By Margueritte Peterson
Well, another year has come and passed us by. Another Book Fair has come and gone. I would venture to say not just any book fair, of course, but the ABAA’s 50th California International Antiquarian Book Fair, to be precise. Despite no longer being an antiquarian bookseller personally, I still attend the California ABAA fairs to see such an amazing group of people in a fantastic setting. Without a doubt, the ABAA’s California Fair is a beautifully set-up fair where one can find all manner of items. From incunabula to amazing pop-up miniatures – modern firsts to Hollywood movie posters! And let’s not forget the Tavistock Books Booth with an array of items from Dickens to Americana! Everyone can find something that suits them at the ABAA Fairs (whether or not they can afford it is a different question entirely).
However, since I’m now attending the fair as an outsider, it is difficult for me to remark on certain aspects of interest to other booksellers and those attending other fairs around the country. In terms of attendance, I was there on both Friday evening and Sunday afternoon and turn-out seemed steady and flowing. It was not often that I saw booths occupied solely by only their manager or owner. There was a healthy number of booksellers as well! Over 200 exhibitors signed up for and exhibited at the fair, and all that I spoke to said that, in terms of sales, it was a success (which is bookseller lingo usually means that they made the money they spent getting to and exhibiting at the fair back… so at least there’s that!). To help with some of the questions specific to exhibiting booksellers, I got a bit of info from the Tavistock Team – Vic and Kate:
Q: How painless was set-up and take-down as compared to other fairs you have exhibited at recently, especially compared to last year’s Pasadena ABAA Fair?
Setup was rather drawn-out for us, though that was partly our fault — our original booth design looked better on paper, and it took a while to rearrange the various cases. Then electrical was slow to get all the booths wired, and didn’t get to our row until late Friday morning. It’s hard to get everything situated just right when you can’t really see what you’re doing (or how clean the glass is!), and we were still futzing right up until the fair opened. But after our travails, we got it finished in time!
Q: What were sales like? Was it a profitable fair for Tavistock Books?
We’re happy to report that the good ship Tavistock stayed afloat. It wasn’t a great fair, but it wasn’t a bad one, either. Given our sometimes less-than-stellar track record, we’re not going to complain, in fact, as Vic has been saying, “We’re OK with OK!”
Q: Was turnout as grand as you expected it to be? Two years ago at the ABAA fair there were reportedly quite a few thousand people. Was it a similar experience this year?
Other booksellers reported aisles too packed to walk down, so we presume the turnout was high. Our location [on the corner of the exhibitor space, across from the Bancroft Library’s wonderful exhibit of California fiction] never seemed to get that kind of traffic, unfortunately. Though maybe that’s just a case of the cash box being greener on the other side of the curtains?
Q: What was the overall bookseller attitude toward the fair? Two years ago many were quite skeptical of holding the fair in Oakland, but the sales and turnout cured their skepticism! Was there any anxiety over how this year’s fair would hold up to the past in the bookseller community?
From what we’ve heard so far, it sounds like just about everyone is happy with how the fair went. Given the unusual and somewhat bizarre array of circumstances working against this fair’s success — the proximity of the New York fair, the recent enactment of California’s new law about signed material [AB 1570], the Mission Impossible-style theft from a London Caladex facility of three booksellers’ wares before shipment to the fair, and the emergency landing of a plane bearing another bookseller’s books in the remote arctic en route to California — that’s saying a lot. Kudos to all involved, and a big “thank you” to fair coordinator Michael Hackenberg for his tireless efforts, as well as all the good folks at White Rain Productions!
The ABAA Fair coming only a week after the Pasadena Book, Print, Photo & Paper Fair offers a wonderful twofer for out of town booksellers and customers, but in all truthfulness, it can be quite stressful on the booksellers themselves. You would never know it to look at the smiling faces behind the beautifully-arranged display cases, but by the Sunday of the second fair there is more than one smiling face masking an exhaustion only known by those who spend whole days in a row on their feet being charming. Oftentimes, people who don’t know antiquarian bookselling think of it as a somewhat lonely job – sitting in a dark corner sniffing dust-covered leather tomes and muttering to yourself in between inhaling on your pipe – but despite the fact that at times it is a solitary life (and often preferred that way), most people don’t understand that the level of sociality experienced in the few days of a book fair can amount to the equivalent of months’ worth of gabbing by the water cooler in an office setting. Book Fairs are an amazing place to really see what the sellers are made of… they are cool under pressure, they are charming even if their sales are down the toilet, they smile even if they have pain shooting up their legs and out their eyeballs!
