Published: March 17, 2020
Review and Photos by W.A. Demers
NEW YORK CITY – For the 11th year, the Original Manhattan Vintage Book, Ephemera, & Fine Press Book Fair, perhaps more well known by its nickname, “The Shadow Show,” descended into the bowels of the Church of St Vincent Ferrer on Lexington Avenue, presenting about 25 book and ephemera dealers and another 40 or so fine press exhibitors on March 7. John and Tina Bruno of Flamingo Eventz have run this show in the shadow of the well-known New York International Antiquarian Book Fair, which takes place literally across the street in the Park Avenue Armory [See separate review elsewhere in this issue], focusing on mid-level material that is no less compelling even if lacking a six-figure price tag.
This show is a lot less corporate looking (and more affordable for its participants) than the gargantuan ABAA enterprise across the street, yet it continues to thrive since its inception in 2009, presenting some of the finest vintage and antiquarian book and ephemera dealers in America, Canada and Europe – many of whom are members of ABAA, ILAB, ESA, PADA, MARIAB, MABA, LIABDA and other professional groups.
In 2014, the Brunos added the Fine Press Book Fair, which runs concurrently in the bifurcated space in the church’s basement. The traditional side of the fair presents its usual array of rare and unusual old books, as well as poetry, prose, political, social, historical, musical autographs, children’s series, maps, postcards, autographs, prints, posters, World’s Fair items and more. There tends to be more paper than books these days, and the press book folks add a different dimension.
Representative of that difference were Liv Rockefeller and Ken Shure of Two Ponds Press, Camden, Maine, which will be celebrating its 10th year in publishing in 2021. At their booth was Anneli Skaar showing her project Nansen’s Pastport, a fine press limited-edition book. As Skaar explained, the book coincides with the 100th anniversary of the first modern passport in 1920.
The Nansen Passport, as it became known, was the creation of Norwegian polar explorer, scientist and humanitarian Fridtjof Nansen, who was high commissioner for refugees in the League of Nations, precursor of the United Nations, to address the plight of stateless refugees. Today, said Sklar, everyone, no matter where they are from, may one day become a refuge. So the book also is accompanied by an imagined ID that emulates the look and feel of modern US passports, with a cover made with salmon skin from northern Iceland.
Skaar said the press has visited special collections libraries all along the West Coast this year and have reserved copies of Nansen’s Pastport for UC San Diego, UC Santa Barbara, La Jolla Athenaem, UCLA, Claremont and Stanford, among many others. On the East Coast, reservations have so far been made by the Boston Atheneum, Bowdoin College and University of Miami. And the Library of Congress has secured a copy, and a copy of the book is also going to the Nansen Institute outside Oslo, Norway.
Skaar, who is also creative director at the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, Maine, will be giving a talk related to the project at the Explorer’s Club in New York City on October 19, and will be featured in a following exhibition at the Trygve Lie Gallery.
David Esslemont of Solementes Press, Decorah, Iowa, was showing his very personal guide on How to Make a Pizza, as well as his new book Jabberwocky, which expands on Lewis Carroll’s conceit of Alice climbing through a mirror in Through the Looking Glass. Esslemont drew the lines of the poem on linoleum with a broad-nibbed pen and cut around the letters. When printed, the text is in reverse, just as Alice found it. The well-known poem is accompanied with linocuts of Esslemont’s unique images. It is designed, illustrated and hand printed by Esslemont in a limited edition of 35 copies. “My new book was met with great enthusiasm,” said Esslemont afterwards. “I received lots of generous compliments from collectors who bought copies at the fair. The show was excellent, it was busier than last year despite the coronavirus, and I did more sales.”
Leonard Seastone was showing his book A Long Hill Homeward, which sprinkled sinuous bands of text across gutters and seasoned it with untethered illustrations. Seastone said that one collecting library called the work “a continuation of a beat tradition in subject matter typographically created in seemingly free-form design.” Said Seastone, “That association in itself honors my design and printing efforts for which I am most grateful and justifies the continuation of my work in this my 48th year of printing. My thoughts on the fair is that one has the opportunity to view and peruse some of the finest examples of fine printing today. That within the historical panorama of letterpress printing the contemporary work at this fair represents a very high degree of expertise of both craft and art. I am always interested at our annual Fine Press Book Fair in the joy expressed by both those just discovering our movement and those returning to enjoy and purchase again.”
Over on the show’s more traditional side was Ellen Saito, a recent addition to the ranks of the ABAA membership and proprietor of Excelsa Scripta Rare Books, Hastings On Hudson, N.Y. “I collect antiquarian books focusing on social thought and ideas, women’s history and black Americana,” she said. “It turned out to be a great show for me. I made a nice profit instead of just breaking even like last year at this fair and met several new booksellers with amazing inventory within visiting distance. I advertised to some ABAA members and ended up selling solely to other dealers. I will advertise more widely and lower my prices even more next time.”
Notable among the material on offer was an item in the booth of Seth Kaller of White Plains, N.Y., Here, with a six-figure asking price was the iconic engraving of the Boston Massacre by Paul Revere (1735-1818), which quickly became one of the most successful examples of political propaganda of all time. The engraving depicts the event and a poem below vilifies the British Army and lists the first casualties of the American Revolution. Rushed into print less than one month after the event, Revere’s print helped unite the colonists. This engraving, a first edition, second state (clock shows 10:20) was printed by Edes and Gill, Boston, 1770, and has the original hand coloring.
Arrowsic, Maine, dealer James Arsenault was covering three bases over the weekend – with displays at the armory show, Getman’s show across town and this one, where he shared some space with Peter Luke. It was understandably a small offering but included original cover art from Pike’s Peak Daily News by Frank Reistle of Denver; a broadside An Ode & Sermon on the Subject of Studying to be Quiet, and early maps of New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Virginia.
For information, 603-509-2639 or www.flamingowventz.com.
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