Stuttgart Rare Book Fair: A Newcomer’s Report

It is always exciting to conquer a new collecting area. What long-time collectors take for granted is fascinating and thrilling for a newcomer. This already starts with all the raffles that are being held within the first hour of the Stuttgart Rare Book Fair.

Glance into one of all the aisles of the Stuttgart Rare Book Fair. Photo: KW.

No, it’s not about winning a gorgeous book. Quite the opposite, it’s about being allowed to spend money. If you win, you are granted the right to purchase a specific book that is presented in the fair catalogue. But let’s start at the beginning – after all, this raffle seems to be common at all antiquarian book fairs around the world.

So, there is a catalogue, and serious collectors study it carefully already long before the beginning of the fair. In this catalogue, all participants offer particularly interesting works that they will bring to the fair. Prices range from €350 for a legal lampoon to €680,000 for a book of hours approx. written in 1405. The special thing about it: all of these books can only be bought at the fair, at the booth of the company that offers it.

Until a few years ago, the sale took place according to the ancient law of first come, first serve. However, when some particularly competitive collectors started to hire athletes to drop their business cards wherever they wanted to buy a book while running past all the booths, and when the rush for the books even resulted in injuries, a new rule was introduced that says that any interested party has the right to submit its interested within the entire first hour of the fair. If more than one person is interested, the purchasing right will be raffled. And indeed, when I got off the train, which – with quite a delay – had brought a group of collectors from Zurich to Stuttgart, I saw numerous (not so young) men hurrying to the fair at a brisk pace in order to arrive in time for this important first act of the event.

Treasures at the Booths of All Dealers

What else? As I entered the hall, I was completely overwhelmed. About 80 antiquarian booksellers from Germany and abroad offered their items in large fair boxes. Most dealers were from Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Great Britain. Some participants came from Italy, the Netherlands and France.

Such an abundance of interesting, exciting, exquisite antiquarian books in one room – it makes your mouth gape open. And in contrast to usual national coin fairs, all dealers brought their showpieces to the event. There was hardly anything for newcomers, objects that cost less than €200 could only be found on rare occasions. The prices of most books ranged from €500 to €5,000. But, obviously, an expert could also spend much more. The antiquarian book trade is still a direct trade, only a small fraction of the items is sold at auctions.

Specialist dealers exhibited treasures of all areas in their showcases: the British specialist for economic topics offered, to mention just one example, the first volume of the first edition of “Das Kapital” by Karl Marx. The eyes of the author, who was always short of money, would light up if he knew that the review copy that he had sent to a Leipzig newspaper back then will now be sold for €195,000.

And those who would like to have the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro at home could purchase the estate of Hans Meyer, the first person to reach the summit. He gave one half of the summit as a gift to the German emperor while he kept the other half for himself and turned it into a paperweight. As the emperor’s part of the summit has been lost since World War II, this is the only remaining piece of the original summit of Kilimanjaro. Now, it was on sale together with all the letters and manuscripts written by Hans Meyer.

Much More Than Old Books

Whether it be a globe or an atlas, a children’s or a recipe book, manuscript or print, copper engraving or Japanese woodcut – at the Stuttgart fair, you can find almost all fields of the serious antiquarian book trade. However, there is one thing that you won’t find. There is barely anyone offering services or accessories. Only a single book restorer set up a booth here, and another one offered handmade marbled paper that is needed to bind books. Anyone who – like me – was looking for solutions in order to exhibit or photograph books in a way that inhibits damage as much as possible was just as wise after the fair as he had been before.

However, the organisers offered guided tours for interested visitors of all ages on Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday, a guided tour for students of the Stuttgart Media University took place, students of other universities as well as pupils were invited to participate, too.

And what else is there? You can learn something at every booth: all antique dealers I talked to were a cornucopia of knowledge about the books they brought to the fair. I learned something new from every conversation!

And yes, after the Stuttgart Rare Book Fair, the library of the MoneyMuseum is pleased about some new acquisitions. We will present them to you in one of the next newsletters.


Other Things You Might Be Interested In:

Here you can find the website of the Stuttgart Rare Book Fair.

Heribert Tenschert, expert for manuscripts and books of hours, organised an exhibition on books commissioned by emperor Maximilian I in order to increase his glory.

The fair is organised by the Verband Deutscher Antiquare (German Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association).