Sunday, November 23, 2014

Funny Business

It's a funny business. There is no accounting for why or when things come to you. Every time I buy an American whaling log, for example, I think I may never see another one again. And then...
Over the past month I've gathered, from various sources, a mind boggling stack of 18th and 19th century logbooks and sailor's journals. Not much to look at, I'll admit.
But the gravitational force of this remarkable accumulation has dragged me, like a wayward comet, from my comfortable orbit in the 21st century to the dicey seafaring days of the 1800s. The phone rings. I pick it up reflexively and then need a few seconds to remember who, and where, I am.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not complaining. I've been blessed to be the temporary caretaker (that's all we ever really are) of this wonderful material, and time traveling with these sailors has been a rare adventure.
I've said this before, but it's worth repeating. From a commercial point of view manuscripts have two great advantages over the millions and millions of books competing with one another on the Internet. 

In the first place they are, by nature, unique. Each one was written by a particular person at a particular time for a particular purpose. When I put my manuscript online, baby, it's gonna be the only one out there! Secondly, manuscript items are often difficult to place in a historical context (book geek code for “figure out what they mean”) and, almost always, the handwriting requires a little effort to decipher. 
People who are time stressed, or lazy, or OCD, or legally blind, or simply less interested in manuscripts than books, tend to price such material whimsically, according to how they feel rather than what the fair market value of the material might actually be. Often this results in foolishly inflated prices. Just as often it results in a situation where someone with a little experience can buy to advantage. 

Which, aside from the fact that I am smitten with them, is why I spend all this money and time on these damned things in the first place.

As with many other things, a little experience makes the job easier. It helps to know maritime history so that we can place these items in their “historical context,” if you know what I mean. It also helps to be familiar with the conventions observed in creating these manuscripts. For example, before a journal-keeping sailor got to the narrative part of his entry, if he ever did, he would typically break the day down to “First part,” “Middle part,” and “Latter part,” using these divisions to describe the weather and its changes throughout the day. He would then say what he had to say, if anything, about where they were, or what they saw or did. Then he would close his entry with “So ends.”
This sounds simple enough, and it is. But if you are not familiar with these conventions, and if your journal keeper has, as he so often does, execrable penmanship and worse spelling, you can waste a lot of time trying to figure out whether the hen scratch representing “so ends” is an island, another ship, or a prayer. Similarly, latitude goes 90 degrees each way from the equator, and longitude goes 180 east and west from Greenwich. These sailors had a lot on their minds, or not much mind to contain that lot, and they often neglected to omit the N,S,E or W after recording their position in degrees and minutes.

I learned early on to keep a map of the globe, with latitude and longitude delineated, beside me at all times. 

Not only did it help me figure out where the ship was (Lat 15 Long 30 would put you either near Cape Verde in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, or off the coast of Brazil in the Southern Atlantic, or in the middle of Sudan or in Zambia – neither of which proud African nations would be the best environment for a ship), the atlas also enabled me to trace the progress of the ship around the globe. And a surprising number of these guys, in the most unassuming way, did circumnavigate – in leaky, pestilential ships with barbaric mates and tyrannical skippers. I used to use a giant atlas, and I still do for the image of the globe, but Google has proved to be a godsend when I need to find out if Soends” is an island.

Then there are the hundreds of specialized nautical terms written, again, in bad hand and worse orthography. Verbs like “speak” and “gam,” and all the names of “whalecraft,” not to mention parts of the ship, and slang. You get the idea. Here's where reference books earn their money.
Consider all the places a tyro might get lost. In the navy, for example (and there are a couple of lovely naval journals in this lot), it turns out that a day, for log keeping purposes, starts at noon and goes through to noon of the next day. Of course, they don't tell you this; you have to figure it out for yourself. Many years ago, after discovering for the nth time that some key battle had taken place, according to the eyewitness account I was reading, a day before or after it was supposed to have taken place, I tumbled to the fact that maybe something else was going on, and that I would not be re-writing any history books.

