On the Road to Damascus

- by Bruce E. McKinney

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Maggs is bringing a European perspective.

Once set-up on Wednesday they’ll expect to do perhaps 40% of their sales with other dealers before the opening night cocktail party on Thursday and another 30% before the fair officially opens Friday.  It turns out their material is as interesting to dealers in person as it is to the public on line.

David Lesser, of Connecticut completed his show list two days ago and gives himself high marks for finishing early.  “I don’t know what got into to me.  I’m usually trying to complete it in the car.”  He is in fact very much on top of his game.  He presides over the ethics committee of the ABAA, a position that suggests his judgment is widely trusted.  “My wife and I will drive down on Wednesday.  We have a delivery-intake appointment.”  As to how he’ll do he offers, “I never know from year-to-year.  Some years I sell mostly to dealers and others mostly to the public.”  His assistant, Susan, will join them on Thursday.  “Whatever comes we’ll be ready.”

Maggs Brothers of London shipped their material a week ago.   What with customs and handling premeditation is essential when traveling three thousand miles and crossing national borders in the post-911 era.  The books of course need to be represented and each year there are more volunteers for the arduous duty, eight or so, than jobs to be done.  Great books after all speak for themselves, to a point.   Ed Maggs describes the New York fair as a strong retail experience.  All fairs are the combination of sales to the trade and public but New York is particularly appealing to collectors and libraries.  Staff who have drawn the long straws are excited and will be on site next week.

And then there is Ian Brabner, another New York newbie.  He’s been doing the fair for four or five years and comes to New York for the sales and excitement and the opportunity to access the market.  “It is changing.  The inventory I present has to tell a story.  The importance of the material is in its context.”  He’ll be driving up Wednesday.  For younger collectors he’s a guy your age.  He’s 40 and will be unearthing interesting material for the next thirty years.

So it turns out that collector and library confidence in the New York Book Fair is not misplaced.  The excitement they feel is mirrored on the booksellers’ side.  Think of the book fair as a mosh pit for those with the intellectual chops to rock.  If you love old books, manuscripts, maps and ephemera you’ll be there.