Monday, February 3, 2014

On Being Geniuses

Telegraph Hill
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 Pasadena. 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 before.)

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 way.
Pismo Beach 
Perhaps more traumatically (change is hard for old folks), the site of the San Francisco 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
and Alcatraz,

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.
Access to the building was easy. The 140 dealers in attendance found their booths with no fistfights. Helpful staff members, in constant communication via radio and cellphone, were prompt in solving minor snafus. The only complaint I had was that it cost $15 to get online - a charge that felt archaic and punitive. C’mon, Nancy, Pick up that bill for your faithful vendors!

Nancy chose to focus her advertising on local media - the book page of the SF Chronicle, and four local digital billboards, for example - and her strategy paid off. The opening crowd was not huge, but people came steadily
until about 5 p.m. on Saturday, after which, apparently, it was time to go out and get stuck in traffic on the Oakland Bay Bridge. Sales at Tenpound were acceptable – one item for $8, one for $28, and one for $7600 on Saturday. $320 and then $1000 on Sunday. So the average ticket was okay, we just needed a little more volume.

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 Fort Mason show.

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



1 comment:

  1. Regarding the sale of Nino Scott's papers, Rob Emlen suggests I contact you. I'm searching for the papers Scotti owner of 19th century Boston merchant John Davis Williams, and a diary by his daughter. I suspect these were sold by Skinner at their auction of Scotti's archive. Any knowledge of who bought the Scotti archives at this auction?

    ReplyDelete