Postcard from the Chicago Book Fair

Guest Post by Martha Bayne

The second-floor ballroom at Chicago’s Journeymen Plumbers Union Hall is a beautiful space--its broad, curving staircases and hanging lamps arguably as well suited to browsing vintage maps and books as hammering out a new contract for the Local. Or at least it was on Saturday, June 17, when the Midwest Antiquarian Booksellers Association (MWABA) hosted its 56th annual Chicago Book and Paper Fair.

IMG_2923 copy.jpgOf the fifty-three exhibitors, the vast majority were from the Midwest--Illinois, Minnesota, Iowa, Ohio, though some had traveled farther. In addition to the array of first editions of Lolita, On the Road, and A Canticle for Leibowitz, locked inside protective vitrine cases, some glorious bits of Chicagoiana could be found on display and up for sale: a massive ten-volume set documenting the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, a signed limited edition of Norman Maclean’s 1976 fly-fishing masterpiece A River Runs Through It, and Vol. 1, #2 of “The Dil Pickler,” a letterpress pamphlet produced by the city’s famed Bohemian club of free thinkers.

IMG_2911 copy.jpgIn a corner of the floor Carlos Martinez, proprietor of Chicago’s Bibliodisia, pointed out a two-volume set of the Koran with marbled paper covers and a colored map insert ($1,075) and a worn copy of Culpeper’s Complete Herbal ($75), an inspiration for J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books, and the basis for many of the potions and herbal remedies used at Hogwarts.

The fair was going “very well,” said Martinez, adding, “I’m always amazed at what people will buy.”

“I like looking at old stuff,” said Don Krage, who comes to the fair every year with his son, a collector of opera memorabilia. “This place is so full of things that go back hundreds of years; I always find interesting things for myself that spark my imagination.”

--Martha Bayne is a Chicago-based writer and editor whose work has appeared in Buzzfeed Reader, Belt Magazine, Crain’s Chicago Business, the Chicago Reader, Latterly Magazine, the Rumpus, and other regional and national outlets.

Images courtesy of Martha Bayne

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