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?

Monday, October 6, 2014


I'm up in Cape Breton working on the last of the Ledyard essays, clearing land, and hauling gravel for the foundation of the writer's shack that, time and $$ permitting, will some day be sitting at the top of my field. Aside from a few email queries, there's not much business going on at Ten Pound Island Book Company, so I thought I'd give you a little sample from the current Ledyard piece.

As you may recall, the project centers around my walk from Hanover, New Hampshire to Hartford, Connecticut, tracing a canoe voyage made by the famed “American Traveler” John Ledyard in 1773. It's a long walk, and it has taken place in fits and starts over a period of four years. Each year I send out my most recent walk-based musings in a booklet that serves both as Christmas card and Christmas present, thereby absolving me of having to do anything else for anyone else during that foolish season – except, of course, for the kids.

Many things bubble up over the course of those solitary miles. The bit below is just a fragment of the strange (but they're all strange) last day of my walk - from Windsor Locks, Connecticut into the city of Hartford. 

It concerns the momentary recollection of a rare book dealer who mined libraries in the Hartford, Connecticut area...

The Ahlstrom Mill buildings fronting Route 159 rival the expanse of Six Flags Amusement Park a few miles north.

I pass a groggy trucker, an insomniac gangbanger in his pimped out ride, and two young men wearing wifebeaters and carrying a 12-pac of Bud Lite to some place I am perfectly happy not to be going. It is 6:00 a.m. on the morning of July 9, another beauty. South of Windsor Locks the road reverts to sweet country lane. Birds and fields, the river through trees on my right, morning sun behind it. 

At 7:30 I come upon an intersection called Hayden Station and a street sign informing me that I am now on Palisado Avenue. 

I know from Stiles’s History of Ancient Windsor (Hartford, 1891) that this part of the road was so named for the fort or “palisado” erected by early settlers:

Upon the breaking out of the Pequot war in 1637, the Windsor People, as a precaution against surprisal by the Indians, surrounded their dwellings at this spot, with a fortification or palisado. This consisted of strong high stakes or posts, set close together, and suitably strengthened on the inside, while on the outside a wide ditch was dug, the dirt from which was thrown up against the palisades, and the whole formed a tolerably strong defence against any slender resources which the uncivilized Indian could bring to bear against it.

And that, furthermore, this very road, Route 159, known locally as Palisado, was laid down about the same time, giving it primacy in the hierarchy of state roads:

The following order of the court of April 5th, 1638, marks the first highway in Connecticut : “Whereas there is a desire of our neighbors of Hartford, that there may be a public highway, for cart and horse, upon the upland between the said Hartford and Windsor, as may be convenient, it is therefore thought meet; that Henry Wolcott the younger, and Mr. Stephen Terry, and William Westwood, and Nathaniel Ward, shall consider of a fitting and convenient highway to be marked and set out, and bridges made over the swamps...

These are the delights of history. But I am not thinking about history. I’m thinking about Cedric Robinson.

Robbie was a stereotypically gruff but kindly old book dealer who worked from his house on Palisado Avenue. He had a well traveled schnoz, owlish, thick rimmed glasses, a grown son named Bill and a wife named Mrs. He was the southernmost stop on one of one of my book scouting loops - a route that included a minister's house in Southborough, a book store in Worcester, and a book barn in West Brookfield, Massachusetts. Cedric would escort me to the side porch, in which, shelved roughly according to category, were his most recent acquisitions. He'd do his gruff thing then leave me alone to puzzle and wonder and pick. When I was finished I'd carry my selections into his office, where he'd rummage through papers on his big oak desk, less gruff now, until he found a billhead on which to tote up my purchases while I sat patiently, looking around his office.

I wanted an office like Robbie's. It was lined with shelves containing hundreds of reference books - bookseller's tools. Books that told him about other books. Cedric Robinson was the first bookseller I met who had a clear and concise idea that surpassed mere accumulation. He knew what he was looking for, and when he found it he knew how to learn more about it. And he used what he learned to help him sell it. I wanted a big cluttered desk and an office crammed with reference books, just like his. I wanted that idea, that sense of what he was about that made Cedric Robinson seem so masterfully engaged in his trade.

I suppose it came to me eventually. But by that time, sadly, Cedric Robinson was gone. He got sick and the good books stopped coming in. Then Bill got sick and died. Then he died. Then Mrs. Robinson sold the remaining stock to a couple of dealers, and they ran the stock through the auction rooms and then it was gone, and Cedric Robinson might never have existed at all, except as an idea around which I organized my professional conduct. Now, try as I might to reconstruct my early visits, to picture that house exactly, I cannot remember where he lived, except that it was in Windsor, on that oddly named street, Palisado...

