Published: November 29, 2022
Review & Onsite Photos by Rick Russack
BOSTON – The Boston International Book Fair was canceled in 2021 and 2022 due to Covid-19 concerns. From November 11-13, it returned as strong as ever to the Hynes Convention Center with 114 exhibitors from all over the United States and several foreign countries. A long line awaited the 4 pm opening. Visitors could peruse an outstanding selection of rare books, some hundreds of years old, as well as first editions of classics and more recent books. There were early books on the history of science, children’s books, American history, manuscripts, maps, signed first editions, broadsides and just about any subject you could think of. Offerings included Harry Potter first editions, most of the James Bond books, first editions of Winnie The Pooh and Babar books, books on travel and exploration, books on the theater, photographs, fine press books, fine bindings, books on the arts and much, much more. Prices ranged from just a few dollars to Sir Isaac Newton’s 1704 book on his research into optics, priced at $825,000. The book fair is a function of The Antiquarian Bookseller’s Association of America.
Book fairs like this differ from the antique shows many readers are accustomed to. One of those differences is that most exhibitors prepare catalogs of the items they are offering at the fair. Detailed descriptions and prices are included, and often, so are photographs. The catalogs are free for the taking. Imagine how enjoyable it would be if antique dealers at major shows did the same. Most exhibitors also give visitors copies of their previous, often very specialized, catalogs. You could bring home pounds of reading material, all at no cost. Another difference is that admission is free on the second and third days, specifically with the intention of attracting younger buyers. Also differing from most antique shows is the fact that the association distributes a handbook with a floor plan, contact information for exhibitors and lists of exhibitors divided into many different subject categories. That list includes names of about 10 dealers who specialize in African American material, four who deal in books about the American West, two who deal in books about books, 11 who deal in fine bindings, there’s a long list of dealers who carry children’s books and a dealer who specializes in Ian Fleming books is identified.
Curious about current market trends and how the pandemic impacted the book business, we asked Scott DeWolfe and Ken Gloss for their thoughts. DeWolfe runs DeWolfe and Woods, Alfred, Maine, with his partner Frank Wood. Ken Gloss owns and operates The Brattle Book Shop in Boston, one the country’s oldest and largest used bookstores and he is a frequent appraiser on The Antiques Roadshow. Both are members of the Boston Book Fair committee. Regarding Covid, both said that the extent of the impact on booksellers largely depended how dealers do business. DeWolfe noted that his company has had a strong internet presence and while in-store business certainly declined, their customers continued to shop from home and their online business remained steady. Gloss commented that The Brattle Book Shop is primarily a retail business in downtown Boston and certainly felt the impact of the lockdown. He noted that he was able to pay his staff of eight or ten throughout the lockdown with the assistance of the Payroll Protection Plan. He commented that his retail business has since improved and that his shop business is strong. There have been changes, “we’re seeing droves of tourists in Boston now and we’ve become an ‘attraction’ that many visitors want to see. They often post photos of themselves in front of the shop on their social media accounts and that just drives more people our way. Those people are buying a wide assortment of books. We make it easy as many of our books are sold on outside racks at prices $5 or less. But we’re not seeing some of the daytime regulars back yet. Office workers haven’t all returned, so some of that business is missing. We’re fortunate in that we own our real estate – we don’t have to deal with the rising real estate costs that have forced many retail bookstores to close in recent years.” Both agreed that institutional business is strong.
As far as market trends are concerned, both agreed that there has been a definite increase of interest in books relating to some of the social and political realities of our time. DeWolfe noted that institutions are buying to fill holes in their collections of books on race and gender issues. Some collectors are increasing their holdings in those subject areas, as well. Gloss agreed. He and other exhibitors displayed some books on these subjects prominently in their booths. In his front showcase was the 1968 first publication of the Gay Scene Guide to New York, which included listings of bars, baths, coffee houses, hotels, night clubs, parks, private clubs, restaurants, homophile organizations, etc. It was priced at $3,750. Displays in other booths prominently showed items relating to LGBTQ issues and one had advertising material specifically for silent-era movies with Black casts, directed to Black movie theatre owners.
The first showcase you would have seen as you entered the show displayed what may have been the most expensive book in the show. Sophia Rare Books from Denmark was asking $825,000 for one of six known presentation copies of Sir Isaac Newton’s Opticks or a Treatise on the Reflections, Refractions, Inflexions and Colours [sic] of Light. It was published in 1704 and is considered one of the three major works on optics during the “Scientific Revolution” of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries. Books on the history of science were available from more than a dozen other dealers.
If your interests lay in the area of American history, you would have enjoyed browsing the booth of William Reese, New Haven, Conn. He had a framed copy of The Obsequies For President Lincoln, with the Order of the Funeral Procession, priced at $13,750. The place of publication was not noted but was believed to be Springfield, Ill. They also had several books of Revolutionary War interest written by participants in the events of the time. Frederik Muller Rare Books from Holland had a copy of the first London printing of George Catlin’s 1844 North American Portfolio with 25 hand-colored lithographs of Native Americans, priced at $68,000. The full title of this book, descriptive of its contents, is Catlin’s North American Indian portfolio: hunting scenes and amusements of the Rocky Mountains and prairies of America / from drawings and notes of the author, made during eight years’ travel amongst forty-eight of the wildest and most remote tribes of savages in North America. Numerous other dealers offered titles relating to American history, the exploration of the West and Native Americans.
Neatline Antique Maps, San Francisco, was one of the exhibitors with a wide selection of early maps. Prominently displayed was “Angling in Troubled Waters,” a satirical map of Europe at the start of the Twentieth Century. It showed Czar Nicholas II dominating the continent. Printed in 1899, it was priced at $3,900. They displayed several other maps, as did other dealers. Geographicus Rare Antique Maps, Brooklyn, N.Y., brought a map that would be of interest to local clientele, H.F. Walling’s 1858 wall map of Cape Cod. It had numerous inset maps of Cape towns and indicated locations of business and the names their owners. Walling produced numerous large scale wall maps such as this one, with details not elsewhere available. This one was priced $8,500.
Children’s books and amusements abounded. B&B Rare Books, New York City, offered original editions of the four Winne The Pooh books, including a limited edition of Now We Are Six, signed by both author A.A. Milne and the illustrator, Ernest Shepard, which was priced $9,500. They also had a first edition of Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire, signed by J.K. Rowling, priced at $3,000. Elizabeth Young, of Lizzyoung, Newport, R.I., had first editions of some Babar books. Histoire de Babar, the first in the series and published in 1931, was priced $1,500 and the second in the series, Le Voyage de Babar, was priced $275.
An 1815 French edition of the educational board game “The Game of Goose” was offered by Justin Croft, a dealer from England. This edition had 63 game squares, mostly of natural phenomena such as Niagara Falls and man-made wonders such as the pyramids. Croft was asking $2,500. Children would learn by throwing dice and moving game pieces along the game. Board games were published in Europe long before any were published in the United States. Versions of the game of Goose can be dated at least as far back as 1500. The first American board game, “The Travellers’ Tour Through the United States,” was not published until 1822.
After the show, Ken Gloss said the crowd was large and many exhibitors and collectors remarked on the enjoyment of seeing old friends and being able to sift through so many books. “Many dealers commented on the number of younger buyers they saw and how many of the younger folks were buyers, some for the first time. Free admission on Saturday and Sunday drew young families as well as students from the many colleges in the area. We also had a “Discovery” program where we encouraged exhibitors to bring books priced under $100 and we provided signage to call attention to those books. It was a success, and we’ll have just about the same dates for next year.”
For additional information, www.bostonbookfair.com.
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