In terms of interesting items at the fair, a few things that caught my eye were the colorful miniatures at new-ABAA member (and friend to Tavistock Books) Kim Herrick’s booth for her business The Book Lair, and the larger-than-life art books shown to me by Boreas Fine Art’s Michael Thompson. Not to mention that even in the Tavistock Books booth something fun caught my eye… a circa 1850 Gold Scale used in the California Gold Rush – in its original manufacturer’s wooden case! Now that is something you don’t see every day!
A few events also stuck out in both attendee and exhibitor minds alike, as the ABAA Fairs always put on interesting and educational seminars and receptions. Alongside other seminar speakers like Western Americana-expert Gary F. Kurutz and William Blake specialist John Windle, our very own Vic Zoschak gave his usual two seminars (usual because they are helpful and beloved by all) Book Collecting 101 and What’s This Book Worth? on Sunday afternoon. I stopped in on these speeches (that I personally witnessed at the ABAA California Book Fair in 2013) and can say with certainty that they are an absolute necessity for those starting out in the trade or in the antiquarian book-buying world and are unsure of how or where to begin. On Friday evening the trade also held a Women in Bookselling reception for the growing number of ladies involved in the book business! Now, along with the socializing of the day and the bookseller dinners in the evening… a full weekend was on everyone’s schedule! And, as usual, the booksellers we know and love handled it with unbelievable grace and charisma. And now, let us return to our dark corners to catalogue new fair finds and smoke our pipes in peace.
The fall book fair season has slowed to a crawl, but the elves at Tavistock Books have been working overtime, cataloguing away! Presented here are a few notable new items at Tavistock Books, ones found at recent fairs such as Sacramento and Boston – and carefully picked out by Vic & Kate (you know, the Tavistock elves) to present to you here! Keep an eye out for our upcoming catalogue, as well… this one containing reconsidered (reexamined, re-catalogued, and, in many cases, repriced) albums & archives. You wouldn’t want to miss even more fun and interesting items coming your way this holiday season!
This 1826 broadside called “The Sorrowful Lamentation of John Oliffe and John Sparrow” details the pitiful tale of two men in the early 1800s and their shameful tendencies toward the stealing of farm animals! Both men lay under the sentence of death – Oliffe for horse-stealing and Sparrow for sheep stealing! This Very Good copy of this broadside is even more special as it is unique – we find no copies of it on OCLC. See it here>
A rare item of local California history is up for grabs! This promotional booklet on Ben Lomond, a mountain in Santa Cruz named after a similar mountain in Scotland. This item, printed circa 1907, is not found in Rocq, nor on OCLC (though a reproduction is held by the Santa Cruz Public Library). This 70 page booklet is invaluable “number of views which will serve to give the reader a general but necessarily very much limited idea of the surpassing beauties of this favorite locality of mountain homes.” [t.p.]. See it here>
This spectacularly colorful calendar marks a great year – 1901! Each of the 7 pages are chromolithographed with diverse scenes, such as the “1st Canadian Contingent Embarking at Quebec” or a “Relief of Ladysmith”. This calendar was issued as a Canadian Souvenir of the War in South Africa (Second Boer War) – once again, we find no copies listed on OCLC. See this colorful item here>
Nothing like a good booklet on a hospital founded in the 1840s as a center for consumption and diseases of the heart to make you feel glad for your lot this holiday season! The hospital, now called the Royal Brompton Hospital, was to be financed entirely from charitable donations and fund raising. At its opening, some of the hospital’s most famous patrons included singer Jenny Lind, Charles Dickens and even Queen Victoria (who gave £10 a year, apparently). Once again, we find no copies of this booklet detailing the patrons of the establishment on OCLC. See it here>
