to 3 p.m., is Discovery Day; visitors can bring by their holdings for informal appraisals with dealers. Should be a nice time. —A.R.
Park Avenue Armory, 643 Park Avenue, New York, 5–9 p.m., $40 for preview with others hours and various ticket prices through Sunday
This year’s NY Antiquarian Book Fair is April 11 – 14, 2013 at the Park Avenue Armory (or the Seventh Regiment Armory) at 693 Park Avenue New York. The Armory is a beautiful Gothic Revival architectural style building that fills an entire city block in New York’s Upper East Side. The building was opened in 1880.
The Park Avenue Armory originally served as the headquarters and administrative building for the 7th New York Militia, known as the Silk Stocking Regiment due to the disproportionate number of its members who were part of the city’s social elite and included some of New York’s most prominent Gilded Age Families including the Vanderbilts, Van Rensselaers, Roosevelts, Stewarts, Livingstons and Harrimans. The building is known for detailed interior rooms that are furnished with ornamental woodwork, marble and stained glass. Built as both a military facility and a social club, the reception rooms on the first floor and the Company Rooms on the second floor were designed by the most prominent designers and artists of the day including Louis Comfort Tiffany, Stanford White, Herter Brothers and Pottier & Stymus.
During my last visit at the Book Fair two years ago, I spent almost as much time roaming the breathtaking old rooms as lusting over the books!
History and old books – what more can you ask for? If you’re in the NY area and have some free time this weekend, this one is two-thumbs up! I think I’ll check it out this Saturday…
By Ashley Wildes
I have spent a total of 3 days of the approximately 9490 that I have lived at the New York Antiquarian Book Fair. That amount of time might seem trivial; a brief episode that could come and go easily in a string of events that make up a lifetime, but it is not. When you walk into the Park Avenue Armory with it’s Tiffany stained glass windows and beautiful staircases before entering into a vast array of 200 plus sellers who have been toiling for two days to present their most interesting material, it is awesome, as in the original dictionary meaning of that word.
It is a foray into an event of almost Gatsbyesque splendor but which simultaneously gives off the exotic flavor of a Persian Bazaar. Sweeping through the landscape of every variety of bindings, paper, and fashion, it feels as if you are wandering through a Neil Gaiman novel. The newly erected metropolis of books and booksellers glitters under the fluorescent lights and the weekend has just begun.
There are interesting bookish places all over the world: other fairs, other bookstores, other buildings. What makes so many plan their year around this gathering, be it to sell, buy, or just to see or be seen? Last April I jumped at the chance to work there. After hearing tales and war stories during the year that I had been involved in the rare book world, the hype could have easily lead to disappointment. It did not. Booksellers use this as a time to put together a showcase of the most fascinating finds that they have been able to muster together for collectors to peruse, honing the skills that mix trade knowledge with the intuition that they have developed to inform each piece, while literary enthusiasts flock, hoping to find the elusive item that might complete their current search, or maybe initiate new ones.
Last year I spent three days observing the booksellers converse with collectors, discussing their pursuits, and happily sharing their own enthusiasms. The thrill of the hunt is a great motivator, but it pales in comparison with the feeling of satisfaction of telling people about your own discoveries!
This coming week which we all quietly anticipate, until that moment a week before it looms over us and the entire shop has a collective panic attack, accompanied by frantic preparation, is important for a myriad of reasons. Selling, buying, wearing rad shoes, are all very good motives to invest time into this happening once in your life.
It is the ability to draw people back every year that makes this event pretty incredible. I can only think to sum it up with “these are my people.” That feeling never gets old and probably never will, although I’m not a soothsayer so I can’t really speak to the future.
53rd Annual New York Antiquarian Book Fair
April 11 – 14, 2013, Park Avenue Armory
VIP Preview: Thursday 5 – 9 pm
Opening hours: Friday noon – 8 pm, Saturday noon – 7 pm, Sunday noon – 5 pm
Ashley Wildes is cataloguer at Between the Covers and lead singer and guitarist of Dear Althea. Read and hear more:
>>> ILAB Punks Out
The New York Antiquarian Book Fair returns to the Park Avenue Armory for its 53rd Anniversary. Presented by the prestigious Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America and the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers, the 53rd Annual New York Antiquarian Book Fair is without a doubt, the foremost book fair of its kind.
Book lovers will find a fascinating treasure trove at the Park Avenue Armory. Over 200 expert dealers from all over the world will fill the historic site with rare books, illuminated manuscripts, autographs, maps, and finely bound volumes. Rare and beautiful books, first, inscribed, illustrated editions – ranging from history, law, philosophy to children’s books, fashion and art, and more can be found. With over 200 participants offering a superb selection from the high end of the international antiquarian book trade this year’s show features a record number of dealers. Be sure: There will be something exciting for everyone.
