The 63rd Annual New York International Antiquarian Book Fair will take over the drill hall at New York City’s historic Park Avenue Armory this April 27th through 30th. The 55,000 square foot space will be packed with rare booksellers from all over the world and their unique treasures. Along with books, the vendors will also be selling maps, historical documents, photographs, prints, memorabilia, and ephemera covering a wide variety of topics such as art, design, popular culture, science, medicine, literature, history, gastronomy, fashion, music, philosophy, and much more. While the idea of an antiquarian book fair might strike some as stuffy and boring, this selection is anything but. Here, we take a look at 10 of the rarest and most surprising items up for sale, from a book about bread to fake band memorabilia and photographs from space!
1. The Book of Bread
One of the most quirky items up for sale at the New York book fair will be an extremely rare “edition de luxe” of The Book of Bread brought by Roland Belgrave Vintage Photography. This early photobook of life-sized photographic reproductions of bread loaf cross sections was originally intended as a technical monograph on bread-making for manufacturers. Today, the book is recognized as a work of conceptual art.
Nineteenth-century photobooks like this one were created to serve as an archive in which the things of the world were stored and cataloged. Only 350 copies of the “edition de luxe” were made. What sets this edition apart from the standard edition is that it is bound in morocco rather than the usual publisher’s green cloth. It also contains more pages and different advertisements. The most significant differentiation however is that the “edition de luxe” features 10 bromide prints, as opposed to just 2 in the standard edition. Inside, there are images of different types of bread from a crumby loaf to a prize tin loaf.
2. Billie Holiday’s Bar Tab
At the New York International Antiquarian Book Fair, you won’t just find books. Vendors also have historical documents, photographs, memorabilia, and other ephemera. Schubertiade Music and Arts, a Brooklyn-based dealer and gallery of “rare and interesting offerings for collectors, scholars, music lovers, gift-givers, museums, and libraries” will be bringing such items.
Among the most surprising of their wares is this Ritalin Prescription for Billie Holiday (1915–1959) and a bar tab that the jazz singer signed with “Lady Day.” Holiday, who was born Eleanora Fagan, was given the Lady Day nickname by jazz saxophonist Lester Young. This pair of documents is on sale for $3,500.
3. A Book of Cats
Anything to do with cats usually gets a lot of attention, so there are sure to be many buyers vying for Eric Chiam Kline Bookseller’s rare copy of A Book of Cats. This book features 20 illustrated plates of etchings of cats and kittens by acclaimed Japanese-French artist Leonard Tsuguharu Foujita (1886-1958). Each cat image has its own name and is accompanied by a poem about the respective cat by British writer Michael Joseph (1897-1958).
The feline etchings in this first edition copy from 1930 are adorable! As cats pose, rest, or play, Foujita brings out their own individual characters in his lifelike etchings. All images have the artist’s dated signature in English and Japanese printed on the plate. This book is selling for $60,000.
4. NASA Photos from Space
Barry Lawrence Ruderman Antique Maps will be bringing a selection of original NASA photographs, including the photo seen above taken during the Apollo 8 mission to the moon in December 1968. That mission, crewed by astronauts Frank Borman, James Lovell, and William Anders, marked the first time a crewed spacecraft orbited the Moon.
This photograph was taken by Apollo 8 Lunar Module Pilot William Anders. It captures a phenomenon called “earthrise,” where the Earth appears to be rising as we usually see the sun or moon rise from our planetary vantage point. The image was captured as the spacecraft came around from the far side of the moon in its third orbit. The historic image offers a powerful change in perspective and left a lasting imprint on Anders who said, “We’d spent most of our time on Earth training about how to study the Moon, how to go to the Moon; it was very lunar oriented. And yet, when I looked up and saw the Earth coming up on this very stark, beat up lunar horizon, and Earth that was the only color that we could see, a very fragile looking Earth, a very delicate looking Earth, I was immediately almost overcome by the thought that here we came all this way to see the Moon, and yet the most significant thing we’re seeing is our own home planet, the Earth.”
5. Ephemera and Books from Actor Eric Idle
More ephemera at the New York book fair will come from Johnson Rare Books & Archives, which will bring highlights from the private library of revered British actor Eric Idle, a founding member of the Monty Python comedy troupe. Idle’s library of more than 4,000 books encompasses British history, literature, rock and roll, along with humor, comedy, and musical theater. Many of his books are signed by famous friends like George Harrison and Ringo Starr of The Beatles.
