The 59th annual edition of the New York Antiquarian Book Fair is underway this weekend at the cavernous Park Avenue Armory. It’s another beloved spring happening in the city. If you’ve never been you, you probably have questions: What’s on sale? Who goes? What’s it like? Is anything actually affordable? Dear reader, we went to the VIP Preview. And we’ve got answers to all those questions and more. Here’s what you need to know about the annual Antiquarian Book Fair in New York City. It’s one of our favorite literary luxuries.
literary luxuries: the antiquarian book fair
Every March, bibliophiles, curious minds, art lovers and those who love them convene for a weekend gathering in Manhattan. It’s the annual Antiquarian Book Fair, and it’s big fun for book lovers.
Held in the Armory’s 55,000 square foot drill hall, one of the largest unobstructed spaces of its kind in New York, it’s a celebration of the written word and works on paper, and a reminder of the importance of preservation.
Walking through this fair is stimulating and educational. It’s also a playful treasure hunt and a chance to get lost in history and culture.
As one reporter aptly noted: centuries of culture [are] on display here. And unlike at a museum, here you can purchase something meaningful – something that resonates with you.
what’s for sale?
The Antiquarian Book Fair is the place to find rare books, maps, manuscripts, illuminated manuscripts, autographs, posters and ephemera.
this year’s highlights
Each year has particularly special items that are a great reminder of the role that books and printed matter play in our understanding of history. Here are 5 exceptional ones from this year:
First, Paris bookseller Librairie le Feu Follet is offering a historic collection of early Japanese photographic images taken by Felice Beato.
The second is a remarkably rare first edition of the paper Ada Lovelace, the first computer programmer, wrote. It belonged to her math tutor, who extensively annotated it ($325,000). You can find it at the booth of rare bookseller Peter Harrington, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary.
Fourth, Walter Reuben Inc is offering a cinema memorabilia collection that shines a light on L.G.B.T.Q. performers in Hollywood’s early years ($95,000).
And finally, Read’Em Again Books has an early 19th-century Bible in which the Wilson family, owners of a plantation in South Carolina, detailed some of their slaves’ tragic fates ($30,000).
a wide array of works and eras
The variety of books and topics is part of the fun. It’s an eclectic selection of the type you won’t find in a typical bookstore. You can go from classic works from the Western Canon . . .
To banned books from the World War II era.
From stunning first editions and gorgeous leather-bound volumes . . .
To posters and bumper stickers from the protest movements of the 1960’s.
something for every budget and interest
There’s definitely something here for every taste, area of interest and budget. The specialties represented at the fair include art, film, medicine, literature, photography, autographs, first editions, Americana, and children’s literature.
Some of the sellers make it clear that they have lots of inventory for beginning collectors – some volumes are under $100.
There’s also charming ephemera everywhere – found objects that might just speak to you.
who are the sellers?
a global array of booksellers and dealers
At this year’s fair, over 200 American and international dealers are participating. We saw booths from England, France, Italy, Japan, Vermont, LA and Brooklyn.
Each seller has their own vibe, and their enthusiasm for talking about books and works on paper is infectious.
only authenticated merchandise
The fair is officially sanctioned by the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America and the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers.
This means that buyers can rely on the experience of participating dealers and the authenticity of the items available for purchase. All books, manuscripts and related material have been carefully examined for completeness and bibliographic accuracy.
who is buying?
This is not a fussy snooty crowd of people who look like they’d all be pipe smokers. That might be the cliche you have in your head when you hear “antiquarian books.” But dear reader, you’d be wrong.
You might be surprised at the diversity of the attendees at this event. Some seem to be already deeply expert collectors of rare books and manuscripts.
Others seemed to be dipping a toe in the water, and asking lots of questions.
Some overheard conversations seemed to be among academics and others who are at the fair on behalf of their clients or employers.
And some are there for the fun of it. There’s no one reason to go, and no “right” way to experience this fair.
why should you go?
If you love books, culture, art and history, you’ll learn something new, be among like-minded people, and perhaps discover a treasure or two to bring home with you.
On Saturday afternoon, there’s a series of lectures that are ideal for those who love books, or are just curious about the motivations of collectors and the current issues in the world of rare books and manuscripts.
This year, there are lectures on the topics Books, Estates, & Deaccession: Finding Your Library’s Next Home; The Pursuit and Use of Archives and Manuscripts; and An Introduction to Poster House, A New Museum in New York.
You’re in the middle of the Upper East Side. So you can expect to see lots of high fashion and chic ensembles, which is always fun.
Happily, though, the crowd is really diverse. It feels like all of New York is represented somewhere in this epic gathering of bibliophiles.
The joy of the treasure hunt
You can choose to browse solo, and at your own pace.
Or bring your BFF and explore together.
This year’s fair runs from March 7-10, 2019 at the Park Avenue Armory (643 Park Avenue, at 66th Street.) The VIP Preview pass is $60, and it also covers a repeat visit on one of the days while the show is still running. Daily admission is $25 ($10 for students with an ID). A run-of-show pass is $45.
What do you think? Are you in?
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