True Wonders for the Intellectuals: Antique Arts, Rare Letters, First Editions

No Kindle can tear away the allure of that delicate, crinkly paper. And art, aged like fine wine, becomes even more precious. We reminiscence a few items that piqued our interest at two esoteric fairs in America

By: Isabelle Kellogg

Posted on: May 11, 2022
One of the advantages of the pandemic’s recession is the plethora of fairs that burst forth after a two-year hiatus. Almost six months into 2022, there are plenty of rescheduled fairs for collectors and those curious about art and fine art. Two fairs made their post pandemic debut in April in New York and Philadelphia during a profusion of springtime flowers: the Antiquarian Book Fair which took place at the historic, lofty Park Avenue Armory on Park Avenue, and the Philadelphia Show which moved locations to the newly spruced up Philadelphia Art Museum. 

Mahatma Gandhi letter

A document signed by Mahatma Gandhi with his fingerprints

When you think about it, paper has been used for centuries to record memories, educate and enlighten people, tell stories and share experiences and sentiments. It was with great glee and anticipation that I attended the opening preview cocktail party for the 62nd annual New York Antiquarian Book Fair. 

The opening event attracted several hundred eager buyers, browsers and curious collectors, far more than in previous years. While this fair doesn’t get the attention of the razzle dazzle society crowd enjoyed by the New York edition of Salon Art & Design and TEFAF NY, the rudimentary (aka practical) exhibit booths held reams of treasures amongst their shelves, such as illuminated books of hours, maps, botanical encyclopedias, printed ephemera, musical scores written by music masters, postcards, placards, first edition books in every category and love letters. Every item is vetted by its exhibitor with detailed notes of previous owners and collections. Enthralling! It is the best history lesson ever. More than 200 exhibitors paid dearly to have their paper treasures shipped and exhibited, considering the consequences of complete destruction by moisture or fire of their wares.  

Oscar Wilde note

An aphorism written by Oscar Wilde in 1882

So here are some highlights. A first edition copy of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit”, a document signed by the Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi, replete with his fingerprints, a letter by Stalin, among other high ticket items, and a collection of film scripts and other material tied to everyone’s favorite fictional secret agent: James Bond
Peter Harrington Rare Books, a British dealer, offered a collection of all things Bond for 500,000 British pounds (approx. $650,000 US) which included scripts for all 20-plus Bond movies (20-25 copies of these such scripts exist, according to a specialist with Peter Harrington). The same dealer also had a first edition of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” ($358,000). 

Charles Clark French Sinumbra
A Regency Sinumbra from 1825  

Jonathan Hill Bookseller of New York offered a rare first edition of Antonio Scaino’s 1555 treatise on tennis ($45,000), said to be the first book on the game. A French exhibitor, Autographes des Siecles, showed some piquant literary items including an aphorism written by Oscar Wilde 1882: “Satire is the homage which mediocrity pays to genius.” If music is your muse, Schubertiade Music offered a range of Sondheim memorabilia, including a collection of 70 letters and postcards ($20,000) written over four decades to his close friend Larry Miller.

The Philadelphia Show, a leading art and design fair, celebrated its 60th anniversary edition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art with 40 outstanding exhibitors specializing in fine art, design, antiques, Americana, folk art, ceramics, porcelain, silver, jewelry, textiles and decorative arts spanning the 17th to 21st centuries. All net proceeds this year benefitted the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s Division of Digital Resources and Content Strategy. 

Deft 3 cups antique

A delftware fuddling cup from 1660

Charles Clark’s Regency Sinumbra, ca. 1825 has a beautiful French-inspired dome-shaped hand painted shade with the gilt-lacquered stamped brass corona and wide stamped brass band around the font. The turned-up feeder tubes were also preferred in France. The reserves in the standard are decorated with grape vines and clusters of grapes.

Earle D. Vandekar has participated in the Philadelphia Show longer than any other antique show - close to 40 years. This year he exhibited wonderful 18th and 19th-century ceramics and other decorative arts including porcelain, pottery, prints, and sailors' woolworks (known as woolies). Also exhibited by him was a 17th century English delftware (ca. 1660) fuddling cup in an underglaze of blue and white Chinoiserie decoration. It was actually three cups connected at their back and with three double loop-entwined handles painted with blue dash lines.

Bracelet book

A Victorian era gold, enamel & pearl collapsible book that opens into a bracelet with letters that spell “Souvenir”, from 1860

A Dutch Delft (tin-glazed earthenware) bowl (ca. 1775) is in the form of a Savoy cabbage with the interior well painted in underglaze blue and white with a scene of a stone or brick farmstead by the water's edge with thatched roofs.

Antiques dealer Kentshire showed a Victorian era gold, enamel and pearl collapsible book that opens into a bracelet with letters that spell “Souvenir” (ca. 1860; $17,500 US) and a fabulously decadent feather brooch set by Boucheron (ca. 1938) consisting of a diamond quill with interchangeable feathers. What fabulous additions to anyone’s jewelry collection!

Iabelle KelloggIn addition to a career in communications and marketing focused on the luxury lifestyle sector, including co-authoring and lecturing a case study on French heritage jeweler Mauboussin with Harvard Business School, Isabelle continues to share her experiences about fine art, wine, travel, jewelry and culture as a freelance writer for internationally based digital publications.

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