Another early item we have available is this Catalogue of the Officers and Students at Fryeburg Academy for 1852-1853. Fryeburg Academy was one of the very first schools built in Maine, and it was also one of the first schools in the continental United States to accept women! This preparatory school still known as one of the finest schools in the nation, and only one known copy of this booklet found on OCLC. See it here>
Our Remarks on the Present Condition of the Navy and Particularly of the Victualling is a piece from 1700 written by John Tutchin, a radical Whig controversialist and political journalist. In 1704 after accusing the British Navy of supplying food for the French Navy, Tutchin was arrested and imprisoned (again, having been so previously) for his beliefs and outspoken nature, and died from injuries sustained being beaten in prison. Interested? See it here>
If it’s the second weekend in November, I must be in Boston. Wait, I was in Boston last week, late October…? Yes, this year, due to a date conflict at the Hynes, the Boston fairs were right in the middle of the 2016 World Series. Can you imagine the craziness in town if the Sox had beat the Indians [who are looking pretty tough this post-season] and then the Jays…? Hey, it’s bad enough as it is with a few hundred [thousand?] booksellers, collectors & librarians running around the Back Bay.
So yes, Wednesday October 26th, found yours truly boarding a direct United flight, SFO – BSO. My usual [bad] luck took a vacation, and the flight departed [more or less] on time, arriving right around dinner time. Which I had at the conveniently-located restaurant next to my hotel, Rooster Bistro. Totally forgettable. Totally.
A good night’s sleep suppressed that memory, and when Thursday dawned, I made my way to the North Bennett School in the company of Laurelle Swan [Swan’s Fine Books, Walnut Creek CA], an ABAA scholarship recipient to that day’s ABAA/RBS Educational Seminar. A joint effort, this year 30 bibliophiles gathered to hear the likes of David Whitesell, Terry Belanger, Todd Pattison, Don Lindgren & Nina Musinsky speak about their respective areas of expertise. I, while there that morning to welcome those 30, was not a seminar registrant this year. So once all had departed for their designated classrooms, I departed for Brattle Book Shop, 9 West Street. On arrival, I immediately headed for the 3rd floor [Rare Books]. For those not ever having had the pleasure, Brattle gets lots of books. Lots. And Ken frequently pencils bookseller-friendly prices on the flyleaf. And, this week there was a 50% sale in effect, which began on Monday. [Note to self: fly out earlier next year]. Yes, I soon expect parcel(s) to arrive from Brattle [as do, I’m sure, hundreds of other booksellers].
Thursday night, traditionally, is the night for the meeting of the ABAA Board of Governors. This year was no different, and we convened at the nearby Brasserie Jo. The meeting was filled with typical ‘governing’ administrative matters, which I only mention here, because as part of the meeting, the board approved 7 new ABAA members, of which 5 will be noted here, for, in the past, I have often crossed paths with these fine folk: Kim Herrick, Laurelle Swan, Andy Langer, Michael Thompson & Abby Schoolman. Congrats to you all!
As is the custom at the Boston fair, Friday night 5 pm rang the opening bell. I, like many others, made my way in & started visiting folks I knew… and quickly realized it was downright hot in the hall! I don’t know the gate, but if ambient temperature reflects occupancy, it was well attended! I recorded but a single purchase that night, but hey, if, as was the case here, it’s an unrecorded 19th C. adventist broadside, I’m [very] ok with that. Thank you John. My book scouting continued the next morning at the Boston Book, Print & Ephemera Fair. As said elsewhere, “the incomparable Peter Luke snared most of my attention (not to mention funds) with such great items as this 19th C. execution broadside.”
Saturday night. Why does everything gets scheduled Saturday night? The Grolier reception. RBS gathering. Trivia night. What to do? Well, in this case, since I had a Grolier nominee in the works, that got some time. As did the nearby BSO, which played Mozart & Bartok. My advice, skip the Bartok should it ever come up.
