Rare & Beautiful

At the Armory: Designers & Books Visits the 51st New York Antiquarian Book Fair

By Steve Kroeter April 12, 2011
Cover of PM by Leo Rackow, 1938

Thought by many to be the premier rare book event in the world, the 51st New York Antiquarian Book Fair took place this past weekend in New York. The event attracted more than 200 booksellers from 15 countries. With one of the booksellers listed on Designers & Books as our guide, another as an exhibitor, and two others letting us know they would be attending the opening, we made a point of dropping by.

Randall Ross of Modernism 101

We met up with Randall Ross, the owner of Modernism 101 Rare Design Books, and a D&B affiliated bookseller. Randall agreed to take us around and show us some of the booths and books that he thought were particularly worth noting.

Our first stop was Dan Christian and Joe Philips at A. Parker’s Books where Randall had two things to show us:

Form by Max Bill, 1952

Form by Max Bill, published in 1952 by Verlag Karl Werner, Basel. Randall’s immediate comment was: “This is straight-up cool.” The introductory essay in the book describes it as “primarily a picture book laying no claim to completeness or balance. It illustrates things that evince a remarkable degree of perfection, or embody some idea capable of further development. In fact, it is really a kind of survey from the compiler’s personal standpoint of the evolution of form towards the middle of the Twentieth Century.” Since this book has never been reprinted, it can be hard to find copies with an intact dust jacket. The fact that this copy had one—which features a strikingly photographed Slinky—made it particularly attractive to Randall. Price: $800.

Cover of PM by Lester Beall, 1937
Collection of early Alex Steinweiss album covers for Columbia Records, PM/AD, c. 1941

A seven-volume bound set of 62 copies (of the 66 produced) of PM/ADmagazine from 1934 to 1942.  PM was published by a typesetting agency called The Composing Room, and in Randall’s opinion during its time it was the most important graphic design publication originating in the U. S. It provided an early platform (in many cases the first) for a long list of names who would become major graphic designers and typographers of the 1930s and later, including Herbert Bayer, Lester Beall, Paul Rand, and Alex Steinweiss, who went on to be the art director for Columbia Records and who through his album cover artwork, according to Randall, “radically changed the way records were marketed.” Price: $2,800.


John Rutter and David Stang of Ars Libri showing László Moholy-Nagy’s title page for Staatliches Bauhaus, Weimar 1919–1923 (1923)

At the next booth we saw John Rutter and David Stang at Ars Libri Ltd., who talked about:

Staatliches Bauhaus, Wiemar 1919–1923 by Walter Gropius, published in 1923. Cover by Herbert Bayer; interior by Moholy-Nagy; texts by Marcel Breuer, Wassily Kandinsky, Moholy-Nagy (“The New Typography”), et al. Edition of 2,000. In German. 

Herbert Bayer’s cover for Staatliches Bauhaus

The Metropolitan Museum of Art notes the significance of this book’s cover: “At the Bauhaus, typography was conceived as both an empirical means of communication and an artistic expression, with visual clarity stressed above all. Bayer's design, made while he was still a student, employs to dramatic visual effect block-like sans serif lettering in bright red and blue against a black background. Bayer manipulated the spacing of the letters so that each of the four lines of text is the same length. Hence, the title appears as a unified block of text, rather than individual words. The Bauhaus typography, with its letters stripped of all ornamental elements, initially caused an uproar among critics but had a far-reaching impact on the development of graphic design in the twentieth century.” Randall told us, “If I could take one book home from this fair, it would be this one.” Price: $8,000.


At Derringer Books we met owner Alan Zipkin and saw:

Architectural Details by Antonin Raymond, 1938

Architectural Details by Antonin Raymond published in 1938 by Architectural Forum. Letterpress printed on handmade Japanese paper with burlap-over-board cover and metal spiral binding. Interior and exterior residential architectural drawings and photographs of work by Raymond, who accompanied Frank Lloyd Wright to Tokyo in 1919 to help build the Imperial Hotel and then stayed and became one of Japan’s foremost modern builders. Randall’s comments: “Raymond was a protégé of Wright’s. This book is an elaborate piece of self-promotion showing that Raymond learned a thing or two about business from Wright. But it’s a great tactile experience and a terrific coffee-table object.” Price: $1,500.

Beth Dougherty from Potterton Books, another Designers & Books affiliated bookseller, introduced us to two of her close friends—Geoff Baere and Dan Dwyer—who were exhibiting at the fair and had interesting pieces to show us.

Geoff Baere at Trevian Books:

Woolworth Building folio, 1912

First edition Woolworth Building Rental Prospectus Folio from 1912. Ten pages. Illustrated with 13 folding plans and drawings. Noted as the "Highest Building in the World.” Price: $975.

Dan Dwyer at Johnnycake Books:

French edition of Leoni’s Palladio, 1726

First French edition of Leoni’s Palladio. Printed in 1726 by Peter Goss, The Hague. First through fourth books in two volumes. Early or contemporary mottled calf with six raised bands at spines with pressed gilt decorations and title. full-page plates, illustrations, drawings, and engravings. Leoni's edition, and his alterations, are acknowledged to have impacted British and American Palladianism. Price: $7,250.

John Curtis of The Bookpress, Ltd. with A Complete Body of Architecture by Isaac Ware, 1757

At The Bookpress Ltd. we visited John Curtis, a Designers & Books affiliated bookseller exhibiting at the fair. John showed us A Complete Body of Architecture by Isaac Ware. Published in 1757, this book is generally acknowledged as having formally introduced English architecture to the U.S. Thomas Jefferson is known to have had a copy in his library. Price: $6,500.

1839 edition of the Book of Common Prayer

Because it’s on D&B contributor Margaret McCurry’s list, we also noticed a copy that John had of the Book of Common Prayer: this one was published in 1839 by Oxford University and has a polychromatic, full-embossed leather binding common in the 1830s. Price: $625.

Contact information for all the booksellers cited above is listed here:

A. Parker’s Books, Inc.
1488 Main Street
Sarasota FL 34236

Ars Libri Ltd.
500 Harrison Avenue
Boston MA 02118

The Bookpress, Ltd.
1304 Jamestown
Road Williamsburg VA 23185

Derringer Books
56 Milan Road
Woodbridge, CT 06525

Johnnycake Books
12 Academy Street
Salisbury, CT 06068
By appointment

Modernism 101 Rare Design Books
P.O. Box 53256
Shreveport, LA 71135
By appointment

Potterton Books New York
D&D Building Lobby
979 3rd Avenue
New York NY 10022-1298

Trevian Books
P.O. Box 433
Piermont, NY 10968


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