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New York International Antiquarian Book Fair
Photograph: courtesy of New York International Antiquarian Book Fair

10 rare and fascinating things to see at NYC's Antiquarian Book Fair

The world's finest antiquarian book fair runs all weekend in Manhattan.

Rossilynne Skena Culgan
Written by
Rossilynne Skena Culgan

Historic books, precious first editions, massive maps and stunning drawings are packed into the Park Avenue Armory this weekend for the 63rd annual Antiquarian Book Fair.

This festival for book collectors is known as the world's finest antiquarian book fair, and this year's showing doesn't disappoint. We got a preview of the festival and found these 10 highlights to share, just a few of the dazzling relics at every turn.

RECOMMENDED: The Brooklyn Bookstore Crawl is back this week for its biggest event ever

Nearly 200 exhibitors comprise this year's show, making up a labyrinth of booths that winds through the Upper East Side Armory. Exhibitors hail from around the world including Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Fair highlights encompass art, science, medicine, literature, history, gastronomy, fashion, first editions, Americana, philosophy, children’s books and much more. 

Prices for the items range from $50 to millions. You can buy tickets for just one day or for the whole show, which runs through Sunday, April 30. Single-day admission costs $32. 

Highlights from the 2023 Antiquarian Book Fair

A book of Charles Darwin's letters.
Photograph: By Rossilynne Skena Culgan / Time Out

1. Charles Darwin's letters

A Denmark-based bookseller called Sophia Rare Books (booth E24) is displaying a collection of letters Charles Darwin wrote to Professor Henslow. This incredibly rare book contains excerpts from 10 letters Darwin wrote during a five-year voyage. But the famed scientist wasn't happy about the letters being shared, saying he was "a good deal horrified" at the professor making public "what had been written without care or accuracy." The collection retails for $450,000.

An atlas.
Photograph: By Rossilynne Skena Culgan / Time Out

2. A stunning atlas from the late 1600s

In an era where we can easily access detailed digital maps at the touch of a button, it's hard to imagine a world where maps were revolutionary. But seeing Jaillot's Atlas Nouveau dating back to the late 1600s whisks viewers back to this moment. In stunning jewel tones and pastels, this massive atlas was published in Amsterdam by Pieter Mortier around 1692-1696. 

It's priced at $165,000 but you can gawk at this work for just the price of admission. See it at Daniel Crouch Rare Books (booth E17).

A Cuban constitution.
Photograph: By Rossilynne Skena Culgan / Time Out

3. A 1901 Constitution of Cuba

See this rare, 122-year-old document at Földvári Books' booth (E15). The bookseller describes it as an "exceedingly rare first edition of the first version of the Cuban Constitution as an independent state." It's inscribed by 31 signatories of the Constitution for José de Jesús Monteagudo Consuegra. The book is listed for $132,000.  

Karl Lagerfeld drawings.
Photograph: By Rossilynne Skena Culgan / Time Out

4. Original Karl Lagerfeld drawings

Admire designer Karl Lagerfeld's drawings at the French bookseller Autographes des Siècles' booth (C18). Three drawings depict Lagerfeld's drawings for Maison Chloé. A skirt-and-top combo is rendered in black and white with a red fabric swatch pinned to the page, while the other two include pink and purple hues in the drawings. Prices range from $2,500-$3,500 for these pieces.

A book depicting a C-Section.
Photograph: By Rossilynne Skena Culgan / Time Out

5. A book depicting the Caesarean section for the first time

This text dating back to 1506 provides the first depiction of a C-section. A drawing in the book shows a woman who's given birth surrounded by more than a half-dozen attendants, one holding up a knife or sword. While the origins of the C-section itself are murky, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, their records do include the exact image you can see in this book at the book fair. In the era depicted, C-sections were only performed when the mother was dead or dying, as a way to save the child in a time when the state wanted to increase population, the library said.

Find the book at the James Gray Bookseller booth (D29). 

A bill of lading.
Photograph: By Rossilynne Skena Culgan / Time Out

6. A bill of lading from an early book transaction in America

In the infancy of American bookselling, Henry Knox's bookstore received a shipment of books from London. Confirming the purchase, this bill of lading, a receipt of sorts, is signed by Knox and shows his monogram. Knox was a founding father of the United States and this sepia-toned document dating back to 1772 reveals the ties between Knox, Thomas Longman, John Hancock and Captain John Scott (a witness to the Boston Tea Party). 

You can see this fascinating piece of early American ephemera at booth E6 belonging to Antipodean Books, Maps & Prints.

Vintage movie posters.
Photograph: By Rossilynne Skena Culgan / Time Out

7. Vintage movie posters 

The California-based Walter Reuben, Inc. sells vintage movie posters, original movie scripts and photographs. Some of the posters include advertisements for Andy Warhol's Flesh and The Godfather, which you can see in booth B22.  

A Passover Haggadah.
Photograph: By Rossilynne Skena Culgan / Time Out

8. A rare Passover Haggadah from the 1700s

Shapero Rare Books (booth E5) is displaying what they describe as an "extremely rare Ashkenazic Passover Haggadah," which was printed in 1770 by William Tooke in London. It's priced at $15,500. 

A yellow flower.
Photograph: By Rossilynne Skena Culgan / Time Out

9. Early botanical drawings

Rendered in vivid greens and bright yellows, these colorful drawings from the mid 1700s have maintained their brilliance over the years. They're included in a thick book that's the first edition of one of the greatest 18th-century botanical color plate books. Marvel at these drawings from the collection of Riverrun Books & Manuscripts (E10)—and if you want to take the book home, be sure you've got $60,000 in your bank account. 

Three books on a shelf.
Photograph: By Rossilynne Skena Culgan / Time Out

10. Some more contemporary marvels 

See some more recent classics, like special editions of Ulysses, Catch-22 and To Kill a Mockingbird at the booth belonging to Oregon-based Phillip J. Pirages Fine Books and Manuscripts (E1). 

The 1927 edition of Ulysses is inscribed by James Joyce when first meeting H.G. Wells, who was key to establishing the author's reputation. It's listed at $85,000. As for the copy of Catch-22, this 1961 first edition is signed by author Joseph Heller and listed for $11,000. Finally, a rare 1960 pre-publication copy of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird contains a bookplate signed by Lee. The cover reads "This first novel has hit the jackpot!"—quite an understatement. It sells for at $16,000.

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