Aaah, it’s that wonderful time of the year when New England puts out its glorious foliage as billions of leaves change from green to a kaleidoscope of vibrant colors. The air is crisp and cool — perfect for hiking, and biking along back roads, where farm stands are piled high with crunchy apples and orange pumpkins. And yes, it is during this time when booksellers and book buyers come together for the Rare Book Week in Boston. Annually, the ABAA Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair takes place at the Hynes Convention Center, with Getman’s Shadow Show a few blocks down from there. The Skinner auction house holds its premier rare book sale on the Sunday the same week.

But, this is 2020 and there is an uninvited guest in town. Covid-19 has caused substantial adjustments to the book lovers’ agenda. The ABAA book fair will now be completely remote, while Getman’s Virtual Book & Paper Fair will also be on-line, and, instead of taking place the Saturday during the weekend of the ABAA show, it will now be postponed until December. The Skinner auction, on the other hand, also completely on-line, will lead the pack starting November 2nd and will continue until the 12th, the very day the ABAA fair opens its virtual doors.

How will these adjustments be received? I wonder? A few things will be the same and a few others will be much different than during normal times. Both the ABAA and Mr. Getman have run events on-line before with mixed results. In fact, Getman’s, organizes at least one virtual book sale every month. Skinner is not a newcomer to on-line bidding either, and without the restrictions imposed by floor bidders, will be able to offer a prolonged period for their event (10 days), giving ample time for bidders to bid the prices up. Furthermore, unlike previous years, there are only 460 lots being offered, a smaller number that a live auctioneer can sell in half a day.

Getman’s also made several changes. After conducting a survey with their dealer population base, they have decided to limit the number of dealers participating to 200, with a maximum of 21 items per dealer, which will be exhibited between December 4th and December 7th. The respondents to the survey favored going back to a single day event with fewer sellers and items for sale, setting the stage for a possible one-day virtual fair after the New Year. Splitting the fair over two weekends did not receive much support. Both the Skinner Auctioneers and Getman’s Virtual Book fairs are leaning towards limiting supply, at least for now.

The 44th Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair (2020), will continue its conventional format of 3-days, (online only), with the first day being Ticketed Preview Day with a $50 admission, whose proceeds will benefit the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Benevolent Fund. The major difference is that the Fair will open at 11am EST on November 12, and remain open until 7pm EST on Saturday, November 14, when it ends. Previously, book fairs closed each night and reopened in the mornings. In this event, 160+ participating exhibitors will have a total of between 5,000 and 6,000 items for sale during the preview. This is about 25% more items than Getman’s, which will be 4-day online event.

Our readers have expressed some concern about the nature of on-line events regarding the lack of hands-on close examination prior to their purchase. Even though Skinner’s is offering the opportunity to inspect the lots before the sale, they are geographically restricted to the few local bidders. Some dealers are also facilitating video conferencing giving potential buyers the opportunity to get a closer look at the book they are interested in purchasing. How will these new arrangements affect the trade? Be sure to check back for the complete analysis of all the activity in this “new normal” world of online book fairs.



Pro Dva Kvadrata (About Two Squares)

Many Russian artists supported the Revolution of 1917, which was led by Vladimir Lenin against the old Tzarist regime, and established the first communist government. They turned their talents to promoting the social justice they believed it would bring, through Suprematism, a new abstract style in Russian art, with roots in cubist and futurist systems of painting. The creator, Kazimir Malevich, was head of the UNOVIS (Utverditeli Novovo Iskusstva  or  The Champions of the New Art). The role of UNOVIS was to teach the suprematist system and apply its principles to construction, architecture, theatre, book design, and graphic arts in general. Among the key faculty was Lazar (“El”) Lissitzky, who drew propaganda posters for the Communist Party and designed their first flag. He was a leading proponent of the Suprematist movement and began a series of projects called PROUNS1, with which he hoped to move Suprematism from a two dimensional platform to a three-dimensional one through his architectural expertise.

About Two Squares chaos plate


A graphic typography book, created during 1920, and published in its final form in Berlin in the spring of 1922, demonstrated how the combination of the graphic word and letter can visually complement each other to create a pictorial image in a higher dimension. The book was titled Pro Dva Kvadrata (About Two Squares), and is considered today, to be Lissitzky’s masterpiece of Suprematist book illustration. The book is portrayed as a children’s tale, depicting the adventures of the red square (communist ideals), as it overcomes the black square (convention), that fly to earth from afar to create a better world. With six main plates which encapsulate a breakthrough in typographic art with cryptic social political messages, the book is simplified to appeal to children in the form of a fable. It is based upon “the supremacy of pure artistic feeling” rather than on a visual depiction of objects.

Chaos is depicted using words “black” and “alarming”, with a disorganized mix of slanting blocks and angular objects which float disturbingly in midair without any sense of perspective or logic.

About Two Squares Race to Earth

On Course

With this abstract and artistic image, the political message is quite clear: On course to attend the chaos on planet earth, the Soviet red square is ahead of the old order black square.

Finally order is on the way. Even though a corner of the red square crashed down on the chaotic objects below, scattering them, a sense of order seems to have been achieved with the items being re-arranged by shape and size, with the words “crash” and “scattered” printed.

