10th annual print fair sets the tone for Mercantile’s 170th year of existence

by | May 19, 2016

The event drew an estimated 750 people to campus two weekends ago, featuring all sorts of treasures plus demonstrations, library tours and free ice cream.
St. Louis Mercantile Library print fair

Eric Woods of St. Louis-based Firecracker Press was one of several artists to give demonstrations as part of the St. Louis Fine Print, Rare Book and Paper Arts Fair presented by UMSL’s St. Louis Mercantile Library earlier this month. (Photos by Evie Hemphill)

Featuring treasures ranging in price from a few dollars to thousands – and even some free Ted Drewes ice cream one afternoon – the St. Louis Mercantile Library’s largest event of the year drew an estimated 750 people to the University of Missouri–St. Louis two weekends ago.

Collectors of every sort explored the colorful and countless materials on hand May 6 to 8 during the library’s 10th annual St. Louis Fine Print, Rare Book and Paper Arts Fair, which coincides with the Mercantile’s 170th anniversary as the oldest cultural institution in Missouri.

“We’re very happy with how it’s proceeded, and it’s truly a very fitting event for our 10th anniversary,” said John Hoover, executive director of the Mercantile Library, during the last few hours of the fair.

Chris Lane, owner of the Philadelphia Print Shop West in Denver, was one of the national dealers who traveled a significant distance to present his materials. For Lane, the St. Louis market is a strong one, with lots of interest in the historic materials he specializes in. The reputation of the library hosting the annual event also brings him back again and again.

Artist demonstration at Mercantile Library print fair

Local book artist Joanne Kluba (at right) shares her handiwork with eventgoers May 8 during the final day of the print fair, which took place in the J.C. Penney Building on UMSL’s North Campus.

“The Mercantile Library is one of the great institutions in the country,” Lane said in between questions from those sifting through the antique maps, prints and other items at his booth in the J.C. Penney Building. “It’s very nice to come [to St. Louis].”

That Sunday, Lauren Terbrock, a UMSL graduate student in the Department of English, watched as book artist Joanne Kluba of Paper Birds Studio showcased a binding technique. Kluba’s demonstration was one of several that punctuated the afternoon, and Terbrock said she was blown away by the fair as a whole.

“I’m incredibly impressed,” she said, “and I’m amazed with how much stuff there is and how much history.”

Another highlight came courtesy of Eric Woods, owner of St. Louis-based Firecracker Press. Woods conducted a demonstration using what he described as a miniature version of the machines Firecracker operates to print posters, greeting cards, wedding invitations and books at its two locations in the city.

The relatively compact, 1890s-era device he brought to campus for the fair weighs about 150 pounds, but Woods noted that’s nothing compared to most such machines.

“The presses we use at the shop are between 2,000 and 3,000 pounds, so obviously we can’t be bringing those to UMSL,” he explained during his presentation. “While this thing is tiny, it’s actually got a lot of engineering in it.”

Over its 10-year history, the fair has built a roster of exemplary national and local dealers while always welcoming new participants to broaden the array of offerings presented to the St. Louis audience. Organizers note that it’s not too early to plan on next year’s fair and mark calendars for May 5 to 7, 2017. For more information, click here.

The UMSL Experience

Evie Hemphill

Evie Hemphill