Hollywood, the land of [bad] dreams
As to whether a disappointing LA fair predicts disappointment in New York, while it's not certain it appears that LA made a market bottom. Rare books are sold in many places in many ways and the auction data on AE during 2009 showed clearly that at auction the US bottomed well ahead of Europe and began its recovery sooner. The auction charts [link] turned positive this past December after auction results stabilized last summer. Just as North America and Europe have recovered on different schedules so too it's likely shows recover at different rates. Book selling occurs under a big tent. What happens in the first row and the back rows are probably almost light years apart. Certainly these channels do not move in lock step. That shows may lag the recovery is not entirely surprising. That the New York Book Fair may mark the return to health for book fairs should not surprise either. I believe it will.
That the market channels are evolving independently seems apparent from the three auctions held in LA during fair week. Heritage held two sales: February Rare Books in which 814 lots were offered and 662 sold for $1,750,371; and Historical Manuscripts in which 400 of 464 lots sold for $568,405. Bonhams on Sunday, the 14th sold 220 of 397 lots for $723,913. The Heritage sales were held ahead of the book fair when optimism was present. By Sunday, the mood turned sour and Bonhams faced a tougher audience.
For the New York Fairs in April it's important that dealers bring fresh material, specifically the out-of-the-ordinary and attractively priced. Collectors are ever better able to judge condition and price. They want the unusual, the special and the unique. If dealers bring that type of material they'll turn the show chart positive, something the field needs and collectors will be hoping.
As for LA, not everyone went home empty handed. Bill Reese reports that he and Jim Cummins bought 700 boxes of books and manuscripts, the remainder of the Copley Library that is to be sold by Sotheby's over the next two years.