I spent Friday afternoon, the 5th of February, in San Mateo at the County Event Center to attend the San Francisco Book, Print & Paper Fair. I found the show appealing. I was one of the lucky ones. Many avoided the anticipated Super Bowl gridlock in the Bay area by avoiding the area altogether. It was unnecessary but you didn’t know if you didn’t try. Local television stations sell fear and apparently sold out over Super Bowl Weekend. We locals were all wondering if San Francisco would be besieged. It wasn’t but the fear mongering scared people away. It’s a shame because this fair was conveniently located in the San Jose – San Francisco corridor so tech millionaires and book collectors heading home on Friday could simply pull in. Had they, they would have had a good time.
The facility was substantial, large and surrounded by parking: for book fairs, an ideal space. One hundred and thirty dealers and firms exhibited.
As has been the case in prior years the fair was strong on ephemera and other works on paper. Books tend to be known. Ephemera are often a mystery that benefit from personal examination. They are natural show material and integral to the future of collectible paper.
About the fair Ms. Johnson mentioned “the diversity of the audience was pleasing. We saw young people, families with children, browsers and buyers from the Asian and Middle Eastern communities and we did not see that in previous fairs.
About the future of fairs, whether it is an affiliation fair, such as ABAA or an independent fair, these events must grow. None of us can rely on an academic style, primarily male, audience. We need to see new people of all ages and backgrounds, so to help them understand the future of the field is exciting.”
There is of course the other book fair. The ABAA Show that comes north every other year this year descended on Pasadena near LA over the following weekend. This left the Book, Paper & Print fair to hold down the home front in northern California.
Such shows, be they ABAA or independent, are actually fairs within fairs. First there is the dealer-to-dealer business conducted before the fair officially opens. For many exhibitors the premarket is more important and I heard anecdotally some dealers did very well in this segment.
As a collector I’d like to see such fairs more oriented to the collector perspective. Dealers bring small quantities to exhibit while having significant inventory at home. In every booth there should be electronic bins that mimic the actual bins that ephemera dealers employ. Then a series of collector searches could quickly uncover material that is relevant, whether it’s in the booth or simply in stock. The fact that most of the material will be off site seems unimportant. The dealer, in person, can discuss items personally and ship when they return home. This would help and begin to reorient book fairs back toward retail. Then the retail buyer will come back.
No matter what, when this show returns in two years the experience will be very good even if it is again on a Super Bowl star-crossed weekend. The Super Bowl won’t come back to the Bay Area for twenty years so, for the next nineteen, we’ll have the Bay Area to ourselves. The other is that the location will no longer be unfamiliar.
If you missed the fair here is a link to a list of the 130 something exhibitors who made the effort to support this fair. Many still have some of the books they brought and of course many, many more they’d like to show you. They did the yeoman’s job of supporting the fair. Now take a few minutes to see if it’s practical for you to support them.