By Emily Chicklis
This past weekend, from Friday, Oct. 28 to Sunday, Oct. 30, book lovers and appraisers flocked to the 40th anniversary of Boston’s International Antiquarian Book Fair. On the heels of the highly popular Boston Book Festival, the more subdued event was held at Hynes Convention Center, which itself resembles a modern library.
Event-goers eagerly passed through grand circular rooms into the promised land: a large room filled wall to wall, floor to ceiling, with the rarest of rare books.
The event’s website explains that the term “antiquarian” refers not only to dusty old tomes, their beautiful pages marbled yellow with age, but also “encompasses any book that is valued as a physical object above and beyond its value as a vessel of content…In other words, a collector of 1750s British political volumes certainly collects antiquarian books, but so do the collectors of 1950s paperback originals, 1980s private press books, and post-2000 fine contemporary bindings. All are antiquarian books, regardless how long ago they were printed.”
Vendors from across the country and, indeed, across the world, displayed books, posters, illustrations, and ancient maps. One exhibit featured pieces that embody the Boston music scene from 1976 to the present, including unique rock posters and album covers.
Other programs offered were a “Typewriter Rodeo”, where a line-up of poets produced original poems on request, as well as a panel offering advice for those interested in starting antiquarian collections of their own.
The sellers themselves were as varied as the artifacts, offering prime people-watching material. Passing from stand to stand, a browser could observe a man in an elegant suit speaking rapid French over his cellphone, a woman draped with heavy jewelry appraising family heirlooms from hopeful sellers, and even a few vendors in full Renaissance costume for Halloween.
Even among all these treasures and quirky figures, the books did remain the central focus. Among them was everything from works that have earned their place in history, such as the first English edition of Isaac Newton’s “Principia Mathematica” (selling for $85,000), to those that arguably should have been lost to the passage of time, like a blue hardcover book titled “Are women degrading?”
However, such censorship would be tantamount to erasing history, and completely opposed to the ideals of this fair in particular.
As Boston College professor Paul Lewis described in his Saturday afternoon lecture, the world of antiquarian books is one of “literary archaeology”. The vendors at this fair, no matter what their country of origin, all came together for one purpose: to preserve the strange, honor the exceptiownal, and share these pieces of history etched onto paper with ink.
The Friday night opener cost $20 for admission, but the event was free to the public for the entirety of Saturday and Sunday, so be sure to check out the fair when it comes around again next year!