Archive for the ‘antiquarian books’ Category

book boards

Saturday, June 30th, 2012

Boards are usually covered with dust jackets. Dust Jackets that can become fetishized by both the people who design the books, and the people who buy them. But under the jackets can be the most delicious boards that make me want to touch them. Below are a couple of examples…

friday afternoon

Friday, June 22nd, 2012


A pretty nice place to spend a hot Friday afternoon.  We’ll be open tomorrow, but beware La Kermesse.

52nd New York Antiquarian Book Fair

Friday, April 20th, 2012

I sincerely apologize for taking so long to update you on this event.  We had a great show and were completely exhausted when we returned on Sunday night.  It has taken us a couple of days to catch up on sleep, paperwork, and staring at the wall.  Now beginning to feel communicative again.

We packed the car up nicely.  It was chock full.  Five large Pelican cases, four cardboard boxes and a couple of bags.  Needless to say there was the most minimal of room for the humans.  But we shoehorned ourselves in and set off.  We have loaded ourselves into and out of many book fairs since Rabelais came into being.  Don has done the same with his previous business and for others many, many times. However the New York fair is a big deal, if I haven’t mentioned that before, we were both anticipating the event so each part of this trip was new and different.  Load-in went smoothly.  The car went in a garage and the unpacking began. There were some issues with the booth size and the fixtures we had ordered, but it was all sorted out.  Don went back and forth between thinking we had way too many books and just enough.  He settled on the latter with plenty of time to sparkle for the opening of the doors.  I had baked a double batch of the lemon-rosemary butter cookies familiar to those who have visited the store in the month of December.  We filled our copper fumiere with potted herbs.  The new catalogue was stacked on the table.  Suddenly, with no warning from the house, the doors were open and the flood began.

I’m not sure I can convey how impressive the floor of this fair was.  Dealers were saying that the number of their brethren displaying was larger than in previous years.  Everyone had brought their most special, most impressive, most favoritest books.  You could feel the room vibrate with all the knowledge, information, expertise and color that a huge room of remarkable books will offer.  There were certainly examples of modern technology everywhere, (our booth neighbors-Lorne Bair Rare Books- and us were both using the Square to process credit cards on our iPhones), and there were plenty of the craned necks of the gadget-obsessed.  But the real star in that room was the books.  Printed matter on real paper.  Paper that in that collection was predominantly rag. Boards were wood in many cases.  Vellum, Morocco and calf were everywhere.  This fair really brings out the extraordinary items.

The crowd was thick and came in waves.  The first night was only four hours, but they were full hours.  These were the serious collectors.  Many of them made straight for their favorite dealers.  But others wandered, purposefully, from booth to booth.  Our subject matter brought more than one or two collectors up short.  “Cookbooks? really? All cookbooks?” For a few that meant a beeline out.  But for many more it meant a new approach to a venerable practice.   Over the course of the four days we met many new customers.  Some were from institutions/libraries.  Others were private collectors.  One woman loves to cook but had never thought about collecting cook books.  She came back after a night of tossing and turning and began her collection with a handful of our books.  Some of our regular customers from other book fairs showed up in the big room.  We were very happy to see them and catch up.

Many cookies were eaten.  Both by dealers and by customers.  One vertically challenged youngster kept coming back and back.  His Mother was surprised because he doesn’t usually eat anything but chocolate.  I took that as a compliment.  Chelsea Clinton perused the floor on Friday for quite a few hours.  Steve Martin and his gentlewoman companion shopped on Sunday, she bought a cocktail book from us.  Yoko Ono was seen making a pile to take with her.  I was particularly pleased to see the span of ages represented: a couple of toddlers seemed bemused by their parents obsessions; a pair of pre-teen girls asked me about good books to cook from; the young New York hipsters were on the scene.  It was really cool.  Yeah, cool.  Smart people know that books are cool.  We gave out dozens of catalogues, talked with dozens of people about food, books, life. By the end of the weekend we were both pretty talked out.  We sold some books.  Books that we had been honored to shepherd for a time.  Books that had been with us for a stretch, and others that we had known for only a short while. We bonded with our fellow booksellers about our love of books (and food) and the trials and tribulations of making a living from the pursuit.  Most who visit a book fair see wares on offer.  The subtext is a social world of people who hold the printed word close to their hearts.  Gathering that many dealers with that many books in one room, it is inevitably exciting, excitable, excited.