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Last Walk

Headed to the farm on Cape Breton to lay the foundation for my Thoreau-not writer's shack, and to finish writing up the last of the Ledyard walk. And yes, you're right. Walking it was a snap compared to writing it...


Ledyard bleeding out upon the sands of Egypt. A quick flashback montage of Dartmouth College, Captain Cook, John Paul Jones, Jefferson in Paris, those seductive ladies of the night, Joseph Banks, the Nile (“Do you know the river Connecticut? Of all the rivers I have seen it most resembles it in size.”) The sand.

But I’m finished with Ledyard, long before his final, fatal African adventure. Now it feels as if the man had only been an excuse – a typically preposterous one – for dragging myself out of the house into the … what?

Well, maybe not “into” or “out of,” either. All I did was climb up on my hobby horse - as I had seen Ledyard do, as he had learned to do from his writing teacher Laurence Sterne - and clop down the road following the American Traveler and his dream of becoming “the Man” (his words, 1786), who was on the heels of Sterne, who was following his wry vision of the “sentimental man” through Europe, discovering new modes of seeing, feeling, being. I trudged through small towns and shopping malls, imagining the lines linking Ledyard and his dream of crossing the American continent to China Trade fortunes, to the railroads, to the telephone, to the computer, to precisely those shopping malls in their clownish iterations - as hot on the trail of a fantasy as Ledyard or Sterne - all this while, I say, doing nothing more than, or nothing so much as, tracking my own life. Not to see what got me here, but to understand, to the extent I could, what “here” was.

Thus the river in her many guises, my beautiful highway, and the kingdom of my departed loved ones, culminating in an improvised and heartfelt post ribeye whiskey and cigar ceremony behind a crummy Days Inn, landing me in the post wilderness wilderness America had become, as savvy and tough, I hoped, as Daniel Boone ever was in the forests of his day. Thanks, Mister Ledyard. I feel better now.

I am not speaking in any figurative, metaphorical, or poetic way. I believe in my beautiful highway and the wilderness it traverses as much as I believe in the chair in which I am sitting, or the computer upon which I am typing – it has gigs and ram and megahertz whatever. I believe in it and can use it. I do not understand it.

Which brings us to the problem confronting me as I begin this essay. I might be done with John Ledyard, the American Traveler, 1751 – 1789, but I have by not yet completed my walk along the Connecticut River, tracing his famous escape from Dartmouth College to his family in Hartford in 1773 (and meditating, as I walk, upon America in his day and America in my own, etc., etc.). I still have about thirty miles to go from West Springfield, Massachusetts to Hartford, Connecticut. But it's really more like forty because, as I have already suggested, crows do not fly as the crow flies. Nor do I.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Paper Town

It was a beautiful morning, one of the last fine days of the summer, with trees just beginning to turn the corner toward the explosion of colors that precede winter's monotone. But instead of going into the woods, where I know the swamp maples along the brook are already flashing their pinks and deeper reds, I got in my car and drove to Paper Town 

That's what promoters John and Tina Bruno call it, anyway. 

Actually, it's nothing more than a large conference room in a former Radisson (I think)  Hotel, now repurposed as a slightly seedy, past-its-prime Holiday Inn. Which is, of course, a perfect setting for the paper dealers within.
The Brunos claim this is "The Only Show of it's kind in New England, featuring everything and anything On or Of Paper!" That claim conveniently fails to consider the Papermania shows held twice a year in Hartford, CT, or the Ephemera Society's annual show, which they themselves promote. But, to give them their due, there is nothing quite like the Paper Town experience.

The close aisles and the low lit overhead give this venue a feeling of concentration lacking in Hartford, and this makes the vast range of material on display – from junky paper to rare manuscripts and documents – much more evident. 

Not that I am denigrating any of it. That range is necessary for a healthy show, for it is from those heaps of "junky paper" that the "rare manuscripts" are sometimes plucked. Indeed, what could be more fun, on an Indian Summer morning, than sorting through mounds of paper in search of rare finds?

Walking in the woods, that's what.

I shouldn't be complaining, though; I found a few neat things in Paper Town (see below). And it's always fun jawing with my colleagues. Shopping these shows is an excercise in intense scouting combined with social interaction of the "How's the wife and kids?" variety. It is, for me, a pleasant mix.

