Book Arts Fair celebrates antique books in Northampton

Photo courtesy of Flannery Langton ’22   A display from Craftsbury Antiquarian Books’ stand

Photo courtesy of Flannery Langton ’22

A display from Craftsbury Antiquarian Books’ stand


Book stores and small businesses from across Western Massachusetts gathered to sell their wares at the fourth annual Northampton Book and Book Arts Fair last weekend, Nov. 30 through Dec. 1. The fair was held at the Smith College Student Center and was free to the public.

The event’s title evokes thoughts of elementary school Scholastic book fairs or publishing festivals stocked with New York Times Bestsellers. However, the books found at the Northampton Book and Book Arts Fair were not ordinary titles. In fact, many of the items for sale were what one might expect to find in a museum: original manuscripts of Sylvia Plath poetry, centuries -old Sanskrit texts and children’s books from the 19th century. Prices ranged anywhere from five dollars into the thousands.

“I really didn’t know what to expect,” said Lila Goldstein ’22, “but when I got there my mind was kind of blown, and I had a good time looking at old books.” She could spend hours, she said, looking at all the books, and she hoped the fair might encourage students to read authors they hadn’t yet encountered.

In addition to antique book sales, the fair featured a variety of book arts: vendors sold handmade cards, journals, calendars and other art pieces. One stand advertised book-binding done by hand.

One vendor, Dr. Shirley Jackson Whitaker, was selling her new book, “Ashes to Ashes,” at the fair. The book commemorates a selection of recorded lynchings in America, and from paper to bindings to etchings was made entirely by hand. In addition to being a writer, Dr. Whitaker is also a physician. “Any time I want to help a patient, the first thing I get is a history,” said Jackson. “[It’s] important for us to get that in order to orchestrate some form of healing.” She said she felt the book fair was another way of remembering history, a communal form of sharing what could help the world learn from its past.

Book vendor Michael Muilenberg said he made sure to bring books that related to Mount Holyoke and the Five College area, like a collection of letters from Mary Lyon and an early 20th century book on the Pioneer Valley. Because of their age and many owners, the books are all unique. Muilenberg said, “sometimes I leave things in books that are special little things, that make it more than just the text or the cover, that give it a little bit of history.” Book fairs like this one, he said, are rarely held on college campuses. “The number of students and young people that have come in,” said Muilenberg, “makes it a real special show.”