Book Fairs: an essential ingredient

- by Bruce E. McKinney

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Shows and online listings: inherent conflict

The calendar of book, manuscript, map and ephemera fairs for 2016 is fast filling.  Bookstores may be closing and the bulk of sales shifting online but face-to-face contact remains an essential aspect of the rare book trade and fairs continue to provide the best opportunities for the field to interact.  At heart the issue is trust.  We don’t usually do deals with people we know nothing about.

 

Trust looms even larger when prices are higher for the better and often best examples.  Does anyone actually want to meet their eBay sellers?  Not many I suspect.  It’s a lovely faceless trade what works in part because prices and expectations tend to be modest.  But when prices are higher information about the other party becomes important, particularly when claims are based on professional judgment. Credentials then matter.  This in part explains why so many dealers seek membership in book collecting societies and bookseller’s organizations.  Membership confers credibility.  As membership also often includes the right to exhibit at sponsored events such occasions loom large for they are some of the best places for dealers to meet clients and for collectors and institutions to access dealers.

 

Serious collecting often requires extensive long-term personal pursuit and such shows provide some of the best opportunities to update interests and meet other dealers.  For the dealer on the other side of the counter, proximity raises the value of membership immeasurably.    Transactions may not close quickly but familiarity often leads to transactions. 

 

For the acquirer serious collecting is close to impossible to complete alone.  Simply, it requires collaboration because so much material exists beneath the site line, particularly the not for sale but susceptible to offer examples that exist across the world.  Well-placed, knowledgeable dealers literally hear things that collectors will never otherwise know about.

 

So have I made you want to visit some of the book fairs?  Or possibly become a dealer?  The first option is immediate, the second a career decision.  Most of us have day jobs and do not confuse our passion with our employment.

 

Today’s Main Street in the collectible paper field has become the occasional show that sets up shop nearby for a weekend and then departs for points unknown where others with the same passion await their chance to press the flesh and examine the bounty.

 

For sure there will be shows within a reasonable drive.  The economics no longer broadly support bookshops but they do support rare books and book collecting as expressed in the traveling fair model.  We simply need to adjust.

 

 

Links to North American Book Fair calendar on the Book Fairs website:

 

http://bookfairs.com/fairs.html