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Everyone's a Critic

The Observer's culture blog

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

AT THE ANTIQUARIAN FAIR, by Eve Silberman

What you find at the Antiquarian Book Fair: A Gone with the Wind poster, autographed by Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh, price at $1200. A 1966 Detroit Tigers program for $45. A woman's diary from the 1890s, in spidery, hard-to-read writing, for $6.50.

For book and nostalgia lovers, the yearly fair in the Michigan Union, held last Sunday, yields the charm of the unexpected. Forty dealers from eight states were on hand; some specialize ( books about wars, first editions of popular writers); more are generalists, their old books mingled here and there with nostalgia nuggets like the uncut 1950 paper dolls, and vintage postcards (tour boats circling the Statue of Liberty, carrying women wearing hats and gloves). There are also collections of political (usually left-wing) material, like 1930s union literature. Last year, I would have loved to have bought a yellowing report on the League of Nations, autographed by early twentieth century reformer Jane Addams-but the $250 asking price made me shy.

Anything in the room could probably be bought on Ebay-but the healthy turnout offers reassurance that people still enjoy browsing outside a computer screen, that they like the sensation of running their hands over paper, the banter with sellers, the hum of the marketplace. There's also an element of poignancy if you go, as I do, year after year. The prices of some of the books popular with the Greatest Generation (my parents) and Boomers (my own) are dropping. The fifty-year-old Oz books that I covet, with their marvelous illustrated covers, now are selling for $50 or $75 rather than $150. That's partly because of Internet competition, but it's also because we, the lovers of those books, are disappearing. Nostalgia is only nostalgia if someone is alive to remember when something quaint was once something new.

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