Category Archives: Events

Rare Books and Manuscripts Galore! We Get a Low-Down of Last Week’s RBMS Conference from Our Very Own Attendee!

Vic, how many years have you attended RBMS for now?

My first RBMS Conference, then called the Preconference for the conference precedes the big ALA event, was in San Francisco, 2002.  I was the local ABAA rep to the RBMS Local Affairs committee, and helped with things like stuffing the book bag, helping arrange the ABAA hosted reception, etc.  The conference hotel was the Fairmont, which is a lovely hotel at the top of Nob Hill.  I confess I don’t remember too many specifics of the conference itself, just have an overall impression of enjoying the week.

IMG_3096What are some of your most favorite past locales where it has been held?

Having just returned from Miami, I can definitely say that locale was one of my favorites, though one prior that does stick out was a number of years ago [2009] when the conference was held in Charlottesville, VA to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the event.  Always like travelling to Charlottesville.  Another that comes to mind was that of 2013, which was held in Minneapolis.  The reason this one is memorable is because, even though I was registrered, I had to cancel at the last minute, as I contracted a bout of pleurisy [as you may also remember!].  Ouch!


Could you give us a walk-through of this weekend, or a typical RBMS weekend? Conferences, showcases – give us the low-down!

The week is filled with sessions & panels, etc., etc.  As you might imagine, as one of the trade, not all issues germane to the librarian community has relevance to my work, however, by better understanding those issues important to my institutional clientele, I can better serve them, which is my job.  The bookseller showcase is an adjunct to the conference, which provides the curators attending the conference an opportunity to sample the wares of my colleagues & discuss with those exhibiting booksellers their needs/wants.


What have you learned at this past RBMS? What conferences did you attend and who struck you as a phenomenally great speaker?

 

The Chairman of Florida's Welcome Committee!

The Chairman of Florida’s Welcome Committee!

The individual that immediately comes to mind, Pellom McDaniels, was a speaker this year at the Thursday afternoon panel [“A Broad and Deep Look at Outreach”] held at the University of Miami.  The intent of the session was “to demonstrate the myriad ways special collections and archives can engage and interact with multiple constituencies.”  This fellow from Emory was high energy, engaged & enthusiastic.  And you could tell from his presentation, that he had achieved the goal of “engaging & interacting”.  It was good to see that, at least in his case, special collections was reaching out beyond the reading room, and showing the community the wonders that lie behind the mahogany doors.

 


Why do you do the RBMS showcase? Is it to sell? Or is it rather to meet new people? 

The intent of the showcase is to provide an opportunity for both the bookseller & the librarian communities to interact.  It is most definitely NOT a bookfair.  Remember, the booksellers are there as an adjunct to the conference, in other words, the showcase is not the main event.

 

Some of the usual suspects...

Some of the usual suspects…

Would you recommend attending RBMS to other booksellers? What about newbie booksellers? Librarians?

If institutional clientele are part of your business model, or you wish to add them to your customer list, then yes, the showcase provides an *opportunity* to do this.  Granted, it’s not the only way, just one way, especially if you are a new ABAA member, it’s one way to do so.  As for the librarian community, if your responsibilites include collection develeopment, then yes, meeting and talking with the exhibiting booksellers can help you with this facet of your job.  Afterall, if you’re fishing [for books], why not cast a wide net?

In summary, this past week was a great one-  both from a program perspective, as well as a venue.  The Biltmore Hotel is a grand old lady, whose elegance if fading somewhat, but she still outshines many younger models.  Next year’s conference will be in Iowa City.  While certainly it’ll be different than Miami, I have no doubt it too will be a success.

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There and Back Again: a New York Book Fair Tale by Vic Zoschak

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New York, New York… a hell of a town!

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.

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       Photo credit: John Schulman of Caliban Books

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 [1815].  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.

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        And here come the crowds!

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?!?!

Always!  :)

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

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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…

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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!

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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.

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Be on the Lookout! Come to the Sacramento Antiquarian Book Fair for…

The Sacramento Antiquarian Book Fair is coming up and as usual we will have some hot new items with us for your perusal! Check out our list below for the latest acquisitions that may be of interest. Also, please feel free to ask us to bring anything you may want to take a look at – we’d be happy to do so! Happy Book hunting to all!

