With the dominion of the physical book becoming more scarce, the value of the rare book seems to be increasing. This year's New York Antiquarian Book Fair displays some exquisite and historical tomes that raise the bar on beauty and art.
What does a book's cover reveal? A binding oftentimes says a lot about what's imparted within. For instance, Ursus Rare Books Italiani di Mussolini in A.O. by Celso Maria Garatti 1937 has a binding that speaks volumes about its content. This large folio's cover is composed of copper tubes on its spine and onlaid metal on it's front. As Ursus notes, "it is a binding that is completely over the top, Fascist bombast at its most preposterous." Mimicking its content, the binding's symbolism, especially the metal axe, illustrates Mussolini's dictatorial directives, in this case, it is the "brilliant conquest of poorly armed Africans" by the leader's might. Aesthetically very 20's / 30's, the binding's typography and cover presents and suggests a most powerful political image.
A most impressive cover is that of Michael Steinbach's "1906" Calendar by Carl Ottto Czeschka. Pubished in Viennna and composed of twelve leaves, the work has colored lithographed plates by the Sucessionist artist. It is only one of a hundred numbered copies and illustrates within "for each month a human being or animal, surrounded by an ornamental border." Printed in blue and with wrappers and ornaments printed in black, it is a most elegant volume. But, it is its dazzling cover which displays Czeschka's artistry most brilliantly. The sinewy detailed curves that form its border mirror the very modern typography of its title, 1906. The subtle radius of the boxed-in numbers play into the swirls of it's outlying decoration. So discreet yet so poignant. Very indicative of this period, Czeschka's calendar cover unmasks the beauty of the illustrations between the covers.
Mr. Steinbach's other illustrious little tome, entitled "Josef Hoffmann 1870 - 1956," is a compendium of the architect/ designer's works. Listing 146 items by Hoffmann, the text includes an introduction. But, it is the cover that says it all. The typically Hoffmann-like black and white squares in perfect geometric scale reveal everything about what's inside, both in style and feel. It's a special little book, especially meaningful to those Wiener Werkstatte lovers.
Speaking of covers, one of the most renown is that of "Le Petit Prince." Charles Agvent's copy of Saint-Exupery's Reynal &Hitchcock's 1943 First Edition is rare indeed. This tome is #163 of only 260 numbered signed copies by the author. Mr. Agvent is eager to point out Exupery's small, clearly recognizable writing / signature below the title on the tipped-in limitation age. As the rare bookseller notes, "This American edition appeared before the French or English editions, and this the ONLY way to obtain a signed edition of this book as the author was assigned to fly with the French Free Air Force shortly before publication and went missing about a year later while on a mission." This limited French edition is extremely scarce. As for the cover, it's dustwrapper is the original with the matching number in ink on the spine. Coinciding with the Morgan Library's exhibition on "The Little Prince," this volume gains in value and recognition.
The beautiful and valuable volumes offered at the New York Antiquarian Book Fair in New York this year is a special treat. As what's on the exterior is otentimes as important to what's within, a true success lies in the marriage of what's On and Between the Covers.