"It's very possible that somebody from Belgium sold 'Birds of Belgium' or 'The Flowers of Switzerland' for more money than we sold all our books because literature is not as pricey as color plate books or early printings or things like that," he said.
While no books priced at $300,000 or more were readily apparent, the booth next to Hime's contained an expensive set of atlases offered by Sebastann S. Hesselink, a dealer from Utrecht in the Netherlands. The 12 volumes of "Le Grand Atlas," published in 1667 and containing 596 hand-colored maps and plates as well as many engravings generously embellished with gilt was priced at 400,000 Dutch guilders, or $153,846.
Hesselink said he has had the atlas for about two years, having acquired it from "a noble family in France." He added that he had shipped only two volumes of the atlas to the fair but was prepared to crate over the rest for a serious buyer.
Not the Major Element
But high prices weren't the only--even the major--element of the fair.
Browsing in a stall filled with 18th- and 19th-Century volumes, Scott Fitzgerald, appropriately named after the American novelist of the Jazz Age, showed off "Advice to Young Females," a forerunner of today's advice-to-teens books dated 1799 that he was buying for $20. "This will make a great gift for someone," he said.
Fitzgerald, 35, said he has been collecting for about 20 years and that his library consists of 200 old or rare books plus another 1,500 contemporary books on art.
Being the namesake of a famous writer as well as a book collector sometimes puts him in awkward positions, Fitzgerald said. "A couple of shows ago, somebody asked me to sign my autograph," he said.
Meanwhile, Marie Hutchinson of Demetzy Books of London was explaining the delights of Lady Elizabeth Marston's personal cookbook, a 1701 volume filled with the aristocrat's faded but legible penmanship. The book contained recipes for "mince pyes," tips on preserving figs and hints at the differences in tastes over the centuries.
'To Make Tumbles'
Picking a recipe at random, Hutchinson read and commented, "To make tumbles--whatever they are--you take 'one pound of flower'--there it is misspelled again--'one-quarter pound of butter, one pound of loaf sugar, one egg, two spoons full of rose water and as much fair--whatever that is--as will make into a paste and bake on buttered plates." A moment later, she added, "Some of them (the recipes) contain the most enormous amounts of brandy, gallons of brandy."
The price for this cookbook by a member of Queen Anne's court: $2,500.
For those with a taste for intellectual and literary history there were books aplenty, too.
Most dealers reported a run on science and astronomy books, citing increased interest in those topics as well as heightened awareness that such books are important links in the chain of ideas.
For example, Edwin V. Glaser, a dealer from Sausalito, was touting a 1591 work on optics by Leonard and Thomas Digges that anticipated the invention of the telescope.
In the Literary Vein
As for literary history, Connecticut dealer David Block's items included a letter from Ezra Pound, the American poet whose support of Italy's Fascist government in World War II was his undoing. In the 1924 letter, priced at $1,500, Pound asks a friend in Rome to try to arrange a meeting with Mussolini.
Block said he was pleased with the fair but he admitted that the crowd could sometimes be annoying and that many weren't serious shoppers. "There are a lot of tire kickers here," he said.
But for some of the public, too, the shock of a book fair that combined jostling crowds with high-roller prices and P. T. Barnum showmanship was a sensory overload.
Thella Brock, who came to the show with a young grandson in tow and carrying an old volume to be evaluated, said she had been lured because she heard about the fair "on the radio in the middle of the night."
But her visit was brief and she left without showing the book to anyone. "It's terribly commercial," she said on the way out. "I guess I expected a museum."