report from the front – Ann Arbor Antiquarian Book Fair

While on vacation in Michigan earlier this month, I had a chance to drop in on the Ann Arbor Antiquarian Book Fair (May 6). Held in the ballroom of the Michigan Union building on the UM campus, it featured about 40 dealers. Prices were very good, with many books under $50 (even a rack at $3.95), mixed with the usual thousand-dollar gems.

Ephemera was much in evidence, including maps, prints, and pamphlets. Americana and regional works and children’s books also were abundant, but hypermodern fiction was hard to find. Of the booths I was able to visit, three that stood out (either for interesting books or sheer friendliness), were Volume I Books (nice to meet you Aimee), Magina Books, and Booklegger’s Used Books.

While most booths were a pleasure to go through, a few annoyances did crop up, such as the dealer selling first editions in unmarked facsimile jackets. Sure, there was a card in the book noting the DJ was a facsimile, but will it be there the next time the book is sold?
Deceptive practices also drive me crazy – is it really customer friendly to sell a book as a first printing, only to have the customer disappointedly find out later it’s in a second state DJ? (This was not a case of oversight, the dealer said she knew it was a second state when I pointed it out, but still had no interest in adding that to the writeup.)

On the plus side, the fair featured some engaging specialty booths. It was a pleasure to talk with Jon Buller, of Bessenberg Bindery, who said he is one of Michigan’s last custom binders, and who showed off some gorgeous one-of-a-kind bindings, most in tooled leather with silver and gold insets, as he is currently experimenting with metalworking. Andrew Halldorson of Sleepy Hollow Bookshop, who specializes in DJ/paper restoration, brought illustrations and examples of “before” and “after” jacket restorations, while First Folio Rare Books offered an excellent display of fore-edge paintings. These type of specialists and displays certainly broaden the appeal of book fairs – my guests for the day (okay, my parents), novice fairgoers, really enjoyed learning about these more esoteric aspects of the trade.

After the show, we headed over to Hollander’s, the decorative paper specialists, as I had to see the paper for myself. Wow! A salesperson told us they had over 1,000 different papers, and the stunning, many colored & textured display was quite convincing. Would paper collecting be too strange a hobby?

-Rebekah Bartlett
Coelacanth Books
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