Posted by boston.com December 5, 2013 12:10 PM
By Rachel Vazquez, Globe Correspondent
In the technological age we live in today, it is no surprise that 33 percent of Americans own either an e-book or a tablet, according to the Pew Research Center. Nearly everything in our world has turned digital. There are children out there today who will live life never knowing what it’s like without a computer. Someday soon our children may never even read from a leather-bound book, again, let alone a primitive edition. And although a book may no longer be appreciated for its literary value alone, we cannot deny the true object of art that it is. The annual Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair reminds us of the innate aesthetic importance that a book has.
Hosted by the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America, Boston celebrated 37 years of its antiquarian community at Hynes Convention Center Nov. 15-17, 2013. The Book Fair has grown tremendously over the years and is no longer a gathering for merely the Brits and the Americans, but really a congregation of all antiquarians, according to Betty Fulton, who has been the fair’s producer for the last 25 years. Book dealers across the globe travel here, most of them annually, to market and mingle among their community, and those exploring it.
“One of the goals that we have for the fair is to really expand the audience to the younger generation so that they can start to realize the appeal of real books as opposed to digital books,” said Fulton.
Fulton admits people may not understand exactly what a book fair is until they get into the door, so Fulton and her team promoted an exclusive student discount online and through university publications, which admitted entrance at no cost. ABAA closed out the weekend at Boston’s fair with a solid student turnout, and what Fulton said she expected: satisfied dealers and antiquarian attendees.
Aligned in five aisles of 24 booths, polyester curtains, which matched the dated “ICEE” blue-colored carpet, separated all 120-book dealers in a seemingly vast and fluorescently-lit conference room. Individual dealers filled its’ micro-sized storefront in the shape of a booth with an array of antiquarian inventory. An antiquarian book is valued as a unique physical object, rather than for the content inside. As stated on the fair’s website, “the value may derive from the edition, the quality of the printing, binding, or illustrations, the provenance, etc.” Dealers said that they see the weekend not only as a means to make a profit, but also as an ample opportunity for the antiquarian community to come together.
The book trade has significantly changed over the last ten years due to the Internet, according James Hallgate of Lucius Books in the United Kingdom. He said the majority of his business is done online or over the phone, although his book store still stands.
“It’s actually nice to meet people in the flesh and introduce ourselves to other people,” said Hallgate.
Hallgate and his wife have been attending Boston’s fair for the last 12 years. He said he got the bug as a kid from his father who collected novels. However, it was a visual thing that sparked Hallgate’s interest, as he was merely attracted to the dust jacket artwork of books. Hallgate said, for him it’s the thrill of the chase, however, the antiquarian community is full of all sorts of individuals whom also appreciate many different aspects of an antiquarian book.
“You can get quite a good idea of people by what they collect and what they buy,” Hallgate said, “some people really come alive when they talk about the subjects they’re interested in.” He said he appreciates learning from the collectors just as much as he loves hunting down the books to sell. “I can spend ten years looking for something and the minute I find it I’m kind of satisfied, I’m done,” said Hallgate. “I want to find a home for it so I can find something else.”
Currently, Hallgate has been seeking an owner to claim one of his most prized possessions: a very rare copy of the classic fantasy novel, “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” which he has held onto for the past 18 months. Not only is Hallgate’s copy a first edition, and not only was it signed by the author, C.S. Lewis, but Lewis actually signed it for Pauline Baynes, the illustrator of the book.
So how much does an antiquarian book reigning from the author to the artist run for, you may ask? As Fulton said, it’s a “sticker shock for the uninitiated,” otherwise known as $56,000. So although college-aged students can’t afford to actively participate in the antiquarian community, there is still room for the appreciation of art, and Fulton encourages the younger generation’s involvement for years to come at the Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair.
This article is being published under an arrangement between the Boston Globe and the Boston University News Service.