The Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair celebrated its 45th anniversary, Oct 27-29, at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston’s historic Back Bay. The event brought together over 100 exhibitors from the US and abroad selling and exhibiting rare first editions, maps, illuminated manuscripts, children’s books, photographs, autographs, prints, drawings, and all sorts of antique literary ephemera.
“This is one of the most important annual events in the country for rare book enthusiasts,” says Julie Roper CEO of Capricorn Event Management, LLC, who has managed the Boston Book Fair since 2015. “Attendance at the Fair was up over 10% from last year, and we were delighted to welcome many familiar faces as well as a diversity of new attendees. Several of our participating dealers remarked that they were pleased to see visitors who came to the Fair for the first time last year and returned this year as new collectors.”
Dealers from Denmark, France, Germany, Netherlands, Serbia, the UK, and the US exhibited an alluring treasure trove for seasoned bibliomaniacs and first-time attendees. Prices ranged from the millions to the eminently affordable.. A complete list of exhibitors can be found at https://www.abaa.org/bostonbookfair/exhibitor-list1
Highlights from this year's fair were the “Ars Minor” of Aelius Donatus (a 15th century Latin primer) possibly printed before the Gutenberg Bible (Patrick Olson Rare Books), a handwritten poem entitled “The Snowflake Star” by a 14-year-old Sylvia Plath (Type Punch Matrix); a 1563 edition of “On the Nature of Things” by Lucretius (Evening Star Books), an eye-popping contemporary art book by Franco-Mexican artist Lorena Velazquez (Kaaterskill Books); a lavishly illustrated 1533 French Book of Hours (James Gray Booksellers), the first ‘indestructible’ German children's book printed on fabric in 1840 (Simon Beattie); along with a first edition of John Steinbeck's “East of Eden” (GrayShelf Books), a signed limited edition of “Albert Einstein: Philosopher-Scientist” from the Library of Living Philosophers (First Edition Rare Books) as well as a Black Panther Party “Black is Beautiful” engraving from 1965 (Bromer Booksellers), and so much more.
One of the international exhibitors represented was Maggs Bros, hailing from London, who attracted a lot of attention with a book listing the winning numbers and prizes for the first authorized lottery in Colonial America, valued at $15,000. “The title of the book is ‘Benefit Tickets in the Government Lottery of the Province of the Massachusetts-Bay, For the Sum of Thirty Seven Thousand Five Hundred Pounds’, " said rare books dealer Fuchsia Voremberg. According to Voremberg, the book is thought to be the only surviving copy of lottery results from the Massachusetts Bay colony in 1745. "Prior to this copy coming onto the market, we’re not even sure if people knew that it existed," Voremberg told WBZ NewsRadio on Sunday.
Another London dealer, Peter Harrington Rare Books, brought a signed copy of William Butler Yeats’s first play, Mosada, Billed as “one of the greatest rarities of English literature,” the work was on display this weekend for the first time since 1956 – and its £125,000 price tag is all thanks to a message from beyond the grave It was last displayed at Trinity College Dublin 67 years ago.
Written in 1886, when Yeats was just 21, Mosada is a short verse play that had a print run of 100. Only 21 are thought to have survived, nine signed. This one has Yeats’s signature, but also a problematic dedication. It was signed to what for many years was thought to be a “Mrs Zena Powell, from her friend, the author.” Recent research revealed her name to actually be Zena Vowell, and reports from a 1924 seance helped to solve the mystery.
John Reznikoff of University Archives exhibited a love letter from founding father George Washington, written prior to his presidency. “Dear Madam, when I had the happiness to see you last, you expressed an inclination,” Reznikoff read. “This is an amazing survival of the only known letter of George Washington in private hands to the real love of his life, who was Sally Fairfax,” he added.
And, San Francisco-based dealer John Windle was ecstatic about this year’s Fair. "It’s the luck of the draw, ain’t it! I was not supposed to go to Boston due to recent surgery but I “had a feeling” and went anyway…and at the opening we were off to the races with a $12,500 sale to a newbie (to me) who, it turns out, is well known to Americana specialists. Then we sold a Cook’s third voyage to a dealer, about $30K’s worth of William Blake to a proper gent, a very rare (4 known) Cosway solid gold binding to a UK dealer, a couple of modern firsts (yes, really!) and a few bibs and bobs to Americana dealers for the better part of $90K — which all together equals the grand combined total of my last half dozen Boston Fairs. For the Latinists amongst us: “nunc scripsi totum pro christo da michi potum.” (Now I’ve had my say for Christ’s sake give me a drink).”
Besides the objects, art, and books, the weekend also involved a number of discussions, including Erica Ciallela’s discussion of “Belle da Costa Green: A Librarian’s Legacy”; Boston Rare Maps’ Michael Buehler’s exploration of “From Riot to Revolution: Revolutionary-era Boston in Maps & Prints”; Boston Book Company’s Charles Vilnus’ talk on “Japanese Aesthetics and the Creation of ‘Modern Art’,” Conservation Specialist Todd Pattison’s “Good Enough to Read: The Myth of the Temporary BInding,” and “Female Provenance: Book Collecting by Women” with the Ticknor Society’s Devon Eastland, Meghan Constantinou, and Sarah Funke Butler.
Whether browsing or buying, the Fair offered something for every taste and budget—books on art, politics, travel, gastronomy, science, sport, natural history, first editions, Americana, fashion, music, children’s books, and much more—appealing to a range of collectors and casual browsers. From the historic and academic to the religious and spiritual, from the exotic to everyday—the Fair represents every conceivable genre and subject. Attendees had the unique chance to view rare and historic museum-quality items, offered by some of the most prestigious members of the trade.
The Boston Book Fair is sanctioned by the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America (ABAA) and the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers (ILAB).
In recent years, the BIABF has increasingly captured the attention of novice and young collectors seeking one-of-a-kind offerings at more accessible price points. For those wanting to start a collection without breaking the bank, dealers offer “Discovery” items priced at $100 or less.
For more information, visit www.bostonbookfair.com or call 617-938-8879.