53rd Annual New York Antiquarian Book Fair
April 11 – 14, 2013
VIP Preview: Thursday 5 – 9 pm
Opening hours: Friday noon – 8 pm, Saturday noon – 7 pm, Sunday noon – 5 pm
On Sunday, April 14 from noon to three, attendees can bring items to Discovery Day, an opportunity to get expert advice and informal appraisals.
Tickets are available online in advance at http://nybookfair.eventbrite.com/
For more highlights join the 53rd Annual New York Antiquarian Book Fair on Facebook.
Original flyer announcing Bob Dylan's debut in New York (Locus Solus Rare Books)
A beautifully illuminated manuscript created for Emperor Charles V in c. 1516-17 (Dr. Joern Guenther)
Eleanor Roosevelt on Race Relations
President Kennedy on Ireland
This year’s New York Antiquarian Book Fair which opens at The Park Avenue Armory on Thursday will feature an archive of photos, notebooks, lyrics and poems of and by The Doors legendary frontman Jim Morrison. It can be found at the booth of the U.K’s Lucius Booksellers.
If rock’s not your thing, you can also see a 1949 letter by President John Kennedy on the subject of Irish unity. Another great rarity is a fascinating 1944 letter by Eleanor Roosevelt on the hotbutton topic of civil rights. Both are in the booth Calfornia dealer Seth Kaller.
For rare book collectors, material ranges from contemporary first editions, mysteries and crime novels, children’s literature, science horticulture, cooking and tomes in European and Asian languages from all eras of history. Map lovers will find some rare prizes at the fair. One of the earliest maps of New York City will be featured at Martayan Lan and Captain John Smith’s highly sought map of New England will be on display at Cohen & Taliaferro, both from New York. For lovers of literature Estate of Mind is selling Walt Whitman’s personal copy of Leaves of Grass.
The New York Antiquarian Book fair has been highly touted as the best book fair in the world. All exhibitors are member of the prestigious Antiquarian Bookseller’s Association of America or The International League of Antiquarian Booksellers. Over 200 dealers from across the US and 10 other countries will exhibit. All items are for sale.
On Saturday at 1 pm newcomers to the world of rare books can attend Book Collecting 101, a seminar on what to look for, what makes a book rare and learn the basics of book collecting from Brad and Jen Johnson, the proprietors of The Book Shop, LLC, in Covina. CA.(free withpaid admission to the fair)
On Sunday, visitors can bring books, maps and other ephemera from their attics for Discovery Day where they will have the opportunnity to show their material to experts and get information and informal appraisals of their items (free with paid admission to the fair).
Hours and Info: The Park Avenue Armory, Park Avenue @ 67th Street
Preview: Thursday, April 11: 5-9 pm
Friday, April 12: noon to 8 p.m.
Saturday, April 13: noon-7 pm
Sunday April 14: noon-5 pm
Panel Discussion: Book Collecting 101 Saturday April 13th, 1pm
Discovery Day, Sunday April 14: 12-3 pm
About Sanford Smith + Associates: Sanford Smith has been producing innovative art, antiques, design, photography, and other niche shows for over 30 years.
BY REBECCA REGO BARRY ON APRIL 5, 2013 7:46 AM
When: Next Week.
What: Three antiquarian book, fine book, and manuscript fairs, plus three major auctions.
Here’s the lowdown on the week of events that book collectors look forward to all year long.
New York Antiquarian Book Fair–Called “The Best Book Fair in the World,” the NYABF goes on for three days at the Park Avenue Armory, beginning with a preview Thursday evening, April 11th, and running through Sunday, April 14th. Over 200 dealers will display an astonishing array of rare books, fine art, maps, manuscripts, and ephemera. To read what three long-time dealers told us about the NYABF, see our article, “The New York Antiquarian Book Fair, Past and Present.”
Three prominent dealers reflect on the fair and the state of the trade By Nate Pedersen
For one weekend every April the rare book world descends upon New York City for its annual antiquarian book fair. What makes the New York fair such a draw? We checked in with three rare book dealers and longtime exhibitors to find out.
“It’s the best fair in the world and has been for some time,” said William Reese, proprietor of the Americana firm in New Haven, Connecticut, that bears his name. “Nothing else comes close.
Priscilla Juvelis, proprietor of her own firm in Kennebunkport, Maine, agreed. “The New York Fair is still the key event in the rare book world—no matter what you specialize in. Customers come from all over the country; dealers come from all over the world.”
The New York Antiquarian Book Fair began in April 1960 and is now in its fifty-third year. The only firm present at the inaugural fair still in attendance today is Howard S. Mott, Inc. of Sheffield, Massachusetts, which has been under the directorship of Howard’s son Rusty for more than forty years.
One item that Priscilla Juvelis plans to showcase at the New York Antiquarian Book Fair is this unique artist’s book and book object by Elizabeth McKee, with poetry by Christina Rossetti: A Birthday (NP but Maryland: 2012). Its price is $5,500. COURTESY OF PRISCILLA JUVELIS.
“It is a good place to exhibit,” Mott said, “and every collector who can make it should put it on their calendar and attend if possible, if for no other reason than to see the amazing books, manuscripts, maps, etc., that are available.”
