The show’s promoter, Marvin Getman.
A finely bound, unique collection of over 100 pieces of sheet music, 1859-64, was $1500 from Yeoman’s in the Fork, Leiper’s Fork, Franklin, Tennessee.
We spent a longer time than usual with Christopher Frey of Frey Fine Books, Rougemount, North Carolina, because he had a display of books about antique furniture and decorative arts. One was The Period Guide to Fabrics in Their Relation to Furniture by Arthur H. Lee. It consists of an accordion file folder with six pockets filled with 68 illustrated cards (one shown in the detail) designed “…to assist the collector…in the choice of suitable fabrics…for valuable old pieces and modern reproductions.” Its price was $175.
Cynthia Gibson, an associate of B & B Rare Books, New York City, is shown with a first edition, first printing of the 1966 novel The Last Picture Show by Larry McMurtry for $225. When he was in his 30’s and we were in our 20’s, McMurtry, in addition to being a novelist, had a secondhand bookshop up the street from where we lived in Georgetown, Washington, D.C. For many years now, he and his book business have been based in Archer City, Texas, where in August 2012 he had an auction of about 300,000 used books.
Peter Luke (on right with rolled shirtsleeves) of New Baltimore, New York, had a proverbial room of his own—enough space at last for this dealer who takes multiple booths at the Papermania Plus show in Hartford, Connecticut, twice a year. Since he wasn’t in the main room, Marv Getman said, “He was afraid that people wouldn’t find him, but in the end, his problem was being overcrowded more than anything else. He has a following, because he brings a lot of fresh merchandise.”
D.T. Pendleton Fine & Antiquarian Books, Oley, Pennsylvania, asked $175 for the framed albumen photographic portraits (1½" diameter each) of 19th-century authors, from left to right, William Cullen Bryant, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, John Greenleaf Whittier, and James Russell Lowell. The wood frame is 3½" x 12½".
Here are two pages at the beginning of Francis Bacon’s Sylva Sylvarum or A Naturall History In Ten Centuries, London (1635), published after his death by William Rawley, Bacon’s personal secretary. The book was $2800 from James & Devon Gray Booksellers, Cambridge, Massachusetts. [A note posted in December 2012 on their Web site said, “We have moved” to Princeton, Massachusetts.]
Dennis Waters of Exeter, New Hampshire, asked $225 for this cabinet card of an interior of a house in Cottage City, Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, decorated with an American flag. An inscription on the back states, “Paul Jones’ sword and the musket he captured from the British.” It is dated August 9, 1897, and the woman with musket in hand is identified as Harriett Rebecca Perry Stafford.
On Saturday, November 17, 2012, promoter Marvin Getman rolled out his rendition of an old show in a new location. “It was the most exciting thing I’ve done since my early days of running shows, it really was,” Getman said of his Boston Book, Print, and Ephemera Show. “Two-thirds of the  dealers have already answered my post-show questionnaire, and I’ve never seen a more positive survey, really, all around.”
He bought the one-day show from Bernice Bornstein last winter. Bornstein had established it in 1997 as a satellite to the annual Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair, held one weekend each year at downtown Boston’s Hynes Convention Center. Bornstein’s first venue was a garage directly across the street from the Hynes. Dealers just drove in and sold from their vehicles. That’s why the show was nicknamed The Garage, a moniker that stuck even after the show moved to a Radisson Hotel and then to the former Boston armory building known as The Castle.
For the date he needed, Getman discovered that those locations were not available. So he scurried around and found a relatively unknown venue—the Back Bay Events Center, just four blocks from the Hynes. It was ideal in many ways but presented a loading challenge. “Everything had to come in on Friday through the [old] John Hancock building’s loading dock, which is shared with the entire twenty-six-story office building. So I knew I would have to create a plan that would work within the guidelines of the building.”
One of those guidelines stipulated that there could be no loading between 8:30 a.m. and noon. So Getman started the process at 5 a.m., took the required lengthy pause, and then went back to work again.
Dealers roundly applauded the smooth efficiency, aided by the 12 parking-metered spaces Getman rented and the nine porters he hired. “Getman gets it,” said Peter L. Masi of Montague, Massachusetts, vice president of the Massachusetts & Rhode Island Antiquarian Booksellers (MARIAB). “He’s so responsive. Make a suggestion in the morning, and it’s done by the afternoon. MARIAB sought him out to do our spring show,” which takes place at the Shriner’s Auditorium in Wilmington, Massachusetts, in May.
Getman was relieved that going overboard paid off. “If you put dealers in a bad mood in the beginning, it can stay with them for the duration of the show.” He was especially gratified to read the after-show survey comment of one dealer, who said, in Getman’s paraphrase, “You treat us like your valued customers.” Getman added, “And that’s how it should be. They’re my clientele, and they have theirs.”
