Report on Baltimore Antiquarian Book Fair
Michael Osborne at the Baltimore Antiquarian Book Fair.
By Michael J. Osborne
(This event took place Labor Day weekend in downtown Baltimore's convention center. The show produced by the Palm Beach Show Group celebrated its thirtieth year and attracted about 70 book dealers and more than 500 antique specialists.)
The Baltimore show is billed as the largest antiques show in the country and it attracts an international assortment of dealers and collectors from Asia, Europe and the Middle East. With the gate count usually in the tens of thousands dealers anticipate good crowds and serious collectors. Once in a while a tourist wanders in and is overwhelmed by aisle after white-carpeted aisle of booths where everything is for sale: books, fine art, antiquities, silver, jewelry, oriental rugs, and sculpture.
The show held on the lower level of the convention center stretched for two city blocks. It was on such a grand scale that it took more than one day to see it all and it wasn't uncommon to see people in battery powered carts cruising up and down the aisles.
The antiquarian book dealers were nestled together near the west end of the center under lower ceilings with decent lighting for better viewing of books. In the book section visitors found fine bindings, rare printings, hand-colored plates, fore-edge paintings, first editions, rare editions, interesting ephemera and scarce titles and just good books in a variety of subjects.
The book dealers were the last to move in due to the location of the antiquarian section. During the morning of September 1st you could drive your vehicle, if you were lucky and early enough, up to your booth and unload quickly before parking offsite. Otherwise you were able to park nearby to dolly to your booth, then park offsite. What appeared to be chaos with shelving and boxes and people finding their allocated space was actually well managed by the Palm Beach Show Group whose staff assisted with details. Book dealers had a full day on Wednesday to move to and set up their booths until all the carpeting was laid, and all the vehicles removed and the remaining space filled in with a restaurant.
This show was good for pre-show buying. It wasn't unusual to find one or more dealers dropping by your booth while you set up, scanning your shelves, and returning again and again scouting well into Wednesday evening of the set up day. Business cards appeared from dealers' pockets and were placed with books to be put aside and purchased later.
The show attracted several members of the ABAA including, A. Parker Books of Sarasota, Florida; Bauman Books from New York; First Folio from Tennessee; and Lux Mentis from Portland, Maine. Jerry Showalter returned from Ivy, Virginia; Jeff Bergman from Fort Lee, New Jersey; and Ned Sparrow from Lutherville, Maryland.
My display, Michael J. Osborne Books, was located in booth 705. This was my seventh year at the BABF. I occupied a double booth that opened to a spacious aisle and plaza-like eating area where coffee and snacks were served. Although I specialize in city planning, landscape architecture, architecture, Marylandia, Washingtoniana, and what I like to call irresistible rare books, this year I brought books on the Civil War, and fine printing and press books in addition to my usual fare.
My top single sale was a non-book item, a deck of twenty alphabet cards in Cyrillic, printed in 1848 in Moscow, complete, with their case and with hand-colored illustrations of peddlers. The most expensive book I brought was Edith Wharton's The Book of the Homeless, one of fifty deluxe copies with the extra suite of plates.
The plaza area is also home to Jerry Showalter, Royal Books, Drusilla's Books, Griffon’s Medieval Manuscripts, Jeff Bergman, First Folio and Book Worm and Silver Fish. Drusilla Jones brought rare and choice children's books and literature, and her neighbor, Jerry Showalter brought an eclectic mix of rare and antiquarian books and ephemera, which included the first edition of Pope's Shakespeare. From my booth I could see the beautiful books displayed by Dennis Melhouse in First Folio's booth and absorb the old-antiquarian-book-shop atmosphere created by Jim Presgraves' Book Worm and Silver Fish. I could step a few feet from my booth and find fine first editions at Kevin Johnson's Royal Books and Jeff Bergman's booth.
Report on Baltimore Antiquarian Book Fair
A view of the Baltimore Fair.
Thursday was the busiest day when dealers hunkered down in their booths writing sales receipts to the serious collectors and dealers. There was a crowd waiting to get in as soon as the doors opened and they hurried to their favorite booths. One fellow scouted every booth, sometimes stopping to put books aside, then continued his quest until later in the day he left with two carts that carried boxes of books. Unfortunately he didn't buy anything from me, but sales were brisk throughout the day and well into the evening.
Any book show has ways to prevent people from leaving with unpaid merchandise. The Baltimore Show is no exception. Each sale must be accompanied by a sales receipt and "pass out" form to get out the door. The running joke among the dealers was, "Don't pass out in front of my booth."
During the lulls in traffic I took the opportunity to browse around the book area. One stop I made was at Ian Kahn's Lux Mentis where I found several books I would readily add to my library. Apparently other people felt the same because Ian reported good sales. Two spectacular items were on display. One dated 1779 listed and explained the prosecution's charges against Benedict Arnold for "illegal and oppressive conduct." The second was Rockwell Kent's Candide Maquette, hand colored by the artist.
Further down the same aisle Bauman's reported a very good show with excellent pre-show buying and sales. The next aisle over, Kenneth Mallory from Decatur, Georgia, a first time exhibitor, reported good sales as did his neighbor Julia Jordan of Four Winds Fine Books. And just around the corner at Tom Congalton's booth, Between the Covers, you could find an inscribed copy of Hart Crane's The Bridge.
By 6:00 pm on Sunday the 4th, the show was over. A little weary, everyone immediately started packing, and as soon as the restaurant was removed, vehicles could again move in for loading. As with the move-in the move-out was well organized, although Greg Gibson of Ten Pound Island Book Company reported in his blog that irregularities occurred at the exits when dealers who had packed up quickly tried to depart the building before the carpets were rolled up, and were prevented from doing so. The Palm Beach Show Group is very particular about its carpets, and within an hour they were rolled up and books and shelving started to spill out of booths into the aisles, packed into vans and cars and out the door. It took me three hours to pack my booth, dismantle the shelving and move out. I was one of the last book dealers to leave as trucks and cars started to roll by what was my booth into the maze of aisles deep in the convention center.
The Palm Beach show group reported a high volume of traffic and "booming" retail and trade business. I think the sales among the antique dealers dwarfed the sales of the book dealers with one antique dealer reporting a sale of $1.3 million for one vase. And then there was Jim Alterman of Jim's of Lambertville, who bought an entire booth of sculpture including two Rodin pieces, a sculpture by Emile Gauguin, and a very rare Leo Laporte-Blairsy Art Nouveau lamp. I did hear about a similar incident in the antiquarian book trade when a collector bought an entire collection of books about golf from one booth, but that was not at this show.
With a return rate of over 90% of the dealers the Palm Beach Show Group must be doing something right. Next year the event takes place August 25th-28th, during the weekend before Labor Day at the same location.
A complete list of the book dealers and antique dealers can still be found on the Baltimore Summer Antiques Show website. Click here. Unfortunately the dealers are not divided by antique and book dealers, and the list is not searchable. The pocket-sized Show Guide for attendees was helpful with an alphabetical list of dealers, booth numbers and a map. Perhaps a compass should be provided too.
Michael Osborne is the proprietor of Michael J. Osborne Books LLC. He has been a participant and observer of the antiquarian book market for the past thirty years. Osborne has a graduate degree in library science and was a practicing librarian for academic and special libraries, as well as the state of Maryland. He attended the Out-of-Print and Antiquarian Book market Seminar in Colorado in 1999.
You may reach Michael Osborne at email@example.com.
His website is located at http://www.michaeljosbornebooks.com/.