So hats off to the Brunos. Despite some recent misadventures (see my Bookman's Log entry of June 16 for an account of the Philly fiasco) and their continued inability to spell Flamingo Eventz correctly, they have managed to survive in a business that has become increasingly difficult. They've kept Paper Town from going the way of the New Hampshire Book Fair (another event that used to take place about this time of year – cancelled for lack of interest) by offering $50 tables, and by getting the word out. The fellow in line ahead of me told John Bruno that he clipped his ticket for the show from their ad in the Lowell Sun.

Paper Town may never be more than a sleepy little village, but it's just about perfect for this time of year.
Anon. Francis and Mary. The dangers of the deep; or, Interesting narratives of shipwrecks & disasters at sea. With large coloured plates. Isleworth: O. Hodgson, (1825). 16mo. 16 pp. Folding hand colored plate. This is the sort of thing that makes a bookseller's heart sing. It is a rare pamphlet containing accounts of the shipwrecks of the "Francis and Mary" of St. Johns, New Brunswick, and the Dutch East Indiaman "Vryheid" off the English coast. Here's what Huntress, writing about another version of the account, has to say about the"Francis and Mary" after she was wrecked. "The people on board were able to get some provisions and water from below decks, but still suffered greatly from hunger and thirst... On February 22 John Wilson, a seaman, died; he was cut up and eaten by the survivors, and the same horrid pattern was followed with a half-dozen others. James Frier, cook, was engaged to Ann Saunders, a passenger. When he died his fiancee, who was among the strongest of those who lived, 'shrieked a loud yell, then snatching a cup from Clerk, the mate, cut her late intended husband's throat and drank his blood! insisting that she had the greatest right to it.'" - Huntress 234C. The folding color plate shows Ann Saunders, knife in hand and flashing generous cleavage, slitting her fiancee's throat. Great stuff! Rare. Not in Huntress. Worldcat shows only one library holding a copy of this pamphlet. Original printed wrappers bound in half polished calf over marbled boards. With the bookplate of Eugene Field and his dated signature on the front blank. $750

Manuscript. "A Journal of a Voyage from Boston to Batavia (Island of Java and Indias) Latitude 6' 10"S and Longitude 106' 51" west, in the shipo Juno, Steven Williams Master. Kept by William L. Forbes." December, 1815 - March 1817. Folio, unpaginated. About 100 pages of manuscript entries. In an unusually legible and correct hand, Forbes keeps track of sail handling, weather, vessels spoken, land marks sighted, and events on board. The "Juno" rounded the Horn without too much difficulty about 60 days out then had a good run through the central Pacific. Such notations as, "all possible sails set" are frequent. They arrived at Batavia April 20, 1816, after 113 days at sea. The delicate navigatgion into port is recorded in detail. There they took on food and water, discharged ballast, and tended to sails and rigging. A number of the crew got sick from an unspecified disease, and some were sent to a hospital onshore where at least one man, Peter Thompson, died. On May 13, "John Brown put in irons for mutiny." On June 26, "Perkins departed this life at midnight in the hospital." They took on a varied cargo of hides, cordage, tin, arrack, coffee, and sugar. Periodically they sent money ashore, as noted on May 25, "sent on shore 5 Boxes of Dollars." Finally, on July 18, "Capt Williams came on board to proceed to sea." On the return to Holland they developed a serious leak but again were favored by good weather. On November 5th, after another death at sea, they reached Texel, Holland. They got underway for New Orleans on January 28, 1817 and arrived March 18. I cannot find a William L. in the familes trees of Robert Bennet and John Murray Forbes, but he seems to have been an educated man. Lloyds "Register of Shipping" shows a 220 American ship of this name operating in 1815. Clean and legible, bound in handsome sailcloth covers. $1250

Monday, September 15, 2014

Marvin's Daughter

In the 1980s a buddy of mine who worked for a union in Manhattan got to know some people who knew some people who made it possible for him to purchase a three family tenement in Greenpoint. This deal required some social engineering because Greenpoint was a very tight neighborhood. I used to hang out there when I had business in New York, and I remember it as tidy but bleak, sporting long rows of asbestos clad tenements under gunmetal skies. When I parked my car and walked to by buddy's place, eyes followed me every step of the way. There were no people of color, just gray hair and white flesh. All the shop signs were in Polish. My car was safe but the streets were cold.
I am here to tell you, friends, that Greenpoint has unfrozen. Now it teems with energy and diversity in that curious kind of vertical integration that characterizes recently colonized neighborhoods like the Lower East Side. Junkies and homeless people are still there, but they exist side by side with Euro babes walking teeny dogs, trendy hole-in-the-wall restaurants, and jogger moms pushing three wheeled carriages that cost more than my used Toyota. And those mind-bendingly spectacular views of The City! Where were they in the 1980s?