Sunday, my luck returned true to form… United 477 was 2 hours late departing Boston. I shouldn’t complain too much however, as the reason for the ATC induced delay was rain in San Francisco. We need it. As I need Boston. It’s a great fair, in a great town, and I always come away with some great items. Next year, it’s in November, after the World Series. So no dilemma about where to be when the Giants are playing … whomever [the Sox? If so, then I’ll be in Boston again in October!]. In either case, see you there.
PS. Yes, I know, I need to take more pictures. I’ll ask Greg for lessons.
Ahh, book fair season is upon us once more: when booksellers of every stripe take to the skies and highways of America in search of fresh resources and temporary bibliophilic nesting grounds. It’s one of the book trade’s enduring mysteries, and a sight to behold. Drawn by forces scientists have not yet managed to explain — collective memory, blind professional instinct, shifts in the earth’s magnetic field, or merely the prospect of good food and drink with colleagues — flocks of booksellers converge for weekends at a time in cities and towns across the country, clogging bar stools and sharing vast quantities of hugs, trade knowledge and alcohol. Here, they perform the time-honored ritual of artfully displaying their brightest finds for local bibliophiles and librarians to admire, in the hopes of attracting paying customers and thus ensuring continued survival. It’s an improbable business model in the best of times, and the second decade of the 21 st century is not, alas, the best of times. It’s hard to know these days if exhibiting at book fairs is increasingly an exercise in magical thinking — an evolutionary failure to adapt, with portents of incipient dodo-ism – or an increasingly necessary means of making available the real, tactile wonder of books (and ephemera, etc.) and advocating for the pleasures of owning them.
In a bizarre reversal, Tavistock Books kicked off the Seattle Antiquarian Book Fair in style and with a degree of hope, toasting a decent showing at the Sacramento fair and our just-released catalogue with a glass of champagne in the American Express lounge at SFO. Contrary to last year’s comedy of bad luck, no van wrecks preceded our departure, and, though we didn’t know it yet, no luggage would be lost en route. Our books, along with those of a whopping 14 other California booksellers, were already waiting at the venue, thanks to the combined might and keen packing skills of road warriors Brad Johnson (The Book Shop) and Jesse Rossa (Triolet Books). If the décor of the Amex lounge – typical neutral airport fare with an upscale twist, backed by a wall-length display behind the bar composed of old 1940s-style suitcases, radios and cheap “antique” books (of the World Book Encyclopedia variety), its warm shades of red and yellow the only color in the place – hinted at an ominous book nostalgia underway around us, we chose to disregard it. Besides, we’d already begun drinking before noon.
As usual, Louis Collins was running a tip-top operation once we got to Seattle, complete with roving bands of equipment crews and free coffee and pastries for exhibitors. The venue was hot, as is always the case, but a brisk pre-fair business left many dealers looking pleased, if glistening. In yet another odd reversal, this time I found myself offering occasional tips to fellow assistant and booth-mate Jeremy Reidel, of Books Tell You Why, doing an admirable job of setting up his first solo booth display. The inevitable rain the following day did nothing to dispel the crowds of fairgoers, given an extra boost by the Ephemera Society, and even Sunday brought a significant number of people into the fair. And, through it all, strangely enough, the Tavistock booth stayed relatively busy. We weren’t selling things hand over fist, to be sure, but we kept selling things: to collectors, institutions, old customers, fellow booksellers, all day Saturday and, to a lesser extent, on Sunday, too. All in all, it was a frankly surreal turn of events. Had the good ship Tavistock finally broken its bad luck streak?
To some extent, astonishing though it may be to admit: yes. Unlike many at the fair, it seems, we had good sales this time around, or at least good enough to cover our expenses and cost of goods and make a little profit, to boot. The buying was decent, and we walked away from a pre-fair Sunday morning trip to Taylor Bowie’s shop loaded with armfuls of great new cookery material. Not to mention this lovely eye-catching poster, scouted by Vic in the first few minutes of set-up and soon to be catalogued (contact us for details if interested):
I even found a book for myself . . . from our own booth, much to Vic’s endless delight, which I eventually bought after hiding it from the customers all morning. As Vic has been fond of telling people, however, we probably made somewhere around $1.38 an hour – and that’s not including potential missed sales from the shop being closed, the costs of repairing at least one book that didn’t weather the journey and extra handling, etc. So did we really come out ahead, in the end?
