Sunday, October 31, 2010

An Antiquarian Affair, Part I

 With my copy of A Game of Hide and Seek by Elizabeth Taylor tucked into my bag for reading on the train, I caught the 9:20 to Toronto for the Antiquarian Book Fair held at the Convention Centre.  Arriving fifteen minutes early, I waited for the doors to open with a dozen other gentleman.  I desperately wished that I had worn something tweedy and there was definitely the aroma of tobacco in the air.
 Never having been to this sort of thing before I wasn't sure of the etiquette.  Just how much fondling of the material was allowed?  Others put me at ease with their respectful flipping of the pages but it did take me some time to feel comfortable pulling treasures from their place on the shelf.  We were asked to check our coats and bags and I realized that my pen was left behind so unfortunately I can't remember all of the prices.  For me it was all about the wonder but there was a fair bit of dealing and handshaking taking place.  I heard one gentleman tell another that he had maxed out his line of credit *gulp*.

 It was fantastic to see Persephone titles as they would have appeared originally.  This copy of Domestic Cookery by a Lady was inscribed by a man to his wife and dated 1845, the price was $175.  I hope his good lady was as thrilled with her copy as I am with my grey-covered one!

 This series of four AA Milne books are first editions and signed by the author, the price tag is over 29,000 GBP.  They were behind glass so no fondling here but oh, they were charming.

There was a fair bit of Virgina Woolf to be had.  I had visions of Virginia writing away and then collaborating with Vanessa over drawings for the cover art whilst cups of tea and biscuits were passed around.  I wish that I could recollect what this book was going for but the lowest price I can remember for a Woolf book was $250 for The Writer's Diary.

I have yet to read a full-length novel by PG Wodehouse but was drawn to the comedic titles and illustrations for the cover art.  These tended to be priced in the $600 - $800 range so I admired then and then carefully returned them to their display case.  Obviously, for me the day wasn't about a shopping expedition, we have a post-secondary education to pay for.  It was about seeing certain books in their original form, the way they looked before I discovered them all crisp and sterile at our local chain bookshop.  On the train ride home I dug out my copy of A Game of Hide and Seek and wondered what it looked like hot off the press in 1951.  Trade paperback is affordable and convenient but not nearly as nice.


  1. Darlene, I have a rather battered 1951 copy - a Foyles Book Club edition which when it came out would have cost 3/6. (That's 17.5p for those who are too young to remember!) I can't remember what I paid for it, I shouldn't think it was more than £1 or two.
    It's rather yellowed, but you would love the jacket and its picture of a half-timbered mock-Tudor house with flowers in the garden, and if you look closely there's a couple behind the leaded lights of a bedroom window. Although, actually, it doesn't look anything like Harriet's house in the book!
    I'm aching to read this again now that I've pulled it down from the shelf but I'm limping through something for bookgroup first!

  2. Darlene - I was excited to comment that I have the 1951 edition buy see that Mary beat me to it. It's the book I own most multiples of as I have it on original green virago and virago hrdback too.

  3. What a fun thing to see but also well out of my own price range. Yesterday I was shopping and wanted to buy a new shower curtain--the one I wanted was $41 and that nearly floored me. Needless to say I didn't buy it, but I bet it would still be peanuts to some people! Imagine maxing out your credit card for a book (well, I might imagine that but must make myself say no). Love the Pooh first editions, though! :)

  4. I hope you enjoyed your first antiquarian book fair. As you quickly picked up, it is fine to touch a book that is on a table or on open shelves, but you should ask the dealer if you want to look at something in a glass display case. I work for a rare book dealer, and enjoy going to fairs and showing our treasures to people who really love books. I write about items from our inventory each week on (usually on Thursdays). If you ever get a chance to go the New York Antiquarian Book Fair held each April, grab it. It's amazing because so many European dealers are there, and their stuff is breathtaking (and breathtakingly expensive, but it's so fun to look!).

  5. It is simply heavenly to even think about an antiquarian book fair. I've been to a few, and only a few, and just loved the aura about them, even though just about anything and everything was out of my price range. Sigh.

  6. PS: there is a copy of the 1951 cover here

    It's the second from the left, s described by Mary.

  7. Oh what fun! Though I would have wanted to buy everything!! It's nice that they let you touch them - all such places I've been to have everything behind glass cases, which is very unwelcoming I think.

    Original Elizabeth Taylors are quite easily found in the UK - I have all the Virago paperbacks but I've seen the hardbacks for 1 pound or so quite frequently. When I go back to England I'll send you some!

  8. I've never seen the hardbacks Rachel!

  9. mary, Thank you so much for looking! I've been able to have a peek thanks to Verity and can see for myself just how charming your copy is. I hope you get to read this one (again?) soon, it's fantastic!

    Verity, Thanks so much for sending along that link! All of the covers are lovely but the hardcover with the house is particularly charming.

    Danielle, I know! It made the $40 brand-spanking new hardcovers at Nicholas Hoare look cheap in comparison! The price of a lot of things floor me these days, Danielle *sigh*.

    StuckInABook, Wouldn't you just...and I can't think of a more worthy custodian.

    Mistress Cynica, Thank you so much for the link and I will definitely be checking have a fascinating occupation!

    lifeonthecutoff, You hit the nail on the head with 'the aura'. I was thoroughly in awe of the history and imagining all the hands these books have passed through over the years.

    bookssnob, You are so sweet but I just may be back there before you so I'll be sure to take an empty carry-on piece just for some Oxfam treasures! ET had a wicked sense of humour I think, there are some killer lines in AGoHaS.

  10. I'd never have thought of going to an antiquarian book fair but your post has made me want to go. Like you say, not necessarily to shop, but to see how books looked on publication. Any Austens?

  11. Vintage Reading, There was Austen to be had! Sense and Sensibility, Emma and Pride and Prejudice were there. The earlier editions were behind glass but I did handle a very worn copy of S & S in very old type. Despite some staining and yellowing, it was a lovely and exciting thing to behold.

  12. I had to do my drooling on the net being U.K based but, ooh there were some treasures:) Loved the "Winnie the Pooh's" & adored the first edition "Black Beauty". Lucky you to be able to visit.

  13. Ali Mal, Thanks for stopping by! I know how you feel, I did a fair bit of drooling myself!