Category Archives: Americana

“A Date Which Will Live in Infamy…” Today we Remember the United States’ Entrance into WWII

screen-shot-2016-12-06-at-7-31-43-pm

By Margueritte Peterson

Bookstores and businesses in the antiquarian book world are numerous enough that no matter what you are looking for, you can be sure to find it somewhere. On sites like Biblio.com and abaa.org, you can search for booksellers based on what genre of books you are looking for. One genre we would like to salute on this December 7th, an important day of remembrance and respect in United States history, are antiquarian books with a WWII military basis. 

A picture taken from a Japanese fighter jet (where did they find the time?!) as one of the first torpedoes hit the USS West Virginia at Pearl Harbor.

A picture taken from a Japanese fighter jet (where did they find the time?!) as one of the first torpedoes hit the USS West Virginia at Pearl Harbor.

On the morning of December 7th, 1941, 353 Japanese fighter planes attacked the United States military base at Pearl Harbor, Oahu, Hawaii. The lack of any warning for this attack led the president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt to label it “a date which will live in infamy” – primarily based on the lack of a declaration of war (a formal pronouncement) or any true notice of its happening. The Naval base suffered devastating loses, with four of the eight Naval battleships sunk and all severely damaged. This attack, the likes of which many American citizens had never seen up close on our nation’s soil, shocked the nation into joining World War II. 

Prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States had skirted around the edges of the looming World War II. However, on December 8th, the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt delivered a speech asking Congress for a formal declaration of war on Japan. Less than an hour after the speech, Congress consented. Due to a previous agreement between Germany, Italy and the Empire of Japan, United States was suddenly (or at least beginning on December 11th) at war with all three nations, all with the objective of restricting the United States’ ability to help any of their other opposition throughout the war. 

Now, all of this is frightfully interesting (not making fun, just stating such with the knowledge that these things have all been heard before, especially today), but what does this have to do with antiquarian bookselling? Well, good thing you ask. Tavistock Books, among other antiquarian booksellers in the United States and abroad, boasts a small collection of WWII items – books, ephemera, memorabilia… even WWII posters printed on linen – all are things we have been lucky enough to have in stock over the years. On this anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, we’d like to highlight some of our most interesting World War II items currently on our shelves. 

screen-shot-2016-12-06-at-7-24-12-pm

See this interesting book here>

This uncommon military book details the XIII Bomber Command – a WWII command and control organization for the Thirteenth Air Force, activated in January of 1943. This organization was created in order to provide authority of Army Air Force bombardments within the 13th Air Force Area of Responsibility during the war. What is striking about this book is that it was created entirely within the Combat Area of the Bomber Command – its handmade nature evident – and provides extensive documentation of the Command’s activities in the Pacific Theater during the year and a half that it chronicles. 

See this Fine poster here>

See this Fine poster here>

Another WWII item we currently have in stock and would like to bring attention to is this 1945 1st edition broadside/poster (linen-backed) by the Women’s Army Corps. As stated a bit earlier, we often try to carry unusual memorabilia relating to WWII. This poster propagandizes the Female Medical Technician campaign – an organization that came about after 5,000 of the U.S. Army Medical Department’s combat-ready men were forced to transfer to the infantry in early 1944. The department suddenly began a major push to recruit women to fill the positions left open, and created departments like this Female Medical Technician campaign (which, by the way, was hugely successful). By the end of the war, the WACs (Women’s Army Corps) Medical Department employed around 20,000 trained, skilled and determined young women.

Again, on this December 7th we honor and remember members of the military that have, so often, given their lives and their time to protecting citizens of the United States. (We have mentioned before that our very own Vic Zoschak was a Lieutenant Commander in the United States Coast Guard before turning his talents toward a career in the antiquarian book trade, right?) We salute all.

Share

Welcome Home, My Lovelies

By Kate Mitas

Taylor Bowie doesn’t look like much of a tough guy. He’s short and thin, with a wispy goatee and wire glasses, and he wears a baseball hat and sneakers for almost all occasions. He loves books and food and cats, not necessarily in that order, and he’s been in the book trade so long even his hair has gained mythical status — young booksellers tell of having heard it once existed. He’s the unofficial godfather of many fellow booksellers’ cats, and like any proud parent once regaled me with pictures of his extended feline family over lunch at a book fair, struggling all the while to silently come to terms with a disappointing vegetarian chili prepared by a chef he admires. The point is, everyone loves Taylor, and for good reason. So you can imagine my surprise when I dared to go up against him in a dispute about the veracity of a particular item, and got my ass firmly and unequivocally handed to me. Politely, of course.

It all started with a menu. And not just any menu: a full, priced menu from the 1930s gambling ship S.S. Rex. We’d picked it up from Taylor along with a much more abbreviated souvenir Rex menu, and two others from the Rex’s sister ship, the S.S. Tango. Both ships had been owned by Tony “The Hat” Cornero, a Depression-era rum-runner turned casino magnate with a penchant for stylish haberdashery, who attempted to skirt California’s anti-gambling laws by re-outfitting a couple of old fishing barges and operating them just over 3 miles from the Santa Monica shoreline, in international waters. The Tango menus weren’t the problem — I was able to track down others that had surfaced over the years with relative ease. But the Rex menus were another story.

A menu from the S.S. Rex gambling ship . . . or so we thought.

A menu from the S.S. Rex gambling ship . . . we thought.

For one thing, the Rex borrowed its name from a glamorous Italian cruise liner also in operation at the time, one that actually merited the designation “S.S.” (unlike the far more prosaic and unwieldy gambling ship, which had to be towed from one location to the next). To make things even trickier, both menus had an image of a large cruise ship on the front, and the full menu even had a crown logo, similar to the cruise liner’s. Was it possible that these menus weren’t from the gambling ship, after all?

The Italian cruise liner, S.S. Rex (www.italianliners.com)

The Italian cruise liner, S.S. Rex (www.italianliners.com)

What clinched it, or so I thought, was the name and date scrawled in pencil on the back of the full Rex menu: “Ledy Fabian / Sept. 2, 1938.”

menu-back-2

“Ledy Fabian / Sept. 2, 1938″

A search in the GG Archives’ passenger lists brought up one Pilade Fabiani, who sailed with his wife and two sons from Cannes on August 9, 1938, aboard — you guessed it — the Italian cruise liner S.S. Rex. Further inquiries proved that he arrived in New York on August 17, whereupon he listed his address as a street in New Haven, CT.

Regrettable as it was, Taylor sure seemed to gotten it wrong. Vic broke the news to him, and we planned to ship the lot back in the next post. That was that, or so I thought.

But Taylor wasn’t getting dissed that easily. Much as he respected my research skills, he said, I was wrong. He’d been dealing with material from the ocean liner Rex for 25 years, and had never come across a priced menu, much less one in English, with prices in American dollars! Plus, he was sure that “Doc” Puccinelli, the maitre’d listed on the back of the menu, had been involved in the San Francisco gambling scene in the 1930s and ‘40s.  Of course, we could return the menus, but, to put it less diplomatically than Taylor did, he was convinced that we’d be idiots if we did.

Well. I hadn’t seen that coming. Taylor — gentle, generous, cat-loving Taylor! — turned out to be stubborn as hell when he wanted to be, and he wasn’t budging. Everything in his experience told him that these were menus from the gambling ship Rex. Everything in mine told me that the odds of a guy named Ledy or Pilade Fabian[i] sailing to Connecticut on a cruise liner named the S.S. Rex in August, and then dining on a gambling ship of the same name on the other side of the country a few weeks later were . . . improbable at best. But if, if, Taylor was right, then he’d be right about us being idiots for getting it wrong. More precisely, I would be the idiot.

Lacking 25 years of experience, however, the only thing for it was more research: I couldn’t simply rely on Taylor’s word, as reliable as his word presumably is. After all, everyone makes mistakes from time to time. And besides, what if a potential customer asked me the same questions I’d asked Taylor? How would I prove that these weren’t menus from the cruise liner, if I hadn’t even been able to prove that to myself?

Let’s just say that it was a very good thing Taylor held out. Because a little more digging turned up the fact that Pilade Fabian had indeed lived in New Haven — and that his father likely still did in 1938, at least according to the 1935 city directory. Pilade himself seemed to have moved with his family to Los Angeles in 1935, and was settled in San Diego by at least 1939. It looked a lot more likely that he could’ve made it home and out to the Rex by September 2, 1938, five days before the gambling ship was raided (not for the first time), a raid Cornero initially greeted by spraying the incoming police officers’ water taxis with high pressure hoses.