In the past Bornstein did not collaborate with the powers in charge of the larger show at the Hynes, the exclusive Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America (ABAA). Getman did. “I came up with the idea of a Boston book collectors’ weekend and pitched it to the ABAA committee, and they liked it a lot. They saw the value in combining promotion, trying to create one larger event, bigger than either show individually. We even had a joint ad in Thursday’s Boston Globe.”
They worked out a combo ticket, whereby those who bought a ticket to one show could get into the other show on Saturday. It worked out well for Getman. “I know what Bernice’s attendance was, so I can say that my attendance almost tripled hers. And yet my paid attendance stayed the same as hers, so two-thirds of my attendance came in free, but that’s OK.”
The show’s free attendance numbers were up not only because of the combo ticket. That increase happened also because Getman distributed free passes to his show. “I handed out two kinds—one that was good from eight a.m. onward and one that was good from noon to closing [at four p.m.]. My intention was to build up the afternoon business. Bernice used to see it die when the big [ABAA] show opened at noon.”
Getman distributed 1500 afternoon passes to attendees at the Boston Book Festival (www.bostonbookfest.org). Held on October 27, 2012, it was a multi-venue one-day event for publishers, writers, and readers. “Those people are interested in books, obviously. They maybe can be educated about old and rare books,” Getman said.
Getman’s dealers were set up in a lower level of the building that presented challenges of its own. Although they had one big main room, there were also many smaller ones that made designing a good floor plan essential. For the most part, Getman got high marks for that too. “Any new place takes a while to be adjusted. I’m already making plans to make it easier to navigate next year,” he said.
There was a free continental breakfast and coffee from eight to 9:30 a.m. for dealers and shoppers alike. It was a nice touch, but an even nicer one was the availability of a toaster for those who don’t like their bagels raw. Little things do count.
In that dining lounge we spoke with Thomas G. Boss of Salem, Massachusetts, who was set up at the ABAA show but shopping this one. He hadn’t yet bought much. Book dealers everywhere face the same dilemma when trying to sell to advanced collectors, he observed. “The unique item needs the unique buyer. I know a collector who has sixty-five hundred books about bees and needs only seventeen others to complete his collection. It reminds me of the Oscar Wilde quote, ‘The only thing worse than not getting what you want is getting what you want.’”
Several of Boss’s fellow ABAA dealers were set up at both shows. It’s one way to be assured of reaching the widest possible audience. It’s no secret that it’s also a way of having the opportunity to shop this show early.
Since this is traditionally a lower-end show, one ABAA dealer who did not set up here wasn’t complaining about that; he was unhappy instead that prices were not necessarily bargains across the board. In fact, he later claimed to have bought better at the ABAA show. He also said that the energizing sense of imminent discovery, prevalent when this show was just an upstart in a cold garage, is less apparent with each passing year. But perhaps he forgets that 15 years ago, when this show began, the commercial Internet was still an infant, and the kind of knowledge spreading that it fosters had not yet begun in earnest. Today every dealer has the potential to grow savvier. Then again, it may also be that some are mispricing material because they aren’t yet savvy enough.
Getman, of course, has no control over his dealers’ preshow actions or their prices, although he does want to make sure that anyone who signs up actually sets up “a proper display,” table covers included. He doesn’t want them just to pretend to be set up here. “If they don’t [do a proper display], that means they’re treating me as second class, and I can’t let that happen.” He laughed.
Another shopper with whom we chatted, A. David Wunsch of Belmont, Massachusetts, is not a dealer. He is a retired professor of electrical engineering who devotes a great deal of time to his hobby of photography. He is also a good friend, who wrote us in an e-mail after the show: “For me the best part was seeing a first edition, with DJ [dust jacket], of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men by James Agee and Walker Evans. They only sold a few thousand copies at best in 1941, when the book was published.” (Actually, only 500 of the first edition were published.)
“I had never seen one before,” his e-mail continued. “This is a book for serious collectors and beyond my budget [priced at $2750]. I did enjoy talking with the dealer [Thomas Toth of Different Drummer Books, Niantic, Connecticut], a former photographer, who knew a lot about photography and books. I’m at an age [nearly seventy-three] when I’m reluctant to acquire more things, knowing that they may pose a burden to my children...I regard the show as being like a trip to a museum—lots to see—but I bought nothing.”
The key seems to be new blood, new collectors, new kinds of collections. That’s why many people were happy to see more younger people than usual at this show, and some of them were buying. To remedy the complaint of the ABAA dealer who found many of the prices at this show too high, how about encouraging the entry of new and hungry dealers?
“People say books are dead,” Getman opined. “It’s a problem.” But if you look another way at the effect of all the Nooks and Kindles of the world, you might conclude that they make old and rare books seem all the more antique and interesting.
We did note a dealer on a break outside the dining lounge who was reading a book on one of those electronic devices. We raised an eyebrow. “That’s why I’m sitting here in a dark corner,” she said. “Just say I’m saving the trees.”
For more information, phone (781) 862-4039 or see the Web site (www.neantiqueshows.com).
Originally published in the March 2013 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2013 Maine Antique Digest