International Antiquarian Book Fair Explores Frost, Thoreau

The 2017 Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair is as much an intellectual gathering place as it is a destination for book collectors. Held at the Hynes Convention Center from Nov. 10 to 12, the fair consists of stands for vendors with everything from old maps that take up a large portion of the wall to descriptive diaries by an unknown woman. A poetry section boasts multiple books by Robert Frost, such as A Boy’s Will—one of only 350 copies of Frost’s first commercially published book signed and still in its original binding.

Kuenzig Books, a vendor with a focus on science, technology, and engineering works, has a framed Prang’s Prismatic Spectrum atop a glass case filled with books such as Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica—one book Volumes I and II, and the other Volumes III and IV, with a brown, red, and black spine with ornate golden writing. Kuenzig Books interacts with customers through fairs like these, but also operates primarily by appointment through the phone and internet.

“It’s a way to get around people of like mind. Everybody here’s enthusiastic about books at some level,” said owner John F. Kuenzig. “You’re bringing people that are interested in contact with the material.”

In a sense, being at the fair is like taking part in an arena of active thought, spurred by the many works around you. Though the people who wrote these books are dead, the atmospheres they created are alive and well. Especially in an age of social media and online communication, just being at the event is an invaluable experience.

“The book fair is non-internet, it’s face-to-face, but it’s also how do you look for something that you didn’t know ever existed? I walk around here and see things that I didn’t know existed. I couldn’t look in the internet because I didn’t know,” Kuenzig said. “The other reason people come to book fairs is that this is like the Smithsonian only you can take it home.”

Some of the stands are not selling works directly, but rather are set up as an information center or a place to raise awareness of books sold at a distance. One of these is The Concord Museum’s This Ever New Self: Thoreau and His Journal, which celebrates the bicentennial of Henry David Thoreau’s birth. The Concord Museum owns Thoreau’s personal artifacts, like his desk, and currently has a joint exhibit coupled with some of his original journals on loan from the Morgan Library.

“This is a once in a lifetime thing,” said Janet Scudder, a teacher in the museum’s education department. “This is the first time the journals have been back in Concord since his death.”

Thoreau’s multitudinous journals, in fact, are a too often forgotten element of his life: they are rich, expansive, and have more success now once sorted and published after his death than his two published books during his lifetime—one of which utterly failed. He was a writer ahead of his time, at the heart of the intersection between science and art while all at once meticulously recording accurate scientific data in his own notation—information such as when the ice breaks up at Walden Pond, when the birds come back, and when certain plants bloom—precursors for modern studies of climate change.

“It’s kind of amazing the range of books that are used, from old first edition publishing to manuscripts and watercoloring and stuff,” said Kristen Connolly, a shop assistant for the Concord Museum shop.

Featured Image by Keely Dickes/ Heights Staff