Okay. This is the first thing that happens, and it happens every year. We leave home in the pre-dawn chill, hoping we’ve given ourselves sufficient time to account for snow and ice, and that no blizzards trap us in the airport for three days. We pass through security in a sleepy daze, find our seats, doze off, wake, read, sleep, and six hours later step out of the steel cocoon into gentle breezes, blue skies, rolling hills.
We feel the sun warm our faces and we think, “We are geniuses!” We’ve made it to
California once again.
This year the big show, the ABAA sponsored 47th International Antiquarian Book Fair, is being held in
Nancy Johnson’s “shadow” show, The San Francisco Antiquarian Book, Print &Paper Fair takes place the week before. As
usual Ten Pound Island Book Co. has a stall in both fairs. (Traditionally, the ABAA fair alternates between
NoCal and SoCal venues, with the non-ABAA fair filling the other slot the week
In the old days we used to scout our way up or down the coast between the
San Francisco and Los Angeles fairs. On a
lucky week, we could find enough to pay for our trip. But things are different
now. The open shops of yore have shut down or gone online, and we are happy to
settle for a leisurely drive and a stop at some pleasant resting place along the
Perhaps more traumatically (change is hard for old folks), the site of the
fair has changed. After years of rumored closings, the venerable San Francisco
Concourse – home of both ABAA and Shadow shows – is no longer the book fair venue
of choice. Instead, Nancy’s
shadow show is taking place this year at the Pavilion in Fort Mason Center.
Tucked on the northernmost shore of the city, between the
Golden Gate Bridge
Fort Mason is somewhat out of the way. However the location offers spectacular views, plenty of parking, and more than adequate exhibition space. We did a show here ten or fifteen years ago, and at that time the building had all the charm of an abandoned warehouse where the final shootout in a bad detective movie takes place. Now they’ve got better lighting, and they’ve installed overhead heaters to drive off the maritime chill. The place is comfortable, if not cozy.
Setup went well as near as I could tell.
The buying, however, was disappointing. I thought my west coast dealer friends would be laden with fresh material. But if they were I didn’t see it or couldn’t afford it. Colleague Peter Stern said the buying for him was, “eh…” And that seemed to sum it up for most of the people I spoke with. Significant material was priced to the limit of what the market would bear and interesting finds (I did hear of a few) required fresh eyes and hard work.
Nancy Johnson says she’s trying to figure out a way to “keep the momentum going” by scheduling a show for this venue next year. But there are significant problems. She’ll be up against the 2015 ABAA show in
San Francisco, and
probably a Bustamante show in LA. Both would
deplete the number of dealers willing to do a
show. Fort Mason
But we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. Today there is sun on our faces, blue skies above, rolling hills across the bay. We’re geniuses, remember?
Here’s a lovely example of an item that was priced to the limit, but which got bought anyway because it was a lovely example. It’s Benjamin Macomber’s ticket for passage aboard the Hibernia, from
New Bedford to San
Francisco at the beginning of the Gold Rush. He was
allowed 750 pounds, or fifteen cubic feet, of luggage, and had to supply his
own bedding. The history books tell how the Gold Rush had a negative impact on
the whaling industry by depleting the number of sailors available. Macomber was
probably fairly prosperous to afford such a ticket, and it’s my guess his passage
meant one less officer aboard some whale ship. $1500