In San Francisco: It's Show Time!
For book buyers it was the era of good feelings all over again.
By Bruce McKinney
When you meet a book dealer you may not think they are gamblers, and truth be told, they probably don't want to be. But when they commit to participate in a book show they commit months ahead to rent a booth, move people and inventory, guess what to bring and then hope the weather and circumstances cooperate. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. Think of them as confreres of Candid. Over the weekend of February 18 to 20 those who had committed months ago to the San Francisco ILAB-ABAA show overwhelmingly saw their ships come in as a large and changing crowd kept the isles full and the dealers busy from the Friday 3:00 pm start straight through to the Sunday 5:00 pm close. There were generally strong to very strong sales and every dealer reported meeting new collectors.
John Crichton, president of the ABAA, explained it this way. "The San Francisco ABAA book fair is the most financially accessible book fair for the entire ABAA membership and it is our most diverse book fair,
where dealers of many types and means successfully exhibit, sell and buy right next to each other. It has had a remarkably strong track record over the years in attendance and sales - spread out among all the dealers - which were repeated once again this year and which give this book fair a unique characteristic not found in our New York, Los Angeles or Boston book fairs."
The pattern, set early, prevailed throughout the weekend. Dealers, per usual, were their own best customers.
Buying for stock and sometimes with a specific customer in mind, they had the opportunity to buy from each
other before the public was admitted. As is the norm at such shows, dealer to dealer transactions represented
at least half of all sales. Then, when the doors officially opened collectors surged in and headed straight
to the dealers with whom they had established relationships. Two hundred and thirty five dealers
participated, but for many collectors, they were there to see only a few. Most dealers reported that they
found new customers so buyers, who often went to their established contacts first, did generally make it
to other dealers later. But clearly existing customer relationships were a constant among the large and
multiple collector purchases at the show. Collectors preferred to buy from the dealers they knew.
The level of material brought to the show defined the scale of business conducted. Many dealers focused on
the $100 to $500 transaction and did very well. Many dealers focusing on transactions at this level mentioned
totals for the weekend of $20,000 to $27,000 and all were pleased. Michael Good mentioned selling a group of
Hawaian material, a copy of Redwood and Lumbering in California Forests  and a small archive of Clark
Ashton Smith's poetry. He described the show as fun and profitable. Note: another copy of Redwood and
Lumbering.... sold in the Volkmann sale on the Wednesday before the show, for $6,325. Bill Ewald of Argus
Books reported 71 sales, mostly in the ephemera area. Mark Wessel of Wessel & Liberman reported 60 sales, a
median selling price of $250 and a range in the offered material of from $20 to $10,000. James Arsenault of
Arrowsic, Maine also reported a strong show. He sold a Gold Rush era painting for about $10,000, one of many
items he sold during the busy weekend on his way to more than $40,000 in sales for the three days.
In San Francisco: It's Show Time!
There was a wide range of material - $50 to the hundreds of thousands.
Mid-level dealers on up also reported strong sales. John Windle reported approximately $150,000 of sales on
40 to 50 transactions split between his shop during show week and the show itself. Seventy percent, by dollar
volume, were collector purchases. Derek McDonnell of Hordern House, Sydney, Australia reported, "We're very
pleased with the fair both for buying and selling." We sold about 20 items "including a good set of Vancouver
and purchased about forty items ranging from the hundreds to the tens of thousands in US dollars." Jonathan
Potter Limited of London reported a good show. "We enjoyed the San Francisco show, as ever, and are always
pleased to meet new clients and reacquaint ourselves with those already known to us. Business at the fair was
varied - we sold to the trade and the public, and also bought some items from the trade. The current strength
of the pound certainly helps purchasing and is, we feel, now being accepted as the norm by American buyers.
Our sales and purchases represented a complete cross section of our stock. However, just one example of a
decorative map sold was:
27490). J.Speed, [London, 1627-1676],
The Kingdome Of Denmarke
51 x 39cms, copperplate. Coloured
From the first world atlas produced in England, Speed's map is a typically decorative "carte a figures". Side
panels depict costumed figures, while above are vignettes of notable places including Copenhagen, Elsinore and
Hamburg and Schleswig.
We also sold a number of Jonathan's book Collecting Antique Map and subscriptions to a new map magazine,
MapForum, all of which help to promote an interest in antique maps and the history of cartography in
Purchases were varied but included an Ortelius map of the British Isles. Purchases will go into stock at our
gallery in London."
Sebastiaan Hesselink of the Netherlands reported one large sale and a group of smaller ones but noted that the
Euro/US$ exchange rate is a negative factor in his sales to North America for the moment.
Helen Kahn of Montreal reported a strong show and said she always enjoys the California events. "I like to
take some time with customers and I can do that here."
In San Francisco: It's Show Time!
The program is more useful if you have it in advance.
At the upper end Lou Weinstein of Heritage, the Los Angles dealer, reported excellent sales including a
$175,000 sale of the first edition of Frankenstein. They also sold a 1534 version of the Greek New Testament by
Erasumus, for $60,000 as well as a first edition of Lewis & Clark [Philadelphia, 1814] for $100,000. Bill
Reese reported the sale of David Samwell's 1786 "A Narrative of the Death of Captain James Cook" for $135,000.
This is a book that rarely comes to market and made $120,000 at Christie's in 2000. He also sold a
presentation copy of Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations [third edition] to his [Adam Smith's] literary executor
for $48,500. Association copies are the most collectible books in all fields today.
Richard Lan, the New York map and rare book dealer, reported excellent sales and serious interest in his ultra
important 1513 Ptolemy with its first map of the New World. It is priced at $750,000. He also sold a copy of
Thevenot's Relations de divers Voyages Curieux,...., 1696, an important collection of Voyages.
Joseph Felcone offered this. "I did well this year, and I bought some great things. The fair is so large
that, no matter what your interests, there will be things there for you. For the Americana collector, this is
certainly the best ABAA fair for Western Americana, but colonial and early Americana is usually pretty thin.
As a non-specialist dealer in higher-end antiquarian books, nothing compares to New York." The New York Fair
is April 28th to May 1st.
Michael Dawson of Dawson Books perhaps summed it up best. "Great show, great dealer sales, real energy. We
see this enthusiasm at photography shows and it was great to see this vitality in the book world." He singled
out Winslow Associates, the show promoters for comment. "A show works when the exhibitors can move in and out
efficiently, when the inevitable problem is quickly resolved, and when the audience arrives in numbers and is
excited. It happened in San Francisco and I'm glad we participated. I think Winslow did a great job."
The following dealers contributed information and perspective for this article: James Arsenault, Michael Brown, John Creighton, Michael Dawson, Scott Dewolfe and Frank Wood of Dewolfe & Wood, Bill Ewald, Joe Felcone, Michael Good, Sebastian S. Hesselink, Helen Kahn, Richard Lan, Derek McDonnell, James Potter Limited, Bill Reese, John Waite, Lou Weinstein, Mark Wessel, Henry Wessells and John Windle.