Various of our colleagues write about books and the life of booksellers.  If you are interested in anything I have said here, you should read their words.  Lorne Bair wrote most recently about this fair and the importance, to all of us, of books.  You can read him on his blog.  Sunday Steinkirschner has been enlisted to write about rare book selling for Forbes, her blog can be found here.

Your behind must be pretty flat from sitting and reading.  You should get up and move around.  I’ll write more later.


postscript: Bon Appetit visited us at the fair, see what they had to say.

Ambrose Heath

Thursday, March 29th, 2012

Ambrose Heath (1891-1969) was a food writer and broadcaster who wrote over seventy books on food and cooking.  We have amassed upwards of thirty of his titles.  It is lovely to have what we have out and on display instead of cooped up in a box somewhere.  There is obviously more collecting to do if we are to be complete on this author.  I am looking forward to cooking from his books when the kitchen in fully functional.  In the meantime they are lovely to look at, all lined up on the shelf….


Paint & Oil

Thursday, March 15th, 2012

The cover from a menu for a dinner of the Paint and Oil Club of Portland, Maine, held at the Falmouth Hotel, January 19, 1889.

Some highlights from the menu include:

Blue Points on the half shell

Boiled Chicken Halibut with egg sauce

Roman Punch

Mallard Duck with Currant jelly

Tutti Frutti (I kid you not, printed verbatim on the menu)

Coffee and cigars…

Sounds like a delightful evening.

The Gentlewoman

Monday, March 12th, 2012

“Nature has laid us under the necessity of eating and drinking, but at the same time has endowed us with faculties to choose and prepare the diet that is most salutary and agreeable to our tastes.”

“Refinement belongs only to those whose tastes accord with perfection, and it is beyond all question that the characteristics of those that feed upon half-dressed or spoiled food are barbarous in mind and barbarous in complexion, which is the cause of so many jaundiced complaints that quacks undertake to cure, but which end in weakness, exhaustion, and early death.”

“The great social evil is not that which is talked of by gentlemen in black at midnight meetings; but it is the great evil that besets the English, from the highest to the lowest, every man, woman and child suffers from it, and thousands die or only experience a lingering existence from its neglect.  The great social evil is the want of persons of education and practical knowledge, worthy to be entrusted in the preparation of food with that care and nicety that is practiced in every nation in Europe except England.”

The Gentlewoman

a pseudonymous book

Chapman & Hall, London 1864

Printed matter

Thursday, March 8th, 2012

Today comes the news that Kodak will discontinue the manufacture of slide film. What does this have to do with books on food, you ask?

If you had visited Rabelais at 86 Middle Street anytime in the past few years there was a good chance you overheard or participated in a conversation about the state of the modern book world. Our decision to shift our focus from predominantly new books (in terms of inventory) to antiquarian books was due to no small part to the trajectory of the modern world of publishing. Don and I have turned this issue over and over in our minds, trying very hard to find some logical or even rational way in. To our minds modern publishers, for the most part, are on a downward spiral, tolling their own death knell before they even get there. They have given away the store to Amazon, who now has them over a barrel and they are walking away from the printed book and it’s sale in brick and mortar shops.

We firmly believe in books, and that they will never go away entirely, Fahrenheit 451 be damned. But their form is changing rapidly, no doubt, and their method of dissemination as well. The super book stores (Barnes & Noble, Borders) killed a large segment of the local independent market. Then the big box stores (Walmart, Costco) undercut the big guys and sent them under, taking along the way another round of indies. Now we hear that Home Depot is discontinuing the sale of books and others are rumored to follow. So where will we buy our books? Well, maybe it doesn’t matter because so many people are reading on electronic devices, be they phones, tablets or Kindles.  For most, these methods will suffice.  But for the rest of us?

This brings me round to the Kodak reference. I have been shooting photos all my life, had a short career as a wedding photographer, before spending a decade as a photo editor at some major magazines. I have a special place in my heart for the craft. When photography first became widely recognized there was much hue and cry that no one would ever paint again, who would need to when you could take an exact likeness of someone with a camera. While painting has changed in some senses in it’s import in society, it has certainly not died as a medium. I am choosing to think the same thing about the physical printed book.

But what does it say about photography that Kodak has declared bankruptcy and they will stop making slide film? Perhaps it just points to how fast our technology is changing these days. People shoot millions of images with their digital cameras, judging by the number of images I see on Facebook. They just don’t need to take the film to the lab and wait for it to be processed any longer. What is the analogy for books? Will the codex go back to an earlier form, created only for the collector? I suppose there are many possible options. I just sincerely hope they stay in the public sphere for any who wants to have access to them.  Rabelais will stand guard.


