The Antiquarian Book Fair: From Sondheim’s Letters to a Brontë Discovery

The New York International Antiquarian Book Fair, which returns to the Park Avenue Armory this weekend after a two-year pandemic hiatus, is one of the world’s leading gatherings of the rare book tribe. For more casual visitors, it can also be an experience of dizzying information overload.

Yes, there are the museum-like displays of fine bindings, illuminated manuscripts and historic documents, with dramatic lighting (and eye-popping prices). But the fair, which runs from Thursday evening to Sunday, also features booths stuffed with pulp paperbacks, old advertisements, zines, board games, maps, photographs and all manner of accessibly priced ephemera that challenges any hidebound notions of “rare books.”

Here is a sampling of offerings at the more than 200 booths, from carefully curated libraries to jotted notes that speak to the power of pen and paper to stop time and conjure vanished worlds.

Send in the Sondheim

Part of an archive of 70 letters and postcards written by Stephen Sondheim over four decades to his close friend Larry Miller.Credit…via Schubertiade Music

After Stephen Sondheim’s death last November, social media was awash with images of the notes he regularly sent to theater colleagues famous and not, offering praise and encouragement. Schubertiade Music is offering range of Sondheimiana, including a collection of 70 letters and postcards ($20,000) written over four decades to his close friend Larry Miller. In one, Sondheim describes a 1969 trip to Europe: “In Vienna we were treated with the doubtful pleasure of one act of ‘West Side Story’ in German. Funnier than the original, anyway, even if it is billed as ‘Bernstein’s West Side Story.’” Also on offer are autographed programs, scores and a mid-1930s class photograph ($1,000) showing a young Sondheim dressed as a clown.

Remembering Stephen Sondheim

The revered and influential composer-lyricist died Nov. 26, 2021. He was 91.

  •  Obituary: A titan of the American musical, Sondheim was the driving force behind some of Broadway’s most beloved shows.
  •  Final Interview: Days before he died, he sat down with The Times for his final major interview.
  •  His Legacy: As a mentor, a letter writer and an audience regular, Sondheim nurtured generations of theater makers.
  •  ‘West Side Story’: Does the musical, which features some of the artist’s best-known lyrics, deserve a new hearing?
  •  ‘Company’: The revival of his 1970 musical features a gender swap.

Atomic Dawn

Papers from the Manhattan Project’s Medical Group were buried in military archives at Lowry Air Force Base in Colorado until the 1960s.Credit…via Barry Lawrence Ruderman Antique Maps and Boston Rare Maps

“Ball or mushroom rose slowly & majestically & ponderously & brilliantly — bright red purple [with] blue rim for a few seconds. So it towered up with streamers falling vertically in the stem & out of the cap.”

So wrote a member of the Manhattan Project’s Medical Group on July 16, 1945, after watching the world’s first detonation of a nuclear weapon, in the New Mexican desert, known as the Trinity Test. Boston Rare Maps and Barry Lawrence Ruderman Antique Maps are jointly offering a trove of 300 pages of little-seen handwritten diagrams, memos, maps and notes generated by the medical group, which was charged with monitoring health and safety. The documents ($1.5 million) — which include what the sellers say is the first written use of the term “mushroom cloud” — were buried in military archives at Lowry Air Force Base in Colorado until the 1960s, when they were declassified and then sold to a private collector during the base’s decommissioning. The material reflects the tensions between preserving secrecy while protecting populations downwind from nuclear fallout, as well as the tension between dispassionate scientific observation and sheer awe.

A Pioneering Black Shakespearean

An autographed lithograph, circa 1857, of Ira Aldridge, the first actor of African descent known to play Othello.Credit…via Maggs Bros Ltd.

The London dealer

Related Articles

Back to top button