Thomas G. Boss of Salem, Massachusetts, offered a number of French books with Art Deco bindings, including this one, Daphne by Alfred de Vigny. Priced at $40,000, it was designed circa 1924 by F.-L. Schmied and executed by G. Cretté. Printed by pressman Pierre Bouchet, it is copy no. 3, which once belonged to French political figure Louis Barthou (1862-1934), a noted bibliophile, whose bookplate it contains.
De Wolfe & Wood Books, Alfred, Maine, asked $800 for Branch Library by Todd Pattison, collections conservator for Harvard College Library. Pattison made it in 2012 using an abandoned hornet nest, a found tree branch, wood, and handmade paper by Katie MacGregor of Whiting, Maine. The artwork comes with a statement by Pattison: “The emergence of electronic books and our increased emphasis on digital displays on information has inspired me to look more closely at the natural world. This piece was influenced by a hornet’s nest on our woodshed; it’s a fanciful take on what a hornet library might look like. Watching the nest grow made me think about the importance of paper, which is essentially what hornets build their homes out of. Much of our society has been built around paper and, like hornets, many of us have a place to call home because of paper: a rental agreement, a mortgage contract, a deed to a property. Paper as an information carrier has been central to Western society for the past five hundred years.”
Donald Heald of New York City brought a rarity of art and photography, Annals of the Artists of Spain by Sir William Stirling-Maxwell (1818-1878). Illustrated with photographs by Nicolaas Henneman (1813-1898), assistant to calotype inventor William Henry Fox Talbot, it is the first art history book to use photo reproductions. Published in London in 1848, it was priced $57,500.
Sam Jonkers of Jonkers Rare Books, Henley on Thames, Oxfordshire, England, had available a first edition of Maurice Sendak’s 1963 Where the Wild Things Are for $12,400.
Savoy Books, Lanesboro, Massachusetts, believes this memento of General Lafayette’s triumphant return to America is possibly a unique survival. Priced at $12,000, the commemorative gloves bear portraits of Lafayette. The pair was worn by Captain William Bowne at the reception ball that was given to Lafayette by the city of New York in 1824. Made of cream-colored kid leather and stitched with satin thread, the gloves had been exhibited in 1932 at the Boston Art Gallery, according to a newspaper account from the Boston Transcript that was framed along with the gloves.
Kevin James Brown of Geographicus, Fine Antiquarian Maps, New York City, asked $10,500 for Arrowsmith’s Map of the World on a Globular Projection, Exhibiting Particularly the Nautical Researches of Captain James Cook, with all the Recent Discoveries to the Present Time, published in Philadelphia in 1838 by Samuel Lewis. Brown said it is the only known example of this last iteration of the seminal map drawn by A. Arrowsmith (“hydrographer to H.R.H. the Prince of Wales”).
The Brattle Book Shop, Boston wanted $350 for this puzzle, which offered six different pictures, corresponding to the six different sides of the painted wooden cubes.
A first edition, first printing of the eighth James Bond novel, Ian Fleming’s 1960 For Your Eyes Only, was priced at $1250 from Joshua Mann and Sunday Steinkirchner of B & B Rare Books Ltd., New York City.
William S. Reese Company, New Haven, Connecticut, asked $8000 for an important work on Caribbean plants, Flore Medicale by François Pierre Chaumeton, published in Paris, 1814-19.
Gregory A. Gibson of Ten Pound Island Book Company, Gloucester, Massachusetts, is shown with his “Excursion Views of Narragansett Bay and Block Island” in a panorama viewing machine. Patented in 1878 by the Excursion View Company, Providence, Rhode Island, the machine advances the hand-colored images by means of hand cranks at the top of the walnut box. The price of $15,000 includes two scrolls, each approximately 3¾" x 30'.
Book dealers—they’re my favorites. Even after all that eye strain, they still love books, just as they loved them when they were kids. I don’t doubt that, say, furniture dealers love their material too, but somehow it’s different—intense but not as intense as the book-lover’s love. Maybe it’s because they don’t take pieces of furniture to bed with them.
Given their readerly habits, you would think that book dealers would be know-it-alls. They’re not. In fact, I find them rather humble. The thing is, they know they don’t know the half of it or even the one-hundredth of it, given those many, many shelves—nay, those many, many storage lockers—full of books they have yet to read. All this is to say that, if you collect anything, I highly recommend a visit to a book show. The three big ones in this country, sponsored by the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America (ABAA), are held in New York City, California (San Francisco and Los Angeles on alternating years), and Boston. I was lucky enough to spend a day at the 36th Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair, held November 16-18, 2012, at the city’s downtown Hynes Convention Center. I could have spent much longer—weeks longer.
