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CULTURE | 02-12-2023 13:24

Book lovers gather for 16th annual antique book fair in Buenos Aires

Sixteenth edition of Feria del Libro Antiguo de Buenos Aires draws booksellers, writers, artists and book conservators to capital.

Glass shelves protect intricate vellum and leather hardcovers, yellowed paperback books and maps handpicked by each seller all wait to be sold. 

The 16th Feria del Libro Antiguo de Buenos Aires invites everyone with a passion for learning to attend. The event also includes exhibits of rare editions of famed national writer Jorge Luis Borges’ works and a look into historical braille books. 

This year, the fair has a new floor dedicated to book makers and preservers, where you can practise your printmaking skills and learn how people bind and press books.

Most of the businesses can be found in Buenos Aires, but others travel long distances from Chile, Bolivia, Uruguay, and the United States to what Daniel Zachariah, 41, of The Book Cellar & Henschel, says is likely the largest book fair of its type in South America.

Sebastián Uria Minaberrigaray introduces visitors and explains the ins and outs of the fair. In the first floor basement level by the stairs, the 21-year-old sits in front of a bookshelf: “These are very good, but have lower prices than the books sitting downstairs.” 

Minaberrigaray explains that the vendors pick out 10 books to be sold at the entrance of the fair, something more accessible for those learning about the antique book scene. These books could be found with prices like 8,000 to 30,000 pesos. “The first day we sold books that had very good binding and were very beautiful, some from Borges and Manuel Puig,” he said. 

An international relations student, Minaberrigaray had also been eyeing some of the books for himself. “They are expensive, but maybe I’ll get one as a treat for the holidays.” He found a traveller book about Patagonia from the time when the limits between Chile and Argentina were being drawn.

Glasses raised high for brindis as vendors expand their network and celebrate connection. The event is like a family of sellers, each walking through the stands to catch up with old friends. 

“I pick each of the books and items with my heart,” explained Elena Padín Olinik, owner of Librería Helena de Buenos Aires. The bookstore, like others at the fair, has a vast collection. Olinik’s bookstore has gauchesca literature, 19th-century illustrations, first editions of Borges’ works, and more. 

Her famous cats (Demetrio, Cusco, and Café) couldn’t make it to Stand 22 as they keep guard of the shop, but Olinik comes to the fair with specially curated items gathered over the past year. “I brought this old antique book that has a safe inside. So, people could hide it in a bookshelf and put their keys or their love letters inside — things that other people shouldn’t see,” she smiled.

“It’s the first time they have this segment of workshops. I was invited as a representative of decorated papers and supplies for book preservation. That is water paper, marbled, or suminagashi paper,” said Roma Blanco, 46, who learned the art-form from Antonio Vélez Celemín in Spain in 2015. 

She is one of the few decorative paper experts in the Americas at such quality. Since the 15th century, this Turkish paper has been used for books made for kings and aristocrats. “It doesn’t stop being a novelty,” says Blanco, who sells her work to people who want to make nice books or preserve old ones with more original materials.

These stalls, filled with marvels, open themselves up at Palacio La Prensa Casa de la Cultura Rivadavia 564. The location is fitting, which once had a library of more than 80.000 volumes. With Argentina as the bookshop capital of the world, why not enter into a world of book preservation, history, and collectors knowledge?

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Montserrat Pagan

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