Nineteenth-century Scottish poet William Edmondstoune Aytoun is not as well-remembered as his 18th-century countryman, Rabbie Burns, but chances are there’s a book lover out there eagerly hunting down a first edition of his Firmilian, or the Student of Badajoz, a Spasmodic Tragedy. And — fingers crossed — there’s an antiquarian bookseller with a copy looking for a new home. Here in Connecticut, folks with special tastes and an appreciation of the book arts can turn to a variety of dealers in the rare and curious. Visit any — in the flesh or online — and you’ll agree with Aytoun’s long-ago observation: “Where is human nature so weak as in the bookstore!” Here are few to test your self-control.
For the global
McBlain Books, Hamden
Phil and Sharon McBlain go global with their business, offering primarily non-fiction material in many languages. A current highlight is the three-volume first edition of Richard F. Burton’s Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to El Medinah and Meccah ($7,500). One category of special note is African Americana. Some years ago, the McBains sold a copy of David Walker’s Appeal of 1829. “It is one of the great militant documents in the struggle against slavery,” Sharon says. “We sold it for $400, a tiny fraction of what the same book would be priced at today.” Their current inventory in this area ranges from a first edition of the Du Bois classic The Souls of Black Folk ($1,200) to such fascinating ephemera as a copy of The Black Panther Party newspaper from April 1970 ($100). 203-281-0400, mcblainbooks.com; online only.
For the philosophical
Athena Rare Books, Fairfield
Deep thinkers with deep pockets should get to know Bill Schaberg, who deals almost exclusively in first-edition philosophy books. “The very best book I have ever owned and finally sold was one of 10 specially bound presentation copies of John Locke’s Essay on Humane Understanding, 1690. It is literally the most perfect copy of that book in existence.” The volume sold to a private collector for well into six figures. Schaberg also trades in first editions of Alcoholics Anonymous. He currently has one available for $100,000. Fairfield, 203-254-2727, athenararebooks.com; by appointment or visit online.
For the nautical
Sea Fever Books, Killingworth
Frank Crohn has had several brick-and-mortar shops over the years: a general interest store in Essex and an out-of-print place in East Haddam. Today, all tomes nautical are his bailiwick and he operates from snug quarters, a shed outside his Killingworth home. Most of his sales are online, and when the world allows, he sets up shop at such events as the Wooden Boatshow in Mystic. For those who agree with author Kenneth Grahame that “there is nothing — absolutely nothing — half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats,” combing through Crohn’s wallet-friendly inventory ($25-$50) could be the next best thing to being out on the water. 860-663-1888, seafeverbookstore.com; by appointment or visit online.
For the historical
David M. Lesser, Fine Antiquarian Books, Woodbridge
David Lesser has been a good friend to serious students of history for more than 30 years. A specialist in American history and culture through the end of the 19th century, he has acquired and sold any number of significant documents, including the first printed publication of Alexander Hamilton — A Full Vindication of the Measures of Congress — which appeared in 1774 ($50,000). His current list features a broadside printed in Boston in 1775 by British sympathizer George Howe describing the Battle of Bunker Hill ($20,000). “Although books have generally held their value, the biggest change in my field,” Lesser notes, “is that one-of-a-kind items — broadsides, manuscript pages, autographed material — have become very much in demand.” 203-389-8111, lesserbooks.com; by appointment or visit online.
For the ephemeral
Sheryl Jaeger and Ralph Gallo champion what so many of us are often quick to ditch: greeting cards, brochures, the books we read in childhood. Ephemera is their game and the Eclectibles inventory is a stunning gathering of material culture that draws the eye of both the occasional buyer and serious collectors. “We tend to attract a wide audience, from scholars to those seeking to reclaim their childhood or add a bit of whimsy to their day,” Jaeger says. Treasures from childhood are particularly well-represented, including primers, paper dolls and coloring books. Many items are pieces created by kids themselves, including the archive of The Onceinawhile, a newspaper written by a Massachusetts boy from 1899 to 1910 ($7,500). 860-872-7587, eclectibles.com; online and at book fairs.