By Greg Gibson
We’ve been doing this for nearly thirty years, and it’s still a thrill to step off the airplane into sunny skies and balmy air (when we're on the ground, I mean). This year, in particular, exchanging snow drifts for temperatures in the 70s has been a blessing. Anne Marie found us a cheap room at the wonderfully named Vertigo Hotel so, when we weren’t taking care of book business, we got to spend quality time in a Hitchock movie.
Wednesday afternoon, on our way to visit friends in Oakland, muscle memory propelled me to the parking lot of Serendipity. Except for a somber sign on the door, the place was eerily unchanged.
The shelves were still piled with books, and the room was filled with a familiar dusty afternoon glow.
The only thing missing was Peter Howard himself - sitting in that big chair in front of his computer, lecturing wayward book dealers, giving generous discounts, and explaining, in great detail, why he was right about everything. Dead nearly two years already. Rest in Peace.
The changes just won’t stop. Every year this huge cow barn of a venue is rumored to be slated for demolition – and back we come.
But this year, it seems, the rumors are true. No events are scheduled for the San Francisco Concourse in 2014. Next year’s show is booked into a big warehouse in Fort Mason. The party’s over. No more marching endless aisles. No more lunch at Susie’s!
Those endless aisles seemed a little less filled this year.
I’d guess we were down ten or a dozen dealers, and the gorgeous weather seemed to deflate the crowds a bit, especially in the afternoons. Still, with over 200 exhibitors, there was more material here than any mortal could encompass in a single weekend. Who knows what treasures went unbought?
Those who did attend seemed eager and relatively well informed, with a good percentage of patrons in the under-forty age group. Promoter Lynne Winslow reports that age group discounts, liberal pass distribution and Facebook/Twitter activism have helped bring them in. People in that demographic did much more looking than buying, but my colleagues are always willing to invest a few years in outreach and education. These people are our future.
From what I could tell, shoppers seemed little interested in purchasing the standard, classic clunky tomes. It was the ephemeral, visual material that seemed most in demand. At booth 524, Ten Pound Island Book Co. did a brisk trade (about $40K sold, $10K bought) in ship’s logs, illustrated sailor’s journals, pirate tales with pictures of hangings and beheadings, maps, broadsides, and photographs.
The stranger the item, the more interest it generated. Rock ‘n Roll memorabilia, graphic arts, mug shots… In the words of a fellow exhibitor, “This year, people were looking for weird s**t”
That’s probably always been true, but as time goes on the tendency seems more pronounced. At the same time, a different trend continues. People want Fine. If there are three copies of a book on the floor – one average, one very good, and one singularly perfect – it is the perfect one that is more likely to sell, no matter what the price. As the book becomes less a transmitter of information and more an object of desire, the market becomes increasingly condition driven. For example, this year I sold a beat up copy of Darwin's Beagle for $10,000, and was happy to do so. On the same day, at the same fair, an immaculate copy sold for 4 or 5 times that amount.
Weird or perfect. That seems to be the future. Next year we rent a limo to get to Susie’s.
(Posted on Bookman’s Log, presented here by permission of the author.)
>>> Pictures from the 46th California International Antiquarian Book Fair