Every November, the International Fine Print Dealers’ Association (IFPDA) holds a fair at the Park Avenue Armory in Manhattan. Colloquially known as the New York Print Fair, almost 100 dealers from the US, Canada, and Europe bring a selection from their stock for visitors to inspect, admire, and possibly purchase.
There’s no obligation to buy anything more than an admission ticket, so it’s a great opportunity for people to see museum-quality art without velvet ropes or protective glass, and to take pictures of anything they want (using a flash is an etiquette violation because it disturbs others, and I didn’t want to lug around a proper camera, so for the “Photo by Erin Blake” credit on these images, please read “No-flash photo by Erin Blake, taken in haste with her phone, and very definitely not a Folger photo by Julie Ainsworth“).
It’s pretty overwhelming. In addition to the prints on booth walls, each dealer has boxes, or easels, or both filled with scores of matted prints (“Have you been through my boxes?” is a common conversation-opener from dealers). I always start with a list of dealers whose specialties match the Folger’s Collection Development Policy (a task made easier this year by a QR code on the paper map that takes you to a mobile app listing dealers by genre) and check them off as I go.
The best part about the print fair, for me, is being able to talk with the dealers in person. It’s great putting names and faces together, and great being able to talk with dealers in more detail about the Folger—when a print that would perfectly fit our collection crosses their path over the course of the year, I like to hope that they’ll remember us and give me a call before offering it to anyone else.
This year, my favorite print at the fair turned out to be a little mid-seventeenth-century engraving offered by Hill-Stone, Inc. You can just see it on the wall in the photo, below:
At first glance, it appears to be a straightforward portrait of a young woman with a very décolleté bodice entitled This Face in French (using a flowery form of the word, “visagement”), but looking more closely, you can see that the top half of the print is clearly on a separate flap of paper.
Lesley Hill and Alan Stone cleverly hinged the mat into the display frame so that it could easily be opened up for inspection. They also attached a paper “handle” to the flap (with reversible wheat-starch paste) to protect it from over-handling.
Lift the flap up, and the double-meaning of the title becomes clear, This Face Lies (“Ce visage ment”). Underneath the beautiful face is a hideous skeleton, with traces of hair:
On the one hand, it is a memento mori, or “reminder of death,” a common rhetorical device from the period designed to show awareness that death can come at any moment, so best to be prepared. On the other hand, it could also be a warning about the dangers of consorting with loose women. I’ve never seen a print quite like it before, and hope that it proves interesting to researchers at the Folger—I’ll update this post with a link to the Hamnet record once it’s processed and available for use.
As for my hope that dealers will remember me and think of the Folger, about a week ago I got a phone call from Alan Stone. He and Lesley happened to have a Wenceslaus Hollar etching of Hans Holbein’s portrait of the baby Prince of Wales, later Edward VI… was the Folger interested? Yes! It should arrive any day now.