On the Road to Damascus
The ABAA Book Fair Homepage
For someone who will visit a book fair it may be an act of premeditation or whim. Plans will be made and unmade, commitments adjusted, weather and health considered. Some collectors will fly across the country and others take a subway. Once inside the Park Avenue Armory at 67th in New York they will become part of a sprawling mass of enthusiasms that leap to life as thousands of the faithful and addicted make their way in. For collectors the New York Antiquarian Book Fair is a measure of their year. Made money, sold some investments? The fair is a place to reap tangible rewards converting money into satisfaction. All the better if they find something long wanted. For those who hope to acquire the fair is a long anticipated moment.
For participating dealers it is months of anticipation culminating in five days of intense set-up, watchful waiting, discussions and negotiations. For some dealers, a quarter of their annual sales will occur at this and other fairs. Shows for dealers are everything from interesting to important.
Exhibitors come from around the world although most at this show call the United States or Canada home. They will treat the New York Fair with varying degrees of significance although most hope to do well and all have heard the long told stories of the rich and famous spending several hundred thousand dollars with noblesse oblige flair. This fair has a lottery ticket feeling and many dealers are wont to say “you never know.”
Preparations for this year’s fair began last year as the 2010 event was ending. Many said and thought sales were good, enthusiasm high and prospects for this year appealing. “See you next year if not before. Are you going to do Boston?” New York is everyone’s one first choice, Boston a year-to-year uncertainty, and the west coast fair, be it LA or San Francisco, a calculation.
On the Road to Damascus
The route to New York from Maine
In San Francisco Thomas Goldwasser is about to ship 150 books to New York. He’s preparing a fair list and promises it will be out soon. Today is the 29th. Move-in at the fair is next Wednesday. For Bruce McKittrick of Narberth, Pennsylvania the trip will be a ride, not a flight. He and his wife will take an apartment in Manhattan for the week and personally carry their 80 items into the Armory. Bruce recalls selling significantly more to the trade a dozen years ago. "Today price is important, and for us the retail aspect of the fair correspondingly more significant. We sell the books we believe in, the books we like, and collectors and institutions trust our judgment."
Fran Durako and her manager, Susanah Horrom, of the Kelmscott Bookshop in Baltimore have been doing the ABAA fairs for four years and are therefore newbies. They recently prepared a catalogue and will be bringing newer and more valuable pieces, many of them from it. On setup day they’ll head north at 5:00 am to rendezvous at the Armory at 8:30 for their scheduled arrival – move in. Richard Lan and Seyla Martayan of Martayan Lan will be sleeping in, as they don’t have so many miles to travel. The armory is a Hamilton by cab from their plush office/showroom at 70 East 55th Avenue. They do this and other important fairs to see people coming in from the street. Their offices are on the 6th floor in the Heron Tower. Richard has told me the audience is different although the city is the same. They are bringing fresh material, this year eighty books and atlases and a hundred maps.
Scott Dewolfe and his partner Frank Wood will also drive down on Wednesday morning. They’ll be up early. They are driving in from Maine. Frank is the outside man, relentlessly pursuing new inventories and he has a remarkable touch. Dewolfe and Wood has been an ever-opening cornucopia for almost twenty years. The trip to New York will be the opportunity to have the cell-phones off. Brandy runs the shop and manages their eBay store and auction listings while they are away. Scott is looking forward to the quiet.
On the Road to Damascus
Maggs is bringing a European perspective.
Once set-up on Wednesday they’ll expect to do perhaps 40% of their sales with other dealers before the opening night cocktail party on Thursday and another 30% before the fair officially opens Friday. It turns out their material is as interesting to dealers in person as it is to the public on line.
David Lesser, of Connecticut completed his show list two days ago and gives himself high marks for finishing early. “I don’t know what got into to me. I’m usually trying to complete it in the car.” He is in fact very much on top of his game. He presides over the ethics committee of the ABAA, a position that suggests his judgment is widely trusted. “My wife and I will drive down on Wednesday. We have a delivery-intake appointment.” As to how he’ll do he offers, “I never know from year-to-year. Some years I sell mostly to dealers and others mostly to the public.” His assistant, Susan, will join them on Thursday. “Whatever comes we’ll be ready.”
Maggs Brothers of London shipped their material a week ago. What with customs and handling premeditation is essential when traveling three thousand miles and crossing national borders in the post-911 era. The books of course need to be represented and each year there are more volunteers for the arduous duty, eight or so, than jobs to be done. Great books after all speak for themselves, to a point. Ed Maggs describes the New York fair as a strong retail experience. All fairs are the combination of sales to the trade and public but New York is particularly appealing to collectors and libraries. Staff who have drawn the long straws are excited and will be on site next week.
And then there is Ian Brabner, another New York newbie. He’s been doing the fair for four or five years and comes to New York for the sales and excitement and the opportunity to access the market. “It is changing. The inventory I present has to tell a story. The importance of the material is in its context.” He’ll be driving up Wednesday. For younger collectors he’s a guy your age. He’s 40 and will be unearthing interesting material for the next thirty years.
So it turns out that collector and library confidence in the New York Book Fair is not misplaced. The excitement they feel is mirrored on the booksellers’ side. Think of the book fair as a mosh pit for those with the intellectual chops to rock. If you love old books, manuscripts, maps and ephemera you’ll be there.