On Sunday, March 29th I had the pleasure of attending The Old Book & Paper Show. Billed as Toronto’s biggest one day “vintage print-fest”, this show is dedicated exclusively to books, postcards, posters, photographs and all types of old ephemera. It takes place twice a year (March and November) in an interesting part of the city along St. Clair west.
The show is set up in a long hallway in the Wychwood Barns building (originally a streetcar repair barn from the 1910s). Tall ceilings and bright windows flood the space with light. We arrived about a half hour after the show opened at 10am, and the room was packed. If there is something in particular you are looking for, you should get there early. One seller told me the serious collectors wait outside to enter as soon as the doors open. If you’re more of a curious looky-loo, you might find it easier to browse a little later when the crowd dies down.
When we first entered I didn’t think it would take too long to see all the booths but we ended up staying for almost three hours. What I didn’t realize was just how many individual items were crammed into every square inch of space! Vintage advertisements, postcards and magazines filled file boxes. These were often organized by topic but once you started it was easy to keep flipping through. Then there were the art prints and large format photographs ready for framing. Historical images of Toronto, Canada and the world. Postcards of tropical paradises. Vintage fashion magazines and pulp fiction novels. Rare and valuable first edition books alongside travel brochures, sports cards and comics. The show is very well named because literally everything old and paper was represented.
As you may expect in a professional show like this, the dealers had their specialties and knew their stock. If you had a specific item you were looking for they could always help. If you were just interested in a topic or time period they could also steer you in the right direction. Most were also willing to cut a price on multiple purchases, and I found the prices on the whole quite reasonable.
Being the nerd that I am, I made a bee line to some boxes of mid century “Amazing Stories” and sci-fi pulp. I was just as interested in these books for their kitchy covers as for the stories. $5 bought me a paperback with a title story called “The Girl Who Hated Air”. Not a very promising read, but I think the astronaut cover is worth the money. I also spent time at the postcard sellers finding some more cheerful Alfred Mainzer cat postcards.
Anson found a few sets of small black and white photos of Niagara Falls and Stanley Park in Vancouver. These little sets were sold to tourists in the 1940s and 1950s as additional photos to use in home albums. They were sort of the precursor to the postcard books you can buy today, but higher quality. The photos are crisp and clear and often well composed. They are quite charming and historical mementos of Canada’s natural beauty.
In the end we had a bag full of curiosities, books, photographs and postcards. I doubt we spent over $100 but we found some great little gems that will find a place in our home. I saw many serious collectors at the show, but not too many younger casual buyers. This is a shame. Gift stores sell reproduction images that cash in on the vintage charm of old ads, or the artistic appeal of black and white photography. Here was a place to buy all of that, and more, in an authentic form. There was also a great selection of books on specific and hard to find topics in art, music and history. From high brow to low brow, and all the prices between the two, there was truly something for everyone. I look forward to visiting the show again in the fall.