This was the setting for the Brooklyn Antiques & Book Fair held in the brand new Brooklyn Expo Center in Greenpoint. 
 The site had recently been purchased and turned into a giant cube of glass by a band of real estate operators - descendants, perhaps, of the guys who hooked my buddy up with his tenement.

Marvin Getman treats with under assistant operators
A small flotilla of them were cruising the floor Sunday afternoon, inspecting the proceedings. They seemed pleased with what they saw. Which is where Marvin's daughter comes in.

Marvin Getman is the new kid on the block among book fair promoters. He's come on the scene like a breath of fresh air, experimenting with new locations, and finding innovative ways to publicize his events. It was his daughter, a Brooklyn resident, who called his attention to the shiny new building going up on the site formerly occupied by Sturdy Store Displays, Inc. Marvin looked into the property – which was still under construction – polled some of the book trade (the general consensus was, "Brooklyn? Hell Yes!") and cobbled together the first ever Greenpoint book fair.

Although, for a while there, it almost wasn't.

Marvin got a deal on the venue because his show was the first to be held in that space. When I arrived on Thursday afternoon to check things out, only the first aisle of the antiques section had been completed. The book fair section was nothing but half built plywood walls.

Workers on lifts were still wrapping pipes and installing air conditioning. The sweat was beading around Marvin's temples but, walking around with his ever present clip board and toothy smile, he radiated confidence. “You should have seen this place yesterday,” he said.

Sure enough, by some miracle, the work had been completed and the booths set up by the time the show opened Friday night. The real estate guys were probably holding the families of the construction guys hostage, but hey... whatever it takes. Right, Marvin?

And in they came. A tidal wave of dealers and regulars “Every 'usual suspect' ever seen,” in the words of colleague Ed Pollack, followed by aftershocks of (to quote Ed again) “prominent non-exhibiting dealers... and, importantly, a large number of younger people who appeared to reflect the new Brooklyn demographic: couples w/ and w/o kids, artists, gays, foreign-born, etc.”

Everyone seemed pleased with the venue, particularly those who brought lower end and visual material. Predictably, I saw a lot of bags filled with children's books and popular culture stuff. Richard Mori, whose booth is a cornucopia of this sort of material, reported excellent sales. One fellow told me he sold a $1000 book to a civilian who'd never bought an old book in his life – God only knows what went on in that transaction!

Security for this event was supplied by the Blues Brothers
The book dealers I spoke to said they'd at least consider doing this show again, and a few were ecstatic. However, things weren't quite as rosy on the antique side.

I talked to three dealers who hadn't made expenses, and I suspect there were many more. Some decorator items and paintings left the hall, but most of the action seemed to be on the book side.

Yes, there were glitches. It was a bit of a walk from the subways, and street parking was difficult (although a cab ride from Manhattan was only in the $25 range). Marvin, in a brilliant promotional move, somehow talked the Brooklyn Brewery into providing endless free beer on opening night. The fact that no toilets had yet been installed in the venue dawned on people slowly, then all at once. Happily there were only a few porta-potty traffic jams and the parking lot remained dry.

Speaking of leaks, the roof leaked.

And speaking of the parking lot, it was crammed with exhibitor vehicles on Sunday afternoon, presenting the potential for snarled traffic and frayed tempers at move-out. But from what I heard, things went smoothly and tempers didn't fray until people got on the highways and discovered most of the western world out there with them. I spent a delightful hour approaching the Whitestone Bridge, listening to the lame-ass Jets and watching gangsta cars cut into non-existent holes in the not-moving traffic. Ah, New York... And nobody realized until it was too late that the book dealers' booths were set up with their backsides to the plate glass windows, which presented an unwelcoming view to the street.

Marvin says this is one of the first things he'll fix for the next show... but will there be a next show? No one knows. No one knows how this new venue will fare commercially, or how the operators plan to structure rates in the future. We might have two shows here next year, or we might be priced out. Fewer antique dealers are likely to return, and Marvin isn't sure he can find 140 book dealers to fill this space. So, unlike most book fairs, anchored in time and place, the future of the Brooklyn Book Fair is riddled with uncertainty.

But don't you worry. Marvin's working on it
Most of my colleagues are hoping these problems can be resolved and that there will be more shows in this lively neighborhood. It may have been just the terrific venue that made this show feel like a success, but it was that feeling of success, and the improvisational seat-of-the-pants manner in which it was accomplished, that has inspired more than a little “In Marvin We Trust.”

So thank you, Marvin's daughter. The Brooklyn Expo Center was a good call.