The 120 or so dealers came from all over the United States as well as from Europe, bringing with them thousands of items relating to almost anything you’ve ever been interested in. Virtually all of them specialize in something: broad categories, such as aviation, atlases and maps, travel, voyage, exploration, science, philosophy, military history, and business and economics; and also more narrowly defined subjects, such as Henry David Thoreau, Frank Lloyd Wright, horses, angling, the West Indies, printing and printing history, the Beats, Napoleon, and so on.
I saw truly amazing things at this show, but what amazed me may not have amazed you. That’s the beauty of a book show. For example, in the booth of New York City’s James S. Jaffe I spied a rare first edition presentation copy of poet Elizabeth Bishop’s second book, North & South—A Cold Spring, published in 1955 and winner of a Pulitzer Prize. I opened it and saw that the inscription was for Loren MacIver, who designed the stylish blue and green abstract dust jacket. Bishop drew a little pen-and-ink map as part of her inscription. It was a map of the coastlines of North and South America, and traced a line from New York City, where Loren lived with her husband, Lloyd Frankenberg, to Petrópolis, Brazil, where Bishop lived with her lover, Lota de Macedo Soares.
The price for the book, $17,500, included two extras: the design’s maquette and a typed, undated letter from Bishop to Frankenberg on Bishop’s printed stationery from her other address, 60 Brattle Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It contained longhand corrections because Bishop had broken her wrist. The content related mostly to her wrist and its inconveniences, but there was also a funny bit about, of all people, John Wayne.
I was not a buyer for this book at that price, but Jaffe, even though he realized that, showed me something else, which he gave me to take home. It was an illustrated catalog of Bishop’s paintings that he is selling. They’re from the collection of Alice Methfessel, who was Bishop’s partner from the time they met at Harvard in 1970. Upon Bishop’s death in 1979, Methfessel became Bishop’s heir and literary executor. (For more information, contact Jaffe via his Web site [www.jamesjaffe.com].)
Some of the best things I saw at this show weren’t books. That’s another reason for collectors of all kinds to attend book shows. For example, in the booth Howard S. Mott Rare Books, Sheffield, Massachusetts, I saw a menu on silk from the wedding of General Ulysses S. Grant’s daughter, Nellie, priced at $1200. Dubbed the event of the 19th century, it was held at the “Presidential Mansion” on May 21, 1874. The attendees dined on soft-shell crabs, beef tongue, woodcocks and snipes, broiled spring chickens, and the like, except that it was all expressed in highfalutin French (e.g., aspic de langues de boeuf a la Modérne). I was too engrossed in the content to notice the imperfections, but Mott said a good restorer could get rid of the glue that someone had used to stick the corners down on a mount.
I realize my reason for being at the show was not necessarily to have the good time that I had. It was to find out how the dealers were doing. So I’ll tell you, reports were very good, bordering on great at times.
James Arsenault of Arrowsic, Maine, wrote me in an e-mail: “We had a great fair—our highest-grossing Boston fair to date—and I spoke with many other dealers who also did well. As is always the case, some exhibitors did better than others, but the overall mood seemed quite positive.”
A member of the local committee that organizes the show each year, Arsenault added, “The turnout was very strong, with people of all ages coming through the door and a very encouraging number of young people. With its large population of students and other folks under thirty, Boston affords the ABAA a particularly good opportunity to expose a new audience to all sorts of wonderful things they might not otherwise have a chance to see or hold in their hands. We’ve been taking advantage of that in the last few years, working hard to get the word out. The Hynes is a great venue, situated in a busy part of town, and the show seems to benefit from that as well.”
Arsenault, whose specialties are Americana, maps and atlases, the early West, and photography, concluded, “The energy this year was terrific. Exhibitors, curators, collectors, would-be collectors, and the just-plain curious alike filled the room with a sense of vital activity. The show is definitely headed in the right direction.”
William S. Reese of New Haven, Connecticut, who deals in early Americana, color-plate books, travel, voyages, and exploration, gave me a similar report over the phone. “It was a very good show for us, and my sense was that, in general, other people were having a very good fair too,” he said. “We were all very pleased with the gate on Friday and Saturday. Particularly Saturday we had very, very strong attendance. So I heard a lot of very favorable comments from the trade about that. And it certainly seemed to me that people were selling books and deals were getting done. Sunday was slow, but it often is. In general, my sense was that people felt like it was about the best [Boston] book fair we’ve had since things went over the falls. You’d have to go back to 2007 to have had a fair as good as this one was for most people. It was a very upbeat occasion.”
