The show felt like a main street, actually an upscale neighborhood, in the world of serious books. The disappearance of the rare book shop, long a trend, has transformed the occasional book fair from an option into a necessity for both booksellers and book buyers for this is now one of the few places where the two sides can meet without the embedded expectations of an appointment. Because fairs by default are replacing open shops the book fairs also need to provide more information on and about collecting. True, the shows are organized to sell but collectors can feel the ground shifting without necessarily understanding the tectonic changes that are turning serious collecting into something far more complex than buying costume jewelry. Dealers often ask high prices and it's logical a person writing a check for $5,000 or $50,000 is going to believe, and I think expect, the price to be justified by something more than "this is the best copy I've ever handled" or "you won't see it again." Such information however potentially undermines credibility and prices and so is approached gingerly. This is after all a selling fair, not a college course.
The show in fact struck me as two separate events, one for the pro and the other for the amateur. The less serious, I suppose casual, collector would more readily accept the asking price and be taken with pristine [although not always original] appearance. The serious collector, focused on connection and appropriateness, condition, provenance and price, if asked sotto voce, might suggest a price they would pay.
I sat with a serious amateur collector for fifteen minutes while waiting for the doors to open Saturday morning. He explained that he buys for fun and satisfaction and I said most collectors begin that way but time has a way of altering perspective and he should expect to someday care if his collection has made economic sense. "You'll have more options and fun if you collect well" I told him. He said he's thinking about it and headed off, anxious to scratch his collecting itch. The challenge for him today is acquisition. For serious collectors parsing the titles while chatting up the booksellers, it’s the rarity and value.