Table arrangements

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012

Having returned from our travels we are setting about to make the Mill a proper home for Rabelais in its new incarnation. We’ve got desks set up, shelves are installed and being filled slowly.  The boxes from Middle Street remain sealed.  The integration will need our full attention and there are other parts of the working space that are calling to us at the moment. Moving a business is a tricky proposition.  We were gratified by the expressions of good will from so many of our customers in our last weeks at 86 Middle Street.

Don at his desk
Rabelais is will remain in hibernation for another month. Boxes need to be unpacked. Systems need to be set up. Everything needs to find its home. The kitchen is still a work in progress(!). That wall of books behind Don?  All reference.  He is thrilled to have it all out of boxes and in one place.

I have set up a mini photo studio to shoot books for catalogs and the website.  It feels luxurious to have a space dedicated to photography that doesn’t need to be broken down after use.  If we need some pictures I can simply take the books to the studio, shoot, download and we’re good to go.  Simple.

The backdrop is a beautiful pale blue Irish linen tablecloth that was a wedding gift, and that Raleigh chewed a hole in shortly after he first came to live with us. It is actually a perfect backdrop so I am glad the item has another life.  Was very sad to discover the hole by the new dog years ago. Shooting digitally on a tripod means that I can make a studio anywhere that the light is decent. The mill has big windows and we are on the second floor facing West Southwest, so the light changes in ways that make for creativity in my photography.  A good thing because honestly books are a little dull for photographing.  But I am seeing it as a challenge to make dynamic photos out of static subjects.

Rabelais is also gearing up for the biggest book fair of the year: The New York Antiquarian Book Fair at the Park Avenue Armory, April 12-15. Don is furiously cataloguing new material from our travels and plotting what should and what should not come with us.  This will be our first outing at the New York fair, which is widely considered the most important book fair of the year. We are excited to see the reaction to our books and to meet new customers. For our first showing we will be sharing a booth with another dealer, which was not our choice.  We are happy to be sharing with our friends at Schubertiade, music goes so well with food, but wish that we could have had our own booth all to ourselves.  Space will be at a premium, so our choices of what to bring must be made very carefully.  If you are in New York  April 12th through the 15th, please stop in and say hello. There are some gorgeous new books that we will be bringing to New York.  And who knows there might even be some cookies….


Moved in

Thursday, January 19th, 2012

This past Monday, on one of the coldest days the year, we moved into the Mills in Biddeford.  It was a very seamless  move, we thank Local Muscle for making the whole experience smooth and without incident.  Being moved by a wine rep and a chef seemed very appropriate for Rabelais.  The following are some images both of the move and the moved in.

All packed up and ready to go.

Packing was pretty fast with help from Karen.

While we would both love to tear into the boxes and start setting the new space up, we’ve got some traveling to do first.  Two book fairs in California: San Francisco and Pasadena.  If you are in either of these towns please come visit us, click through on the link for details.

a season of menus

Wednesday, November 9th, 2011

Chanterelle Menu

This fall, there’s been some extra attention given to a much overlooked printed item of the restaurant world –  the menu. With the publication of Heller, Heimann and Mariani’s magnificent Menu Design in America, 1850-1965, we can all browse through the culinary, social and artistic kaleidoscope of the menu. Also, in observance of the 40th Anniversary of Chez Panisse, Princeton Architectural Press has published an illustrated survey of the menus lovingly designed and hand-printed by Patricia Curtan. It’s titled Menus for Chez Panisse.

Here at Rabelais, we’re joining in the menu celebration by exhibiting a small selection from our collection of American, English and Continental menus. For the next month, the walls of the store will be covered with menus, from the historical to the oddball. The lovely abstract menu above is designed by American minimalist Terry Winters for the vanguard Tribeca restaurant, Chanterelle.  Below is a menu from the Union Block Eating House in Taunton, MA, which proudly proclaims, “Hot Buck Wheat Cakes constantly on hand!” Sounds good to me. This weekend, at the Boston Antiquarian Book Fair, amongst the rare cookbooks and cocktail manuals, we’ll be exhibiting a collection of late 19th Century Viennese menus, as well as individual menus from the 19th & 20th Centuries.


Union Block Eating House Menu