Helen Frankenthaler, a dominant figure in the abstract art world watered my plants when I went away for the weekend.  She lived diagonally across the street from me on a point of land surrounded on three sides by Long Island Sound.  We were neighbors sharing the same street address.  I don’t remember how we started to walk together, but somehow when she was in residence, we galloped (Helen set a brisk pace) across Shippan Point.  Our conversation included the mundane events of everyday life.  Maintenance was a favorite topic of Helen’s for she was frugal, and the cost of running 2 households, one in New York City, the other in the Country was costly.

She was famous, I wasn’t, and, yet there were common threads between us.  She went to Bennington, I went to Sarah Lawrence.  I loved art and the arts.  I wrote surreal, short stories rarely published.  Occasionally she critiqued them. At one point in her early life, she had debated whether to be an artist or a writer.  I had the patience to listen to her recount the chore of opening a new show for her work.

Our interest in nature and the nautical terrain was obvious—we loved it.  Helen would frequently eat on her beach—- a blue and white checked tablecloth fluttering in the breeze.

Like two kids, we traded:  she could use my pool when I went to Vermont for the weekend, if she watered my plants hanging from the back of my house.

Early one summer evening, as I relaxed by my pool, Helen joined me.  Her strokes were swift and strong.  Before she stretched out on a lounge chair, she decided to water the plants overhead.  As she gathered one in her arm, a hose in the other, a bird’s nest was taking shape in the pot.  She looked up at me, shook one hand “Italian style.” ”Multi fragile,” she whispered.

Thanks for the memories, old friend.

 

 

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Back to Boston for the first time since the pandemic, the in-person format had an impact on the performance of the 3rd ABAA Virtual Book Fair: Boston. This year the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America (ABAA) decided to combine the convenience of online commerce with the community of in-person book fairs. The 44th Boston Book Fair Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair (BIABF), returned to the Hynes Convention Center in Boston’s Back Bay from November 11th -13th, 2022. The online event called the ABAA Virtual Book Fair: Boston Holiday Edition took place on December 8th-10th, 2022.

Book collectors and dealers alike, welcomed the double offering in the middle of the busiest shopping time of the year. With 115 in-person dealers and 76 online, it was the largest seller participation of an ABAA event held in Boston. The total dealer participation was lower than the corresponding events held last spring in New York: 156 in-person and 102 online. The new hybrid format adopted by ABAA has had an impact on the overall performance of the online event which peaked during Covid. The sell-through rate (ratio of items sold relative to the total offered for sale), was about the same in New York as the recent Boston event: 7.81% for NY vs 7.7% for Boston. These ratios are a little more than half of what they used to be during the pandemic and the absence of in-person events. Boston went from 11.59% in 2020 to 12.67% in 2021, to the recent 7.7%!

Despite the drop in on-line participation, it is interesting to note that the 2022 Boston event had higher pricing. Both the average price of books being offered for sale and the average sale price were significantly higher: 46% and 27% respectively than the prior year. This was not the case in New York, however, and it may be a result of the current inflationary pressures experienced across the world economies. Tangible assets such as rare books are considered to be a safer alternative and a hedge against inflation. Dealers may be taking advantage of the current economic conditions to bring to market some of the pricier rare books.

Interestingly, the most expensive sale during the Boston Holiday Edition was Purchas His Pilgrimage. Or Relations of the World and the Religions Observed in All Ages and Places by Samuel Purchas, published during 1625-26, and printed by William Stansby for Henrie Fetherstone in London. The book was offered for $175,000 by Phillip J. Pirages Fine Books and Medieval Manuscripts. Five volumes, rebound in 19th century, lightly diced Russian leather, expertly rebacked to match retaining original labels and with gilt titling. This landmark work contains an essential collection of narratives of travels and exploration from the earliest times up until the early 17th century. The set represents the second greatest collection of English voyages, enlarging upon and considerably adding to the work of Hakluyt1, with diagrams and maps. It is considered one of the fullest and most important collections of early voyages and travels in the English language.

We expect the continuation and expansion of virtual events in the future. The ABAA has been exploring ways to broaden the demographic composition of both the book trade and the book collector. Just before the pandemic, the group started a diversity initiative to encourage and promote the participation of L.G.B.T.Q, as well as Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC), and other underrepresented groups. Surprisingly, the pandemic helped funnel virtual book fairs into the mainstream. Traditional collectors value the condition of a book highly and often require a close examination before making a purchase. The younger demographic, with less disposable income, is more attracted to visually appealing books that are sometimes better exhibited online. As technology improves, the organization and presentation of online events should also improve promoting the growth of the audiences which have traditionally been uninterested.

 

1Richard Hakluyt author of Divers Voyages Touching the Discoverie of America (1582) and The Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques and Discoveries of the English Nation (1589–1600).

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Ballets Russes: a gift to Modernism

November 9, 2022
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The arrival in Europe of the Ballets Russes led by impresario Sergei Diaghilev on the eve of the First World War, revived interest in the ballet and launched the modern era in performance dance. Ballets Russes is widely regarded as the most influential ballet company of the 20th century as well as an important promoter […]

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Our Nobel Prize Nominations of the Literature Laureates

September 19, 2022
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Historical data shows that demand for the works of the Nobel laureates tend to increase in the weeks immediately following the Swedish Academy’s announcement. That is because there are many aspiring Nobel laureate collectors who rush to add some of the latest winner’s offerings to their collections. On a broader scale, readers are generally interested […]

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Father of the American Hard-boiled Detective Stories

August 29, 2022
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Famous authors, whose writings are colored by fictional portrayals of their own real life experiences, are plentiful. Often, authors turn themselves into characters in their fictional novels because they have unique, interesting life stories to write about.  Kurt Vonnegut, for example, who appears as a character in his novel Breakfast of Champions, interacts with several […]

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NFT Usage in the World of Rare Books

June 29, 2022
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NFTs, or nonfungible tokens, are digital proofs of a purchase for goods like art, digital music and other valuable collectibles. When auction house Christie’s sold the NFT “Everydays: The First 5000 Days,” a collage by the artist Beeple, for $69.3 million in March of 2021, it signaled the dawn of a potential virtual fad. Data […]

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Horticulture Preserved on a Changing Planet

June 6, 2022
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Ahh spring, with its new life, warm weather, and flowers and trees coming into leaf and blossom. In literature, it is perhaps the most popular of the four seasons. Authors, poets and artists find inspiration in the season’s delightful, blooming fruit trees, native plants, edible annuals and perennials, and plethora of culinary and medicinal herbs. […]

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Rare Book Sale Monitor update – New York edition

May 7, 2022
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Think back to 2021. This was supposed to be the year of new openings! A return to pre-pandemic normalcy! Instead, it became the year that failed to live up to its preseason hype. Many of the in-person events were either cancelled or forced to remain virtual. In the Rare Book world, most of the trades […]

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The Value of a “Priceless” Rare Book

April 25, 2022
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The Cambridge University Library has announced that the two notebooks written by Charles Darwin, worth many millions of pounds and which have been missing for more than two decades have been safely returned. Apart from the content of the notebooks, one of which contains his iconic 1837 ‘Tree of Life’ sketch, there is no more […]

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Historical Fiction Reads at a Time of War

March 26, 2022
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In my spare time, I have been rereading C.S. Forester’s brilliant, 12-book epic Horatio Hornblower series, which I originally read when I was a teenager. Transfixed by the destruction taking place in Ukraine, it is hard to read, or watch, or think about anything else besides the war. Such devastation has overshadowed everything else. All […]

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