I never found anything explicitly connecting “Doc” Puccinelli to the gambling industry, but he did apparently own a sea food restaurant frequented by members of the mob, and possibly a cannery in San Pedro as well, which might’ve been a good spot for a young up-and-coming rum-runner to unload his wares. Even better, a lucky stumble led to the discovery of Noir Afloat: Tony Cornero and the Notorious Gambling Ships of Southern California, a relatively new book by Ernest Marquez that was available via the ever-handy interlibrary loan system. And in it, miracle of miracles, was a copy of an S.S. Rex menu with a cover almost exactly the same as our own:

ss-rex-noir

(Noir Afloat, p 50)

Needless to say, the menus have found a new home, or rather, an old one, of sorts: in Los Angeles, among a large collection of other material having to do with California’s gambling ship history.

And as for me? Note to self, Grasshopper: be patient, and do your damn research. And always, always listen to Taylor — especially whenever food is involved.

Taylor "The Godfather" Bowie, seen here with Lola, aka "Bruttiboni" ("Brutal Bunny" to her victims)

Taylor “The Godfather” Bowie, seen here with Lola, aka “Bruttiboni” (that’s “Brutal Bunny” to you)

Share

Boston or Bust! One Bay-Area Bookseller’s Look at the Boston Antiquarian Book Fair (Said Bookseller Being our Very Own Vic Zoschak)

By Vic Zoschak

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!

broadsideAs 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.  

An image Vic nabbed at the BSO!

An image Vic nabbed at the BSO!

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.

Share

Look no further… than the Latest Items at Tavistock Books!

Screen Shot 2016-05-25 at 8.15.08 AM

 

Does the name Victoria Lucas ring a bell to you? She’s a super famous poet! We recently wrote a blog about her, even. Not ringing with understanding yet? Hmm… she also struggled with depression her whole life and wrote some of her most famous poems at the peaks of her despair. Here’s a hint if you’re STILL confused… Victoria Lucas is her pseudonym. That’s right, ladies and gents – it’s Mrs. Sylvia Plath. And here we offer a 1st edition of her novel “The Bell Jar”! See more here>

 

 

 

Screen Shot 2016-05-25 at 8.15.34 AM

We can’t get enough of Plath around here… have you ever read her Journals? Get on that as soon as possible! But first, perhaps you’d like to spend some time with a 1st edition of her, arguably, most famous book of poetry – published, unfortunately, in 1965, two years after her death. Interested? See it here>

Screen Shot 2016-05-25 at 8.16.35 AMFun fact about poet Wallace Stevens – winner of the Pulitzer Prize for one of his books of poetry! He loved to visit Key West (which is evident in much of his poetry) and while there, he encountered writers and poets Robert Frost and Ernest Hemingway… both of which he argued with each time! Did I say argued? Ernest Hemingway beat him to the curb outside, is what I meant. Nevertheless, Wallace was an important figure on the poetry scene, even if only for a while! His poem “The Man with the Blue Guitar” we offer here>

Screen Shot 2016-05-25 at 8.16.48 AM

A collector of cookery items and menus knows that it is difficult enough to find a menu in good shape from the beginning of the 20th century. How about a menu in VG condition… from the trenches of WWI? We wouldn’t lie to you! This menu even has a graphic illustration of soldiers confronting each other in the war. Check it out here>

Screen Shot 2016-05-25 at 8.17.04 AM

“We Pointed Them North: Recollections of a Cowpuncher” is one of the best books depicting cowboy life that we have in our inventory today! Though born in England, “Teddy Blue” Abbott was a cowboy from a young age – once his parents moved him to Lincoln, Nebraska and his father let him try his hand a herding cattle! But oh, we shouldn’t tell you the entire story, should we? Read his memoirs here>

Screen Shot 2016-05-25 at 8.17.27 AM

We love our cookbooks here at Tavistock Books… Ever wish you could make Pea Fritters or Rice Coquettes? This book is the cookbook for you! Our “Cookery in the Golden State” is a 1st edition published in Sacramento in 1890… by our good old Unitarian Ladies! Somewhat scarce in the trade, this book will meet all your cookery collection needs! Try the recipes here>