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Check out this 1803 First Edition work of juvenile fiction, “The Preservation of Charles and Isabella”, (set in Lisbon during the great earthquake) by an author better known for his satirical works. This isn’t just any first edition, however – this title is very scarce, OCLC locating only four holdings in libraries worldwide! (Oxford, Princeton, Indiana & NY Public… in case you were interested!) This from the library of either 1st or 2nd Baronet (both have the same name) Sir David Salomons, Bart. from Tunbridge Wells! See it here>

 

 

Screen Shot 2016-03-07 at 10.05.30 AMGot a Special Collection that needs some spicing up? Look no further! Up for sale is a Lot of 35 Shape Books and Die-Cut advertising cards, circa 1895 to the 1940s! A diverse collection – whose sizes, paginations and subject matter vary as widely as possible! All but two are American in origin. Most are also scarce in the trade, with limited or no presence in OCLC’s holdings! Interested? We are (and would keep them for ourselves but that defeats the idea of having a business). Check them out here> 

Screen Shot 2016-03-07 at 10.05.45 AMThis broadside advertisement from the 1930s features a speeding train and a bottle of fresh milk (yes… an interesting combination). The Marin-Dell brand was the trademark of the Marin Dairymen’s Milk Company, Ltd. which operated out of San Francisco and sold only milk processed from Marin County dairies! Not only that, but they also only ever sold the milk to independent grocers in the Bay Area… talk about local history! See this advert here> 

 

 

Screen Shot 2016-03-07 at 10.05.58 AMThe Blaw-Knox Construction Company is, to-this-day, one of the leading manufacturers of road paving equipment in the world, was originally a maker of steel and concrete forms. This 1920s Manufacturer Photograph Trade Catalogue is interesting indeed – being an uncommon primary source visually documenting this company’s work product of almost a century ago now! Interested in how normal things began to be made? This is one place to start! See more here>

Screen Shot 2016-03-07 at 10.06.11 AMThis political satire “Advertisements Extraordinary” is a 1st printing broadside, circa the mid to late 1830s. This Very Good condition, double-column printing lists 19 “Items” ridiculing government and politics in the United Kingdom! And if that isn’t enough to spark your interest… perhaps the idea that there are no holdings located on OCLC will be! Find out more information here>

 

 

 

Screen Shot 2016-03-07 at 10.06.21 AMAre you more of an absolutely-no-doubt-about-it-one-of-a-kind kind of person? Well have we got something for you! This 1912 MSS, self-published hand-made booklet is a one-of-one type of item by Minerva Mickle, inscribed to Ruth Spelman is unpaginated, though 12 pages. It is illustrated throughout with newspaper cut-outs and drawings, with a color pictorial onlay to the front wrapper. If you are a travel enthusiast, this is the item for you! See our “An Imaginary Journey” here>

 

 

Screen Shot 2016-03-07 at 10.06.33 AMArt aficionado? We’ve got you covered, too! This “Masterpieces of the Japanese Wood-Block Print” by Sadao Kikuchi is a 1st (Deluxe) edition in English, published in 1970. This 350-page work explores many different art-forms, heavily illustrated with a folding three-panel frontis, tipped-in color plates and 235 illustrations (of which 105 are color plates and the rest a mix of mounted b/w plates). Still housed in a Near Fine Publisher’s Box. Become a fan of the Wood-Block here> 

 

Screen Shot 2016-03-07 at 10.06.53 AMDid you know that we have many items in the “automobile promotional material” category? (Vic has a “thing” for Porsches.. for those that were not aware.) We have a few nice automobile sample catalogues of a colorful nature from the last half of the 20th century, but here is something new! This letter and silver gelatin photographs show a few models from the 1930s, all clear and sharp in Near Fine condition (a rarity for items such as these)!  See it here>

 

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And last but certainly not least, an amazing Californiana item by Charles Quincy Turner! Published in 1902, this booklet has 70 pages and a fold-out map in the rear showing wagon roads and trails throughout Yosemite. 24 Sepia print photographs are mounted on heavy board, all with captions describing the scenes pictures. The pictures are fresh and show little to no fading, though the box is worn (we liked to call it “well-loved”). Very Good! Check it out here>

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Pride and Prejudice and Bookselling: Confessions from the 49th California International Antiquarian Book Fair

This past weekend Team Tavistock (Vic Zoschak & Kate Mitas) braved the 49th Annual California International Antiquarian Book Fair. How was it, you ask? Well, we’ve asked Ms. Mitas and she kindly volunteered her thoughts on the fair. Find out below!

Team Tavistock! The lovely duo in all their book-loving glory. (Disclaimer: I told Vic to make this face right before taking this picture. He is a genial person. We promise.)

