NEW YORK CITY — The 53rd annual New York Antiquarian Book Fair reigns supreme among book fairs.
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.