Visitors to the Park Avenue Armory‘s Wade Thompson Drill Hall this weekend found the vast space transformed into a veritable cabinet of curiosities thanks to the arrival of the New York International Antiquarian Book Fair.
The fair, which marked its 59th anniversary this year, brings together bibliophiles, scholars and browsers for a weekend packed with rare books, manuscripts, miniatures, print ephemera, historical documents, letters and more. This year’s offerings included selections from 217 exhibitors from around the world — the fair’s largest presentation to date.
Prior to the fair’s opening on Thursday, organizers highlighted several items, including a handsome set of the Complete Writings of Rudyard Kipling, signed by the author; a signed letter from Marie Curie; and “The Book-Case of Knowledge,” a complete set of miniature volumes, all held in a wooden box made to mimic a gentleman’s library.
Still, perhaps even more impressive than the fine bindings and pristine collections, all of which abound, are the stories behind each of the items so carefully curated by exhibitors. Here are some of our favorite items from this year’s fair.
“A Chaucer A.B.C.,” with letters illuminated by Lucia Joyce. Honey & Wax Booksellers.
A collaboration between James Joyce and his daughter Lycia Joyce, “A Chaucer A.B.C.” was born from Joyce’s attempts to deal with his daughter’s plummet into schizophrenia, which began in her early 20s. The copy on display at the fair represents one of only 300 copies of the book, created as a fine-press edition at Joyce’s own expense.
“It’s this incredible testimony to a lot of different things. To James Joyce’s love for his daughter, yes. To her artistic creation, which was real. She was an incredibly creative person even as she was becoming deranged. It was something that sort of kept her together. To the connection between Chaucer and the world of illuminated manuscripts, which is huge in Ireland,” said Heather O’Donnell of Honey & Wax Booksellers. “There were only 300 copies printed. He did it at his own expense; he dropped his friends who refused to subscribe to it, because he felt that they weren’t loyal to his daughter.”
Original photograph of Ernest Hemingway, inscribed to Adolphe Lévêque. Rare Books Le Feu Follet.
This photograph, taken while filming the cinematic adaptation of “The Old Man and the Sea,” depicts Ernest Hemingway holding a freshly caught marlin. The real draw to the snapshot, though, is that it was originally sent to Adolphe Lévêque, a humble French bartender who served Hemingway on the luxury ocean liner SS Île-de-France.
Miniature octagonal Koran, circa 1875, with text written in gold. Bromer Booksellers & Gallery.
Written in gold, this miniature Koran was a darling of the fair and a recent acquisition by Boston’s Bromer Booksellers & Gallery.
“Q.R.V.,” Edward Gorey, cover designed by Brother Edgard Claes. Bromer Booksellers & Gallery.
Also at the Bromer Booksellers & Gallery is a rare, one-of-a-kind binding from Brother Edgard Claes, who uses poly-carbonate boards airbrushed with automotive paint. The metallic casing encloses Edward Gorey’s “Q.R.V.” and is finished off by a snakeskin spine. The miniature, complete with Gorey’s 29 illustrations and rhyming couplets, is one of 110 hand-colored copies.
“The Shipwreck: A Poem,” by William Falconer. Morocco jeweled binding by Sangorski & Sutcliffe. Phillip J. Pirages Fine Books & Medieval Manuscripts.
This Edwardian era binding by Francis Sangorski and George Sutcliffe (known for their ornate designs) features an elaborate menagerie of intricate inlays, detailed leather tooling and inset gems. The nautical theme of the book’s jeweled cover, which depicts seaweed, scallops, netting and rope, reflects the contents of William Falconer’s poem.
“History of the Indian tribes of North America,” by Thomas Loraine McKenney and James Hall. Maggs Bros. Ltd.: Rare Books and Manuscripts.
This work, titled (in full) “History of the Indian tribes of North America, with biographical sketches and anecdotes of the principal chiefs. Embellished with one hundred and twenty portraits, from the Indian gallery in the Department of war, at Washington,” was published from 1836 to 1844 and featured biographies and portraits of Native American leaders (many of the portraits were painted by celebrated portraitist Charles Bird King). The copy above is bound in a striking red and gold design.
“The Canterbury Tales,” Geoffrey Chaucer. Binding circa 1561. Whitmore Rare Books.
Widely regarded as his most famous text, Chaucer’s “The Cantebury Tales” finds a cozy home in this 1561 leather bound edition, complete with two metal clasps.
Letter-Case embroidered with straw. Mix-18th century. Musinsky Rare Books.
This petite pocketbook from the mid-18th century is a rare example of straw embroidery and was most likely used as a woman’s letter-case. The dealer’s description notes that “straw marquetry and straw embroidery seem to have been associated early on with nuns’ handiwork,” which included “secular objects sold outside the convent.”
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Top Image: Display at Rare Books Le Feu Follet. Courtesy of Britt Stigler.