Team Tavistock! The lovely duo in all their book-loving glory. (Disclaimer: I told Vic to make this face right before taking this picture. He is a genial person. We promise.)

By Kate Mitas

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a bookseller in possession of a good book must be in want of a buyer. Book buyers being rather fickle creatures, however, and booksellers being notoriously short of cash, the art of uniting a book with its owner-to-be can be a delicate affair, engineered by the bookseller with the same gnawing anxiety and outsized hopefulness as that of a zookeeper trying to persuade members of an endangered species to mate. Spacious, but comfortable, environs are helpful in such instances, as are a plenitude of books, booksellers, and potential book buyers from around the globe, to increase the likelihood of a successful match. And, of course, lovely weather never hurts.

Enter the annual California International Antiquarian Book Fair.

New ABAA member (and our friend) Marc Kuritz of Churchill Book Collector smiles at the opening of the fair!

New ABAA member (and our friend) Marc Kuritz of Churchill Book Collector smiles at the opening of the fair!

Held in the Pasadena Convention Center this year, the largest antiquarian book fair in the country had all of these things going for it, and more. Well-lit and suitably grand, with plush grey carpeting covering the floor and dark, tasteful drapery dividing the booths down eight long aisles, the convention center housed over 200 dealers and some of their most magnificent stock, and did so with nary a hitch. The combined might of White Rain Productions and the dauntless ABAA volunteer committee, headed by Michael Thompson, ensured that everything from the easy load-in, to the well-stocked exhibitor snack room, to the requisite permits for the ABAA charity poker tournament were all taken care of before anyone could raise much of a fuss (okay, some disgruntled muttering was heard from time to time regarding the snack room, but that’s inevitable). Security was tight, snappily dressed, and both professional and friendly with the bookish crowd; the temperature inside, once the fair officially started, was neither too cool nor too hot. Attendance was predictably good, if not the clamoring hordes of collectors everyone would have preferred. In terms of operational efficiency, the general consensus seemed to be that the fair ran with exquisite smoothness.

Even I, still a relative newbie to the fair circuit, and a first-timer on this side of the counter at an ABAA fair, knew enough to be impressed by the well-oiled machinery underlying the event. The same sense of smoothness seemed to carry over into the Tavistock booth, as load-in – really nothing more strenuous than a quick drive down the ramp at the convention center parking garage, and then a stroll around the neighborhood while our books were brought up by the loading crews – turned into a luxuriously long setup, followed by a quick change of clothes before the crowd started spilling in on Friday afternoon. After that, it just came down to selling books — arguably, the most important part, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

None of this is to say that we didn’t have our usual share of book fair mishaps. For starters, our booth was missing a glass case, and we had to track it down before we could do much in the way of unpacking. Then the corner of the table supporting our two folding bookcases cracked and began to buckle overnight, which meant we had to get a new table in on Friday morning and redo everything on the cases (as you may have already guessed, by “we” here I mean “I”). My “fancy day” outfit demanded to be rectified at the last minute, and rightly so, and though I remembered to scrape the blue price stickers off the soles of my black heels before too many fair-goers had wandered in, the shoes I’d thought were a solid thrift store find turned out to be duds: part of the right heel broke off not long into that opening day, giving my already less than graceful heel-wearing gait an added surreptitious limp, and leading to the sad discovery that I’d left our Sharpie marker back at the shop.

Yet, this time around, it all felt, well, par for the course. Simply working the fair, my biggest one so far, my first ABAA fair even, seemed . . . normal. Which, quite frankly, was weird.

And which is why I now have a confession to make: I have been an antiquarian bookselling spy.

Not a spy for anyone, mind you — don’t sic ABAA security on me just yet. No, instead I have been a spy, of sorts, from the used and rare book world from whence I came, and where I spent the preceding eight years of my life in the book trade before moving to Tavistock. 

The used and rare market isn’t, of course, actually separate from the antiquarian trade. In fact, for some dealers, the two are very nearly one and the same: within the many permutations of the book business, there are plenty of antiquarian booksellers with open shops and a large quantity of general stock, just as there are plenty of used and rare booksellers with significant antiquarian stock. The distinction is in large measure a matter of how a bookseller defines herself, I suspect, and in which community she chooses to invest the majority of her energies, funds, and knowledge. (I also suspect that many of you have other, or better, definitions for these terms. Bear with me.)

