Vermont Summer Books and Ephemera Fair: Rare books can yield gem of a find
BENNINGTON, VT. — The great 15th-century humanist and scholar Erasmus left us with a dictum which resonates with bibliophiles everywhere, even hundreds of years later:
"When I have a little money, I buy books," Erasmus once wrote. "If I have some left over, I buy food and clothes."
Clearly, a man who had his priorities straight. Regional fans of collectible pages can seek to align with Erasmus on Sunday in Bennington at the 2016 Vermont Summer Books and Ephemera Fair.
The fair, which is sponsored by the Vermont Antiquarian Bookseller's Association (VABA), will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Grace Christian School.
This is the first time in its history that Bennington will host it. Typically, the VABA holds two book fairs a year: one in the north and the other in the southern part of the state.
Organizer John Hess, owner of Catamount Books in Arlington, Vt., said that, at last count, there will be around 15 book and ephemera dealers on hand, and all carry a variety of past treasures, to include maps, postcards, letters, prints and other such gems.
Not all the dealers are from Vermont; some are from Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and New Hampshire.
"Various booksellers bring their best, most interesting materials and display it for sale," Hess said. "All books are priced, but the price can usually be negotiated, but sometimes not. You could wait until the end of the fair and possibly get a great deal, but that item might be sold earlier in the day."
Patty McWilliams, owner of Hermit Hill Books in Poultney, Vt., emphasized that everything at a book fair is not always ancient and musty.
"I bring recently acquired stock that I'm excited about, good regional titles, first edition literature, and unusual history titles," McWilliams said. "I love photography. It doesn't always sell, but I still bring it."
Another important aspect of these fairs, McWilliams continued, is the element of camaraderie among all lovers of books and other such collectibles.
Donna Howard, who owns The Eloquent Page in St. Albans, agreed with McWilliams, noting the positive synergy of both vendors and customers with similar passions.
"For me, a book fair is a chance to meet a large number of fellow book lovers at once," Howard said. "I meet fellow booksellers, collectors, librarians and people who just love books. Everyone I meet knows something that I do not."
Howard explained that she spends the entire day at a fair day talking to people and learning more than she did before. This could include a new title or author, how to identify a particular style of binding, or an illustrator she had never seen.
Ben Koenig of The Country Bookshop in Plainfield, Vt. was quick to note that contrary to what some browsers and attendees may believe, book fairs are not flea markets.
"The benefit of a fair for book lovers is that the items on exhibit have been carefully chosen by knowledgeable booksellers," Koenig said. "They may or may not be the most expensive books, but they may be unusual, or they may be rarely seen, or they may be in beautiful condition, or they may be perfect for your shelf at home."
The variety and care taken in each exhibitor's booth, Koenig added, is well worth a visit.
"Often, it will feel as if you are in a museum in which you can handle these rare items and ask questions of a dealer who knows his or her stock," he said.
Hess said that booksellers love to tell stories, and on that count, McWilliams didn't disappoint. She recounted her first book fair with great fondness.
"It was about 18 or 19 years ago, the Burlington Book Fair and it was April 9," McWilliams recalled. "The morning of the fair, we woke to a major snowstorm, but managed to make the drive to Burlington. Hardly anyone from the public braved the weather, but I did really well selling to other dealers. Everyone was so welcoming and encouraging."
McWilliams said that while it might seem booksellers are in business competition with each other, that's not really the case.
"If someone comes into my shop asking about a book and I don't have it, I will send the buyer to another vendor that may have it," she said. "We're all working to keep the wonderful world of books alive."
The 2016 Vermont Summer Book and Ephemera fair will he held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday at Grace Christian School, 104 Kocher Dr., Bennington, Vt. Admission is free. Info: 802-282-9769 or visit: vermontisbookcountry.com
Telly Halkias is a VABA member who neither participates in its annual fairs, nor received its compensation for this article.
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