A few weeks ago I flew to Boston for the three-day ABAA and one day Shadow Book Fairs and was well rewarded for they seemed the best New England fairs in quite some time. The dealers were upbeat and the prices appealing. ABAA fairs always feature the best material and price it liberally. The Shadow Fair by comparison has only the 8:00 am to noon period on Saturday to get the buyer’s attention before the more powerful ABAA Fair opens for the second of its three days and draws the crowd away. So while the ABAA feels like a courtship the Shadow Fair is more like speed dating. I enjoy the speed dating approach and found some nice things that were immediately negotiable with buyers and sellers quickly engaging. Neither fair, by itself, would be quite the regional draw. Together they are close to magic.
Of course the ABAA shows are always more than just a selling experience. On Saturday afternoon, in room 108 in the Prudential Center they presented an introduction to collecting that I found very useful. For starters, there were more than fifty interested souls in the room, a wonderful turnout that strained the expectations of the folks who had put fifty seats in the room. Book collecting is in the midst of a battle for relevance and the three speakers, Ken Gloss, Joe Phillips and Helen Kelly made a game effort to bring collecting to life for this and future generations. The field came of age when dealers were essentially the only game in town and dealers were everywhere, so that collectors had guidance close by. Today, most shops are shuttered and well over a hundred fifty million books [of all ages] are posted online. Choices are everywhere and confusion rampant. The ABAA uses such seminars at its book fairs to clarify grading, pricing and its policies and does a good job. The activity then in room 108 was a close to best example of what a trade association can do when it accepts some of the responsibility for building a bridge to the next generation of collectors.
No story of the shows would be complete without my mentioning my own experience as a collector. I buy from many dealers and saw many of them there. My focus, the Hudson Valley in the state of New York, is not the kind of thing they bring to Boston but I did have the opportunity to reconfirm my interests. I made purchases from two ABAA dealers and on Saturday two purchases from Shadow fair participants.
I’d also been in discussion for sometime with Vose Gallery [234 Beacon Street, Boston] and concluded the purchase of a lovely painting of Rondout, New York circa 1914 by Reynolds Beal.
A few days later I bid at Poulin Auction Company in Fairfield, Maine on a very nice copy of Sojourner Truth’s 1850 autobiography because she had strong Ulster County connections. The estimate was $750 to $1,000. I left a bid for $4,000 and it brought $4,000 but someone else was first to $4,000 and won the lot. Congratulations. It’s a nice copy.
The following week I was in New York and previewed sales at Doyle’s and Swann. At Doyle the estimates were very low creating testosterone driven ideas of walking off with every lot at tiny fractions of their true value. Unfortunately other people also had ample testosterone, and perhaps some ladies a good supply of estrogen for the sale went through the roof. The estimate on lot 1 was $15,000 and it brought $65,000. So much for sneaking off with the family jewels at eBay prices. Doyle was masterful.
The following day I bought four lots at Swann and came away well pleased. In collecting you have to set limits and stick to them because some days the realized prices don’t really make sense. At Swann they did and I spent $4,140 plus commissions.
In bidding at Swann’s I was represented by Bill Reese and Terry Osborne executed the bids. I bid online at the Doyle New York sale myself and was shut out. When in doubt: be represented.
Years ago, when first collecting I would have benefited from the ABAA’s Introduction to Collecting. It can take years to understand what knowledgeable professionals can explain in an hour. And even now, after more than 50 years in pursuit, it was still a worthwhile hour.
So it was a great show weekend with both shows reporting robust sales and a great week for me overall as I pursued material elsewhere as well. I’m now back home and already looking forward to the New York Book Fair in April.
Taken together such experiences leave me mystified that book and sundries collecting could be thought endangered. The opportunities are appealing and sometimes amazing. Clearly the issue is we aren’t making the case effectively. But we will. There is a lot at stake.