Antiquarian Book Fair Showcases Rare Literature

Though new technologies may be dominating the 21st century, events such as this past weekend’s 40th annual Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair at the Hynes Convention Center provide hope that an appreciation for paper is still alive and well.

The annual event, which takes place in only two other cities in the United States, hosted more than 120 international book dealers offering a wide array of eclectic books ranging from political autobiographies to children’s books. Rare and first editions of works from renowned authors such as Toni Morrison, Stephen King, and Sylvia Plath were on display. For those not as literarily inclined, there were also signed photos from films like The Exorcist, Psycho, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, along with Elvis Presley’s first record.

Paul Lewis, a professor in the Boston College English department, was a special guest on Sunday in the program “Adventures in Literary Archeology.”

He discussed his work on Edgar Allan Poe’s relationship to the literature in Boston, some of which is lost work he hopes to uncover from that time period. Lewis is also the president of the Poe Studies Association.

Nina Berger, communications consultant and press correspondent for the event, noted that many of the items on display included Greta Garbo’s keys, Henry David Thoreau’s notes, Albert Einstein’s building blocks that were exhibited side-by-side with designer’s sketches, medieval psychedelia, Japanese manuscripts, and so much more. An unexpected highlight was a recently discovered trove of historic letters penned and signed by founding fathers Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, John Adams, George Washington, and John Hancock.  

Other highlights at the fair included a signed photograph of Harry Houdini that sold for $10,000, a first edition of the first trade edition of the Pennyroyal Press of Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz with illustrations by Barry Moser, a souvenir program and scorecard from the 1915 World Series won by the Boston Red Sox against the Philadelphia Phillies, and the original watercolor painting of Hogwarts created for the British edition of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

Berger added that the ‘Collecting the Boston Music Scene’ exhibition was also a huge success, attracting Boston-area rockers Peter Wolfe, Asa Brebner, and members of the band, The Cars,” Berger said.

This exhibition held one-of-a-kind items from the David Bieber Archives of Boston Music memorabilia. Typewriter Rodeo, a group known for its poems created on old typewriters, were also present at the event.

Free admission to the fair on Saturday and Sunday drew in over 4,000 people. Though “antiquarian” can mean ancient or aged, the Book Fair aimed to reshape this definition as instead an exchange of any valued books, no matter how old. The fair itself attracted lots of younger, first-time visitors, some of who used the event as a date night or just an outing on the town.

Other notable special events on Saturday included a panel discussion where novice collectors had the chance to consult experts and receive feedback on the most successful way to start a collection. Upon receiving this feedback, novice collectors had the opportunity to browse the fair and visit “Discovery” exhibits in order to find reasonably priced items that could spur the start of a new collection.

To cap Sunday’s event, visitors were able to bring their own books and have them appraised by experts for free to see if they held any surprise monetary or collector value.

The American Antiquarian Society (AAS), founded in 1812, is credited as being a major independent research library holding the largest collection of rare books. AAS served as a sponsor in putting on the event, along with BC’s Burns Library Boston Athenaeum, Boston Map Society, Massachusetts Historical Society, and the Ticknor Society, among others.

“The annual roundtable at the event was a diverse, but entertaining and interesting panel that delivered their remarks to a packed audience,” Marie Oedel, President of the Ticknor Society, said. “We look forward to doing our roundtable in next years’ Book Fair.”

Featured Image by  Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair