2011 New York Antiquarian Book Fair

Despite our patience on the waiting list, no exhibiting dealers dropped out, and the Armory’s dimensions failed to expand. So this year we were shoppers and not exhibitors. We arrived in the city in time to attend the receptions at Jim Cummings and Ursus on Madison Avenue and found it very pleasant to first see colleagues and friends in such pleasant surroundings, drink in hand, and not schlepping or unpacking boxes. Thanks to both for their hospitality.

All the time aware that business was already in progress over on Park Avenue, Samantha and I took the day on Thursday to visit friends and shop for fabric in the Garment District. We also took lunch at the Batali/Bastianich behemoth, Eataly, in the old Toy Building on 23rd Street. While New York is constantly offering up something new, this place is a riot – Harrod’s food court crossed with a desperate attempt to rebuild some pre-Berlusconi respect for Italy.

The Thursday night opening event seemed more energetic than some recently past years, perhaps because people were repelled by the offering of Yellow Tail and carrot sticks at the bar and therefore spent more time on the floor looking at books. Opening night remains a social occasion, and it’s difficult to get up and down the aisles without a great deal of conversation, so we accepted a leisurely pace and completed only one and a half – of five – aisles (approximately 200 dealers). We spoke with London-based Rick Gekoski about the dangers of reading the ‘comments section’ of his own blog posts, and with Sophie Schneideman who was exhibiting for the first time. We found a few things to purchase, and so much to admire. Among the many antiquarian treasures, we found one new book, bookseller Peter Grogan’s Companion to Drink. It’s an A-Z smartly covering much of what one need’s to know to drink intelligently. We’ll be ordering copies for our shop.

We made up for the slow pace of Thursday by completing a full round of the fair on Friday. It seems the foreign dealers were in full force, in particular the French and the Italians. The French have always had a strong showing in New York, both in number and in quality, but the Italians seem much more robust than usual. And the books of the avant-gardes – Russian, Italian, Japanese, French and American – were there in force. Ten years ago, only a small handful of dealers exhibited the avant-gardes. In New York I had the opportunity to examine three copies of a Russian book which twenty years ago was thought to exist in one incomplete copy only. The world, and its books, have changed a lot since then.  The impact of the new generation of ABAA members and their fresh approached to bookselling was visible at this show. Dealers like Lorne Bair, Brian Cassidy, Ian Kahn, and others have, I think, outlooks which can generate new appeal for outlier collecting interests.

The high spots in our field (cookery) were stunning. We admired a 1494 Platina in the Pregliasco booth and an Elizabethan medical, scientific and cookery manuscript offered by R.L. Rootenberg. Sophie Schneideman offered a group of Elizabeth David letters, which were thankfully snapped up by collector friends. Before the show, we acquired a first Joy of Cooking in the very rare dust jacket and crowed a bit about it. But there in Peter Stern’s booth was an inscribed copy of the same. Had we been exhibiting, I might have been tempted… But the book sold quickly anyway, so the temptation was removed, thankfully.  Some modest but satisfying buying was accompanied by less modest and very satisfying eating. Excellent and enjoyable meals were shared with James Jaffe and the brothers Goldwasser at Aldea on Thursday night, and with Dan Wechsler, Pablo Butcher and Alex Obercian at Vandaag in the West Village on Friday.

Saturday,  we headed to the west side to pick up a collection of  rare NY menus. Emerging from the subway at 42nd street, we were met with pounding disco beat of ‘I’ve Got the Power’. We assumed a street performer, but instead found a sea of union labor in the midst of a protest. Teachers, steelworkers, government employees and electricians raised voices thick with the exotic dialects of Staten Island, New Jersey and Long Island, and we felt a million miles away from the Park Avenue Armory and the book fair.

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