Screen Shot 2016-05-25 at 8.17.40 AM

It is always a wonderful thing when you meet someone who truly and desperately loves where they are and what they are doing. Too often we are too apt to complain about where we’ve decided to settle! Not for Mabel Dodge Luhan and her beloved Taos, New Mexico. Her “Winter in Taos” describes her simple life from season to season, in an almost stream-of-conciousness style. She connects with the earth and finds great “pleasure in being very still and sensing things”. Find out about Luhan’s deep connection with the “deep living earth” here>

Screen Shot 2016-05-25 at 8.18.04 AM

This is not your average manuscript book… this is a book of a pharmacy’s ledger of prescriptions… from 1874! Essentially an apothecary recipe book containing innumerable medicinal formulas with ingredients and dosage instructions from an unnamed apothecary in the Boston Area at the end of the 19th century. Truthfully, we would note this as an invaluable primary source for medicinal recipes used by the US medical community in the 1870s. Forget WebMD… check it out here>

Share

The Art of Freeing the Mind (and Body) with Henry Miller

Screen Shot 2016-04-05 at 3.32.48 PM

By Margueritte Peterson

Normally our author blogs are based on a date in the life of said author – birthdays, publishing dates, even memorials to their deaths. I’d like to take this moment to say that this is not one of those types of dates. This blog is completely and utterly random… all because I recently dreamt about seeing a sunrise at Big Sur and decided to get to know one of the many authors who made the area their home… Mr. Henry Miller.

Screen Shot 2016-04-05 at 3.32.39 PMHenry Miller lived to the ripe old age of 88, and in less than a century managed to offend tens of thousands of people. His books were banned in not only states but entire countries. (The United States being one of them… yay for freedom of speech?) And why was this one man as taboo as sex before marriage was to Victorians? Because he dared. Well… dared in life and then proceeded to publish his daring activities. Miller was known for his free way of writing – a truly singular author in style, blending many different genres of literature (autobiography and philosophy, surrealism and social critique – to name a few) creating a truly unique voice. But one of the many aspects that set him apart from the crowd was the fact that his work was, at the least, semi-autobiographical in nature – and to describe the sexual exploits of a lonely man in Paris in the 30s was gutsy, to say the least. So what in Miller’s life was so audacious as to be banned in countries around the world? Well I’ll tell you…

Miller was born the day after Christmas in 1891 and spent most of his childhood growing up in Brooklyn, New York. The author married his first wife (Beatrice Sylvas Wickens) young, and though the union produced his first child, daughter Barbara, in 1919, the marriage was not a happy one and the couple divorced in 1923. A short while after his divorce was finalized (so shortly, in fact, that it is quite likely Miller began the next relationship before the end of his first one) Miller married a dancer who went by the name June Mansfield. June would be much written about and discussed for both her beauty and her deceptive and slightly challenging nature. During his marriage to Mansfield, Miller would spend much time abroad, particularly in Paris (and continued to live there for 5 years after she divorced him by proxy in 1934). His time in Paris was very influential to his writing, as he became ingratiated with a literary community there – so far as to be financed by Anais Nin and her husband Ian Hugo for most of the 1930s while he wrote in (what would today be considered) poverty. Nin and Miller were lovers and their relationship would be common knowledge once Nin’s private diaries were published (with both’s permission) in 1969. The pair would remain friends for life.

Screen Shot 2016-04-05 at 3.32.55 PMThe Dust Jacket on his first published work, “Tropic of Cancer” (1934) came with a warning to readers that it was not to be distributed in the United States or in Great Britain. Miller’s work detailed varied sexual experiences that were considered extremely scandalous (perhaps because they were based in truth!) for the time and for a great number of years his work was banned in two of the most (supposedly) democratic countries in the world. Luckily for the author, however, the censorship and scandal surrounding his work grew him a fantastical reputation in underground literary society – and despite his books being banned he was world-famous and well-known. Though Miller eventually grew tired of being respected for writing what, to some, came across as smut or erotica, he did not fight his reputation (being married and divorced five times certainly didn’t help to quell the image of his excessive sexuality). He is known to have inspired an entire group of writers that later would become known as the Beat Generation (Jack Kerouac cited Miller as one of his literary idols). For that he is considered one of the forerunners of modern literature, and is to be revered for his help in freeing up the “mind” for future authors and audiences.

