By Richard Campbell
The 42nd Annual Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair ran November 16-18 at the Hynes Convention Center attracting booksellers from around the world, as well as some great vendors from New England. This is a free event that is sufficiently entertaining for book people, and a source for truly unique gifts. The limited edition, first edition priceless older books of all kinds, collections of maps, memorabilia and framed art bespoke of the vast great world of quality printing and design. The first thing one notices about this fair is the decidedly older demographic of the event, with enthusiasts and vendors alike dressed professionally in clothes made of quality materials with the gentile expectation of doing business.
Amidst the booths of precious leather-bound books, oversized maps, prints and signed ephemera the collectors jostled for places to see the wares-many of which would surprise people who thought this was just about books. A portrait of Harpo Marx by Salvador Dali, why not! Anna Pavlova’s ballet slipper in a signed case with her portrait? Sure. How about original letters from Stephen Hawking, Roosevelt or Einstein? Maybe a first edition set of “The Life of George Washington” or “Harry Potter” ? A signed framed picture of Tom Brady? Searching for a special gift for that hard to please aunt, uncle or grand-parent? Trust me, if you want something unique for a gift, you’ll find it in an old book shop.
The stories that come with the items are almost as interesting as the objects themselves. We stopped at many of the booths, but first stop was Shapero Fine Books from London, (https://shapero.com/ ) where we talked with two fine Blokes Julian MacKenzie and Roddy Newlands about their books. The collection on hand was most notable for books specializing in travel, oversized naturalist collections of birds, and brightly colored art books that came signed with provenance. The voyages of Captain Cook, Admiral Parry, and Charles Darwin unfold in beautifully printed and bound volumes with maps and illustrations. Fine art printed books like the Plates: Illustrated Researches and Operations of Egypt by Giovanni Battista Belzoni, offering a strikingly beautiful record of Egyptian excavations.
Closer to home is Michael Ginsberg Books from North Easton, MA (http://www.ginsbook.com/) who holds a vast collection of Americana and Canadiana. Showing off a first edition of John Quincy Adams writings, “The Massachusetts Privateers of the Revolution”, or “Letters of the American Revolution”- all rare editions for your Colonialist buff. His assistant, Lee Ann Stern showcased a pretty purple book on the Cornell Library, while books on American Indians, voyages to Alaska, the campaigns of Custer, and ephemera like a magic book called: “The Art of Conjuring Made Easy” beckoned to passersby.
From a little further away in New Haven, Conn, came Nick Aretakis of William Reese Company, (https://www.williamreesecompany.com/) who meets by appointment only but reveals a huge collection of historical, travel, literature and Americana books. His full volume biography of George Washington and Colonial works on New England (“Summary History of New England” by Hannah Adams) just touched the tip of the iceberg of his collection on hand. With access to the research library at Yale University Mr. Aretakis may be able to find that letter from your great, great, great, great uncle to George Washington.
Out West in Hadley MA, Ken Lopez Booksellers (https://lopezbooks.com/) has the full collection of Rockwell Kent, the famous illustrator, or how about an uncorrected proof of “The World According to Garp”? He had plenty of those counter culture writers like Burroughs, Bukowski, and Brautigan on sale as well to satisfy the beat writer in your stocking list. He came up short on Emily Dickinson, which I let him off the hook for, as collectors tell me her works are in the stratospheric price category and don’t move very well. As they say, there’s no accounting for taste anymore.
Joslin Hall Company of North Hampton, MA (https://www.joslinhall.com/) had all the old-fashioned photography and ephemera you ever wanted to see. Although they kept trying to steer me towards their specialty (funeral works) I was more interested in the old travel books. They had a select group of cards, travel posters, and ephemera from early New England. Forrest Proper and Amy Hahn won the award for most bookish looking dealers and had stories of acquisitions to boot.
Gabe Boyers and Madeleine Chapman Of Schubertiade Music and Art Books (https://www.schubertiademusic.com/ in Newton had a lot of entertainment ephemera, posters and works on music, theatre, film, and photography. Signed programs from Aaron Copeland, photographs of early composers like Brahms, signed memorabilia from Louis Armstrong, Fred Astaire, Tony Bennet, Baryshnikov, as well as signed Beatles programs and the like. The pink ballet slipper of Anna Pavlova at $25,000 drew more than a few looks from visitors. Movie stills from people’s favorite movies do well for gifts. The truly fascinating and weirdly wonderful was their portrait of Harpo Marx with a lobster and apple on his head by Salvador Dali. At a mere $18, 000 who in their right mind would argue? I mentioned these two items to give you a little idea of sticker shock, but there were many items at the show on sale that were not in that prohibitive price range. Shopping online never was so interesting.