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Antiquarian books anything but outdated, say collectors

ST. PETERSBURG — Never mind that the iPad, Apple's much anticipated electronic reading tablet, hits stores in 20 days to strike what many say will be the death knell for books.

Bibliophiles couldn't have cared less Saturday as they combed through the stacks for rare finds at the 29th Annual Florida Antiquarian Book Fair at the Coliseum in downtown.

"There is nothing like holding a nice book," said Mark Raffauf, a 51-year-old photographer. "I don't care what anyone else says, you can't get that kind of feel or smell from a screen."

There was a swagger to the more than 2,000 who attended the fair, which featured about 115 specialized dealers from the United States and Europe. Sure, they might have been bookworms. But no one was going to bully them into reading from something as debased as an e-reader.

To this bunch, liquid crystal displays are for losers; leather binding, parchment and ink rule.

"The Kindle is convenient, but I don't want to read a book from a little screen," said Dennis Melhouse, owner of First Folio Rare Books in Paris, Tenn. "You're not going to get a signed copy of Leaves of Grass on the Kindle."

Sure enough, Melhouse sells a copy signed by Walt Whitman. He'll sell it to you for $8,000.

While his business is down 30 percent, he doesn't blame technology. It's the economy, he said.

But with some predicting that the printed word is facing extinction in the Digital Age, Saturday's turnout was proof that books are here to stay, said Sarah Smith, manager of the fair.

In fact, the rare and specialized book market will probably be better off as more and more books are published electronically, Smith said. With fewer books actually published, more books will qualify as rare and collectible, she reasons.

"That's an optimistic guess on my part," she said. "But I truly believe that there is some core part of being human that needs to hold and see part of our history. It's amazing to hold something that was held once by Ben Franklin. That's not something you can get electronically."

Michael Van Sickler can be reached at (727) 893-8037 or mvansickler@sptimes.com.

Antiquarian books anything but outdated, say collectors 03/13/10 [Last modified: Saturday, March 13, 2010 9:42pm]

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