Last Saturday morning I made my annual visit to the Florida Antiquarian Book Fair in St. Petersburg. The fair, which attracts dealers from as far away as Missouri, Ohio, California, Michigan and even Ontario, was more crowded than I can remember it ever being before. When you managed to squeeze into one of the dealers' booths, you took a chance on not being able to get out again for some minutes.
For someone who avoids crowds, this was the unpleasant part of the morning. The pleasant part, of course, was being surrounded by so many rare and valuable books. I noticed a first edition of John Steinbeck's In Dubious Battle priced at $4,500, Herman Melville's Moby-Dick ($32,500), Bleak House by Charles Dickens ($1,500), Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce ($7,500), a signed copy of Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest ($9,500), Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer ($22,500) and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn ($5,000) and an early Dick and Jane primer, more a pamphlet than a book ($95).
Some books caught my eye less for their appraised value than for other reasons. I noticed the first American edition of The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Hueffer. I hadn't realized Ford Madox Ford had been born Hueffer. He didn't change his name until after The Good Soldier was published in 1915. The book was priced at $2,500.
Having just finished reading a biography of Dwight D. Eisenhower, I was interested in a signed copy of his book Crusade in Europe for $6,500.
Some books caught my eye because I own similar copies of them. A first edition of Elmore Leonard's Bandits was priced at just $15 and The Seven-Per-Cent Solution by Nicholas Meyer just $25. But I saw two copies of the first edition of Michael Shaara's The Killer Angels, one priced at $1,250 and the other at $2,000. I saw copies of John O'Hara's Appointment in Samarra ($6,500) and Graham Greene's The Comedians ($45) that look just like mine, but I don't think mine are first editions. I guess I'll have to check.
There was more at the book fair than just books. I spied a signed photograph of actor Leslie Howard valued at $750.
I came away from the book fair with nothing in my hands but a program, bookmarks, business cards and a catalog. I did, however, stop at a used bookstore on the way home and bought three old books I could actually afford.