A Weekend in Boston
- by Bruce E. McKinney
The Shadow Fair, the shifting emphasis on ephemera
Over the weekend of November 15-17 I was in Boston for the 36th annual ABAA Book Fair and the Boston Book, Print and Ephemera Show. The ABAA fair, held again over three days at the Hynes Auditorium, is the most important book fair in New England every year and a reflection of New England’s storied rare book history. The Shadow Fair, at the nearby John Hancock Hall reflects a more blue collar rough and tumble rare and used book market where non-ABAA booksellers, with a check, can for a day rent a place to offer their material. They represent two worlds, both reflective of the of the diverse rare book field in New England.
These days the ABAA fair meets all the requirements for a highly serious fair except perhaps for scale. Many, even most of the important ABAA and ILAB dealers participate but these days a declining percentage of the rank and file are and the beautiful exhibition area was a little empty reflecting what has been long said about the Boston fair, it often a little bit soft. Dealers who thought so and stayed away were mistaken. Whether it was the recovering economy, receding recession, or simply the magic of old paper to incite fresh interest both shows reported a very strong sales.
A few blocks away the Shadow Book fair, operating in a congested warren of rooms at the Back Bay Events Center [180 Berkeley St.] was bursting its buttons. It was a one-day fair and also very busy. The ABAA fair costs several thousand dollars for a generous 3 day space, the Shadow Fair $450 for a seat in the bleachers for one very busy day. Both work. They would both work better if they were in the same building, even the same room. As it was, they were nearby, eight blocks apart by Google map and as it turned out – a nice walk.
The ABAA is very much serving the carriage trade, the wealthiest corner of the market but the future of the field, was in my view, more on display in the crammed rooms of the Shadow Fair where serious dealers, librarians, and collectors crouched and stooped into the corners and deep into boxes to see what they could discover at very reasonable prices. Such investigations lie at the heart of the collecting experience.
The numbers at both fairs are reported to have been very good. It’s not to say every participant did well. The shows can bring the crowds but it is the dealers who bring the material and if what’s offered is over-priced, shop worn, common or unimportant the results often aren’t good. Most, by all accounts, brought fresh material and did well. It was a very encouraging sign.
The 69 exhibitors at the Shadow Fair and 115 at the ABAA together represented one of the largest fairs in North America. If they were few blocks closer one can only wonder what the synergy would be.
As for myself, if one attends one looks. The outcome was five purchases, a Copake Iron Mines pamphlet, Columbia County, 1864 from DeWolfe and Wood [ABAA fair], James Arsenault [a map of Columbia County New York] who exhibited at both fairs, and three Hiudson Valley ephemera from Peter Masi who exhibited at the Print and Ephemera Fair.
So mark your calendars for next year.