Rare Book Monthly

Articles - March - 2008 Issue

Book Fairs: Lights, Camera, Action

3.generations

3 generations, no one under 40


By Bruce McKinney

On two successive recent weekends, first in San Francisco and then LA, the San Francisco Book, Manuscript and Ephemera Fair and then the ABAA annual west coast Book Fair offered California book collectors a chance to buy interesting and collectible printed material. For the serious collector it was the venti-double-cappichino of show me, tempt me, sell me and for dealers a double hand of "dare" to invest to be present. As in poker, you have to ante up to play. Between the two shows almost 360 dealers exhibited, about 40 of them at both fairs.

The traffic at both shows was acceptable if not consistently strong and for most dealers the investment paid off. Randomly some dealers did exceptionally well and as randomly some were disappointed. As often happens the alchemy of shows is a brew of material brought, buyers attending, floor chemistry and national sentiment. The book business has always been more a souffle than a cakemix. When emotions are positive, books and collectibles generally sell well. When they are not watch out.

The San Francisco fair was held at the Concourse at 7th and Brannon, an aging building designed for railcar repair and maintenance that became a convention center in the 1970s, an era when trust was the rule, not the exception, so the building's perimeter is a series of doors. These days most are sealed. The cow barn ceiling may once have seemed a 7th wonder, today it's city-rustic: the place a "tweener", that book not yet old and valuable but no longer new. But never mind, no one comes here to buy the real estate. They are here to trade dollars for works on paper. For exhibitors it's the chance to sell; for collectors the opportunity to acquire. It is very large and organizer Walter Larsen sets booth rents low by closing off the 8th Street side to minimize access, security and manpower issues. Booth rents come in at and under $500, an attractive price that entices more than 200 exhibitors to rent every square inch. Mr. Larsen has told me he focuses on efficient shows and delivers.

When the lights come on Saturday morning February 10 attendance is comfortable, the audience interested if not zealous. Compared to the ABAA Fair to follow, the mix of material is eclectic, books more in the middle price range with plenty of posters, ephemera and collectibles. There will be no hard numbers for total sales and average transaction by vendor for either show but anecdotal comments later suggest mild disappointment in San Francisco, a sentiment that carries over to LA the next weekend. Both shows will succeed but LA will do better although it's unclear what participants net after expenses. If there are any calls home to say "I won the lottery" it will be buyers more than sellers making the calls.

Forty exhibitors in San Francisco also exhibit in LA and the same material, in the two settings, has a remarkably different feel. In San Francisco bluejeans and sneakers feel right in the unheated air and cement floor in a space large enough to dock the Graph Zepplin. In LA, Gucci loafers, Dolce & Gabbana sports jackets and Cartier watches are more appropriate. The Los Angeles Hyatt Regency Century Plaza on Avenue of the Stars, the show site and resting place for most out-of-town participants, provides an elegant setting that makes both booksellers and book buyers feel they are, at least for a few days, part of a special universe of the highly intelligent, the mensa of books afficienados. Dealers who do both shows later indicate they do better in LA although they don't necessarily do well at either event. In hindsight the local fair is blue collar, the LA fair white glove.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Jacques-Émile Ruhlmann, wallpaper sample book, circa 1919. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Archive from a late office of the Breuer & Smith architectural team, New York, 1960-70s. $3,500 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> William Morris, <i>The Story of the Glittering Plain or the Land of Living Men,</i> illustrated by Walter Crane, Kelmscott Press, Hammersmith, 1894. $2,500 to $3,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Gustave Doré, <i>La Sainte Bible selon la Vulgate,</i> Tours, 1866. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Gustav Klimt & Max Eisler, <i>Eine Nachlese,</i> complete set, Vienna, 1931. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b><br>Eric Allatini & Gerda Wegener, <i>Sur Talons Rouges,</i> with original watercolor by Wegener, Paris, 1929. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b><br>C.P. Cavafy, <i>Fourteen Poems,</i> illustrated & signed by David Hockney, London, 1966. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Jean Midolle, <i>Spécimen des Écritures Modernes...</i>, Strasbourg, 1834-35. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b><br>E.A. Seguy, <i>Floréal: Dessins & Coloris Nouveaux,</i> Paris, 1925. $3,000 to $4,000.
  • <b>Bonhams: Results from Fine Books and Manuscripts on March 9, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> BEETHOVEN, LUDWIG VAN. Autograph Manuscript sketch-leaf part of the score of the Scottish Songs, "Sunset" Op. 108 no 2. [Vienna, February 1818]. Inscribed by Alexander Wheelock Thayer. SOLD for $131,250
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> Violin belonging to Albert Einstein, presented to him by Oscar H. Steger, 1933. SOLD for $516,500
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> EINSTEIN, ALBERT. Autograph Letter Signed ("Papa") to his son Hans Albert, discussing his involvement with the atomic bomb, September 2, 1945. SOLD for $106,250
    <b>Bonhams: Results from Fine Books and Manuscripts on March 9, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> HAMILTON, ALEXANDER. Autograph Letter Signed, to Baron von Steuben, with extensive notes of Von Steuben's aide Benjamin Walker, June 12, 1780. SOLD for $16,250
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> NEWTON, ISAAC. Autograph Manuscript in Latin, being detailed instructions on making the philosopher's stone. 8 pp. 1790s. SOLD for $275,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> 1869 Inauguration Bible of President Ulysses S. Grant. SOLD for $118,750
  • <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> E.H. SHEPARD, Original drawing for A.A. Milne’s The House at Pooh Corner.<br>$40,000-60,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> BERNARD RATZER, Plan of the City of New York in North America, surveyed in the years 1766 & 1767. $80,000-100,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> THOMAS JEFFERSON, Autograph letter signed comparing Logan, Tecumseh, and Little Turtle to the Spartans. Monticello: 15 February 1821. $14,000-18,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> JOHN C. FREMONT, Narrative of the Exploring Expedition to the Rocky Mountains, in the Year 1842.. Abridged edition, the only one containing the folding map From the Sporting Library of Arnold “Jake” Johnson. $3,000-5,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> ZANE GREY, Album containing 94 large format photographs of Grey and party at Catalina Island, Arizona, and fishing in the Pacific. From the Sporting Library of Arnold “Jake” Johnson. $5,000-$8,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> WILLIAM COMBE, A History of Madeira ... illustrative of the Costumes, Manners, and Occupations of the Inhabitants. produced by Ackermann in 1821; From the Sporting Library of Jake Johnson. $2,000-$3,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> ERIC TAVERNER, Salmon Fishing... One of 275 copies signed by Taverner, published in 1931,From the Sporting Library of Jake Johnson. $2,000-$3,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> JOHN WHITEHEAD, Exploration of Mount Kina Balu, North Borneo. Whitehead reached the high point of Kinabalu in 1888. Part of a major group of travel books from the Sporting Library of Jake Johnson. $2,000-$3,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> JOHN LONG, Voyages and Travels of an Indian Interpreter and Trader, describing the Manners and Customs of the North American Indians... The first edition of 1791. $3,000-$5,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> SAMUEL BECKETT, Stirrings Still. This, Beckett’s last work of fiction with original lithographs by Le Brocquy, limited to 200 copies signed by the author and the artist. From the Estate of Howard Kaminsky.. $1,500-$2,500

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions