Published: November 7, 2023
Review & Photos by Rick Russack
BOSTON — A new antiquarian book and ephemera fair, “Books In Boston” premiered on October 28, describing itself as a “shadow show” to the Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair. That show, now in its 45th year, is one of the largest antiquarian book fairs in the United States, an event produced by the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America (ABAA), which was conducted directly across the street from the new show. Duane Stevens, one of the promoters of the new show, and a member of the ABAA, said that he hopes to arrange increased joint advertising for the two shows in the future. The new show was deliberately scheduled to complement the ABAA show, opening at 8 am, allowing ABAA exhibitors time to shop the new show before the noon opening of that show.
“Books in Boston” had 42 dealers from 10 states and included one from the United Kingdom. Some also were exhibiting at the ABAA show. A long line awaited the opening. The weekend was really a feast for book collectors and casual readers, as there was also a virtual show. “Books in Boston” was organized and managed by MW Book Fairs, a collaboration between Richard Mori Books and Duane Stevens of Wiggins Fine Books. An attempt to describe what was available would be pointless and would be best summarized by saying “there were books and ephemera for everyone” with prices ranging from just a few dollars to the high four figures.
Having said that, some of the most unusual items were not terribly expensive. One of those would have been an 1884 panoramic photograph of Providence, R.I. It was assembled from three individual mammoth plate albumen prints, each 18 by 21 inches. Another interesting photographic item was an album of real-photo post cards taken through a telescope at the Harvard Observatory in 1910. There was a run of 20 issues of the Appalachian Mountain Club White Mountain Guides, the journal of a woman traveler from Boston to New York recording her trip in 1705. Probably a personal favorite would have been a copy of the Tombstone Epitaph with a front-page article about Doc Holiday, published three months before the storied gunfight at the OK Corral. Among the more expensive items was a set of six chromolithographed posters for Alice in Wonderland and a royal seal that Queen Elizabeth I attached to a royal document, although unconfirmed, an Abraham Lincoln letter to Secretary of State William Seward was said to have sold in the high four figures.
The Providence, R.I., photographic panorama was in the booth of Scott Brasseur, gallerybfa, Prospect, Penn. It was nearly 5 feet long and was not signed or dated. Examining architectural features in the photograph established that it cannot have been taken later that 1888. Brasseur speculates that it may have been taken by J.W. Black, who is known to have visited Providence and who is known to have taken mammoth plate photographs. Brasseur was asking $4,200 for it. He also had a selection of stereographs and other vintage photographs. After the show, Brasseur said he had done well and had noticed increased interest by institutions in books in books relating to African Americans and the LGBQT+ community.
The Elizabethan seal was attached to a manuscript document (written by a secretary) dated 1600, in which Elizabeth appointed a new sheriff for the county Palantine. In it, Elizabeth orders Thomas Aston, then the sheriff, to hand over all documents to his successor. It was priced $16,500 by Bauman Rare Books, New York.
Richard Mori, Nashua, N.H., among other things, specializes in books about the White Mountains. His collection of 20 editions of the AMC White Mountain guides covered the years 1907-1972, and each included several maps of different parts of the area. This set had all the required maps but two. It had been assembled by one collector who began collecting in 1962; the price for the set was $15,500. Mori said that some individual editions of the guide can be priced as high as $4,500. The first AMC White Mountain guide was published in 1907. Mori also specializes in children’s series books as well as Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts items.
Bill Hutchinson, Mendenhall, Penn., had a copy of a scarce travel journal, that of Madam Sarah Kemble Knight, who in 1704 traveled alone from Boston to New York. She spent five months on the road and her observations provide important commentary about Native Americans, slavery, colonial customs, road conditions and the hardships of travel at that time. Most of the time she had hired local guides to assist her. Some of her comments are humorous, while others are not. It was a private journal and was not published in 1825. Hutchinson priced it $2,000. His stock is large and varied and this time included a two-volume set of Catlin’s North American Indians, published in 1926, priced $2,750, and a two-volume set recording the observations made on Commodore William Perry’s expedition to Japan in the years 1852-1854. It was this expedition that forced Japan to allow trade with the United States and other nations followed suit. Hutchinson was asking $3,000 for the set.
Elizabeth Kelly-Griswold, Bluemango Books, New Hope, Penn., was doing her first Boston show and said afterward that it was the best show she has had in her 10 years in the business. She specializes in manuscript Americana, diaries and primary source material of American history. One of the interesting items she sold was a manuscript cooper’s account book with a (somewhat distant) tie to the Salem witch trials. The account book had been kept by Isaac Sanderson, a cooper in Whately, Mass., and covered the years 1801-1830. It detailed his business activity in that time period. Kelly-Griswold has been a student of genealogy for more than 40 years and her descriptions reflect that interest. For this account book, she determined one of Sanderson’s early relatives was Ann Alcock Foster, who was suspected of being a witch and died in the Salem prison after being tortured. The account book was priced $6,100 and it sold. She had several other account books of the period. Another interesting item was an 1803 Bill of Mortality published by the Society of Friends in Dover, N.H. It listed the death of a young slave who had drowned, another person who was found dead in a field, another who had been executed for murder and the death due to old age of a mid-wife who had assisted in the births of more than 1,000 children. It was $800 and sold.
One of the fringe benefits of visiting antiquarian book fairs like this one are the free catalogs given away by show exhibitors. These catalogs offer items for sale, most often those at the book fair, and the descriptions are extensive. In addition to requisite bibliographic information-first edition or not, first state or not, publication date, etc., these descriptions often include small gems of history. For example, the catalog of Kurt A. Sanftleben, Virginia Beach, Va., discusses and illustrates an 1802 shipping document regarding two legs of the triangle slave trade and discusses the slave trade in Newburyport. It was priced $1,500. Another item described and pictured in that catalog discusses the 1783 Connecticut law concerning “gradual abolition” of slavery. At the time, Connecticut had the largest slave population, according to the catalog, of any Northern state. It was priced $950. The catalog of Bluemango Books discusses in detail a 1764 document concerning a Wappinger sachem and spying during the Revolutionary War. It was priced $12,000. The Bauman Rare Books catalog describes and pictures The Mummy! A Tale of the Twenty-Second Century, which it describes a pioneering work of science fiction. The price was $11,500. They also offer a third edition of Frankenstein, priced at $19,500. There were many more.
Those interested in mysteries had plenty from which to choose, as did those interested in science fiction, astronomy, American history, Asian history, maritime subjects, travel, children’s books, and the list could go on and on. The promoters plan to repeat the event next year. For additional information, contact Duane Stevens at email@example.com or Richard Mori at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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