Share

Who cares that Gold was found near Sacramento? Check out these Gems we Mined at the Sacramento Antiquarian Book Fair…

Screen Shot 2016-03-28 at 6.27.56 PM

 

Circa 1869, this pamphlet titled “God is Love. A Sermon” was authored by George Storrs – one of the leaders of the Second Advent movement, affiliated with William Miller and Joshua V. Himes. After a fair amount of study, Storrs preached to some Adventists on the condition and prospects… for the dead. OCLC records no copies of this pamphlet, nor is it found in the NUC! See more on it here>

 

 

 

Screen Shot 2016-03-28 at 6.38.53 PMThis set of 5 Nursing Student journals were written between 1923 and 1926 by one Mildred Godwin, a class of ’26 nursing student at Crozer Hospital, Chester, Pennsylvania. Within these journals the young lady records diverse class notes beginning in September of 1923 from lectures by her professors – Dr. Crowther, Miss Burkhard, Dr. Gray, etc. The subject of her entries range widely across the medical spectrum, from items such as Social Service to “Why Cases are Referred.” A very interesting archive of post WWI nursing education! Check it out here>

 

Screen Shot 2016-04-01 at 10.05.56 AMThis is no ordinary promotional photograph album or scrapbook… at least, not in terms of subject! The Alaska Blue Fox Company seem to have produced this interesting documentary album, providing an invaluable historical look at a very successful fox farming venture (yes, you read that correctly. No, there’s nothing I can do about it) on Bushy Island, in the Southeast Alaska Islands. After WWI there was a rise in fur prices, giving some eccentric entrepreneurs an opportunity to lease the island in the Tongass National Forest off the coast of Alaska and stock it with some 20 breeding pairs of foxes – all for your wearing pleasure. Be unnerved here>

 

Screen Shot 2016-04-01 at 10.06.36 AMThis 1929 Promotional Project Photograph Album details the Western Maryland Railway – a (primarily) coal & freight hauling operation – with images of the diverse aspects & views of the port facilities & docks, of the ‘up-to-date’ buildings & even some freight moving mechanisms (spiral chutes & cranes, etc). An outstanding, possibly unique album documenting local pre-depression Baltimore history, as well as the capital improvement efforts of one of Maryland’s major transportation firms! Love automotive and locomotive history? This is the album for you…

Share

It’s Always Sunny in Sacramento

Our main lady, the lovely Kate Mitas, reports on the recent Sacramento Antiquarian Book Fair. That’s not all… perhaps I should call it (for Tavistock Books, at least) the most recent and successful Sacramento Antiquarian Book Fair. Stay tuned!

IMG_2801 (1)

By Kate Mitas

Maybe I’m wrong, but I’m willing to bet that by now, if you’ve been following Tavistock’s less than stellar performance at the past three book fairs, you probably don’t really give a damn about the progress of this latest fair. All you really want to know is if we finally, finally managed to have a decent book fair, or if we’ve had to slink away with our tail between our legs yet again.

Now, if this were any other book fair, knowing that wouldn’t actually stop me from forcing you to sit through this entire blog, anyway, while I regaled you with comic misadventures and newbie impressions until, at the very last minute, revealing whether or not we’d succeeded. But just this once, I’ll spare you the suspense. 

Because this isn’t just any old book fair: at long last, and for the first time ever in my short antiquarian bookselling career, Tavistock Books actually had a good book fair.

Yeah, you read that right: we had a good book fair! We sold books! And we even made some money! Hurrah!

Well, that is to say, we mostly had a good book fair. And then again, we almost didn’t. Because, in fact, we nearly gave up before we began, and the good ship Tavistock, languishing in the doldrums for so long, seriously considered dropping out of the fair circuit altogether. 

See? There’s always a story to tell. 

So, for any who are still curious, procrastinating, or otherwise willing to fritter away a few more minutes of your time: here is your tale of book fair woe and triumph, as soberly and matter-of-factly told as I can manage right now.

Once upon a time, in a land rather a lot like this one, but slightly more drought-stricken, a wee lass of a bookseller-in-training traipsed off to Sacramento to work her first-ever booth at an antiquarian book fair. Let’s say, for the sake of this story, that it was a bright September afternoon in 2015, and that, although the hills and fields were brown and had been for some time, the sky was blue and cloudless and full of promise. This young bookseller and her not-so-young boss barreled up Interstate 80 in the shop’s trusty van, which was filled with what seemed like good candidates for a regional book fair: loads of Californiana and Western Americana, interesting ephemera, and, of course, helpings from some of the loveliest books in the shop’s specialties. The iron mesh door behind the front seats rattled quietly as they drove, and the side panels of the folded wooden bookcases in back occasionally let slip a muted clack whenever the van hit a bump. These sounds were oddly soothing to the young bookseller’s jangling nerves.