I could ramble on about such matters for an indecent length of time. And don't even get me started about things like whale stamps (in one of the whaling logs I've been reading the keeper used six different whale stamps; in another a keeper used the biggest whale stamp I've ever seen – fully seven inches long).
But I no longer have indecent amounts of time to fritter away, and you may not, either. So here's a very brief description of one the the journals that was not written by a whaleman. It was written by a purser (the CFO aboard ship) in a US Navy ship called the Dolphin, in the 1830s, on slave patrol and then along the coast of South America. There, he and his shipmates stumbled into a rebellion that was taking place in Bahia, Brazil. Wikipedia characterizes it as, “one of the most important urban slave rebellions in the Americas, of particular note because it was the only predominantly Muslim slave revolt in the history of the New World.” This sailor, A.C. Watson, was there. And for a while last Wednesday, I was there with him.

Oh, did I mention you have to read these things?

Manuscript. Naval Purser's Journal. Kept by A.C. Watson Aboard the Brig Dolphin, 1836-1838. Sm folio. 74 pp. manuscript."The... Dolphin... was launched 17 June 1836... She sailed 6 October under the command of Lt. W.E. McKenney to join the Brazil Squadron after a short cruise on the coast of Africa. She... was employed in the waters along the Atlantic coast of South America to protect the rights and property of American citizens. She set sail from Bahia, Brazil, 17 April 1839..." - "American Naval Fighting Ships", II, p. 284. Watson's narrative vividly fills the gaps in the official account. He writes of the slave traffic in Africa, and of the English and American settlements there, as well as the native Africans, their customs, devil worship, the activities of the "krooman" boatmen in the surf, etc. In South America smallpox strikes the "Dolphin's" crew. At Bahia a rebellion is underway just as the "Dolphin" arrives, and Watson graphically describes a number of encounters as well as a terrifying night engagement in the city. He also supplies marginal glosses that serve as finding aids to his text. A riveting narrative, unpublished. About 28,000 words. Clean and legible in lined logbook, bound in calf over marbled boards. Hinges cracked but holding.$4500

Monday, November 17, 2014

Boston 2014: Rheumatology

The fair is over. I made some money. I needed it.

What else is new?

Well, for one thing, Boston's hotels have uniformly adopted a new ripoff algorithm. The moment room demand reaches a tipping point, rack rates go into overdrive. Boston was crawling with rhumatologists on book fair weekend, and demand for rooms was at an all time high. 
A couple of prominent rheumatologists, doing what rheumatologists do
These Docs don't care what they pay – they're doctors. But little people like us will suffer. I'm on the book fair committee and when our promoter, the capable Betty Fulton, announced that she'd gotten us a block rate deal at $279 per night, I was outraged. “I'll find a better rate,” I fumed, “if I have to check every hotel in Boston!” Which I did, only to find out $279 was the lowest rate available. Fortunately, while I was sputtering, my buddy John Thomson of Bartleby's Books, was working the Internet. He found us a nice little B&B not far from the Hynes, which he and his wife and me and mine enjoyed for $179 a night. Take that, chain hotels!
The line on opening night was as long as I've ever seen it, and the fair seemed busy all three days. 
Nicole Reiss presides over the annual scrum at the opening of the Brattle Book Shop booth
As usual, I got conflicting reports about business. Some folks did well; some were disappointed. I did not talk to anyone who had a really terrible fair. Maybe if you have a really terrible fair you don't talk about it.

