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    Adventures of a rare book dealer (and former small bookshop owner).

Belatedly, the ABAA Book Fair Report

Written on February 27, 2007

Note that this blog has moved. The new URL is biblioblography.briancassidy.net. Please update your bookmarks.

[Sorry for the delay in posting. Between the 25 boxes of books I bought last week and various family illnesses, been falling behind. Look for more frequent postings in the future.]

I spent the whole of the recent weekend of Feb. 16th-18th in San Francisco at the ABAA Book Fair. As an as-yet (note optimism) non-ABAA member, this was not an opportunity to exhibit but to scout for new stock, touch base with friends and colleagues, meet new dealers, and — perhaps most importantly — learn from the incredible variety of material offered at the show. And so, belatedly, some observations and comments:

  • The Concourse, where the event was held, was an excellent venue: bright, modern, airy and (on the whole) spacious. Facilities and amenities (restrooms, concessions, etc.) seemed more than adequate. Security was strong without being intrusive. And the booths themselves looked sharp and were nicely-sized. One small complaint: on Saturday the privately-operated parking lots that surrounded The Concourse closed an hour earlier than the show did.
  • Almost to a dealer, those exhibiting remarked on how well-run and managed the show was, esp. compared to the LA show of the previous year which, again almost to a dealer, seemed always to be mentioned with a look of pained remembrance.
  • Attendance was strong on all days. Friday afternoon when the show opened, the line at the back door where I entered was about fifty people deep. And reports from the front door were that a couple hundred were lined up anxiously awaiting the opening of the doors. Saturday was of course the busiest. But several dealers remarked on the fact that Sunday (normally dead) was not only well-attended, but that those there were buying.
  • And on the whole, sales seemed very strong. Perhaps not on the level of the NYC ABAA fair, but everyone I talked to appeared pleased with the results.
  • Attendees were remarkably heterogeneous. There were families with children, young couples with matching green hair, solo women, African-American collectors, and foreign fair-goers who traveled esp. for this event.
  • And this diversity was almost certainly a testament to the variety of materials being offered. Yes, there were lots of modern firsts (Lopez, Waverly, etc.), children’s books, high-spot Americana (W. Reese), rare antiquarian (Maggs, etc.), fine bindings (Heritage) — the usual suspects. But there were also booths of Radical History and Social Movements (Bolerium), “Unusual books…at prices so moderate as to cause incredulity” (Marc Selvaggio, in the best ad from the fair program), interesting ephemera (Margolis and Moss), avant garde lit (Derringer, Jaffe, Maser) and art (Bengtsson), rock and pop memorabilia (Adrian Harrington)…Too many to list, really. And it’s this kind of depth of field that is going to be necessary to keep the rare book market growing. To get the diversity of interest reflected in attendees, book dealers must constantly be looking for new approaches material, new ways expand what we think of as “the rare book business.” This was very much in evidence in SF. And this bodes well for the future of the business.
  • And on that note, let me offer the following observation: ephemera seemed to do very well. Not only did my best finds of the fair fall into this category, but it seemed all weekend one had to muscle one’s way into the ephemera binders and boxes and the largest crowds were always those surrounding paper items of various persuasions. My theory? Ephemera is hard to sell online (it’s completely unstandardized and labor-intensive) as well as difficult for the buyer to browse and find online. Not so at the fair.
  • I was happy to see a nice line-up of events and lectures throughout the weekend. The ubiquitous Nick Basbanes signed books; Vic Zoschak of Tavistock Books offered advice on Book Collecting 101; Dan Gregory of Between the Covers taught an excellent (and necessarily technical) class on identifying facsimile dustjackets.
  • I am also happy to report that the news of the book catalog’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. Nearly every booth offered their latest. Some were simple lists printed off a computer. But most were full-monty productions. And (usually) freely-given.
  • Some favorite highlights: Eric Chaim Kline’s two ENORMOUS manuscript Korans; Carpe Diem’s fine collection of Jo Mora Cartes; Bauman’s letter from Allen Ginsberg to Jack Kerouac; Skyline’s binders-full of literary ephemera; Brick Row’s John Updike illustration of a “Thurber Dog”…
  • In short, the LA fair next year has a tough act to follow.

    Comments closed



    6 Comments

    1. Comment by Chris Lowenstein:

      Nice blog, Brian. I agree completely that the ABAA show is amazing and successful because of the diverse fields in book collecting that are represented there. Best of luck!

      February 28, 2007 @ 12:25 am
    2. Comment by David G Anderson:

      You report on bookseller’s catalogs that “nearly every booth offered their latest. Some were simple lists printed off a computer. But most were full-monty productions. And (usually) freely-given.”

      Toronto’s great merchandiser to the masses, Honest Ed Mirvish, once said that if you gonna give something away, charge at least a nickel. Think about it.

      DGA

      February 28, 2007 @ 12:41 am
    3. Comment by jgodsey:

      pictures! i need pictures to give me a vicarious thrill!!

      February 28, 2007 @ 1:36 am
    4. Comment by Michelle Levick:

      Well done Brian, I could not make the show and was hoping someone would write an informative overview. I hope the L.A. show in 08 will be as exciting as S.F.

      February 28, 2007 @ 5:06 am
    5. Comment by Cynthia Gibson:

      Good overview, Brian.

      One additional comment: I’ve heard from a number of the dealers who were there that there was less than the usual foot-dragging by the union employees when it came time to break down after the fair. Without exception, the dealers I’ve spoken with were out the door in (in some cases significantly) less than two hours, with few hassles and no waiting for equipment…

      February 28, 2007 @ 5:57 pm
    6. Comment by Brian:

      Sorry J – no pictures. Anyone else?

      February 28, 2007 @ 6:06 pm