The AE Book Collector Survey Conducted at the Recent ABAA Show in San Francisco

- by Bruce E. McKinney

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The 36th ABAA International Book Fair


By Bruce McKinney

Under unseasonably clear skies in uncertain times the ABAA conducted its annual west coast trade show in San Francisco February 9th to the 11th. More than 2,000 collectors, most of them from California, seemed very pleased for the opportunity to examine rare and collectible books in person and a high percentage purchased material for their collections. A much smaller number brought books to sell, in some cases from overseas. Many dealers reported doing well.

The AE conducted a survey at the west entrance to the show where collectors, non-ABAA dealers and the simply curious purchased tickets that then let them enter from other entrances during the three day show. We brought 2,000 questionnaires and brought a significant percentage home unused. Nevertheless a clear picture of the Northern California book collecting community emerged.

The audience was collectors. Dealers also answered the survey but their answers are not included. Neither are those of a few dealers posing as collectors. People associated with libraries were uncommon if not quite as rare as some of the books. Only one person said they were thinking about becoming a dealer while about 7% said they were thinking about becoming book collectors. Rarer than a Columbus Letter was the book collector under 40. We didn’t seek to track the split between men and women but the percentage seemed to be about 70-30 men to women. There were many more women attending than we expected. There are clear distinctions between the male and female approaches to book collecting but the survey did not attempt to understand these differences. Future surveys will perhaps broach these topics.

As to collectors’ involvement with books, 87% have been collecting for more than 5 years and just 13% for less than 5 years. Whether newer collectors simply buy elsewhere or perhaps don’t exist we can’t yet say. One question for our own membership, 1,062 today, is whether they attend book fairs. The survey clearly shows collectors gravitating to the net but do collectors on the net gravitate to the traditional book collecting venues? We don’t yet know.

As to how book collectors view their passion – as an investment, a hobby or a hobby that is becoming an investment -- only 5% view book collecting as an outright investment, 62% as a hobby and 33% as an investment that began as a hobby.