The one new wrinkle at this year's event was the “Discovery” feature forwarded by Julie Roper of Commonwealth Promotion. This was a program in which dealers agreed to bring a number of books priced under $100. Signing up for the Discovery program got you a notice in the book fair program, a special logo next to your company name,
 and a “Discovery” sign to show interested parties where the cheap stuff was hiding.
The idea, of course, was to get young folks interested in the collecting game, and results, as was the case with income reports, were mixed. One fellow around the corner from me sold his only Discovery book to a 65 year old lady. Another colleague, with a booth full of spectacular rarities, reported no Discovery inquiries. Youngsters were probably intimidated by the bibliographic splendor. I know I was. Yet another dealer marked all her Discovery books with yellow slips of paper – but sold not a one. Despite mixed results nearly everyone I spoke with approved of the idea – at least in theory - and agreed we should keep trying. Julie Roper told me she went a little easy on the publicity this year because she wasn't sure the program would meet with a positive reception. Well, it did, Julie. And I hope other ABAA and regional fairs develop the idea, and continue to promote it.
Meanwhile, across town, the “Shadow Show” brought in its usual early morning throng. 
And I got more uniformly positive reports from dealers there than I did from dealers at the big show. The crowd seemed voracious, and the buying was good. 

The most interesting thing I bought this weekend came from the Shadow Show.
It's one volume in a series of six, published circa 1865, designed to inform Japanese people about the lives of Westerners. A dozen scenes from European and American cultures are depicted in wood engravings in that lovely Japanese style, with brief captions. The interesting thing about this pamphlet is that each scene is also described in English – pigeon English – with quaint results. 
Bound in worn blue paper wrappers with title label in Japanese. Text and illustrations lightly tanned, but clean. $1250

Sunday, November 9, 2014

A Very Special Collection

A couple of weeks ago, on the Exlibris listserve, the resident genius and presiding spirit of the rare book and special collections worlds, Terry Belanger, published summaries of presentations at the “National Colloquium on Library Special Collections.” The roster of speakers featured luminaries such as Stephen Enniss (The Ransom Center), Jay Satterfield (Dartmouth), Mark Dimunation (Library of Congress); and our own Ken Lopez.

It interested me that, according to Terry's reports, these people spent a lot of time talking about archives. And it was even more interesting to hear them repeatedly asking, “What constitutes an archive?” Because, obviously, the nature of an archive has a lot to do with determining its use in a special collections setting.

I mention all this because I have recently discovered a rich and meaningful archive. The problem is, I don't know how it would be stored or cataloged or used.

Back in 1970, when the Amerikan Empire seemed to be teetering on the brink of collapse, many young people fled this country for the wilds of Canada. Such was the case with my friend Barry. He was an artist, and he had no intention of passing his days living in the land of Nixon and his ilk. After years of saving every nickel that came his way, he had enough to buy an old farmhouse on 100 acres in Nova Scotia, to which he and his wife moved in the early 1970s. Several years later my wife and infant son and I went up there for a week's visit. We were people of such importance, with such busy schedules, that our week stretched into two months.
During the time we were up there, I helped Barry build a studio on a ridge overlooking the farmhouse. We built it out of old barn parts and angle iron and lag bolts and, because we didn't know any better, we overbuilt it.

The years passed. Barry and his wife had two children, and then the marriage fell apart. He moved back to the states, married again ( to a very capable professional woman), had another child, and kept painting. The lovely, sturdy old studio building endured, and each summer he and his family drove up to Canada for the season, and with them came all the junk they'd accumulated over the past year, since there was no room to store such stuff in crowded New Jersey apartments. 

This went on for years. The kids got older; the two girls became artists. The son became an actor. When Barry and Wife Two took up permanent residence in Greece, their children were dispersed across continents. I became steward of the studio in Nova Scotia and used it as my writing camp for years.

There it sat, chockablock full of all the stuff Barry had accumulated in his early days as a painter and sculptor, and all the stuff from his first marriage, and from his ex-wife, and two girls, and then all the stuff from New Jersey - the new wife and son.
Last year Barry's oldest daughter decided she'd make the studio her permanent residence and workplace, so I moved my writing camp to my property across the road.
Then, this past summer, Barry, and his second wife returned to the US for a vacation and, with the second daughter, came up to Nova Scotia to visit the first daughter and the old studio. 
Barry descending the stairs from the Gibson Memorial Library

And what they did while they were there, besides reminisce, was sort through the mass of stuff that had accumulated over the past half century.

