World’s Biggest Book Fair Coming To London

book fairLove books? You’ll want to be in London this June when seven book fairs will all take place over a nine-day period.

Billed as the world’s largest book fair in a press release by the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers, it runs June 8-16 and features not only rare books and first editions but also maps, photographs and ephemera.

London has several annual and monthly fairs, but this is the first time seven of the biggest have decided to run in the same two weeks. Participants include the huge London International Antiquarian Book Fair at Olympia, the PBFA London International Summer Antiquarian Book Fair down the road at Earl’s Court and the London Map Fair at the Royal Geographical Society. The literary neighborhood of Bloomsbury will have the most events, including the Ephemera Society London Fair, the Bloomsbury Summer Book Fair both, the Bloomsbury Summer Ephemera Fair and the London Photograph Fair.

A free shuttle bus service connects some of the fairs and one ticket allows entry into most events. You can see the entire schedule and buy tickets here.

[Photo courtesy Liam Quin]

Vatican City Issues Special Stamps After Papal Resignation

Vatican City, Vatican stampsCall me old fashioned, but when I’m on the road there’s something special about writing a postcard, sticking on some local stamps and sending it to loved ones back home. Receiving mail from overseas is almost as much fun.

I especially like rare stamps from smaller or less frequently traveled countries. Sadly I couldn’t send any postcards from Somaliland because they don’t have a mail service. I was also disappointed that on my recent trip to Iraq we never stopped at a post office.

Luckily you don’t have to go so far to find strange and soon-to-be collectable stamps. The surprise resignation of Pope Benedict XVI has forced Vatican City to issue a special set of stamps.

They are emblazoned with an angel holding the Arms of the Apostolic Camera and the words “Sede Vacante MMXIII” (“Vacant See 2013”). They come in four different denominations of 70 and 85 euro cents, 2 euros, and 2.50 euros.

Stamps for the vacant see are designed shortly after a new Pope takes office and are kept until he dies, to be used for the brief period before the next Pope is elected.

Stamp Magazine reports that since the Vatican started issuing stamps, the Vacant See issues have only been used for a total of 20 days. I suspect this means that franked (used) Vacant See stamps will later become pretty valuable owing to their rarity. So if you’re in Italy, head on over to that little country inside Rome and send out some postcards. Your friends and family will thank you for it a few years from now.

[Photo courtesy Vatican Philatelic and Numismatic Office]

Barbed Wire Museums Take On A Prickly Subject

barbed wire
I’ve always loved museums on obscure subjects because they teach you how overlooked objects can have a big influence. Barbed wire is one of those objects.

While various inventors started experimenting with barbed wire in the 1850s, the founder of barbed wire is generally considered to be Joseph Glidden, whose 1873 design soon stretched across the American West. Before then, it was nearly impossible to enclose the vast rangelands of the West. There were constant fights over whose animals were on whose land. With the advent of barbed wire, land became enclosed, and the fights turned to passage rights and boundary disputes.

It’s often said barbed wire tamed the Old West, and while that’s true it also led to its demise. The West became more organized; freedom of movement suffered, and bigger and bigger ranches began to enclose huge swaths of land. Barbed wire was a boon to some and a curse to others. Many called it “the Devil’s rope” or “the Devil’s hatband.”

There are three major museums devoted to this humble but important invention. The Joseph F. Glidden Homestead & Historical Center in DeKalb, Illinois, is devoted to the inventor of barbed wire and his carefully restored home, barn and blacksmith shop. The museum has a blacksmith who gives live demonstrations of his traditional craft including, of course, wire making.

%Gallery-155001%The Devil’s Rope Museum on Route 66 in McLean, Texas, has a huge collection of barbed wire. The original design inspired countless variants and supposed improvements. Also, thefts of barbed wire led manufacturers to design specific wires for large companies and ranches. Hundreds of these variants are on display, as well as art created from barbed wire and a room devoted to the history of Route 66.

Over in LaCrosse, Kansas, there’s the Kansas Barbed Wire Museum, which has more than 2,000 varieties of wire as well as wire-making tools and displays of barbed wire being used in peace and at war. It’s the headquarters of the Antique Barbed Wire Society, one of several societies of collectors and historians. Yes, there are collectors for everything, and with so many variants of wire and so much history for each one, the hobby has attracted some devoted followers.

Lots of historical societies and pioneer museums have small displays of barbed wire, so the next time you pass one on the highway, stop by and check it out. Just remember: look, but don’t touch!

[Image courtesy Coyote Grafix via flickr]

10,000 Toy Soldiers March On English Town

toy soldiers
A new museum dedicated to toy soldiers has opened in Silloth in northern England. Soldiers in Silloth opens today and houses the massive collection of local enthusiast Tim Barker.

Barker’s personal army, which numbers some 10,000 diminutive warriors, includes early lead examples and the more modern green plastic guys. The centerpiece is a large diorama (battle scene) of Waterloo. There are other dioramas of the Old West and Hadrian’s Wall, which terminates not far from Silloth. Check out their online gallery to see more.

While the museum is now open, the organization is calling for funds and volunteers. It’s strange to think a type of toy that was ubiquitous when I was a kid back in the ’70s now requires a museum. Most kids don’t seem to play with toy soldiers anymore. Many modeling companies have gone out of business or have stopped mass production and are now catering to collectors and war gamers. The owner of one toyshop where I get models for my kid says he hardly ever sells model soldiers to children anymore.

It appears that toy soldiers are increasingly becoming museum pieces. There are large collections at the Army Museum in London, the War Museum in Paris and the Tin Soldier Museum in Valencia.

Silloth is a major tourist destination in northwestern England. There’s some beautiful coastline and countryside nearby, plenty of fishing and camping opportunities and several annual events, including the popular and family-friendly Solway Music Festival (Solfest).

[Photo courtesy J.C. Butler.]

Scotland tells collector: stop stealing our eggs!

Scotland
An obsessive collector of rare birds’ eggs has been banned from visiting Scotland during nesting season. The ban was slapped on Matthew Gonshaw, 49, and lasts from February 1 to August 31 of every year for the ten years. He’s also banned from visiting land owned by the Wildlife Trust and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

Gonshaw has been repeatedly arrested for stealing the eggs of rare birds and is currently serving his fourth prison term for the offense.

The ban came as an ASBO, an Anti-Social Behaviour Order. ASBOs ban individuals from certain activities that are annoying or potentially criminal. Public drunkenness, playing football in the street, and other minor offenses are often stopped through ASBOs. Some ASBOs are a bit odd, like banning a sixty year-old man from dressing as a schoolgirl, complete with plaid skirt. This guy was hanging around schools and making parents nervous. BBC has a list of some of the weirder ones here.

In Gonshaw’s case, the ASBO will hopefully keep him away from the rare bird’s eggs he’d rather stick on a shelf than let hatch. Scotland is one of the top destinations for bird watchers and if “collectors” like Gonshaw are allowed to steal eggs with impunity, Scotland’s wildlife could be seriously affected.

Photo courtesy Mr. T in DC via flickr.