Practice Makes (Nearly) Perfect - 36th Annual Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair
By Greg Gibson
Sometimes the years seem to fly by like calendar leaves flapping off the wall in a corny movie. That was much the feeling at this year’s 36th Annual Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair, held at the Hynes Convention Center. Old veterans of Bostons past walked the familiar aisles, nodding at one another – “Here we are again.” Members of the excellent Brede staff, many of whom have been working with us for years, gave us a “Good to see you again” shoulder clap. And they meant it. We’d each survived another year and were back in the familiar, comfortable confines of the Hynes.
I recall problems in the early years, mostly centering around the difficulties of moving in and out. But now staff and exhibitors alike know the drill, and if anyone unfamiliar with the procedure gets panicky, there are plenty of calmer heads to offer support. No more ugly, non-conforming booths, no fighting, no biting. The complainers will never go away, but even they seemed subdued this year.
Aside from perfect fall weather and tried and true logistics, there was another factor working to our benefit this weekend. It’s a trend I’ve noticed in the east, but it may be taking place in west coast book fairs as well. Betty Fulton of Commonwealth Promotion, our topnotch promoter, and Sandy Smith, promoter of the New York Book Fair, have begun to realize that there is no harm in giving away free tickets. In the old days, in New York particularly, comps were jealously guarded. Lately it seems to have dawned on promoters that free tickets do NOT reduce the number of paid admissions – the paid gate at the Boston event has held steady over the years, despite the flood of free tickets now available. More people come to the fairs, more exhibitors are happy (or at least not bored) and, theoretically, more exhibitors sign up for the next fair, keeping our event a healthy one.
This brings up the only negative note in my otherwise uncharacteristically cheery review – several well-known Boston firms did not participate in this year’s fair. This did not prevent them from having pre-fair parties in their shops, and inviting potential book fair customers to spend money with them on their premises. Nor did it prevent them from having their representatives walking the book fair floor, schmoozing customers and looking for books to buy. Nothing wrong with that, except if you can get a party together and have someone at the book fair, why can’t you rent a booth and support your local event? Selfishness is about the only reason I can come up with. You know who you are…
If the fair at the Hynes was tried and true, the so-called “Shadow Show” held this year at the Back Bay Events Center was brand new.
Promoter Marvin Getman had purchased the show from Bernice Bornstein and, with his typical energy and attention to detail, he went about setting a new tone to the often ramshackle event. Exhibitors reported smooth load in (micro managed by Marvin), and most seemed happy with the venue – though I did have a problem in this regard. The space was broken into several rooms and if you weren’t familiar with the layout, or didn’t have a floor plan of the event, or were as directionly challenged as I am (they call me “the human compass”) you would have found the event difficult to navigate.
Once, I thought I was on my way to the exit, only to find myself in a room totally dedicated to the holdings of the remarkable Peter Luke. It was crowded in there, hot as a boiler room, with at least a dozen people working the boxes like stokers, and captain Luke storming around in a lather, filling the space with his booming voice - “Where did I leave that receipt book?”
Bottom line? Shadow people seemed happy. I hope Marvin can keep the fair at that venue long enough for me to learn my way around. Everybody I talked to at the ABAA event had a good fair, at least, and no major complaints. The crowd was lively and steady through all three days, and there seemed to be enough good material on the floor that dealers could buy their way out if selling was slow. Ten Pound Island Book Co. sold somewhere in the low to mid $30K range, and spent about $10K, making for a $40,000 book fair by the Weinstein formula (sales + purchases = book fair results).
Here’s an item that survived the fair, though I’m hard put to see why
DIARY OF A YOUNG WOMAN OF NEW YORK, 1854-1861. Lined paper notebook, 7 x 8 inches, about 150 pp. manuscript entries. Bound in quarter calf over marbled boards.
Where she went, what she did, who she saw. She’s unnamed and of uncertain age, but close to marriageable. She lives at home with her parents, entertains several suitors over the years, to no effect. She weighs 132 pounds, and is given to occasional melancholy reflections about her situation in life. On July 25, 1855 she and her family, the Bennetts, move to 50 W. 37th St., so a little city directory work might reveal her identity.
Her journal is steeped in the daily rhythms of her life, in part an endless round of visiting and shopping, but with some interesting entries about the world around her - carriage rides to neighboring cities and Long Island, steamer and railroad trips to visit family in Danbury. Daily observations about such things as the Croton water supply or the financial crisis of October, 1857. “The great financial crisis today eighteen City Banks suspended to day The remaining thirty three suspended tomorrow, the merchants all failing.”
Church is a big part of her life. Almost as a kind of recreation, she and family members attend services and lectures at Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist, Congregational, and even Quaker churches and meeting halls. This occasionally leads to introspective passages – “What is my bestting sin?” The family take summertime excursions to Newport, Fire Island, Rondout, and Saratoga. She reads Ossian’s Poems, Mrs. Hemans, Dick’s Philosophy, Paley's Natural Theology, Gaskill’s Life of Charlotte Bronte. She enjoys noting precisely the expensive gifts of clothing her father bestows on her, such as “a beautiful set of furs. Cost $166 wholesale price. Mink.” She goes to the opera with her boyfriends -Don Giovanni and La Traviata. But by and large her suitors seem to disappoint her. “Mr. Ullman spent the eve, hardly expected to see him again.” Then, a few nights later, “Sadness is stealing over me.” followed by a meditation “O how unsatisfying are all earthly pleasures, tis better thus.” New Year's eve, 1859 – “Another year ended. How many bright dreams have faded away forever, in the past year.”
(Posted on Bookman’ Log. Presented here by permission of the author.)