In fact their sorting was a very real form of reminiscence, because the stuff they were sorting was the stuff of their lives over that half century.

Files of letters from the 1960s to the 1990s provided the explanatory narrative for the clothing, household goods, furniture, books, old tools and bits of material dating back to the building of the studio, camping gear, a mound of dead cars out in the field, funky old advertising signs and interesting objects that were saved for possible inclusion in Barry's sculptures, sewing machines and acres of fabric for the fabric artist daughter's work, china and silver – hand me downs and artifacts from the second wife's family, drawings and paintings by Barry and by his two artist daughters. It was their biography, as a family, written in objects.
The Gibson Memorial Library (second floor of the studio)

The place was a living museum, and dawned on me then that it was also, in the broadest sense, an archive of enormous cultural value, documenting, as it did, the lives of a mid-Twentieth Century bohemian family. An undisturbed record of a family raised, nurtured, and enduring on the fringes of American middle class society.

I'm sure that the lives of Jasper Johns, Andrew Wyeth, and Andy Warhol will be adequately documented, but what about the lives of other artists who, though equally committed to their art, did not win international fame? Wouldn't these lives – wouldn't archives such as this one - have a great deal to tell us about the culture from which the great art of the Twentieth Century emerged?

I've spoken with Barry and his wife and the kids, and they all think it's a great idea. Now all I need to do is get Steve Enniss and a couple of eighteen-wheelers to haul the contents down to the Harry Ransom Center in Austin. There they could build a replica studio to hold the contents of the original studio, just like they did with the marvelous recreation of the painter Francis Bacon's studio in the Dublin City Gallery 
Francis Bacon's London studio, meticulously recreated

Then the original studio building in Nova Scotia would be empty, and I set up my writing camp again.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Book Show Wars Heat Up

In my October 20 blog entry I outlined the turf war that is shaping up between two book fair promoters, Impact Events Group and Flamingo Eventz. At that time it seemed as if Marvin Getman of Impact - by scheduling a New York Shadow Show closer to the big ABAA fair, and opening it earlier - had stolen the march on John and Tina Bruno of Flamingo.

This morning subscribers to IOBA, Rarebook, and ABAA chatlines received the following email from Garry Austin:

Recently there has been much discussion regarding the future of the “Shadow Show” to the New York ABAA Show next April. I would refer all to Greg Gibson’s (Ten Pound Island Books) October 20th blog, “Book Show Wars”. Greg has recounted much of the history of the rise of the shadow show concept and the current state of the forth coming show in New York, April next. I am very happy to announce that John & Tina Bruno of Flamingo Eventz have decided to relocate the Shadow Show to the very door of the Park Avenue Armory. The Manhattan Vintage Book & Ephemera Fair (“The Shadow Show”) will take place on Friday April 10, 8am-4pm at the Church of St. Vincent Ferrer, 869 Lexington Avenue at 66th St, New York, NY 10065. The entrance to the show on Lexington Avenue is just across the street from the Armory. This move will be beneficial to the trade in several ways. The concentration of these events within two contiguous Manhattan city blocks will allow the exhibitors at the ABAA event to visit the Shadow Show effortlessly and stay longer with no need for taxis, no traffic hassles, etc. Shadow Show Exhibitors will be able to facilitate easy delivery of materials to the Armory, allowing the ABAA exhibitors to shop & run. For the Shadow Show Exhibitor, the proximity of a NYPD Precinct that will be issuing Parking Permits will enhance the Unloading/Loading process. The exhibition space is well lit and easily accessible without stairs or elevators. Exhibitors at the ABAA Show will receive an enhanced Admission Discount by wearing their ABAA Show Badge, and the visiting public will benefit from the proximity of the two shows as well. Finally, a real Win-Win situation for the trade and the book fair patron. Flamingo Eventz has retained me to serve as liaison with any ABAA member who may have logistic questions. I will be exhibiting at the Shadow Show and supporting this effort in any way that I can. 

See you in New York this April! 
Garry R. Austin Austin’s Antiquarian Books 
Wilmington, VT 
802 464-8438 
In my earlier blog entry I noted that book buyers were likely to benefit from this competition, and that the real battle would be to see which promoter could attract the most, and best, exhibitors. In that respect, at least, the situation has not changed.  

Monday, October 27, 2014

To E or Not to E

Maritime Lists 1-225. Thirty-eight years of agony and ecstasy in a foot and a half
A few years ago, in the course of one of my hyper-dramatized but mostly benign financial panics, I decided to stop issuing printed catalogs. Though I loved, and was proud of, my catalogs, they cost nearly of $4 each, and seemed to serve primarily as a vehicles for frustrated customers to complain about my grossly unfair manner of distributing them, or excuses for non-ordering pedants to inform me of the many grammatical and spelling errors they contained.
I sent hyper-dramatized farewells to customers who did not have email, and similarly dramatic announcement to the trade. Americana Exchange gave it some play, noting on their catalogs received page that Ten Pound Island was giving up the hard copy ghost, and that this was part of a “growing trend.”

Printed catalogs had been an integral part of my business since the early 1980s. I'd type up lists of thirty or forty items and take the typed sheets to my buddy who owned a fleet of industrial strength Xerox machines. Then another friend gave me a used AB Dick mimeo machine and I began messily self publishing my catalogs. 
When I tired of ruining my clothes with mimeo ink, I found a printing shop to print folding Xerox-like catalogs. Then came the first catalog in TPI's classic 6x9 booklet format. It even had pictures, for which my local printer charged me an arm and a leg. 
Then the Mac, and the excitement of WYSIWYG and postscript, and we were off to the races! Now I was in complete control of design, and had only to email a PDF to my print shop. While I was waiting to get my hard copies back, I'd do the list all over again in HTML and put it on my web page to coincide with the issue of the hard copy catalog. But of course it was precisely this technological advance that enabled me to quit issuing paper catalogs.

Well, the e-list plan lasted about six months. Then I started issuing printed catalogs again. I missed them too much. I missed creating them, and I missed the excitement when they came back from the printer, holding the first one out of the box as if it were a newborn babe. The first catalog in the new series was named, “I Know, I Know” as in, “I know I said I wouldn't issue any more of these but...”
So I was back in the game. But in one of my recent hyper-dramatized but mostly benign financial panics, I tweaked the formula yet again. Now I only issue hard copy catalogs every few months or so, with e-catalogs in between. And now the hard copy catalogs are slight affairs, with only a few items

illustrated in color on glossy paper, with brief descriptions and instructions to check the website for more detailed descriptions and photos. That's where things stand at them moment, but we all know “the moment” lasts only a moment. Maybe next year's catalogs will be edible.

Two things worth noting before I shut up for another week.

E-Catalogs have a much shorter cycle than hard copy catalogs. With easy layout and zero publication time, e-material takes only a few days to move from concept to reality. Similarly, E-lists seem to have the shelf life of May flies. Maritime List 226, which was issued only as an e-list, sold just under 50% in two days and then stopped dead. Hard copy list 225, on the other hand, stretched out over two weeks. Apparently my customers have trained themselves to read e-lists immediately, order, and then discard. I'll bet other e-list people have experienced the same phenomenon.


I remember Maritime List 100, and what a special deal it was. 
Who ever thought I'd get to 100? It had wraparound color covers, lots of illustrations, and some wonderful books. The thing was, many of the books it contained came from the library of a customer in Pennsylvania. He'd died and his widow was selling his books. The fellow had never bought much from me, so I was quite surprised when I entered his sumptuous library and saw one of my little booklets on a side table, on top of a stack of recent catalogs from some of the best dealers in England and America. My modest effort (although that issue had a particularly snazzy cover design) was probably the last catalog he'd read before he croaked, and the first one that came to the widow's eye. Consequently I got first crack at the library, and Maritime List 100 had material worth celebrating.

