A Day at the Fair: The Boston Book Print and Ephemera Fair

by Elisa Shoenberger

“At these book shows, there’s love, passion, and pursuit,” Aaron Benneian of Aaron Benneian Historical Americana (PA) explained. All of that was felt at the seventh edition of the Boston Book Print and Ephemera Fair on November 17th. About 58 book and paper dealers from the Eastern seaboard and the Midwest set up shop at the Back Bay Events Center.

 showCase of Le Bookiniste photo courtesy of John Leger - Le bookiniste

showCase of Le Bookiniste
photo courtesy of John Leger - Le bookiniste

Booksellers like John Leger of Le Bookiniste (NJ) —who specializes in poetry, art, radicalism, and theater—commented that it was the best Boston fair in the five years he’d been going. Leger was happily surprised when fair promoter Marvin Getman opened the fair a few minutes early because so many people were waiting to get in. “I’d never experienced that before!” Numerous book and paper sellers enthused that this iteration of the fair was particularly well orchestrated. “Every year it gets better,” said Tom Twetten of Craftsbury Antiquarian Books (VT). There was great energy despite the challenges from the snowy weather.

 Craftsbury Antiquarian Books Photo: of Thomas Twetten - Craftsbury Antiquarian Books

Craftsbury Antiquarian Books
Photo: of Thomas Twetten - Craftsbury Antiquarian Books

While several sellers found that most customers were looking for books and ephemera across broad categories, some trends were noteworthy. Benneian, who specializes in early photography and historical Americana, said there was a lot of interest for items from Florida, New Jersey, and other specific regions up and down the East Coast. Black Americana and the Old West remained strong sellers as well. Specializing in books about travel and exploration in Asia, Africa and the Middle East, Twetten noted that he was most surprised about “a run on my Egyptian shelf….I had the right things that someone was looking for.”

James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok (1837 – 1876) during the time he was performing in “The Scouts of the Plains” with “Buffalo Bill” Cody and “Texas Jack” Omohundro at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia for one week starting December 29, 1873
Photo: Aaron Benneian Historical Americana

When asked if there were any notable moments of the fair, some dealers recalled a few standouts. Benneian said one gentleman bought early 20th century musical-related broadsides and planned to perform these “obscure long lost pieces” and possibly toting the old broadsides to his performances. “This sale made me feel all the more special,” Benneian explained. “The broadsides found a good home.”

Book fairs are more than just a venue for selling one’s wares. As, Leger explained, “it’s a very collegial business. I love seeing and socializing with colleagues and checking to see what materials they have. That’s really one of the big reasons.” Michael Brenner of Brenner’s Books - Rare and Collectible (NJ) noted that fairs offer great buying opportunities for the dealers on the hunt for customers back home.

Many sellers who come to the fair are united by a common fascination by history in all forms, explained Benneian. “I love dealing with the public who have a passion and love for American history and culture. It’s a window to the past. We’re handling history whether a piece is only $20 or $2000 and owned by a president.”

Elisa Shoenberger is a researcher and writer. She has published articles and essays at the Boston Globe, the Rumpus, Electric Lit, and other outlets. She is a regular contributor to Book Riot and is the co-editor and co-founder of The Antelope: A Journal of Oral History and Mayhem