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What if They Were Right… Whoever They Were? (New York 2017)

The life of a journeyman major league book dealer (any one who makes his or her living in the trade as a hunter-gatherer, anyone not named Bill, Jim, Pom, Ed, or Don, or anyone not from the other side of the Atlantic whose shoes are worth more than most of your books)… this journeyman life, I say, is a simple one.
Greg Gibson
Published on 15 March 2017

The life of a journeyman major league book dealer (any one who makes his or her living in the trade as a hunter-gatherer, anyone not named Bill, Jim, Pom, Ed, or Don, or anyone not from the other side of the Atlantic whose shoes are worth more than most of your books)… this journeyman life, I say, is a simple one. As Einstein is reputed to have formulated it, we do the same thing over and over again and expect different results.

Hence, since the dawn of time, we migrate to the west coast in February and forage there in grassy fields north and south. Then we return east to do the Washington Book Fair early in March, drive through the southeastern states, feasting on barbecue and books saved for us by faithful southern dealers, alighting in St. Pete for the bookfair there, which our own Saint Pete has termed “Summer Camp for Booksellers.” Then we head north for the Ephemera Society’s annual show. It’s an exhausting stretch but, over the span of a month and several thousand hard miles, we’ve found fresh stock to take to the big New York Book Fair in April, where we’ll make enough money (we hope) to pay for the subsequent emergency room visits, blood transfusions, rehab stays, etc.

But this year someone got in there and screwed the whole thing up.

Likely suspects are legion, and rumors abound, though they swirl mostly around the aforementioned A-list book dealers, in collusion with show promoter Sandy Smith. These guys, the whine went, put their own commercial interests before the needs of us small creatures of the fields. By moving the New York show from April to early March, they damaged the California book fairs, and completely ruined the age-old California-Washington-St. Petersburg-Greenwich book dealer feeding cycle. And there was nothing we lowly hunter-gatherers could do about it!

Nothing, that is, except complain. And boy, did we complain. Some of us exhibited at the west coast shows, some of us stayed home and kept our powder dry for New York. But all of us whined.

Then March rolled around and it was time for the New York International Antiquarian Book Fair. We gleefully read the weather reports predicting snow and record cold, and we knew nobody would come to our Park Avenue Armory event. That’ll Teach ‘Em! we snarled, cutting off our noses to spite our faces.

But something weird happened. After a typically sluggish Thursday night preview (It’s been so long since we’ve had a truly lively one we can hardly remember what they felt like.), and a slightly better Friday,Saturday was off-the-charts busy and Sunday – deadly Sunday – was pretty good, too.

Promoter Sandy Smith told me attendance was up at least 20% overall and hinted at a fulsome number of A-list sales results in the millions. I personally heard of several hunter-gatherers who sold upwards of $100,000, and several more who had their best shows ever (or at least as long as memory serves which, in some cases, may not be too long).

In short, it was almost universally agreed to have been a damned good show. Old pal John Thomson of Bartleby’s Books, widely know to be a keen analytic thinker, was the first person I heard propose the heretical notion that moving the New York show from mid-April to early March might, in fact, HAVE BEEN A GOOD IDEA. We gasped in surprise, but we had to admit, after several other deep thinkers voiced the same opinion, that maybe moving the show away from income tax time and the beginning of gardening and golfing season, had been a smart thing to do – at least as regarded attendance and sales at this particular event.

And as for the Topsy-turvy displacement of the California-Washington-St. Petersburg-Greenwich transhumance, well, we’ll just have to adjust. We always do.

A few other observations: Non-US dealers accounted for about 50% of the vendors at the big show. Surely, this says something about the effect of Brexit, or about the perilous state of the Euro, or of the Euroconomy as it relates to institutional acquisitions over there. Whatever else it means, it surely indicates that our colleagues from across the seas hoped for a solid payday in Manhattan.

And, again according to Sandy Smith, many of them got it, though there were a few for whom sales were slow. It had never occurred to me that, when your inventory is in the multi-millions, and your cheapest book is $50,000, a bad show can be a really bad show.

The satellite shows were well attended and well run, though I found the material a little thin. The Marvin show was down in the number of exhibitors, probably because the show was held on a Friday, which eliminated some dealers who still have day jobs. The Flamingoz show benefited from the presence of the fine printing show with which they shared the exhibition space.

Being across the street from the Park Avenue Armory didn’t hurt either. Both Marvin and the Flamingoz may be getting a smaller slice of the pie, but their peaceful coexistence is a benefit to the trade.

Speaking of benefits to the trade, the high point for me, and many of us, was the cocktail party at the Grolier Club Saturday night in celebration of the 40th anniversary of CABS, the Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar. There has been no greater resource, no greater training ground, no stronger glue to the book community than CABS. It has been a big part of our past, and it is certainly our future. It has survived and flourished thanks mostly to the efforts of a few dedicated individuals. It was a wonderful evening, and by the time Terry Belanger, Lorne Bair, and Rob Rulon-Miller had finished speaking, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

Ten Pound Island sold $48,500, a satisfactory result, but bought only $6500. Of those purchases, only one was truly interesting. I think I’ve already got it sold. But if I don’t I’ll tell you about it next week, in my blog about the Ephemera Society Show March 16 – 19, 2017, at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, Old Greenwich, Connecticut. Stop by my booth and I’ll tell you about it in person.

This article was first published on The Bookman's Log, a regular blog by Greg Gibson of Ten Pound Island and is published here by permission of the author.
Images: The Bookman's Log

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