Since that happy accident I've come to consider the cost and time involved in issuing hard copy catalogs as an advertising expense, and a damned worthwhile one, at that. I may not bring any great books to the next book fair, but I'll have stacks of catalogs crammed with great books, and a sign that reads, “Catalogs are FREE. Help Yourself.”

Here's an item that is definitely NOT free, but still worth considering. 
Broadside. At the Court at St. James's, The Seventeenth Day of December, 1794... Printed folio sheet, 15 x 19 1/2 inches, with manuscript additions. b/w engraved royal seal at top. In 1794, with the outbreak of Britain's prolonged war with revolutionary France, the number of men required for the fleets rose to 85,000. By 1799 it was 120,000. The most common methods of increasing manpower were paying a bounty for service and pressing men into service. This rare broadside covers both approaches. Enlistments of experienced seamen were to be rewarded with bounties between five pounds and two pounds ten, depending on experience, and thirty shillings for landsmen between twenty and thirty-five years of age. Furthermore, a reward of twenty shillings was to be paid to "any person who should discover any Seaman or Seamen who might conceal him or themselves..." This policy led directly to the practice of seizing American sailors on the pretext that they were English and pressing them into duty in the Royal Navy. That policy, and America's angry reaction to it, was one of the causes of the War of 1812. This broadside has been updated in manuscript to June 20, 1799. The sheet is split along an old central fold at top, with no loss. $750

Monday, October 20, 2014

Book Show Wars

Back in the 1990s Bernice Bornstein saw an opportunity and took advantage of it. Her husband Marvin owned a parking lot directly across the street from the Hynes Auditorium, where the Boston International Antiquarian BookFair was being held. “Why not have a smaller show for non-ABAA dealers that same weekend?” she asked. “We could use the basement of Marvin's garage.” Thus the first “Shadow Show” was born.
The idea met intense resistance at first. Old-line ABAA dealers were concerned that another show would steal customers and dilute earnings. They feared the public would confuse the ABAA show, where rigid standards for dealers were enforced, with the non-ABAA show, where the only requirement was the ability to pay booth rent. They feared competition from dealers with lower overheads. They feared their stable price structures would be challenged by dealers out to make a quick buck. They feared a lot of things that never came to pass. Bernice's Shadow Show was a great success, and the old guard quickly realized that the existence of a second show benefited everyone.
It wasn't long before promoters Garry Austin and Bruce Gventer transferred the Shadow Show model to the New York International Antiquarian Book Fair. This is the pre-eminent book fair in the country; one of the greatest in the world. By this time there was no doubt in anyone's mind that a second show would provide a tremendous opportunity for ABAA dealers to buy, and for non-ABAA dealers to sell. In fact, Garry recalls that ABAA member Shirley Solomon of Pageant Book and Print Shop wangled a grant from the ABAA mid-Atlantic chapter to make sure the fledgling show got off to a good start. (Sandy Smith was the only dissenter. He was the brilliant promoter of the New York ABAA show and a bona fide barracuda businessman.)
At first Austin and Gventer utilized the 26th St. Armory, site of the winter Mancuso shows. Then they moved downtown to the Altman Building in New York's Chelsea District.
Last year at the Altman Building

Eventually Garry and Bruce parted ways, then Garry bowed out, and the show was taken over by Flamingo Eventz.  
John and Tina Bruno of Flamingo Eventz
But, with the exception of an experimental year at Hunter College (convenient location, lousy logistics), the New York Shadow Show has remained in the Altman Building.

Through the years, the roster of dealers has remained stable and the uptown ABAA fair has continued to provide a steady stream of book hungry dealers and customers. Last year the Flaminoz combined their show with a Fine Press show, an innovative move that boosted the gate and seemed to guarantee the health of the downtown Shadow Show.
But our trade is in a very dynamic era – perhaps the least stable moment in the history of the book since Gutenberg. So it should not come as too much of a surprise that the Flamingoz hegemony in the New York Shadow Show market is now facing a serious challenge.
Last week promoter Marvin Getman of Impact Events 
Marvin Getman
announced that he was promoting a new Shadow Show, in Wallace Hall at the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola on 980 Park Ave. at 83rd St. 

Wallace Hall - Looks like there'll be two long rows of booths

This location is much closer to the ABAA fair, and its opening – 8 a.m. On Saturday – scoops the Flamingoz with their 5 p.m. Saturday opening. While this situation may be a bonanza for customers, the overlap is such that no dealer will be able to set up at the first show and then move downtown for the second.
The competition between the Getman and Flamingo shows is shaping up as the the Book Show War of 2015. It will be played out on the world's biggest stage – and the battle will be over dealers, not customers.
John and Tina Bruno of Flamingo Eventz view Marvin Getman's plan as a direct, frontal assault. In an email to me, Tina said, “Assuming Mr. Getman is looking for more income, he could easily find another city in which to run a new show; not put a show on top of an already established working event. What is gained by piggy-backing the Shadow Show other than to try and kill his competition? Yes it’s 'only business' but is it good business? Is it what this industry needs?”
Getman, on the other hand, sees a much wider field of opportunity, and is convinced that there will be room for everyone. “There is no conflict,” he told me, “Attendees will be able to attend both shows.” He says his marketing studies indicated considerable interest in a shadow show located closer to the ABAA venue. Furthermore, he does not fear the dealer crunch that the Brunos foresee. “I have been surveying dealers and felt that there is sufficient demand to fill 2 shows. When I discovered Wallace Hall at the Church of St. Ignatius on Park Avenue I decided to move forward... I will say that when I sent a notice of the new show recently I received about 80 positive responses, which is many more than I'll have space for, and of those I see only about 15 who were involved in the other show. I think that confirms my feeling that there is sufficient demand to support two shows.”
Is there room for three shows in New York City? We'll soon find out. The New York Book Fair season of 2015 promises to be one of the most interesting in a quite some time.
Meanwhile, here's a prestigious and historically important set that is priced to sell long before the Book Fair Wars commence. I don't want it to get damaged in the fray.

Cook, James and John Hawkesworth. Set of Cook’s Three Voyages plus two Related Works by Georg and John Forster. London: 1773-1785. Tall 4to.Various paginations. b/w plates, charts, many folding and double page. “Captain Cook’s three great voyages form the basis for any collection of Pacific books. In three voyages Cook did more to clarify the geographical knowledge of the southern hemisphere than all his predecessors together had done. He was the first really scientific navigator and his voyages made great contributions to many fields of knowledge.” - Hill 358. This complete set of Cook’s voyages consists of a second edition of the first Cook voyage, a first edition of the second, and a second edition of the third voyage. The atlas to the third voyage is not present. However, the charts and plates from the atlas have been bound into the text volumes of the third voyage, and are all present. In addition, bound uniformly with the Cook set are first editions of works related directly to these voyages - Georg Forster. "A Voyage Round the World in his Britannic Majesty's Sloop, Resolution, Commanded by Capt. James Cook, during the years 1772, 3, 4 and 5... London: 1777. b/w folding map. 2 vols. xviii, (2), 602 (1 errata); 607 pp. and John Forster's "Observations Made During a Voyage Round the World..." London, G. Robinson, 1778. 4to, (4), iv, (2 subscribers), iv, 649, (1 errata), b/w folding chart "Representing the Isles of the South Seas", and a folding table. Eleven volumes uniformly bound in full mottled calf, rebacked in leather with gild spine lettering. $22,500

