A New York Weekend Ph.d in Book Collecting

- by Bruce E. McKinney

Nyab

A chance to acquire both knowledge and material


By Bruce McKinney

There are many recent reports of slower sales in the book business and few sellers are exempt from the downturn. The February book fairs in California underperformed and the upcoming fairs in New York will be conducted in an environment of uncertainty. As a person interested enough in books and works on paper to be reading this article you are potentially one of the those attending. There are many good reasons. Let's consider them.

  1. There are three shows occuring within blocks of each other with more than 270 dealers participating. One is the ABAA's annual New York fair, its most important event of the year, another the West Side Antiquarian Book and Ephemera Fair, the third the New York Autograph Show. The ABAA fair takes place at the Park Avenue Armory, on Park between 66th and 67th, the WSAB at Hunter College two blocks away at Lexington & 68th. The NYAS is at the Helmsley Park Lane Hotel at 36 Central Park South between 5th and 6th. For one trip you have several opportunities to meet dealers and find material.
  2. Many dealers do not list their best material online until they have first offered it at shows. Rare books are hard to find, serious collectors harder to find. Dealers bring great material in search of great customers. For exceptional and the unusual material shows are often the only place to see a dealer's best things.
  3. A minority of dealers simply do not list on line in any significant way. They are often show-dependent. The only way to know of their material may be to meet them.
  4. Most people live in one place. Book dealers have a base but are often in motion. They take their best material across the country and around the world to exhibit at antiquarian events to show it to you. For the dealer the interaction with potential clients is that important.
  5. Dealers price everything, they negotiate some things. They are unlikely to reduce their prices on exceptional material if they feel it is fairly priced. There are two general rules. The best material will change hands during the first day, the best prices will be achieved on the final day. The best collections are built upon the best material. There is an insatiable demand for great things.
  6. For many, even most, collectors shows may be a stage but they are a necessary stage. Think of them as required courses needed to earn your degree. At these events you are looking for contacts, for evidence of knowledge, for clues to the type of material a dealer sells be it premium or impaired, exceptional or simply nice copies. On the spot comparisons between how an item is described and a visual examination of the piece are very useful. Sellers come to shows to sell. You go to a show to learn and sometimes to buy. Often you will do both and be satisfied with the outcome.
  7. To become a collector you need to experience the material. You may not buy but you need to learn. There is no better place to learn.
  8. So there you have it. The chance for an intensive weekend course in books, manuscript and ephemera. If you are serious, or would like to become serious about collecting and have access to New York, this is your chance.
[1] New York Antiquarian Book Fair April 4-6, 2008;
[2] WEST SIDE ANTIQUARIAN BOOK & EPHEMERA FAIR April 4-5, 2008
[3] Professional Autograph Dealers Association April 6, 2008;

Here are directions and a map to travel between the West Side Antiquarian Book and Ephemera Fair and the ABAA Fair. Here is another map for travel between the Autograph Dealer's Show and the ABAA Fair.