Once a year in the western world the stars align over New York for the New York Antiquarian Book Fair. It always feels exciting and this year is no exception though a few book collectors may be absent because of this year’s change of schedule. You are reading about this in the March issue of Rare Book Monthly because the fair is a month earlier due to scheduling conflicts with the Armory and the Fair’s strong preference to continue there rather than face moving to a new and possibly less appealing venue.
Now, with these plans and commitments in place it’s next up to the audience to join the festivities. And they should. So, who qualifies? Everyone with anything between an interest, a love or obsession for rare books and other collectible works on paper should attend.
And who will be there: the best and brightest on both sides of the counters. Many of the best and most ambitious dealers will be there. On the other side luminaries, the industrious, the successful and the obsessed will be crowding around.
As to why?
The Internet has made it possible to learn about all kinds of books, and available individual copies of them in written descriptions, but in replacing stores, it’s made it harder to actually see and evaluate them personally. So what to do about that? See the dealer and the material in person and what better place to do it than in New York in the company of thousands of like-minded bibliophiles. In person you’ll make a better decision.
As well, sometimes you feel alone in your collecting world. In New York you won’t for newbies and experienced collectors, schoolteachers and billionaires, will be there to crowd the isles and add to the pleasant hum of a fair hitting on all cylinders. Some visitors will come to search by subject and others; I think the majority, to see specific dealers to consider material the dealer has brought for them. Taken together many, perhaps most guests will find things they want to take home.
The quality of the material cannot be overstated but, in some cases, so too may be the prices. Dealers however, by and large, are very smart and will quickly understand your focus and your knowledge of value and pricing. Discounts may apply but as was the case of the Groucho Marx TV show in the 1950’s you may need the say the magic word or in this case words, Is this your best price? Dealers have come to sell and I assume you’ll be going to try to buy. So, it’s okay to negotiate.
As to the quality of the material available also remember that these dealers are among the exceptional in the field. They will bring extraordinary examples, many of them unique. Such material warrants higher prices. As a buyer you need to understand the premium they request.
This consistent very high quality, in part, explains why the New York book fair year in and year out does well: buyers come to New York to find new material and dealers exhibit to find new customers.
So if I don’t buy will I have failed?
Absolutely not. It takes time to understand the rare book world and dealers, by and large, do not try to help you see under the hood. But visiting dealers and shows, reading their catalogues and online listings, and comparing their material and prices will give you an understanding over time.
So you may also say, I don’t think I need to go. I’ll just follow the action online. The answer is no. It’s not the same. You’re buying printed material and you should also be looking ahead to when you’ll need help. We all do from time to time. Knowing who to ask and who to trust, well, shows generally and the New York Antiquarian Book Fair in particular provide your best chance.
So plan to be there. I’ll be there too on Thursday and Friday. If you would like to meet call me at 415.823.6678. We’ll find a few minutes to sit and talk.
As to the show here are the specifics:
Park Avenue Armory
643 Park Avenue between 66/67 Streets
New York, New York
Days and Hours
Thursday March 9, 5-9 pm
Friday March 10, noon to 8 pm
Saturday March 11, noon to 7:00 pm
Sunday March 12, noon to 5:00 pm
Questions for the ABAA and their staff