Monday, October 13, 2014

"Govern Yourselves Accordingly"

This was supposed to have been a review of last weekend's Seattle Antiquarian Book Fair. But the event went so smoothly, and was such a success, that there isn't really much to say about it. Load in and setup proceeded without a hitch. The venue was roomy and well lit, and a steady and enthusiastic crowd kept us on our toes all weekend, dealing with librarians, private collectors and even a smattering of that most sought after demographic, young people

Almost everyone made money. I had dinner Sunday night with two dealers who each sold over $100,000, and now I have a case of indigestion that will probably last all week.

Fortunately the fair's promoter, Louis Collins, gave me a couple of letters to auction off as a fundraiser for the ABAA Benevolent Fund, so I can write about something other than my jealousy and bile.

Many years ago, when I was a fledgling book dealer, I received a remarkable offer from a gentleman in the UK who had found some books at an estate sale. He knew they were valuable, but he had no one to sell them to. He'd found my address in AB Bookman's Weekly. Would I be interested in... Of course! I mean, these were terrific books. All I had to do was send the postage so he could ship them to me on approval. But then we got to talking and next thing I knew I was sending him a check for the whole lot - $150 for about $1500 worth of books. A big deal back then. Of course, the books never arrived. Just a terse reply to my complaint from the “seller,” who revealed himself to be a nastier fellow than he'd seemed at first. “Well, you were ready enough to rip me off, weren't you Sunshine? $150 Yankee Dollars for all those books. Now the shoe's on the other foot and you're squealing like the greedy pig you are.”

It's the kind of mistake you only make once, but clearly there are enough people like me, sufficiently innocent or greedy, or sufficiently innocent and greedy, to keep crooks like my English correspondent in business.

David Holt was one of the the best known book crooks of our era. He'd led a relatively normal life until he bugged out, deserting a wife and kids, stealing his grandmother's savings bonds and his company's stock certificates, and fleeing to New Zealand, only to be extradited and slapped with a jail sentence for securities fraud. Talk about a mid-life crisis!

After he got out of jail Holt began concentrating on the book world.

His MO was familiar. He didn't steal books so much as play on our lust for them, attempting to extort payment or delivery money for very attractively priced books that he did not own and had no intention of delivering. His particular innovation was that he focused his efforts on higher end dealers in ABAA and ILAB rather than schlubs like me. He worked from New Zealand, Eastern Europe, and possibly Russia, and he adopted several aliases, most notably the persona of an elderly Swiss antiques dealer named Frederick Buwe. Originally he ran his scams by mail, but when the Internet came along the opportunities for fraud expanded exponentially.

ABAA security czar John Crichton had a few run ins with him in the mid 90s, but it was Ken Sanders who made a star of David Holt. 
He went after Holt like an old fashioned wild west sheriff, and it soon became a personal duel between the two men, reaching its apogee with Holt's threat to cut Sanders's balls off. (You can't make this stuff up!) For several years Holt and his aliases and cons dominated the book news, climaxing in the tragic murder of New York dealer Svetlana Aronov and the rumor, never substantiated, that Holt and his Russian mob friends might have had a hand in it. Ken devoted enormous amounts of time and energy – and no little personal risk – to the job of neutralizing Holt and other malefactors, warning us of a new scam nearly every week, and urging us repeatedly to “Govern yourselves accordingly.”

The funny thing is, I never heard of anyone who was actually fooled by Holt. If anybody knows of a colleague who was successfully victimized by this creep, I'd like to hear about it. But I suspect that Ken's labors kept him at bay.

Anyway, here are the two letters being offered by Louis Collins. They are classic examples from Holt's “middle period” when he was living in Latvia, shortly before he began concentrating on Internet fraud. My favorite is the first edition of the Patrick Gass 1807 account of the Lewis and Clark expedition, being offered for $245 - “postpaid.”
Do I hear any bids?