HARTFORD, CONN. — As surely as families head to the beaches for summer’s last hurrah on Labor Day weekend, antiquarian book and paper collectors are drawn to the cavernous exhibition hall inside the XL Center here to wade into the ocean of paper — postcards, rare books, photography, movie star posters, stereo view cards, framed prints, maps, broadsheets, sheet music, vintage Valentines, trading cards, ephemera, advertising and more — that comprises Papermania Plus, an event that on August 24 and 25 marked its 64th consecutive edition. Managed by Hillcrest Promotions of Wethersfield, Conn., in the form of Arlene Shea and her son Gary Gipstein, this twice-a-year show is considered to be the largest show of its kind in the Northeast.
Its no-frills approach is reliably straightforward and there is no glitzy marketing, exemplified by a one-page exhibitor list handout that succinctly identifies vendor, state and booth number. Papermaniacs understand this. Shea and Gipstein advertise the show, oversee the load-in and -out, which occurs like clockwork, and generally let the dealers do what they need to do. Some believe that the show could use, in one dealer’s words, a little “kick in the pants,” but what Gipstein refers to as a kind of “old-fashioned swap session” appears to be on its steady path of offering specialist collectors a roster of quality dealers and casual attendees a chance to “buy back a memory.”
For this session, about 120 dealers were set up, down a bit from the usual January numbers, and Gipstein said about ten percent of that number were new to the show. He characterized that as a bright spot in the industry, with the show maintaining its original character while at the same time presenting some new faces.
Vintage posters specialist Nancy Steinbock of Chestnut Hill, Mass., said, “We had a decent show. The main area of interest was in World War I posters, mainly the rarely found ones, both American and British.” She added that other popular categories were nursing, American social welfare and civics posters. “Although the crowd was generally lighter than usual, even on Sunday there was interest with several sales,” she said. “Most of the posters we sold were American. Only one French Kodak poster and the British World War I were the foreign posters we sold.”
A letter that was brief but brimming with Mark Twain’s humor was one the American author wrote to Cuyler Reynolds, historian of the city of Albany, politely turning down a writing opportunity. Dated April 10, 1901, the letter reads: “Dear Sir, There is a most solid obstruction: if I wrote it, it would be the property of the Harper’s. But I couldn’t write it anyway, as I am already overladen with work.” Dennis Holzman Antiques, Cohoes, N.Y., offered this letter framed with a photograph of Twain.
He also had a somewhat “fussy” letter penned by Jackie Kennedy Onassis, again framed with a period photograph of Jackie, addressed to her favorite florist “Steve” with very specific directions about an ordered arrangement. There seemed to be fewer dealers and fewer customers at the show, according to Holzman, “but I brought the right things. I don’t specialize in just one area, so I sold across the board.” His sales included daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, drawings, a good print of a bird’s-eye view of New York City. He had recently purchased a major collection of political items and sold lots of these, including campaign buttons, textiles and late Nineteenth Century and early Twentieth Century suffrage items.
Marc Chabot of Southbury, Conn., brought his usual varied inventory of fine prints. “It was a rather slow show this time, and I think the beautiful weather and fading summer just before school conspired to keep many away,” he said. “I sold one print, a rare and unusual aquatint by Rudolph Ruizicka of the St Gaudens General Sherman gilt equestrian monument in Central Park illuminated at night. Ruizicka is known for his precise and realistic color wood engravings, mostly of New York and other urban subjects. A discriminating collector with an eye for this uncommon image was a welcome and appreciated repeat customer who went away happy on Saturday.”
I also sold several ephemeral items, including a wonderful pamphlet on the Chrysler Building with a silver foil embossed image of the New York City Deco icon surrounded by a fuzzy black felt cover. A tactile and visual delight — and tactility, history and great visual impact are what make Papermania special. It is the kind of visual culture I often worry younger generations buzzing around the computer may not cultivate an appreciation for, unless they have access to shows such as this. While my inventory differs from so many there in that I specialize in American and European fine prints of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, I believe presenting this fine art original graphic tradition in person cultivates awareness and enriches the viewer.”
The dealer, whose business is Marc Chabot Fine Arts, also brings art and design oriented ephemera, photographs and anything quirky that catches his eye. An example at the show was a Duchamp etching of his lost 1912 readymade “Pulled at Four Pins” that conferred an artistic sensibility to one of Paris’ many chimney vents. “As Duchamp’s ‘Nude Descending a Staircase’ shocked visitors to the 1913 Armory Show, his conceptual work still inspires artists and thinkers today, on the 100th anniversary of the Armory Show this year,” said Chabot.
Stephen Hanly of Bickerstaff’s Books, Maps & c., Scarborough, Maine, brought an exquisite piece of Maine history during the War of Independence in the form of a battle plan of the disastrous Penobscot expedition in August 1779, heavily annotated with descriptions of battle and individually identifying British ships. American rebels attacked the fort, but their fleet was destroyed and their army dispersed. Patriot Paul Revere, who commanded the artillery forces, later faced court martial as a result of the fiasco.
Observed the dealer, “As you know, the summer version is always less well-attended than the winter show. Certainly true this time. However, many of the ‘usual suspects’ — collectors with specific interests — came through. Also a healthy number of nonexhibiting book dealers made the rounds. So, although the attendance numbers were not very impressive, many of those who came were serious buyers. I made enough sales to visiting dealers to make the show worthwhile. And I also was able to buy some nice Eighteenth Century Americana at decent prices.”
The next Papermania Plus show is January 4–5. For information, 860-563-9975 or www.papermaniaplus.com.