The Antiquarian Book Fair: from Sondheim’s letters to a discovery by Brontë

The New York International Antiquarian Book Fair, which returns to the Park Avenue Armory this weekend after a two-year pandemic hiatus, is one of the world’s premier gatherings of the rare book tribe. For more casual visitors, it can also be a dizzying experience of information overload.

Yes, there are museum-like exhibits of beautiful bookbindings, illuminated manuscripts, and historical documents, with spectacular lighting (and eye-popping prices). But the fair, which runs from Thursday evening through Sunday, also features stalls filled with pulp paperbacks, old advertisements, zines, board games, cards, photographs and all kinds of ephemera at accessible prices that challenge all hidden notions of “rare books”.

Here’s a sampling of the offerings at more than 200 stalls, from neatly curated bookcases to handwritten notes that speak to the power of pen and paper to stop time and conjure up lost worlds.

Following Stephen Sondheim’s death last November, social media was flooded with images of the notes he regularly sent to famous and non-famous theater colleagues, offering praise and encouragement. Schubertiade Music offers a range of Sondheimiana, including a collection of 70 letters and postcards ($20,000) written over four decades to his close friend Larry Miller. In one, Sondheim describes a trip to Europe in 1969: “In Vienna we were treated with the dubious pleasure of an act of ‘West Side Story’ in German. Funnier than the original, anyway, even though it’s billed as “Bernstein’s West Side Story.” Also on offer are autographed programs, sheet music, and a mid-1930s class photograph ($1,000) showing a young Sondheim dressed as a clown.

“Ball or mushroom rose slowly & majestically & heavily & brightly – bright red purple [with] blue edge for a few seconds. So it was rising with streamers falling vertically into the stem and out of the cap.

So wrote a member of the Manhattan Project Medical Group on July 16, 1945, after witnessing the world’s first detonation of a nuclear weapon, in the New Mexico desert, known as the Trinity Test. . Boston Rare Maps and Barry Lawrence Ruderman Antique Maps jointly offer a 300-page treasure trove of little-seen handwritten diagrams, memos, maps and notes generated by the medical group, which was tasked with overseeing health and safety. The documents ($1.5 million) – which include what sellers say is the first written use of the term “mushroom cloud” – were buried in the military archives at Lowry Air Force Base in Colorado until the 1960s, when they were declassified and then sold to a private collector when the base was dismantled. The material reflects the tensions between preserving secrecy while protecting populations downwind from nuclear fallout, as well as the tension between unbiased scientific observation and sheer fear.

London dealer Maggs Bros is offering an autographed lithograph, circa 1857, of Ira Aldridge, the first actor of African descent known to play Othello ($13,500). Born in 1807, Aldridge attended the African Free School in New York and acted in William Brown’s African Theater before emigrating to England to seek better prospects. At first he played African roles, sometimes written expressly for him. His turn as Othello came in 1832, when he stepped in after the famous Edmund Kean collapsed on stage and died. Audiences loved it, but critics were outraged. Management closed the theater after two performances, and Aldridge did not appear on the mainstream London stage for decades. The portrait, taken during one of his triumphant tours of the European continent, “acknowledges his work as an artist rather than a mere curiosity”, according to the listing.

Jonathan Hill Bookseller from New York offers a rare first edition of Antonio Scaino’s 1555 treatise on tennis ($45,000), believed to be the first book on the game. popular time among kings and commoners, though bitter disputes often broke out over the rules (besides that changing?). Scaino, a philosopher, apparently wrote the book after a debate with his patron, the Duke of Ferrara (and owner of no less than six courts), about how to award a point. It’s unclear who won that one, but scholars are still debating the validity of Scaino’s obscure theory about the origins of the game’s weird scoring system.

One of the stars of the fair is a miniature book created in 1829 by 13-year-old Charlotte Brontë ($1.25 million), which recently resurfaced after being thought lost for nearly a century. But Brontë and his siblings weren’t the only word-crazed British kids of the era. Jarndyce Antiquarian Booksellers of London offers two journal volumes, 1831-2, by 11-year-old Emily Shore. The precocious Emily, who died at 19, wrote three volumes of poetry, three novels and several stories, which have gone unpublished. She is known today through her diaries, which were published by her sisters in 1891 in heavily edited form. Today, only a handful of the dozen notebooks she filled him with in tiny, meticulous handwriting have survived. The two on sale here offer an unfiltered window into domestic life of a time when children, especially girls, were seen but rarely heard.

London dealer Peter Harrington spent a decade building One Hundred Seconds to Midnight, a collection of 800 works tracing over 2,000 years of climatology and environmentalism, Aristotle’s ‘meteorology’ and 19th century weather records to iconic NASA ‘Earthrise’ photography and contemporary ‘cli-fi’ novels. The dealer’s booth will feature highlights from the collection ($2.5 million), which tracks “both our recording of data and also our emotional response to it,” as a video tour of the collection puts it. . Part of the profits will be donated to the World Land Trust.

Type Punch Matrix, a Washington, DC bookseller that aims to make collecting more accessible and diverse, is known for its forward-thinking stock that pushes the boundaries of the rare book category. Their major offerings this year include a collection of more than 220 books that once belonged to singer Amy Winehouse ($135,000), about 50 of which will be on display. (Among the occasionally heavily annotated titles are an annotated script of “Little Shop of Horrors” from Winehouse’s playhouse days, and a copy of Mikhail Bulgakov’s “The Master and Margarita” described as having the look “like he’s been thrown in the bath”. .”) On a tighter budget? Dealers are also offering a blank copy of Gideon Sams’ “The Punk” (1977), often considered the first punk novel, written, the story goes, by a 14-year-old British “closet punk” as part of a school assignment, and published after his mother rescued him from the trash. It comes with the original dust jacket, complete with an actual safety pin piercing the nose of Johnny Rotten’s image ($500).

New York International Antiquarian Book Fair

April 21-24 at Park Avenue Armory, Manhattan;

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