News Notes – November 15

Boston book fair is skin-sational
By Marie Szaniszlo/Boston Herald – November 15, 2009 –

If you love old books, you will love the Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair. And if you love the macabre, you will love Hans Holbein’s “Dance of Death.”

The 1813 edition, tucked in a corner of one of the Hynes Convention Center, is bound in human skin and has a cover inlay of a toothsome skull carved from human bone.

“Some people are squeamish about it,” said Henry Wessells, who works for the New York bookseller James Cummins, which already has sold the ghoulish tome for an undisclosed sum.

Susan Skelly of Newport, R.I., seemed at once horrified and fascinated by the book, refusing to touch it as she peppered Wessells with questions: “Whose skin?” (Unknown.) “What part of the body?” (Most likely the back.)

Originally published in 1538, the book includes illustrations of skeletons lingering over various people, from a child to an old woman, from a peddler to the pope.

“It shows that death comes for everyone,” Wessells said. “The idea is that by thinking about one’s impending death, the reader would be prompted to live a better life.”

The fair, which continues today from noon to 5 p.m., also features conventional books, including first editions of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Tender Is the Night” and Ernest Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises.”

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