Five modern reasons to go to this weekend's Antiquarian Book Fair
Own a little bit of history at a place where remembering the past is front of mind. The Toronto Antiquarian Book Fair has become a must-see annual event for its rare and lovely finds for every price bracket and interest. This year’s edition is being held Friday to Sunday at the Art Gallery of Ontario.
See a $600,000 (U.S.) book up close. You can buy it, too, if you have the cash (That’s $787,000 in Canadian dollars) burning a hole in your pocket. The Catholicon, written by Johannes Balbus and which became the standard Latin dictionary of the later Middle Ages, is one of the books American exhibitor Liber Antiquus is bringing up to the fair. This edition was published in 1469, has 373 leaves, stands more than a foot tall and its pages are decorated with penwork initials. It even has a direct connection with Gutenberg: he created the type. Plus, as Wright notes, “books printed before 1500 are pretty uncommon.”
Remember the original In Flanders Fields. Lest we forget, Sunday is also Remembrance Day. While John McRae died in 1918, his two brothers published a commemorative booklet in 1920 that contained his famous “In Flanders Fields” poem, plus the very last poem he wrote, and which Contact Editions is bringing to the fair. Other dealers, too, are bringing items related to military history: Robert Borden was the Canadian prime minister during World War I, and Reeve & Clarke is bringing speeches he delivered during that time. If you want to have a museum-quality book in your home, you could buy General Wolfe’s Instructions to Young Officers, which was written around the time of the battle on Quebec City’s Plains of Abraham. It’s rare, printed in 1768 in London, and there are very few copies (one is on display at the Toronto Public Library). At only $3,000, it’s more within reach for those who can’t splash out $600,000. Look at Patrick McGahern Books for the item.
An autograph hunter’s playground. If collecting autographs drives your passion, there are rare ones on offer. Letters from Nietzsche, the poet Rilke and D.H. Lawrence are just a few at David Mason books. Then there are the signed books: Alice Munro, Leonard Cohen. There are plenty of modern first editions, too: Michael Connelly, Louise Penny — name your genre.
Books not your bag? There’s plenty suitable for displaying and framing. You’ll be in the AGO, after all, and the fair’s motto is “Own an original by one of the masters.” Sure, this refers to first edition books, of which there are plenty, but it refers equally to old, rare maps, photographs, old advertising, trade cards, stock certificates — all suitable for collecting. Look at the Factory Girls “story” — a collaborative project by 20 artists (only 15 copies were produced of this 2014 work) where various objects are used to illustrate and tie together two tragedies: the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire in New York City and the 2012 Tazreen Fashions Factory fire in Bangladesh. This is being brought in by Baltimore’s Kelmscott Bookshop.
Not just for Muggles. While you’re not likely to find a first edition of the very first Harry Potter book (a first printing of The Philospher’s Stone goes for between $40,000 to $50,000, according to AbeBooks), there is plenty for Hogwarts aficionados with first Canadian editions and collector’s series. For fans of other children’s books, there’s a first UK edition of Anne of Avonlea, and some lovely editions of the old-school annuals Girls Own Stories.
The Toronto Antiquarian Book Fair is being held Nov. 9 to 11 at the Art Gallery of Ontario. It’s free with admission ($19.50 for adults) and runs Friday evening from 5 to 9, Saturday 10.30 to 5.30 and noon to 5 pm Sunday. Check them out on Instagram @torontoantiquarianbookfair and Facebook.
Deborah Dundas is the Star’s Books editor. She is based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: debdundas