Recipes for Recovery

- by Bruce E. McKinney


John Bruno: Be up to the challenge

"In doing this I'm finding there's a clear distinction between history and nostalgia. Older collectors think about history, younger collectors feel nostalgia. The online audience is younger and their nostalgia translates into comics, videos, reel to reels, and images that were new 35 years ago. Collectible it turns out is what stimulates memory and pleasure. A book collector may think of the Civil War, the new collector the memorabilia of Martin Luther King."

"For my shows to succeed I focus on maintaining a clear view of both the exhibitor and the attendee. I can see them both. My job is to get them into the same room. If can keep them both in sight Flamingo will prosper."

Another show organizer, Myron West, speaking on behalf of the Rocky Mountain Map Society, recently suspended the Rocky Mountain Antique Map Fair that had been scheduled for September 18th and 19th. This would have been the 9th annual. Its focus was more toward the traditional collector. Without a transition to the new collector, such events will struggle. This fair and others may suffer for a while.

I asked Dan Weinberg of the Abraham Lincoln Book Shop for his view. "The current market is tough. We peaked ahead of the 200th anniversary of Lincoln's birth [1809]. The run up was brisk and exciting, the downturn in the economy disappointing. In the past few years, we have focused both on building an online presence and on creating opportunities for collectors to visit our shop in Chicago. The most innovative step we have taken is to create 'Virtual Book Signings.' In this presentation anyone online can join our in-shop author presentation and request a personally inscribed copy of the author's book. It works and it's gratifying to be extending the bookshop-author-collector experience in a new direction."

As to the business generally, "while I'm personally pessimistic about the future of run-of-the-mill material I continue to see strong interest for the best examples. The great pieces are of course difficult to buy while the lesser material is ever harder to sell. This means we constantly have to refresh the inventory. Collectors won't continue to visit online or in the shop if the material is unchanging."

"So the future is a challenge and I'm reminded of someone whose words I know well, that this is not the first time times have been tough. Abraham Lincoln, in a speech given in 1859 in Milwaukee to the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society, in speaking of the then unsettled times said, 'This too shall pass.' I believe this applies today and I work everyday to make it so."

I also spoke to Bill Ewald of Sacramento. Bill is a show man. The alchemy of material, price, event and place all somehow fit neatly into his personal DNA. When you ask him about shows his voice rises a bit, the tone inflects. "I do shows. You know that. This year I'm doing fewer, last year 10, this year six." I'll probably start to list online. I'm determined to build a new clientele. I have great material but in the downturn not enough people are looking at it."