By Daniel Ford
One minute essayist Dave Pezza and I are enjoying a few Pabst Blue Ribbon pints at a local Boston pub, and the next we’re walking into the erudite, high-class world of the 2014 Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair.
What we found were a group of people that loved books just as much as we did, but with checkbooks attached to bank accounts larger than the state of California. Many of the owners we talked to were amiable, passionate, and eager to share insights into their industry.
Here are the 10 treasures we discovered, several of which made us contemplate taking out a mortgage to pay for them:
10. Lincoln Campaign Songster—Savoy Books
It’s tough to put Lincoln at the bottom of any list, but that just goes to show you how truly special everything else in this compilation is. I love that the condition is “a little dusty, about fine.” It’s from 1864! It’s also worth noting that the President’s campaigners decided to depict a younger, clean-shaved Lincoln for the cover. His reelection was no sure thing, so they really did pull out all the stops to defeat the more popular General George McClellan (who would still be amassing an army to send nowhere had Lincoln not fired his ass).
9. Inscribed Copy of The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen—Between the Covers Rare Books
I’m actually surprised that this copy isn’t currently resting in a bookcase at Writer’s Bone’s headquarters. Dave gave this third printing of Franzen’s The Corrections a long look before deciding that his $150 would be better spent on beer and cigars later in the weekend.
8. All Quiet on the Western Front—Brattle Book Shop
Everyone at this bookshop hates me because I kept referring to the book as All Along the Western Front. Hey, I was confusing it with the Jimi Hendrix cover…wait, that’s not right either…
7. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn—Second Life Books
This is a first edition of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn bound in rare blue cloth (most of the other first editions of this printing were bound in red). It was in slightly rough shape only because the book had been “rescued.”
6. Men Without Women—B & B Rare Books
First edition, first issue in the original gray trial dust jacket…I can’t go on. It’s too magical. It is also $12,500.
5. The Lord of the Rings—Adrian Harrington Rare Books
We knew this was going to be a good stop when we found the store’s owners kicking back with a couple of beers. We sheepishly asked them if we could take a photo of this beautiful set and they pulled it out of the case as if it wasn’t worth more than Dave and I put together. We held our breath the whole time. I have no memory of taking this picture.
4. East of Eden—Adrian Harrington Rare Books
One of the most elegant, simple, and beautiful book covers I’ve ever seen in my life. This book is also in my top five favorite novels of all time, so I’m glad I came across this. I don't have the several thousand dollars it's worth, but I’m glad it exists.
3. The Sun Also Rises—Peter L. Stern & Co.
I had to tell Dave I’d buy him an ice cream cone after the fair so he would walk up to the owner and ask if we could take a picture of this $85,000 edition of Ernest Hemingway’s first novel. To put it in perspective, a copy of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby was also going for $85,000. The Sun Also Rises is not Hemingway’s most popular novel. We’ll let you do the rest of the math.
2. Declaration of Independence—Seth Kaller, Inc.
This broadside of the Declaration of Independence was read throughout New Hampshire and northern Massachusetts in July 1776. Interestingly enough, this document is not considered the “official” version of the Declaration. This one was only signed by Continental Congress President John Hancock and Secretary Charles Thomson (spelled “Thompson”). The delegates signed the official version on Aug. 2, 1776.
While Dave and I were digesting all this information, one of the seller’s employees leaned over and said, “This is usually our main attraction, but this year, it’s not.” He then pointed to our left, prompting us to weep immediately.
1. George Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation—Seth Kaller, Inc.
Only two (two!) copies of Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation exist. One is held by the Library of Congress (because it is technically a law) and the other was two thin panes of glass away from my stupefied expression. Washington signed this as President in 1789 in the then-capital city of New York. Only three other Presidents would sign a document like this: John Adams, James Madison, and Abraham Lincoln (who made Thanksgiving a national holiday during the Civil War). There was a heavy set gentleman in front of us who spent a considerable amount of time staring at the more than 200-year-old piece of paper. He walked away with a tear in his eye. No one could blame him, because we did the same.
Oh, it’s $8.4 million and change if you’re interested in adding it to your collection.