Peter L. Stern, an antiquarian bookseller in Boston, has missed only one of the 36 Boston book fairs, and the one he missed took place before he was eligible to show here. (All exhibitors must be ABAA members.) “The reports I heard were very, very good,” said Stern, another member of the committee, who characterized his own show results as among his best in Boston. He was also happy to note that many of his top sales were to people from outside the Boston area. “I noticed a lot of dealers and even some collectors who came from a little farther afield, whereas they hadn’t been coming to this show lately,” he said. “I heard that from a number of people. It’s completely unscientific, but anecdotally I can say there were people we hadn’t seen for a while. It’s good for them and good for us.”
Stern said he sold and bought well at this show. “One of the buys I’m most pleased with is a copy of a painting by [American illustrator] Howard Pyle.” I’d rather have the original, of course. I bought it for myself. I have it in my office.” Its subject is William Caxton (d. circa 1492), who is thought to have been the first printer in England and the first to bring a printing press into England. He is also believed to have been Britain’s first retailer of printed books, i.e., its first bookseller.
Stern’s own history as a bookseller goes back 40 years. “I started working for a bookseller in Boston in 1972,” he recalled. “My first job was on Kingston Street in a building that had only direct current, and our heat came from the Edison Steam Plant. We were still in the nineteenth century, but I was lucky to have had a peek at the old world of booksellers.”
Ken Gloss, owner of Boston’s Brattle Book Shop, one of the country’s oldest and largest antiquarian bookstores, has been around the book business in this city longer than anyone. A member of the committee for all 36 years of the show, he has also been its chairman for “I don’t know how long,” in his words. First off, Gloss had good things to say about the one-day satellite show, the Boston Book, Paper & Ephemera Show, whose new owner is Marvin Getman. “I think that Marvin running it adds a lot of energy,” he said. “[The show’s founder] Bernice [Bornstein] was running a perfectly acceptable show, but the energy was lacking a little. Marvin’s really dynamic, and we want him to succeed. He’s got his whole mailing list from the antiques shows he produces, and those people are not the standard book-show people.”
As did Arsenault, Gloss commented on the higher percentage of younger people seen at the show. “We don’t want the show hugely different, because it’s been successful,” he stressed. “But in the last few years, we’ve been working really hard to get younger people into the fair.”
To that end, both the Brattle Book Shop and the show’s promoter, Commonwealth Promotion, Inc. (also known as CommPromo), take booths at the Boston Book Festival (www.bostonbookfest.org). That’s an annual October event for publishers, writers, and readers of new books. “Some of the people in that crowd don’t even know what a used book is, never mind a rare used book,” said Gloss. “But a huge number of them are college students who only need to be educated. So we pass out loads of fliers and comps [complimentary tickets] to get that younger crowd in.” They may not be the biggest purchasers, their credit cards may not have the highest limits, but their presence encourages buying in general, he believes. “If you don’t have young people there, if you don’t have a good crowd, even the people who are buying tend to be more conservative,” he said.
Gloss also believes that smart dealers understand a basic truth that as young people mature, they have more money to spend, sometimes lots more. He told the story of a certain good customer, now deceased, who, when he started buying at the Brattle, had a business card that said vice president of the North Carolina National Bank. A few years later he was its senior vice president, then executive vice president, and then president. “And while he was president, that bank became the Bank of America,” said Gloss. The man had always visited the Brattle Book Store when he came to Boston, because he remembered how he used to love going to bookshops when he was at Harvard Business School. “He had no money then, but twenty, twenty-five years later....”
One more reason why book dealers are my favorites is because they are so willing to talk about what they have to sell. I guess it’s because they love words in all forms. Gloss, for example, said he would like nothing better than to talk all day about books but had house call appointments to keep. “Some days it’s just used books, and other days we’re going out and buying letters of Washington and Lincoln, first editions of the Federalist Papers, or Audubons,” he said. “As a matter of fact, this next house call is to someone who claims to have sets of Audubon’s birds and quadrupeds, so I better see what that’s about.” He laughed.
For more information, see the Web site (www.bostonbookfair.com).
Originally published in the March 2013 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2013 Maine Antique Digest