Rare Book Monthly

Articles - July - 2010 Issue

Rose City Used Book Fair (Portland, Oregon June 11-12): "An Unpretentious book Fair"


Interestingly enough, I had zero credit card sales - all was cash or check (and trade of course). That sorta whispers something about the current economy I think.

Since I didn't know this venue I learned a good deal about what to bring "next time." I connected with some new customers, made some new dealer acquaintances, saw some of the old dealer gang and renewed relationships with some "lost" customers. One fellow and I kept trying to place each other - turned out we both were founders of the Hen House Gang, a poultry club we started here in Eugene 35 years ago! (His dad was part of that poultry club - it was he who thought about the name and said, "Well, we don't have any dignity anyhow." I always thought that about said it all).

As for the "unpretentious" part - I have muttered about using the word "antiquarian" for years. Book fairs are no longer simply antiquarian, as we all know, but the term is off-putting to potential customers. I have heard people many times say that they "wouldn't fit in" because they didn't know much about antiquarian books, or that it would be too expensive. Several of my Eugene book arts friends were in Portland for a gallery show that was taking place in the neighborhood of the book fair venue, and after I had prompted folks to attend they stopped by. They all had packages under their arms by the time they found me, and one of them commented, "I never came to one of these before, but it's really fun! I'll be doing this again." So there.

I was also very pleased to connect with some younger booksellers who actually have had the temerity to open stores. They seemed passionate, knowledgeable, had done their apprenticeships, are well focused on specialties, and have located in the right neighborhoods for the potential clientele. THAT was refreshing, not to mention some of the "young" collectors I met - one was about 11, already an avid buyer of manuals. That's right, manuals.

While I'm pooped I was pleased to have survived so well physically since my injuries in January. I had only put away my cane a few weeks ago and wondered if my back would hold up through all of this. I guess the excitement and interest worked. I hurt, but was able to ignore it or deal with it. Adrenalin sure helps!

So, while I'm not banking a huge amount of moolah, I more than covered expenses and I have quite a few leads that will probably result in some additional sales, and I acquired new networking possibilities. And I bagged a lot of ephemera that I know I have customers for, so there will be more coming in. I couldn't be more pleased.


I suppose many dealers are most delighted by the high-ticket sales, but for me it's often a case of someone finding just the right thing, or having a good story (I love stories). So here are few of my personal highlights:

A young woman entered the booth and asked for novels by Jane Austen, George Eliot and so forth. I explained that I didn't carry fiction. She enthused that she was a collector and loved Victorian fiction. Somehow we came to discussing her collecting passion. She said that she had already started to collect books when her father informed her that her grandfather and great-grandfather had been book collectors. He had stored their combined library, and she took home over 100 cartons of books.

It sounded to me as though great-grandpa had probably formed a library around the turn of the (last) century as so many did back then - by ordering smart-looking "sets" for a gentleman's library, and that his son had retained and enhanced it. She described some of the sets and said that she had been quite upset to discover that the Complete Works of Charles Dickens was lacking some volumes - then a couple of years after she had acquired this library, her father discovered an overlooked carton in a closet, and the missing volumes appeared. I just loved her story and her enthusiasm and passion, so when she decided to purchase a book for her father (a Ship Fitter's Manual) I knocked some off the price, telling her that I wanted to encourage a young collector, and I really loved her story. No, she probably won't be a "return" customer for me since I don't handle what she's interested in, but I thought it was worth the encouragement on behalf of the trade.

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