I’d like to think there’s more to it than just number-crunching. That, in some incalculable way, discussing Stephen Greenblatt with a long-time Seattle-area collector branching into Renaissance studies, or helping a new customer find just the right early nursing books for her research, or getting a whirlwind lesson in medieval paleography from Kait Manning (Philip Pirages) and being schooled in maritime journals by Greg Gibson (Ten Pound Island Book Co.), or simply being part of a physical, non-virtual book presence in the life of a community once a year, amounts to something. It’s too damn fun not to.
One thing has become abundantly clear since I worked my first book fair a year ago: these post-fair blogs have gotten harder to write. I’m no longer the wide-eyed book fair ingenue I once was, after all, fresh off the bus (or pickup truck, as the case may be) from Ohio and armed with a stranger’s gaze at life on this side of the display cases. The same array of minor catastrophes, clothing fails, relentless anxieties, and even, on occasion, small triumphs, still happen, of course, and I can only assume will continue to do so at every book fair I work, ever. Vic will go on being grumpy and morosely pessimistic before every show; other booksellers will, invariably, be helpful and generous, not to mention gratifyingly abundant in their teasing of Vic when he wanders off to scout other booths or simply dozes in his chair while I sweat through the set-up. We’ll do well, or we won’t, and I’ll probably never fully understand why. It’s not that these details are unimportant, just that they’ve lost the sheen of novelty. The honeymoon, in other words, is over. And yet, on this anniversary of my first year on the book fair circuit, having just closed out the Fall 2016 Sacramento Antiquarian Book Fair with its usual vendors, in their usual booths, visited by many of the usual customers, what strikes me is not that all book fairs are essentially alike. It’s that the more things stay the same, or appear to, the more they change.
The Sacramento fair is a well-run local show, tirelessly promoted by Avant Retro’s Jim Kay and reliably filled with customers. Free pizza and cold beverages on set-up day ensure a moderately happy (or at least, not overly cranky) group of booksellers, and Jim opens the doors bright and early on fair day proper for any latecomers. Dealers come to buy as much as to sell, manage their expectations accordingly, and are generally not overly disappointed one way or the other. As fairs go, it’s a steady workhorse, no more and no less, and this year was no exception.
The temperature was already inching over 90 degrees when we pulled into the parking lot at the Scottish Rite Temple on H Street, but Q (Queue? surely that would be too ironic . . . ) and his fellow crewman were undaunted as they wheeled load after load of books and bookcases into the venue. Vic promptly went off to prowl any exposed stock, and I started in on cleaning out the display cases, sorting, and, in general, making myself useful. Bill Bastick of Asian Steppes, whose booth was situated as usual across the aisle, joked about my slave status, as is his wont; Michael Good (Michael Good Books) stopped by to ask what was taking me so long; Judith Mason (Cultural Images) pointed out a nonexistent fingerprint I’d missed; James Dourgarian (James M. Dourgarian, Bookman) asked if I’d brought any ice to soothe Vic’s aching muscles after his herculean labors on our booth; Kim Hafer Herrick (The Book Lair) gave Vic bourbon and me chocolate, thus ensuring both of our lifelong friendships; Taylor Bowie (manning the booth for John Michael Lang Fine Books) and I discussed books; and . . . er, well, both Laurelle Swan (Swan’s Fine Books) and Kol Shaver (Zephyr Used & Rare Books) pointed out that customers would have an easier time reading the titles of our books if they weren’t upside-down, observations they kindly made while Vic was out of earshot, and which I speedily remedied. All in all, it was the usual delightful camaraderie, and, eventually, I even managed to get the booth set up. And sold something while I was at it, too, getting our fair off to a promising start.
