For those of us who still thrill to turn the pages of a book or explore the faded terrain of old maps, the Albuquerque Antiquarian Book Fair—an annual exchange of antique and rare books, maps and other ephemera—is taking place once again this Friday, March 16 from 4 to 8:30pm and Saturday, March 17 from 10am to 4pm at the Sid Cutter Pavilion at Balloon Fiesta Park. Director of the fair, Mark Holmen, took some time to explain the value of these objects and what to expect at the upcoming fair.
Alibi: Why do you think people get excited about these pieces? Why are people still interested in books in this highly technological time?
Holmen: Holding a book that is 200 years old is holding a piece of history in your hands. Real books are comforting. You can curl up with a good book by the fire, not quite the same with your tablet or Kindle. Beyond any historical significance or rarity of a book, the simple act of scanning a shelf of books, selecting one and sitting down to read it, is a thoroughly kinesthetic experience: It's visual; it's tactile; if the book is old enough and made of leather or vellum, it's olfactory. In short, it's human. Most readers have a favorite author, like Hemingway or Jane Austen, and want to collect all their works in first or early editions, illustrated editions or even books signed by the author. Some folks are keen to possess their favorite book … in a first or special edition. Many love specific historical periods, … and collect books and ephemera related to that time. Some people are avid hobbyists, like fly fishermen, gardeners or bird watchers, and collect books both old and modern in their field of interest. There's also the thrill of the chase—tracking down that one book you've been after for 10 years.
What should people keep an eye out for when they are shopping for old and rare books or maps?
Obviously, old books may have value because of their age or author. However, sometimes a small printing of a modern book can make it valuable. For instance, the original England printing of the first Harry Potter book was only 500 copies. A recent auction of one of those signed books brought $35,000. The hardcover 1974 first edition of Rudolfo Anaya's book, Bless Me Ultima was a very small printing and is worth around $2,500. On a more modern book, the dust jacket condition is very important. A first edition of The Great Gatsby is a book which might sell for $800 or $900 without a dust jacket but a copy in a very nice dust jacket sold for over $100,000 a few years ago.
Anything that you are most excited about regarding this year's book fair?
I will be exhibiting and am bringing a book signed by World War 2 journalist Ernie Pyle, whose home in Albuquerque is now a library. Bound newspapers, the Albuquerque Morning Journal from 1883, the first year it was published [will be there]. A map of New Mexico from 1862 showing the southern half of the state as the Confederate Territory of Arizona with its capitol at Old Mesilla, now part of Las Cruces. [And] Ken Sanders, appraiser of rare books for “Antiques Road Show” is one of our exhibitors.