Brooklyn Antiquarian Book Fair aims to liven up a novel hobby

A man browses antique books at last year's Brooklyn Antiquarian Book Fair. Photo Credit: Ed Lefkowicz for the Brooklyn Antiquarian Bookfair

This weekend’s convention is hosting a “read-in,” exploring spellbook collecting and the history of Afrofuturism in art and literature.

A man browses antique books at last year's Brooklyn Antiquarian Book Fair.
A man browses antique books at last year’s Brooklyn Antiquarian Book Fair. Photo Credit: Sarina Trangle

Pair the words “books” and “antiquarian” and you might conjure up a stuffy image of dusty tomes and ancient scrolls protected under thick glass.

The book lovers behind the Brooklyn Antiquarian Book Fair, which opens Saturday at the Brooklyn Expo Center, are trying to change that with a show that offers up lively seminars and dealers selling everything from pulpy crime and science fiction paperbacks to rare first editions.

Author Barbara Slate will sign copies of her “Mueller Report Graphic Novel” and attendees can read a page from the book as part of a “Read-in.” One seminar explores collecting witchcraft and spellbooks, while an exhibit on the history of Afrofuturism includes paintings, drawings, zines and other items from the 1920s through the present day. 

A whale of a collection of books at lat year's The Brooklyn Antiquarian Book Fair.
A whale of a collection of books at lat year’s The Brooklyn Antiquarian Book Fair. Photo Credit: Ed Lefkowicz for the Brooklyn Antiquarian Bookfair

There’s also a free appraisal table, where experts can help you determine whether that printed family heirloom has more than just priceless sentimental value.

“I think hearing ‘antiquarian’ scares some people away,” said Marvin Getman, producer of the fair, which is in its sixth year. “But this is a fun show that appeals to a much broader audience.”

The show runs Saturday and Sunday and includes more than 100 dealers. And while there will be some pricey pieces under glass, there is also lots of artwork, ephemera and unusual finds to discover.

Getman, who produces six different annual book fairs in the northeast U.S., said he is also seeing a younger group of people attending the shows.  

“Some of them are curious and want to see what the show is about,” he said. “Others have one or two items that might be the start of a collection and they don’t know how to expand that. The dealers here can help.”

Left Bank Books in the West Village is one of the local shops and dealers at the fair.

“People like books,” said Left Bank Books co-owner Jessica Kuronen. “They want them in their life. They want them in their house.” 

A selection of "pulp fiction" paperbacks of the 1940's, '50's and 60's at Left bank Books.
A selection of "pulp fiction" paperbacks of the 1940’s, ’50’s and 60’s at Left bank Books. Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle

Kuronen said she is noticing more people wanting books from the 20th century, such as photo books from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.

“People gravitate toward books that are like a time capsule of whatever moment they are in,” she said.

Kuronen and co-owner Erik DuRon are planning to bring an unusual 1953 work by pop art master Andy Warhol to the fair. When he created it, he was still a commercial artist trying to woo art directors.

“A is an Alphabet” includes 26 loose offset lithographs with drawings by Warhol and verse by collaborator Ralph Thomas “Corkie” Ward. This piece of history doesn’t come cheap — asking price is around $15,000.

On the flip side, Left Bank also has a collection of sci fi, crime, horror and romance paperbacks from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, known for their interesting cover art. Those sell for around $15.

“People like to buy those as presents and then slip a little note into them,” Kuronen said. “I love that.”

The fair is also a treasure hunt of sorts for the sellers, said Susan W. Liebegott, owner of Enchanted Books.

“Children’s books are really a cool thing to sell and look for,” said Liebegott, who specializes in fine illustrated books, children’s books and several other topics. “When you find the book you totally forgot about, it’s like finding an old friend.”

One unique item Liebegott plans to bring to the fair is a first edition of the classic children’s book “Where the Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak. It also comes with several hand-written notes and original art by well-known artists including Laurent de Brunhoff, lamenting the firing of a much-beloved staffer at publisher Random House. The package is being offered for $22,500.

Elizabeth Young, owner of Lizzyoung Book Sellers in Cobble Hill, said the fair is unique because of its setting at the expo center.

“It’s all glass, so people who are walking by can see what we are doing and just come in,” she said. “That doesn’t happen often with book fairs.”

Young specializes in culinary books, and expects to bring a selection of cocktail books to the fair. She will also showcase a 1931, first edition of “The Joy of Cooking” which sells for $2,750.

Some of her vintage gems are more affordable. For just $30, people can pick up a copy of  “The Enterprising Housekeeper: 200 tested recipes,” produced by the Enterprising Manufacturing Company in 1898.

“The printed word is coming back,’ Getman said. “When e-readers came out, a lot of people were concerned that books would go away. That is not the case.”

Lisa L. Colangelo