Saturday, April 21, 2018

Discovering The Antiquarian Within You

Last year I attended the Antiquarian Book show in NYC. There were over 100 exhibitors, some from as far away as Japan and Germany, displaying some of their best wares. These prized possessions were selling for thousands of dollars, sometimes tens of thousands. 

What I didn't quite understand was why a book from the 13th century that was selling for around $25,000 was standing up and left in an unsupported position. This seemed to repeat itself from display to display. Though these books are solidly made and have lasted centuries, I couldn't figure out why they weren't boxed up or firmly encased on their flat side. These books seemingly would benefit from a protective casing.  It is the equivalent of parents who hold their infants in awkward positions, not fully supporting their head and neck. The site of it makes you cringe.

There were many single sheets of book pages for sale. By selling 700-year-old pages as if they were pieces of art it makes the total sum of the book's pages worth more than what the book itself would sell for. But even there, I saw $12,000 pages for sale and they were in what looked like a cardboard holder with plastic around it. Put that in a nice frame. They sold ten-thousand-dollar items as if a ten-dollar comic book was retailing at a comic book show. I take care of my 35-year-old baseball cards better than some of these expensive items.

Of course if anyone knows how to tenderly care for our rich collection of old or classic first editions it is these exhibitors who make a living trading in our rich cultural history. If you think about it, it is these dealers that help society determine what is to be valued and preserved. They are the curators of our publishing past.

They preserve and promote books but  do not do much to inspire the reading of them. Books become collector's items, taking intellect and creativity and commoditizing then as if untouchable jewelry or  pieces of unbuilt real estate.

Like with any hobby or industry, the pricing of these items can be highly subjective, but are based on a number of factors, from rarity, age and condition to the significance of the book or writer. In the digital age, the contents of any book can be made available but these books represent pieces of publishing and world history.

Collecting books also promotes the existence of physical books. Fifty years from now people will not be collecting ebooks. So by preserving the past, we help promulgate a future that values physical books.

There easily had to be more than fifty million dollars worth of books on display at the local armory, and yet, it sometimes had the feel of being at a swap shop on a Sunday where used watches and T-shirts are typically sold by the bundle.

As a novice to book collecting I believe the show would have benefited from a section where speakers can be heard discussing trends and issues confronting the antiquarian book industry. I also think the exhibitors could have done a better job, perhaps through signage or fliers, highlighting what they are known for. Their specialties were not always obvious to me.

But I  thoroughly enjoyed attending the show and recommend you visit one in your neighborhood.

“To buy books would be a good thing if we could also buy the time to read them; as it is, the mere act of purchasing them is often mistaken for the assimilation and mastering of their contents.”
--Arthur Schopenhauer, ‘On Reading and Books’, Parerga and Paralipomena (1851)

“We all know that books burn – yet we have the greater knowledge that books cannot be killed by fire.  People die, but books never die.”
--Franklin D. Roosevelt, to American Booksellers Association (23 April 1942)

“If the book be false in its facts, disprove them; if false in its reasoning, refute it.  But for God’s sake, let us hear freely from both sides.
--Thomas Jefferson, quoted in A Bookman’s Weekly (25 Jan. 1971)

“Never lead hooks, for no one ever returns them; the only books I have in my library are books that other folk have lent me.”

--Anatole France, La Vie Litteraire (1888-92)

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Brian Feinblum’s insightful views, provocative opinions, and interesting ideas expressed in this terrific blog are his alone and not that of his employer or anyone else. You can – and should -- follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels much more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2018. Born and raised in Brooklyn, he now resides in Westchester. His writings are often featured in The Writer and IBPA’s Independent.  This was named one of the best book marketing blogs by Book Baby and recognized by Feedspot in 2018 as one of the top book marketing blogs. Also named by as a "best resource.”

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