Our heroine was but five weeks into the antiquarian book trade, then, and ignorant of the sometimes cruel vagaries of the book fair circuit. She had high hopes for the shop’s success at the fair, though she kept them to herself, not wanting to jinx it. And yet, as perhaps a few of you may recall, those hopes were thoroughly quashed by the nearly unrelenting cacophony of crickets in the Tavistock booth that weekend. 

Three mournful, but plucky, blogs, two increasingly painful unsuccessful book fairs, and one wrecked van later, and the mood in the shop during the days leading up to this past weekend’s biannual Sacramento Antiquarian Book Fair was decidedly grim. A kind of preliminary dread set in. There was talk of abandoning the fair circuit. All of our books looked crummy. Never mind that a second look might at them might steal our hearts all over again — no customer would want them. It rained all week, adding to the gloomy atmosphere. In short, we had the pre-fair blues.

Nevertheless, despairing naps and weeping under one’s desk are generally frowned upon at work, so, naturally, we went through the motions of packing and preparing. And while we were doing so, it occurred to me that if we kept on this way, we were definitely going to have another bad book fair. And I wasn’t having any of it, not this time.

“Hey, Vic,” I announced, “you know this is going to be my first successful book fair, right?” (This is true — you can ask him.)

The lucky title that perhaps played a hand in Tavistock Books' successful Sacramento fair! See it here>

The lucky title that perhaps played a hand in Tavistock Books’ successful Sacramento fair! See it here>

He seemed doubtful. And who can blame him? But instead of packing “The Dying Californian,” the songster that had served as my first Sacto fair’s sorry mascot, I decided to bring along our copy of Fred Fearnot and the Errand Boy; or, Bound to Make Money. Sure, maybe it was silly, but maybe it’d bring us a bit of much-needed luck, too. Plus, if things worked out, it’d make for a good blog title. “Kate Fearnot” has a certain ring to it, after all . . . 

Okay, if I’m honest, I can’t really take credit for the success that followed. Clouds continued to loom as we left the city, but the sun broke through around Vacaville. Thanks to Jim Kay’s tireless efforts, booth setup went smoothly, for the most part, and any flagging spirits were topped-up by free pizza in the afternoon. The company of what has become the usual crowd on the book-fair circuit was splendid, as always, and even Ms. P. (aka Margueritte Peterson) made an appearance, and may yet have room in her busy schedule for new clients for her social media/ catalogue design business. The crowd trickled in early Saturday morning, then grew quickly and remained steady throughout the day, and although not all of the booksellers I spoke with were happy, few seemed to regret having made the trek. At the Tavistock booth, we sold a range of material to both customers and dealers, ranging from a $9 children’s book (haggled down from $10 out of what, I’m sure, was merely compulsive bargaining) to considerably more expensive items, and everyone seemed happy with their purchases. Even the buying was pretty good for us.

Kate hasn't seen Vic so excited a book since she’s been here! He says he’s never seen a dedicated lending library binding! More details coming soon...

Kate hasn’t seen Vic so excited a book since she’s been here! He says he’s never seen a dedicated lending library binding! More details coming soon…

I wish I could say that it was a huge success, of course, making up for the preceding lackluster showings and then some. Certainly not enough to merit a Kate Fearnot blog title. Are they worth it then, these fairs? All that effort and agony, all the expense and risk just to gather, however briefly, with colleagues and book lovers of all stripes? Are they bonanzas, migratory communities, or refuges of a book trade that keeps losing physical stores? And what would we do, how would we swap knowledge and ideas and, it goes without saying, books, if we didn’t do book fairs?

Frankly, I don’t know the answers to these questions. What I do know is that I have a catalogue to get ready for next week, and a stack of cool things to catalogue for it, and a pile of fair items to finish putting away, and a tally sheet on my desk pointing out our modest profit, in black ink, for the first time. It feels an awful lot like being a bookseller.

Share