This past Saturday I went to the The New York International Antiquarian Book Fair at the Armory to look at some old books. Not any specific old books, mind you. Just books. I like old books and the fair has lots of them. This show is one of the premier shows for antique and antiquarian books in the world and draws sellers from many different countries. The stuff I saw ranged in price from almost nothing to the $600,000 asking price for a Shakespeare second folio. (Although that might be chump change - apparently a Bronte sisters book that I missed at the show sold for $1.2 million.) Some of the stuff there was kind of cool, like the contents of Amy Winehouse's library, and some memorabilia from Patti Smith. Every time I go to a show like this I look for woodworking books, but typically there is nothing of any kind.
However, two items caught my eye and are worth mentioning. Both are way out of my budget by orders of magnitude. Because it's a retail show, the booth managers very kindly allowed me to take a look and take some pictures.
The first is something I would really love to own but is so far out of my budget it's not even about rent money, its about food money (for generations). Very few trade catalogs from the early part of the 19th century survive. This one by W. & C. Wynn of Birmingham is one of them. Dating from around 1812, it is slightly earlier than the Wynn catalog reprint in 2006 by the Early American Industries Association and the Peabody Essex Museum. Neither catalog is complete, which isn't unusual. This one is different than the EAIA's. The tools in the catalogs are mostly the same but the layout is different. The engravings are mostly the same, but laid out differently on the pages. This is a wholesale catalog, used by a sales rep to sell to hardware stores. Stores would not be stocking all shapes of sizes of every tool, just what made sense for their area, budget, etc.
While I am of course very happy to have the EIAI reprint, this earlier catalog - and the differences between the two catalogs - fascinated me. Getting a chance to handle an original printing on original paper is a wonderful experience. In the original you can see the two tones of the catalog engraving and the engraved prices in a different color. The fair's copy of the catalog included an "Index to Book of Steel Toys," which is not found in the EIAI reprint. The word "Toys" here refers to small tools and appliances, or small personal and household items generally. (Think of this next time you think of your tools as your toys - rest assured that you are following serious historical precedent.)
I hope the eventual purchaser gets it copied and it ends up eventually in a museum collection. Many thanks to Amanda Hall for letting me get my grubby hands on the book (no, really Amanda my hands were pretty clean - it's just a turn of phrase).
The second thing I saw that blew my mind was offered by Rootenberg Rare Books and Manuscripts. "El Mundo Científico: Inventos Modernos" ("The Scientific World: Modern Inventions") is subtitled "Enciclopedia de conocimientos útiles y aplicaciones prácticas de la Industria" (Encyclopedia of useful knowledge and practical applications of Industry"). The collection of 11 pop-ups and paper construction books were written by the authors known simply as Feliu and Susana, and printed in the early part of the 20th century in Barcelona. The full color books show all sorts of mechanical inventions explained. The cutouts in the illustrations open and close to show how machinery works. While other publishers issued similar books, this set by virtue of being in great condition and complete, makes it quite valuable. The color and complexity of the illustrations made it a treat to examine and play with. I want to thank Rottenberg Books for the opportunity. I should mention that when I ask a dealer if I could take a closer look at something I don't pretend I am a customer. I am forthright about my interest and the fact that the item is way out of my budget. Every dealer I spoke to at the show was understanding and welcoming.
So far I haven't mentioned finding any actual woodworking books, just some woodworking tools in that catalog. So let me talk about the place of the venue. After the US Civil War, the local private societies of garrisons, which were allowed to serve as groups inside the Union army, came back and were powerful social institutions with lots of money. Three very large armories were built in Manhattan (and an even a larger one in Brooklyn). One of the Manhattan armories still serves as an actual armory; one was demolished; and and this one, located on East 67th Street on the Upper East Side, still functions as essentially a private place for members of the armory regiment to gather. The giant space where they used to keep horses parade horses has become a show space. The woodworking, from the latter part of the 19th century is spectacular. It's not so much that you haven't seen this quality of woodwork in private mansions from the period - it's just the scale of this is monumental. It's not just a nice carved wooden staircase - there's a lot of them and they're like 10 ft wide. The ceiling must be 30 ft high. It's crazy. It's actually worth attending the show just to see the building.
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04/27/2022 John Fink
I’ve enjoyed your last two posts about old books. I understand the special feeling of handling old books, seeing the beautiful engravings, and just being amazed by the craftsmanship that went into making the books. I occasionally search for digitized copies of old woodworking books, and have learned a few things from them. As an obsessed hobbyist woodturner, I’d love to see the Plumier and the associated turnings shown in your last photo — do you recall the seller? (Though not related to woodworking, years ago, I got to handle a copy of Newton’s Principia with margin corrections in Newton’s hand, as well as an incunabulum of one book of Euclid’s Elements, with illustrations, one half printed in Greek and the other in Latin. That was a memorable day.) Thanks for your blog efforts!
I am sorry but I stupidly forgot to record the seller of the Plumier as I have a copy and wasn't interested. (this copy at 5G's is in much better shape than mine).