In my case, the two bookstores I worked for had a far greater preponderance of used than rare material, a significant investment in and reliance on their local communities, and the kind of more limited dealings with collectors and institutions that makes me feel comfortable distinguishing them from the purely antiquarian trade. The demands and joys of running an open shop took precedence; material valued at more than a few thousand dollars was unlikely to pass through the doors. Yet, while I may not have learned the ins and outs of collating or the rigors of bibliographic description, I did learn what I still take to be the one of the most basic tenets of the trade: that the job of a bookseller is, simply, to put the right book in the right hands. 

That’s a tenet that’s easier to follow, however, when one is dealing primarily with the public, and can point to sales of $1.50 and $1500 on the same day as proof that a book’s value exists irrespective of the price tag on it. It strains credulity to make the same claim when the books you sell exclude all but the wealthiest pairs of hands.

Or so it has seemed sometimes, as, over the course of the past seven months, I have on the one hand been utterly delighted with some of the material that has crossed my desk and grown frankly callous about the prices attached to it, and yet, on the other hand, have found myself stalled at book fair booths or dinners with colleagues, making knee-jerk comparisons of the prices of things to my average annual income or the cost of the house it took my parents 30 years to pay off, and wondering what the hell I was doing there. Such comparisons do a rank disservice to everyone and everything involved, of course, and it seems likely that the authors of at least a few of the books in question, who surely knew some bookseller’s assistants in their time, would have been mortally offended at having their life’s lasting work held up to my meager income. But knowing that didn’t keep me from wondering. Was the antiquarian trade just about selling expensive books to rich people? Had I sold my bookselling soul for a living wage and the chance to actually research the material I cataloged?

If this sounds a bit like a form of snobbery, well, it is. Because the truth is, I was wrong. But being, as usual, a stubborn idiot, it took the largest antiquarian book fair in the country to convince me of that.

Some of the deceptive looking booksellers we know and love!

Some of the deceptive looking booksellers we know and love!

Antiquarian booksellers are a deceptive-looking lot, what with their general friendliness, bookish ways, frequently somewhat rumpled appearance, and ability to drink like fish at a moment’s notice. You might not appreciate at first glance the depths of trade knowledge and specialization honeycombing their businesses, which are, more often than not, simply themselves. And the same holds true of their booths at these book fairs: loving displays of beautiful and, yes, expensive books that reveal nothing of the boxes of dreck, smelly basements, second mortgages, years of self-education, and successful gambles that enabled those books to appear in all their bright glory on a glass shelf at a book fair somewhere. Until, one day, at, say, the 49th California International Antiquarian Book Fair, you do.

Whether it was the fact that I recognized more of the items on display at this book fair for the truly amazing things they are, or the internationality of the affair, or the number of eager collectors, librarians, and other dealers poring over the stock, or the humbling amount of dealers who stopped by to offer their thoughts about their success or lack thereof at this fair and were, without fail, kind as ever to this newbie, it slowly dawned on me that the “right book, right hands” theory of bookselling could still apply in the antiquarian world. Each booth was a kind of sounding, showing the depths of a dealer’s knowledge, beckoning like-minded folk. It’s unlikely that I’ll ever have a collection myself, I gradually realized, but . . . if the opportunity arose to sell something as cool as some of the things I saw, expensive or not? Well, I’d be okay with that.

But what, you’re surely wondering, does any of this have to do how the good ship Tavistock fared? 

Much as I wish I could report my first successful book fair, I cannot. The official word here, in fact, is “soft,” and I’ll leave you to interpret that as you will. Groups of customers drifted up to the display cases like schools of minnows into the shade of a rock, and the gentlest greeting, even to someone else entirely, would send them skittering away. No big fish came by, and those medium fish that did bought lightly. Lots of things sold from the Discovery shelves of under $100 items; whether that translates to increased collecting or is simply an indication of economic stratification, remains to be seen. The aisles, which had been like pneumatic tubes propelling assistants from booth to booth with packages at the start of the fair, slowly turned to clogged thoroughfares of laden dealers grimly trying to ignore their aching feet as they lugged final piles of invoiced items to their colleagues up the way, and a few of those piles came to us, so the buying wasn’t too bad. But, again, the expenses of attending the fair weighed heavily, too heavily, against our anemic sales.

