Ephemera and the Antiquarian Book Fair

Alexandra Kowal ’14 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

The Hynes Convention Center hosted the thirty-sixth annual Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair from November 14 to 16, 2014.

There were panels throughout the weekend, including “Louisa May Alcott: Fruitlands Museum,” “Discovery: Starting Your Own Collection,” and “Boston of Benjamin Franklin’s Youth.” There were also free expert appraisals for visitors to learn the values of their items.

Diane DeBlois, Nancy Rosin and David Freund discussed ephemera in the “Ticknor Society Collectors’ Roundtable: Ephemera!” Ephemera is defined as “things that would only be useful for a short time and were not meant to have any lasting value” (Merriam-Webster). Items in this category were originally thought to be worthless and not something anyone would normally collect. However, ephemera collections have become fairly popular, with some people managing to amass vast stocks of items.

Libraries and museums, as well as personal collectors, seem to be the most interested in ephemera collection. The panelists showed off slideshows of their own collections while speaking. The most compelling part of the discussion, though, was when they shared their personal stories. Diane DeBlois, for example, started collecting vintage objects, which eventually included ephemera. The ephemera was useful because it helped her understand the objects she had, like when she learned that she had been trying to put her corset on upside down. Nancy Rosin had an especially large collection of valentines and explained why she liked collecting them. Though people have said that ephemera is not meant to be saved, Nancy felt that the things she collects have been cherished before, and she wants to preserve them for the future. They’re an important part of social history.

Ephemera, which often includes old printed ads, can sometimes be the best way to show the feel of a decade. Though there is a debate over whether the content of old ads is “gimmicky,” the panelists were quick to point out that many old ads were actually quite accurate and not as exaggerated as people may believe. Not only does ephemera help evoke the feel of a certain historical era, but it can be useful in other areas of study. For example, vintage menus helped scientists trace seafood cost and usage.

The most striking aspect of the Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair, however, was the exhibit hall itself, which was filled to the brim with amazing items. It was an absolute wonderland for lovers of old books and history. There were tons of maps, adorable miniature books, and cool vintage comics, among many other things.

There were some amazing, valuable books—vintage Winnie the Pooh books, an advanced reader copy of Animal Farm, and an older complete set of the Chronicles of Narnia series. A few vendors even had signed Harry Potter books for sale. But books were not the only items of interest at the fair. There were other print items, like letters from Virginia Woolf, James Dean’s signed fifth grade yearbook, and gorgeous invitations to surrealist art exhibits. A rare copy of The Declaration of Independence, a 1776 broadside, was even on display. Physical objects were also available for purchase, such as a Babe Ruth home run series baseball signed by seven hall-of-famers.

The Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair showcased an impressive collection of rare books and memorabilia; it was a treat for both collectors and those interested in antiques and history.


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