The fair at the 25th Street Armory has come and gone, and we’ve managed to survive yet another book fair – more than 400 in my career. It’s weird, but I’ve probably spent something more than two years of my life at book fairs.
For once we caught a break and the weather was unseasonably warm for the weekend.
As always, we had a few nice meals, and on Friday night managed to have a pleasant dinner with fellow booksellers Kevin Johnson, Peter Stern, Ian Brabner, and Harper Levine at Les Halles, only a couple of blocks away from the fair. The food, as always, was reasonably good, but also, as always, it was way too noisy to have a conversation that extended beyond those in the immediately adjoining seats.
The fair looked a little sparse. The promoters, Mancuso Show Management, had raised the booth rents and suffered something like a net loss of 25 dealers, leaving just 48 exhibitors at the fair (actually they lost 31 dealers from last year’s roster, but picked up an additional six new exhibitors).
This had effects both negative and positive.
Buying from other dealers, the main reason that we go there in the first place, was in general pretty anemic. Fewer dealers equals fewer books to look at, and our fellow predatory book buying colleagues, that is, dealers who are looking for books for their catalogues or private collectors like Mr. Stern, the crew from Bauman Rare Books, and Jim Cummins, didn’t look too thrilled with the take.
Incidentally, did Mr. Cummins really think it was a good idea to bring a genuine antique chastity belt to a book fair? Did he sell it?
We bought less than we normally do, but found a few things that we liked: three catering proposals by hip Greenwich Village eateries for the original Woodstock Festival (three meals a day for 50,000 people – slightly underestimated!); a beautiful copy of one of the fragile issues of the important L.A.-based avante-garde magazine Semina; a unique one-performance-only play by Terry Southern to help promote the release of Abbie Hoffman from prison in 1978, which featured performances by William Kuntsler, William S. Burroughs, Jerry Rubin, Rennie Davis, Taylor Mead, Ramsey Clark, Ossie Davis, Kinky Friedman, Allen Ginsberg, Paul Kantner, and other counterculture notables.
Also, thanks to the good offices of Dan Gaeta at John Bale Books, I added a few more books to my collection of 19th century books in printed dust jackets. Combined with a visit to another dealer in town where we bought some nice material, I guess I was satisfied with the haul of new material.
On the other hand, the crowd of collectors probably increased from the previous year, and with fewer dealers to buy from, our sales were surprisingly good. We got to catch up with several dealers and collectors who, with the fewer dealers to visit, had some time to chat, and incidentally look a little closer at our wares. Combined with the fact that we had brought a lot of nice books on New York City, culled from a recent collection we bought this year, we did quite nicely. Who knew that people in New York City would buy books on New York City? This was one of the few regional book fairs where we made more than we spent.
Fewer dealers also made it easier to get in and out of the Armory, and indeed we were headed home barely an hour after the fair had ended.
Among gossiping rare booksellers, much has been made of “The Death of the Book Fair,” but we’ll be back again next year.