One amusing piece from Idle’s collection that will be at the fair is a signed concert poster for “The Rutles,” a Beatles parody band that Idles founded with Neil Innes. The band was formed for a sketch on the BBC television comedy series Rutland Weekend Television, but they actually went on to tour and recorded two albums. Other highlights from Idle’s collection that will be on sale include a Dictionary of International Slurs and a 19th-century book on The Comic History of England.
6. “Madeline’s Rescue” Illustration
At the New York Internation Antiquarian Book Fair, you can expect to see many of your favorite literary characters. In this item from Battledore LTD, we see the beloved children’s book character Madelaine in a bit of a precarious situation. This full-page illustration shows the French schoolgirl being dragged from a “watery grave” by a heroic dog who becomes her pet.
The illustration is from the book “Madelien’s Rescue,” published in 1953. It was the second book in the Madeline series by Ludwig Bemelman. Bemelman, who also did the illustrations, won a Caldecott Medal for illustration in 1954.
7. Autographed West Side Story Book
Peter Harrington Rare Books will have a wide selection of items at the fair, including this 1958 copy of A West Side Story signed by all four creators of the original musical: choreographer Jerome Robbins, composer Leonard Bernstein, songwriter Stephen Sondheim, and playwright Arthur Laurents. No other book is known to contain all four signatures.
West Side Story is a quintessential New York tale. The play debuted on Broadway at the Winter Garden Theatre in September 1957. With more dancing than any previous Broadway production, the show won Robbins a Tony Award for Best Choreography. The original run lasted for 732 performances. This book was published by Random House as part of their series of “Recent Broadway Hits” six months after the Broadway premiere. This copy was owned by theatre and film critic for the Sunday Express, Clive Hirschhorn.
8. The Discoverie of Witchcraft
Another prized tome from Peter Harrington Rare Books, the largest antiquarian book dealer in Europe, is this 16th-century first edition of the most important work on witchcraft in English,The Discoverie of Witchcraft, written by Scot Reginald (d. 1599). Scot, a Kentish engineer and surveyor in Elizabethian England, didn’t believe that witchcraft was real and strove to prove that all of the witches executed were innocent.
In this book, he aims to demystify witchcraft by explaining how tricks and illusions were performed. He also traces the sociological origins of witch accusations, describing those who confessed to being witches as either deluded or the victims of torture. Scot rejects the evidence of previous writers on witchcraft such as Bodin, and denies that there is a biblical sanction for the execution of witches. This fundamental text on witchcraft was known to and often criticized by other renowned writers of the time and in the following centuries. Scot’s skepticism and process of deducing the truth amid obscurity are echoed today in the writings of modern magicians and scientists such as James Randi, Richard Dawkins, and others. The price of this rare book is $160,000. Along the lines of witches, a first edition, hardcover copy of Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone will also be for sale, by B & B Rare Books, for $225,000.
9. A 17th-Century Celestial Atlas
Along with books, maps are a popular item to find at the antiquarian book fair. The book featured above is one of the most sought-after celestial atlases in existence. Produced by Dutch cartographer Andreas Cellarius in 1661, Harmonia Macrocosmica is priced at a whopping $395,000.
Considered Cellarius’s magnum opus, this map was made to illustrate competing theories of celestial mechanics, or how the solar system worked. The universe’s heavenly bodies are depicted in vibrant colors throughout 29 extremely detailed, hand-colored, double-page engraved plates in the book. The images take theories put forth by great thinkers and scientists like Ptolemy, Tycho Brahe, Nicolaus Copernicus, as well as lesser-known figures such as Aratus of Soli, and present them in an accessible way through images.
10. A Pictorial Description of Broadway
We love to see items connected to the history of New York City, and this item from Charles Agvent gives us an exciting glimpse into the past. Pictured above are pages from A Pictorial Description of Broadway by the Mail & Express from 1899. This first edition folio contains 74 colored pages measuring 17 by 6 inches, covered with images of Broadway from Steamship Row and Bowling Green all the way up to 59th Street. This book, on sale at the New York Antiquarian book fair, offers a rare block-by-block survey of turn-of-the-century New York City.