About Two Squares depicts the victory of the new over the old, and a higher consciousness of reality over three-dimensional consciousness. It transmits a reality beyond that of earthly three-dimensional determinism and limitation by which man’s perception of art had been associated with. Lissitzky, using non-Euclidean geometry of point, line and plane, coupled with his architectural projective methods, was able to create suprematist forms in cosmic space. Out of these notions, access to the realm of the fourth dimension becomes possible by releasing the imagination to embrace those higher dimensions of space and time. It is through the tale’s analogy that the reader can postulate the world of three dimensional beings, to the world of the fourth dimension.2

About Two Squares Order Restored

Order being restored

Suprematism remained mostly a Russia-based art movement. Although heavily criticized, it gained some popularity in the West as well. Lissitzky, in particular, was the one who made the movement popular in Western Europe with collaborations from representatives of similar movements, such as De Stijl and the Bauhaus.

While Suprematist artworks are very popular among collectors at auctions, our Rare Book Sales Monitor failed to record any significant price increase during recent years. The few surviving copies of the original Pro Dva Kvadrata, are very rarely up for sale. The most noticeable sale took place during a Sotheby’s auction in London, in 2006 for £19, 200; more than 3 times the high end of the estimate. Another copy offered in 2012, sold at a Christie’s London for £15,000; 25% above the high estimate. Three years later a similar copy sold for £18,750; close to the high end of the estimate. At the high art market, Malevich’s painting Suprematist Composition (1916) broke a few records, first during the recession in 2008 where the abstract painting was the star of the day setting the world record for Russian art at $60 million. The same work more recently, in 2018, sold for $85.8 million at Christie’s, breaking the record for a work of Russian art once again.


1 In 1920 Lissitzky coined the term “Proun”—an acronym for the Russian words meaning “project for the affirmation of the new”—to refer to a series of abstract works that combined the Suprematist lexicon of geometric, monochromatic forms with tools of architectural rendering.

2  Railing, Patricia. More About Two Squares. Artists Bookworks, 1990. Patricia Railing is an art historian specialising in the Russian Avant-Garde. She has published widely on Cubism and Suprematism in both books and articles.



Silent Spring, Silent Earth

September 7, 2020
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In 1962, the American marine biologist and natural history writer, Rachel Carson, published her seminal book, Silent Spring. Carson’s powerful and poetic writing was beautifully complemented by the detail-oriented drawings of American illustrators Lois and Louis Darling. Today, it is considered to be one of the most powerful natural history books ever written; the spark […]

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Islamic Libraries: A Short History

August 19, 2020
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This video highlights the early and spectacular development of public, semi-public, and private libraries in Islamic land between the 10th and the 18th century, from Spain to India and from Timbuktu to Sarajevo. A lecture by Laurent Ferri (Curator of pre-1800 Books and Manuscripts, Cornell University Library). Selected bibliography: ATIYEH, G. N. (ed.), The Book […]

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Speculative Fiction for the Future

July 17, 2020
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The future is here, the future is now. It was, in-part, imagined some years ago in science fiction novels, and prophesized by psychics, gurus and thinkers of sorts. If our recent experience is any indication, our future may lie in the conceptual, fantastical and slightly implausible worlds created by figments of our imaginations. With so […]

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Bauhaus = Building House = Modernist Architecture = Communism?

May 21, 2020
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Modernism in architecture grew from the Bauhaus, a German architecture and design school established in 1919, in Weimar, by German architect Walter Adolph Georg Gropius (18 May 1883 – 5 July 1969).  Paradoxically, Bauhaus, directly translated: “building house”, did not offer courses in architecture in its early years of operation despite a proclamation in its […]

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Infectious Diseases: A Groundbreaking Book (1546) – Some resemblance between Didier Raoult and Girolamo Fracastoro (?)

March 29, 2020
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As the world is struggling with Coronavirus-19, it may be interesting to look at the history of pandemics, long seen as God’s punishment of our sins, and/or as something provoked by the witches. The History of Science Collection in Cornell’s RMC has the first edition of Girolamo Fracastoro’s De contagione et contagiosis morbis (Venice: Giunti, 1546; […]

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The Most Expensive “Candy”

March 9, 2020
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The unison of three greatly provocative and time-changing minds were responsible for the bestseller Candy, which on one hand greatly influenced popular culture of the 1960’s,  and on the other, caused furor for its vulgar take on contemporary culture. The work of writer Terry Southern, poet Mason Hoffenberg and publisher Maurice Girodias, was originally pseudonymously […]

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The First Ethnic Cook Books of America

February 8, 2020
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Up until twenty years after the political upheaval of the American Revolution in 1776, the Thirteen Colonies had been using British cookbooks reprinted in America. The first such cookbook was printed in Williamsburg, by William Parks in 1742, titled “The Compleat Housewife.” The book was in fact, a London bestseller, published fifteen years earlier in […]

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Women author scarcity

November 12, 2019
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The women’s liberation movement during the 1960’s propelled feminist intellectualism which brought us wonderful modern women writers, such as J.K. Rowling, Hilary Mantel, Ursula K. Le Guin and Margaret Atwood.  The boys’ club definitely was broken, and is even more apparent when looking back!  Critic Sarah Weinman, argues in an essay published by the Library […]

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