Notes on the Recent San Francisco Antiquarian Book, Print & Paper Fair
The show had a left brain – right brain feel. Of the 165 exhibitors, 83 were from Northern California. 12 were from Southern California, 19 from western states other than California, 30 from the eastern states, 17 from Europe and 4 from Canada. Reports suggest the more significant business was conducted dealer to dealer than dealer to collector. That was a collector’s lost opportunity.
For collectors there was both interesting material and an opportunity to meet dealers who may become sources for the future. Generally dealers brought representative material. That is, it reflected the range of their inventory in type, quality and price. This provided collectors the chance to see the material, the descriptions and their prices together, something that it’s difficult to see, even with images, as clearly on the net. Armed with that perspective, a collector has a better idea whose catalogues and web-sites to follow. Some dealers over-describe. Others under-describe. Some ask more than a book is worth and others price their books to sell.
The days of the catalogue based dealer may be receding but personal contact is and will remain extremely important. Five minutes in a dealer’s booth should be enough to know how a dealer describes and prices their material and chances are, ten years from now, they will still be doing a variation on the same theme. When they have quality in the booth they are going to have quality in their listings and quality in their catalogues. Conversely, if you see inconsistent condition in the displayed material you are going to see the same compromises elsewhere in their offers. If you aren’t condition sensitive you’ll find dealers to precisely match your perspective. Demanding collectors will also find their dealing twins. The real challenge is to understand what you collect well enough that you know what very good condition is for a specific item. That may seem like a tall order but it is absolutely possible. The ÆD provides a significant portion of this information and your developing experience and collecting skills will do the rest. Running keyword searches in the ÆD make it possible to immediately develop an up-to-date bibliography of your chosen collection area. This is an amazing tool to have as a basis for building your collection but first hand experience with dealers is as important.
As this show slips into the past there needs to be a concerted effort of all interested parties to increase awareness of, dealer participation in and collector attendance at next year’s show. The goal should be 300 dealers and 5,000 collectors. Everyone will say “impossible” and they are right if the book field is a Balkan states of interest groups that prefer to oppose each other rather than pursue the common good of building a broader interest in book collecting. For our part, we will welcome the opportunity to work with those who are as committed, as we are, to a larger more vibrant and efficient market.