Mott noted several ways in which the book trade has changed in the intervening years since his parents and a few other firms founded the fair. “There are plenty of good books and manuscripts still around to buy and always have been. They are just different ones today. Fashions change constantly. What I have noticed about a lot of newer book and manuscript collectors is that despite there being a lot of good collectors—and there are plenty of those—the pool is not very full of the kind that used to exist, those who collected in a big way for many years, collectors who dominated the market.”
Reese echoed that sentiment when he said, “People are increasingly interested in purchasing stellar pieces and less interested in building broad-based collections.”
Meanwhile, Juvelis noticed that book arts have become steadily more popular in recent years. “More and more dealers [are] featuring items with visual interest—even those who usually carry literary firsts … I see an increased number of book arts (artists’ books, private press, fine printing, fine binding) being produced as the younger artists seek vehicles to express their creativity.”
All three dealers agreed that the rare book trade is overall in healthy shape, having withstood the recession comparatively well. Reese said that 2012 was the best year yet for his firm, while Juvelis noted that sales have remained steady.
Mott laid to rest the perennial concern that rare books are in increasingly short supply. “My father began collecting books in 1924 and collected until he began his book business in 1936. He told me many times that the dealers of that era would say that the supply of rare books was drying up. It wasn’t. I have heard the same thing ever since I began in this business forty-two years ago. It hasn’t. Someday it might be true.”
Futurist and Constructivist pamphlets from Elizabeth Phillips
La Grant Monarchie de France (1519) by Claude de Seyssel, from Librairie Benoit Forgeot
Astronomie Mechanica (1598) by Tycho Brahe, from Dr. Jorn Gunther; signed
Atlas (1525) by Ptolemaeus, from Olivier Pingel
Voyages and Travels (1813) by George von Langsdorff, from Heritage Book Shop
The Art of Tile Design with Time Honored and New Tiles published by Clarkson Potter
Over the past few decades, the Internet has altered the way people receive information, forcing publishing houses and newspapers to cut back or shut down. More recently, the digital reader has made further incursions into print territory. The newly-minted Kindle, engineered to look and feel more like a book, presents itself as a harbinger of things to come, as does Google’s stated intent to scan and digitally disseminate vast numbers of so-called orphan books.
Still, if Sanford Smith’s NY Antiquarian Book Fair, held this past weekend, is any indication, news of the demise of the book is premature. The book has been a near-perfect delivery system for ideas and information for over 500 years. The experience of reading printed matter is deeply ingrained in our cultural DNA, and the skeuomorphic character of the Kindle only substantiates this. Turf will, and should, be divided between digital and print media, but the book is more than an assemblage of words, it is a cultural artifact and a piece of design as well. As long as art and history continue to matter to us, the book will remain relevant and valuable.
The book fair made a compelling case for the book-as-object. The breadth and quality of the material was staggering, ranging in time from medieval to modern and in price from a few hundred to a few hundred thousand dollars, unless you count the first edition of Copernicus’ De Revolutionibus Orbium of 1543, offered by Jonathan A. Hill Booksellers, which weighed in at $1.65 million.
The book arts, represented by illuminated manuscripts, printed and hand-colored maps, charts, and botanicals, and by the modern discipline of graphic design, were evident at every turn. Besides intrinsic beauty, the still-crisp and color-saturated images retain critical visual information that is remarkably free of degradation, in many cases after the passage of three or four centuries. I wonder if the same will hold true for the digital information being recorded now, given how data recording and storage technologies have changed in the past half century.
As an inveterate student of history, I was drawn, as always, to first editions of texts and novels. I’m aware that the texts themselves can be read digitally or in later editions, but the first edition is a direct link to the act of creation and itself provides clues to meaning.
It was great to see Newton’s
Principia Mathematica of 1686 in Hellmut Schumann’s booth, if only to acknowledge a tipping-point in the modern world view. Closer to home, geographically and linguistically, were Thomas Paine’s Common Sense (an early American edition of 1776), and Thomas Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia (1787), both offered by William Reese Co., and a first edition, first-state of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species (1859). Peter Stern had two first-edition novels I coveted: Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, with an inscription and the rare dust jacket. Likewise Jonkers Rare Books, which had George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, and Adrian Harrington Rare Books, which offered Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Anthony Burgess’ Clockwork Orange.
So, onward and upward for the book. This week, Yale University Press released Phyllis Ross’ Gilbert Rohde: Modern Design for Modern Living. This long-awaited monograph fills a gap in design historiography. Also released this week is an eagerly anticipated work by Jen Renzi titled The Art of Tile: Designing with Time-Honored and New Tiles. Published by Clarkson Potter, it is billed as a comprehensive guide on how to choose tile for your home. If you are not on a first-name basis with Ann Sacks, Nemo, and Kaleidoscope, this book is for you.
Photographs by Larry Weinberg; The Art of Tile cover art courtesy of Clarkson Potter.