It’s hard for me to believe the Ann Arbor Antiquarian Book Fair is thirty-one years old this year. Well, actually it is thirty-two years old. Come to think of it, it was born thirty-three years ago. It may be hard to explain these seemingly incompatible facts, but let me try.
Back in the mid-1970s, the antiquarian book trade was experiencing a modest renaissance. Tom and Louie Borders started Charing Cross Book Shop (later State Street Book Shop), Bill Gillmore launched Dawn Treader, and I opened the West Side Book Shop, all within a two-year period.
In July 1976 the American Library Association scheduled its Rare Book Conference in Ann Arbor, and some of us thought it would be a good idea to put on a book fair, invite the librarians, and sell them lots of books. Actually Bob and Ruth Iglehart of Hartfield Books came up with the idea, and I and Tom Nicely of Leaves of Grass Rare Books seconded the motion. We rented a room in the Michigan League for three days and persuaded eleven other Michigan dealers to join us. In anticipation of a collegial event hobnobbing with the rare-book librarians, a wine and cheese reception was planned for the opening night.
The librarians came, drank the wine, ate the cheese, bought few books (if any), and left. We then spent two of the hottest and most humid days of the summer in a room with no air conditioning, staring at each other’s books.
There was no fair in 1977.
Memory being short, in 1978 we decided to try again—this time for a single day in February. Moving to the Anderson Room of the Michigan Union allowed us to add a few more dealers. Later moves to the Pendleton Room and then the Ballroom continued our headlong expansion.
During the early years our planning sessions were conducted at the Iglehart home over a bottle or two of wine. By this time Kevin Sheets of the State Street Book Shop had joined us. There was much book talk and little planning as the wine flowed. As we planned the ninth fair we, for some inexplicable reason, thought it was the eighth. And so we announced it, and so it stood.
Anyway, that’s why the Antiquarian Book Fair on May 17 (see Events), is officially the thirty-first. Even though it’s actually the thirty-second fair. And the whole thing started thirty-three years ago.
At least I think that’s right.