The plush carpeting was getting ripped up during load-out, exposing swathes of pale concrete beneath the luxurious facade. The draperies have surely been taken down and folded, the metal poles stacked in a supply closet somewhere; the security guards have taken off their suits and sunglasses, had beers, and moved on to other gigs. The transitory bibliomecca has moved on to other oases. And as we drove away from Pasadena early Monday morning in a disappointed funk, dreading the final tally, it occurred to me that at any given time, some bookseller, somewhere, was digging through a box, lugging a sign out to the sidewalk, putting a book in someone’s hand, and trying, always, to outsmart, out buy, and — invariably, incredibly — help out their colleague competitors. It’s an absurd profession in its way, and a noble one. And, in the end, we’re all just hustling, hustling, hustling to stay in the game.

Godspeed, friends.

And then... there's this and it makes us giggle.

       And then… there’s this and it makes us giggle.

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Lurking in Person at the San Francisco (Mateo) Book, Print & Paper Fair

By Margueritte Peterson

I have done many “my first book fair” blogs for Tavistock Books. I wrote about my first ever book fair working behind the booth, I wrote about my first ever book fair that I had to fly to exhibit at. I wrote about my first ABAA fair. Unfortunately for you, this blog will be of a similar vein – my first book fair where I wasn’t working but I wasn’t not working either. I may no longer assist the Tavistock Books booth in person, but I am constantly lurking here – gathering information for blogs or for Twitter shout outs. And at the recent San Francisco Book, Print & Paper Fair (held in San Mateo, actually)… I lurked in person.

While this is not as creepy as I just made it sound for effect – to the outsider it looked like a young woman walking around a book fair, knowing quite a few people there but with no bags in her hands. The creepiness was felt solely on my part (I hope). I was once again in a strange situation of “firsts” for my book fair tally – the first time I walked around an antiquarian book fair not looking to buy, not looking to sell, not looking to do anything much but see some friends, evaluate the fair for my blog, and hand out to said friends some newly printed business cards (pretty useless when handing them to people who know your name and your phone number already – but I have to give them to someone otherwise it was a waste of $40). 

Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 2.14.10 PMShould we get to the point? What I thought of the San Mateo Fair, for instance? Before I begin this brief discussion, however, let me point out a disclaimer – I only attended the San Mateo Fair for its last few hours on Saturday afternoon. For once, I cannot comment on set-up or on break-down, on sales or even on customers. What then am I going to comment on, you might ask? Well… Brad Johnson, Travis Low & Ken Sanders were all very impressed by the meat carving station.

Just kidding! (I mean, that is a fact but it is not the point). I will say that from an outsiders perspective – I was confused as to where the fair actually was, what dates it actually was (because of the Super Bowl the days of the fair were Friday/Saturday, rather than the typical Saturday/Sunday – and I would very well have shown up to a dead event center on Sunday afternoon if Kim Herrick of The Book Lair had not warned me, purely by chance). When I arrived after an hour long drive I was told I had to pay $10 cash to park – and (of course) had no cash with me. Then drove (accidentally getting on the freeway for the San Mateo Bridge, back the way I came) for 45 minutes just to get some cash out of an ATM and go back to my original destination. Now – does this have anything much to do with how well the fair went? No. But it does have some merit from the outsider’s perspective. I won’t lie, quite a bit surrounding the fair itself was a hint confusing and stressful. 

On this note, another disconcerting aspect… a lack of booth numbers on the signs for each booth (and by signs I mean pieces of white paper). I looked in the booklet once I had walked around what I thought was the entire fair, and saw that Antipodean Books was exhibiting! I adore David and Cathy Lilburne and thought I would rush over to say hi. After not finding them whatsoever I had to ask a kindly bookseller, who told me that, in fact, Antipodean Books was not exhibiting – nor were quite a few other booksellers listed in the booklet with booth numbers. 

See? Slightly confusing.

Now, on the other hand, while some of my book friends stated how slow it had been (“slow” in bookseller terms meaning a lack of customers or patrons), a couple others told me that they had sold quite a bit of material and had gone through more than one invoice pad. For those of you that don’t know bookselling, that is quite a good fair hint right there! Vic and Kate themselves walked out of the fair with smiles and arms heavily loaded with material purchased. So, as is usual for every one of these book fairs I have reported on, for some the fair was a success and for others it was not quite all they had hoped. In any case, good fair or bad the booksellers were there – and they are the main event. Also per usual, I got smiles and laughs from all, despite how they felt the fair was going. 

So what is the conclusion here? Perhaps just that, as an outsider looking in there were confusing aspects that I might never have seen or understood were it not for being the creeper that I now am! And perhaps I have learned a lesson – always carry cash when going to a new book fair!

Check in next week for our write-up on the Pasadena ABAA Fair!

 

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