As you may know, Tavistock hasn’t always had the best of luck at book fairs, shall we say: my first Sacramento fair was resoundingly dismal, in fact, as were most of the following fairs we exhibited at. So I’ve learned to approach these with a certain amount of trepidation. Nevertheless, as the fair opened on Saturday with a steady stream of visitors to our booth, and purchases poured in from Vic’s successful scouting, I began to feel cautiously optimistic. I even had a good find, at least for myself: a copy of Books and Bidders snagged for a whopping $4, and now next in line on my reading list. Sales and crowds continued throughout the day, and while not all of the dealers I talked to had a successful fair, Tavistock did . . . really well. On all fronts. It was strange and wonderful, and for the first time, we left a fair with a spring in our step.
Does this mean we’ll magically do well in Seattle, too? Of course not. When I say I have no idea why one fair is better than another, I’m not joking. I’d like to think, though, that this might just be the beginning of a run of successful fairs for the good ship Tavistock, or that at the very least Vic will have more finds like this lovely 1976 poster supporting the land reclamation and establishment of the Mohawk community of Ganienkeh, in New York:
And as for that pesky problem of having become an old hand on the book fair circuit? I’ve lost my privileged outsider status, it’s true. But you know what? It’s more of a privilege than ever to get to hang out with fellow booksellers and bibliophiles for a day or two.
See you next time.
So you have now attended your… what, 27th New York ABAA fair? How does it feel?
Well, perhaps not quite that many, but have gone, either as an exhibitor, or as an attendee, pretty much every year since becoming an ABAA member in 1995. I haven’t exhibited at the fair since sometime in the early 2000s [2005?], so the last decade has been as a shopper, and like years past, some wonderful things were on exhibit, and I even brought home one or two!
What was different about the New York fair this year as opposed to years past?
In my experience, the New York fair has been a strong fair for a good while now, considered by most members to be the Association’s flagship event, and, in my view, this year continued that trend. The Armory, at 66th & Park, is a lovely location, and perfect size, for our book fair. We have an international, cosmopolitan exhibitor base, and as a result, the same is true of the fair visitors/shoppers.
Does it make any difference when you walk about knowing that by this time in a two years you will probably, if tradition holds, be President of the ABAA?
Well, to some degree, for in my opinion, that position shoulders a bit more responsibility for the continued viability of the Association. And the association faces a change of venue for the fair, either beginning next year, or perhaps in 2018, and so there is the uncertainty associated with a move to a new locale. Will it be as successful? We will assuredly do our best to ensure it is, but sometimes the capricious hand of fate doesn’t necessarily embrace your vision of what you hope will be.
What was the most interesting item you laid eyes on?
Oh my, that’s so difficult to pick just one, however, since I have it in front of me as I write this answer, I will say I bought one of the most interesting things I saw- the first miniature book published in Ohio . According to Rare Book Hub, one hasn’t been on the market since 1964.
What was the neatest item you purchased, if different from the above?
In addition to the miniature described above, I bought a collection of 50+ British broadside ballads, mainly 19th C. While individually they’re not particularly uncommon, to come across a cache of this number is decidedly so, and I just couldn’t resist. It will be fun to research the individual titles, hopefully with a few or more ending up with “Not previously recorded” in the catalogue entry.
What’s your usual book fair routine when you aren’t exhibiting, such as in NY or in Boston? Do you run around, eyes glued to glass cases at first…. do you saunter with a glass of wine or a manhattan and allow the items to come to you (by knowledgeable booksellers who probably brought it with you in mind, of course)?
Usually, on the fair opening, I walk the aisles to see who is exhibiting, while letting serendipity catch my eye. During this meandering, I tend to make it a point to stop with colleagues who I know will most likely have the unusual, non-dust jacket material that I find so interesting. This year was no different.
How were the shadow fairs?
Due to the ABAA’s annual meeting being held Saturday mid-morning, I, unfortunately, wasn’t able to get to the Getman show uptown, but did have the opportunity to visit the 2nd shadow show, across from the Armory on Lexington. I did find a few things there, though not as much as in times past.
Did you have fun?!?!