A Bluestocking in New York

Winter is “show season” for Bas Bleu, when our editors travel to trade shows to source new products for our catalog. Earlier this month, editor KG headed to New York to attend NY Now, the National Stationery Show, and Shoppe Object. Three shows in two days is no mean feat—sensible shoes and a hearty breakfast are key!—but she couldn’t travel all that way without squeezing in a little sightseeing, too. Here are a few highlights from our very own bluestocking in New York:

Housed inside the Javits Center in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood, NY Now and the National Stationery Show cover two floors of the massive convention center. On display: tens of thousands of products from more than two thousand vendors. From handmade jewelry, small-batch beauty products, and letterpress-printed greeting cards to luxury home furnishings, gourmet foods, and ingenious children’s toys, the possibilities are endless! Wondering how long it takes to walk a show this large? Only eight hours…with a lunch break!

From Midtown to the Lower East Side: This was Bas Bleu’s first venture into New York’s Shoppe Objet show, hosted at Pier 36 in the shadow of the Manhattan Bridge. Focused on independent brands and makers, with only about five hundred exhibitors, Shoppe Objet is a decidedly smaller show…but no less rich in creativity, craftsmanship, and possibility!

A first-time visit to the Lower East Side isn’t complete without a stop at the Tenement Museum, which explores our nation’s history through the experiences of the immigrants and migrants who lived and worked in this bustling neighborhood. The museum is housed in a narrow five-story building at 97 Orchard Street, which was home to more than 7,000 immigrants between 1863 and 1935.

Visitors to the museum can choose from a variety of apartment tours—which explore the incredible, heartbreaking, inspiring lives of real former tenants—as well as neighborhood walking tours. All offer eye-opening glimpses into the lives of men and women from around the world who helped to build our country and shape American culture and identity.

Tucked away uptown on East 60th Street, the Grolier Club quietly guards an incredible collection of literary treasures. Billed as “America’s oldest and largest society for bibliophiles and enthusiasts in the graphic arts,” the club’s members include book collectors, rare-book librarians, and antiquarian book dealers (among others). Fortunately for Bas Bleu, the club’s special two-month visiting exhibit “Five Hundred Years of Women’s Work: The Lisa Unger Baskin Collection,” was open to the public. Bibliophile and activist Lisa Unger Baskin began collecting materials related to women in the 1960s: “The women’s movement and my compelling interest in these untold stories ultimately led me to focus on unearthing the histories of ordinary women—women who worked every day without recognition or acknowledgement.”

Among the manuscripts, journals, pieces of ephemera, and artifacts on display at the Grolier Club were the first female-written book on obstetrics, by the woman who served as official midwife to the French court for more than twenty-five years; a signed first edition of Phillis Wheatley’s Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, the first book published by an African-American writer; a handwritten publicity blurb by Harriet Beecher Stowe for Sojourner Truth’s memoir; correspondence by Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Emmeline Pankhurst; a needlework sampler by Charlotte Brontë; and artifacts from the British and American suffrage movements.

Baskin’s collection also includes a beautiful variety of books printed and bound by female bookbinders.

A short stroll west from the Grolier Club leads to an opportune spot: The Strand’s Central Park book kiosk at E 60th and 5th Avenue. According to local legend (and by “local legend” we mean the informational sandwich board on the sidewalk), in the 1960s someone suggested to Strand bookstore owner Fred Bass that the city erect book stalls in Central Park, emulating Paris’s iconic riverside book stalls. Bureaucratic red tape ensued, until Parks Commissioner August Heckscher announced, “It’s my park. Let’s do it.” Fifty years later, the Strand kiosk still stands, peddling its wares to book-loving passersby.

After a leisurely walk down 5th Avenue, past Bergdorf Goodman, Louis Vuitton, the Plaza, and St. Patrick’s Cathedral, no self-respecting bluestocking can fail to stop and pet the big cats in front of the Main Branch of the New York Public Library.

Bustling Manhattan sidewalks are best navigated with your eyes up. But if you’re lucky enough to visit the library on a weekend or during a workday lull, cast your eyes down and head for Library Way. The two-block strip of E 41st Street between Pershing Square and 5th Avenue boasts sidewalks lined with plaques created by installation artist Gregg LeFevre and featuring quotations about reading, writing, and literature.

The Library Hotel stands at the halfway point of Library Way, but you don’t have to be a hotel guest to enjoy Bookmarks Lounge rooftop bar…or its literary-themed drinks menu. (Yes, this Catcher in the Rye cocktail was delicious!)

Maximizing sightseeing opportunities on a business trip takes advance planning. Thank goodness for these quirky travel guides!

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30 thoughts on “A Bluestocking in New York

  1. THIS WAS A DELIGHT TO READ. I MISSED A NUMBER OF THE PLACES MENTIONED DURING VISITS TO New York. I WILL HAVE TO MAKE THEM NEXT TIME,

  2. When is the five months up that the Grolier will be open to the public? I’d love to see that exhibit! Love all your articles. It’s fun to be a Bluestocking!!

    • The exhibit closed earlier this month, I’m afraid. However, the collection “lives” at Duke University, if you ever find yourself in North Carolina.

  3. It would have been wonderful to know the dates of these book fairs/stationary fairs ahead of time. Maybe next year. Also a very nice essay on not to miss places to visit for book lovers. Thank you!

  4. Oh my gosh, what good memories this brought back…and inspiration To go make some new memories! Shopping the rare book stores, checking out all the used book shops on 4th Avenue, and of course petting the lions…thanks for reminding me!

  5. Thank you I am working in the Bronx and was planning a New York stay over weekend. You just gave me my itinerary, plus the catacomb tour under st patrick’s cathedral. And of course an evening show!

    Reading with my feet!

  6. Enjoyed reading this. I was born and brought up in New Jersey and was in NYC frequently until the 1950’s. My mother was born and brought up in the Yorkville section of Manhattan early in the twentieth century. Was last in Manhattan in the 1980’s and after reading this, I realize how much I miss it.Although I am afraid it is sadly different from what I remember–as with so many things as we age we remember them as better than they were, I think. But I still wouldn’t mind going back one more time.
    Can’t tell you how much I enjoy your Bas Bleu catalog, lots of ideas for new reading (as if I need more ideas!)

    • Thanks for sharing with us, Audrey. It is incredible how quickly a city can change…and yet how strong a hold it can have on people even after they’ve left. We hope you get back to NY one day soon.

  7. Loved reading this this post. Although much has changed, NYC as a literary landmark hasn’t.
    Thank you for sharing your adventure.

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