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Dispatches from this year’s New York International Antiquarian Book Fair.

Olivia Rutigliano

April 25, 2022, 9:19am

The New York International Antiquarian Book Fair, held annually in the Park Avenue Armory in Manhattan, has returned! This weekend (from Thursday, April 21st to Sunday, April 24th), hundreds of rare and antique book dealers from all over the world set up stalls and shelves to display their special and historic items of note, all of which were available for purchase.

Following last year’s cancellation of the physical fair due to COVID-19 concerns, this year’s event got off to an excellent start, with the bookselling and collecting communities glad to finally assemble together once more.

Among the innumerable treasures on display was a miniature book handmade by Charlotte Brontë in 1839 when she was 13 years old. That book, “A Book of Rhymes,” was last seen in public at an auction in 1916, and by Thursday’s opening day had already sold at an estimated price of $1.25 million. (Although it had already been purchased, the book remained on display throughout the fair.) It was on display at the stall belonging to the James Cummins Booksellers of New York City, which sold the book together with the Maggs Bros. of London.

After seeing the minuscule Brontë volume, I paid a visit to the stall belonging to London’s Jarndyce Antiquarian Booksellers. They were selling two remarkable, similar documents from the same period: two diaries written by a young girl named Emily Shore from 1831-1832. Emily died at 19, but in her short life wrote three volumes of poetry and three novels, as well as other works—but the only texts of hers that were ever published were her diaries, heavily edited and published by her sisters many years later, in 1891. Not many of her notebooks survive, but Jarndyce had acquired the first two volumes, written in tiny, precise, perfect handwriting.

Shortly after, I made my way over to the booth run by Type Punch Matrix, the Washington, D.C.-based dealers of eclectic literary materials, who were displaying Amy Winehouse’s personal library, including her own script from a school production of “Little Shop of Horrors” in which she played, of all things, Mr. Mushnik.

Afterwards, I headed over to the booth belonging to New York City’s legendary children’s bookstore, Chelsea’s Books of Wonder, among whose many special rare volumes was a handwritten manuscript by Shel Silverstein.

And I made sure to stop by Honey and Wax Booksellers, among whose marvelous items included a French hot air balloon catalogue from 1879, and an invitation to the famous private afterparty following Walt Whitman’s lecture “The Death of Abraham Lincoln” from 1887.

And of course, at the fair were countless first and rare editions, signed volumes, and other special ephemera from throughout literary history.

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