In Rare Company: Boston’s International Antiquarian Book Fair

A selection of books from Appledore Books of Waccabuc, New York is displayed at the 40th annual Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair, Oct. 28 at the Hynes Convention Center. Photo by Kankanit Wiriyasajja/BU News Service
Written by Landry Harlan

By Sana Haque
BU News Service

This year marked the 40th anniversary of the renowned Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair, held from 28th to 30th October at the Hynes Convention Center. Hosting 126 booksellers from across the USA, UK, Denmark, France, Germany, Australia and the Netherlands, it was a thoroughly enjoyable affair for all book-lovers and fans of antiquarian paintings, maps, royal diaries and political paraphernalia alike.

Established in 1976, the book fair was conceived by the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America (ABAA), which formed in 1949 for the collection, preservation and trade of antiquarian books and texts to promote research and appraisal of rare books and collegial relations with scholars, collectors, librarians and booksellers. Most of its members have over 20 years experience buying, selling and trading books.

Hundreds of people attended the fair, which was open Oct. 28 to 30. Photo by Kankanit Wiriyasajja/BU News Service

Hundreds of people attended the fair, which was open Oct. 28 to 30. Photo by Kankanit Wiriyasajja/BU News Service

The event not only displayed an extensive collection of priceless contemporary and vintage texts, but in honor of its 40th anniversary it also hosted several weekend activities. Among them was the prominent “Typewriter Rodeo,” where poets on site would inscribe an original poem for you on any topic of your choosing using vintage typewriters. “Collecting the Boston Music Scene: 1976-2016,” showcased David Bieber’s archive of albums, rock-n-roll posters and ephemera constituting 40 years of Boston’s music, including items for Aerosmith, The Cars, etc. Attendees also benefited from free appraisals of their personal collections.

The crowd of old and young scoured through book collections from sellers like Brattle Book Shop, Boston Book Company, Les trois Islets Livres Rares and Frederik Muller Rare Books BV. The specialties ranged from American south, northwest, African American literature, sports, art, astronomy, craft, dance, cooking, religion, self-help, presidential and so forth, in more than eight languages. Among the must-see collectibles included a scorecard for the 1915 World Series between the Boston Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies and a 1250-year-old wooden pagoda-styled container with a printed Buddhist charm inside from East Asia called Hyakumanto Dharani.

Manuscripts, signed books, propaganda badges, posters and hand-printed texts also constituted the vast collection tapering the hall, each valued above $1,000 minimum. Typically not in the budget for the average college student, but the collection still managed to incite young adults to pay a visit and engage with the sellers and traders.

“The youth are the future,” said Michael Ginsberg, of Michael Ginsberg Books Inc. “It’s important to educate them as be the future bearers of these texts, and this fair is a good way to promote that – and to promote reading texts that aren’t on tablets!”

Gil Rodriguez points out a crow on page 63 of the first edition of Le Petit Prince at the fair. Photo by Kankanit Wiriyasajja/BU News Service

Gil Rodriguez points out a crow on page 63 of the first edition of Le Petit Prince at the fair. Photo by Kankanit Wiriyasajja/BU News Service

Ginsberg developed an interest in rare books at the young age of 16, when he was moving books around at a part time job and found himself fascinated by them.

“I learned very young that I had an eye for rare and valuable books, and that’s how I got into the business,” he said.

Ginsberg has been involved with the fair since its formation, as a member of ABAA. Prominently selling western texts, he had nothing but good words to say about the fair.

“I wouldn’t change anything about it. They’ve done a splendid job. It’s a grand way to meet colleagues, promote your material and inquire for information. I sell very well, usually more affordable material under $5,000, but generally it’s worth coming for the people I meet,” he said.

The sentiment was supported by Sharon and Phil McBlain, of McBlain Books.

“It’s nice to be immersed with people who like antiquarian books, who share the same passion as we do,” said Sharon.

BOSTON, October 29, 2016 - Beth Garon, 69, from Beasley Books of Chicago, Illinois, adjusts a book on display at the fair. "I and my husband have been coming to this book fair since the early 1980s. It's a fun thing to do," said Garon. Photo by Kankanit Wiriyasajja/BU News Service

Beth Garon, 69, from Beasley Books of Chicago, Illinois, adjusts a book on display at the fair. “I and my husband have been coming to this book fair since the early 1980s. It’s a fun thing to do,” said Garon. Photo by Kankanit Wiriyasajja/BU News Service

Themselves loyal members and participants of the fair for 39-40 years, they emphasize the promotion and sale of texts written by African-Americans. This particular interest developed in the early 1970s, when Phil was involved in law and found himself angered by the discrepancy in treatment towards the African-American community.

“I decided to quit my practice in ’73 and delve into finding texts not written about African-Americans from the ‘white’ perspective, but specifically by the African-American community, be it on academia or fiction, religion, anthropology, sciences and medicine, and so on,” informed Phil. “I felt it was important to have them get their voices heard, and to be honest it gradually reached out to many people, including initially hesitant ‘white’ communities.”

“Essentially these texts explored a community that was, against all circumstances, trying to figure out how to make its way out,” Sharon added. “It’s amazing what they have managed to do. If anything, this book fair has been a great way to promote that exposure.”

“For forty years we’ve promoted the exploration, understanding and appreciation of non-western worlds through the books we sell,” Phil stated. “Sometimes we do well, sometimes not so much. It varies. But more than selling, it’s a great way to cultivate an interest, to inspire ourselves and others to know. You can’t beat that.”

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