Fairs | March 2010 | Christopher Lancette

Hey Washington -- let's bust out of cabin fever and buy some books

Fine Books Hebenstreit wabf.jpg
WASHINGTON -- I busted out of cabin fever Friday night ... heading straight to the Washington Antiquarian Book Fair to hunt for a few new prizes to add to my collection of 18th and 19th century books related to the American Revolution. I'll be there again Saturday (March 6) not long after the doors open at 10 a.m. If you're within reach of the nation's capitol, you should come join me. The event runs until 5 p.m. so you've got time.

The event here is a great way to dump your blizzard blues, warm up your noggin' and even do your part to stimulate the economy. Whether you're a rare book collecting champion who attends fairs all the time or someone who has only heard of the hobby but never given it a try, the Washington fair is a great one to get out and see. The fair is big enough to give you a chance to touch and browse a wide array of rare reads yet not so big you have to hit the gym to train for taking it all in. It's just as right for your wallet. You can buy a beautiful book for less than $20 or you can drop tens of thousands of dollars if you're so inclined.

The Washington fair also gives me the chance to talk to dealers and ask questions ... everything I wanted to know about book collecting or my specialty area but couldn't ask google. The dealers like it, too.

"It's so easy to do things remotely on the computer," Sharlan Douglas told me. "It's nice to meet face to face." Her bookseller husband Ken Hebenstreit (booth 11) agreed. "We hope to sell some things, of course," he said, "but this gives us a chance to meet new people. We also have a very good customer in D.C. and we're going out to dinner with him."

The neatest item Hebenstreit brought down from Michigan? A first edition, advanced reading copy of To Kill A Mockingbird ($19,500).

Across the aisle in booth 38, new friend Ronald Cozzi of Old Editions Book Shop & Cafe told gave me some good news -- becoming the latest bookseller to tell me that his business is surviving the economic slump. He shared a very interesting take on why he's still doing well.

"Collectors find a lot of comfort in this hobby," the Buffalo resident told me. "They turn to their books even more."

I then helped myself to a double scoop of comfort by adding The Pulpit of the American Revolution to my collection. It was only $200 and covered an element of America's founding not yet represented in my library.

I kept my eyes on my niche but I enjoyed watching people smile when they spotted something that fit theirs. You can't help but shake off winter when you see a first edition copy of Charlotte's Web signed by the author. You can find that in Peter L. Stern & Co. booth (26 A) for $8,500. Booth 31 (Jeff Bergman Books) will lead you to a copy of the only authorized biography of Babe Ruth. 

Jett W. Whitehead Rare Books in booth 42 B is a beacon for poetry lovers. Gibson Galleries has a gorgeous set of something that every nature lover would love to own but you'll have to get there quick on Saturday in case some writer-type decides to snatch it up. (Hint: Fine Books has written a lot about him recently, including a review of a novel about him that I wrote.) Hemingway makes several key appearances in various booths.

I could go on but it's closing in on midnight and I've got to get my biblio rest. My first stop tomorrow is at booth 18, where I'll hand The Book Corner $125 for the memoir of Revolutionary War Major-General Heath. I'm still kicking myself for not buying a book from that dealer last year. The book about a Hessian's view of the war was rare yet inexpensive. It would have been perfect for my collection but I got so distracted I forgot to go back and get it. The owner, Bill, event spent a half an hour teaching me about books on that subject.

You should visit him, too. Be sure to tell him I sent you -- but keep your paws off books about the Revolution!