Friday, April 29, 2011
Well, it looks like all that running around I did came with a price tag. Woke up Tuesday to a head cold, but by Thursday I was back to (sort of) normal. I wish I could tell you I accomplished a zillion things this week, but I’m afraid I did not. My activities since Monday are as follows: wrote the blog about the book fair; read Reading Jackie about Jackie Kennedy’s work as an editor; went to lunch with Cheryl; wrapped orders every day; cleaned my house, most especially the kitchen floor which after a weekend of rain and little people reappeared under layers of dirt, orange juice, and blackberry jelly; had my friend Mary Lynn from Dayton over for breakfast and a peak at the royal wedding this morning (did NOT love the dress, but the bride’s adorable); listed some books; read a backlog of newspapers; did all the New York Times crossword puzzles I missed; talked to Eric who is at a show in Maryland; and conducted a daily round or two of the Great Book Treasure Hunt.
The latter is a fun, if somewhat stressful, game that occurs when you fail to unpack in a prompt manner after a book fair. I believe I mentioned that books become exceedingly popular when they are in boxes. Well, the good/bad news is that they stay that way even after the sale is over if you don’t release them from captivity. This year we unboxed them because Eric needed the wooden boxes for the show he’s at now, but all we did was stack the books in a large block in his office. Last year I put them away immediately, but with the cold and the other stuff it never happened, hence all the frantic rummaging I've been doing all week. \I did make a considerable dent in it this afternoon, so three quarters of the books are reshelved now, but some still await me as you can see from the above photo. On the bright side I did sell a vintage Akron pottery catalog to someone from the book fair. He bought a catalog at the fair and I mentioned I had the pottery one and, sure enough, he inquired about it yesterday and we struck a deal this morning. How cool is THAT? Last year my after fair activity was confined to a large outlay of money when we bought a book collection from a fair-goer. This year only one person asked if we buy books and so far we haven't had a follow-up call from her.
The events of the week -- the cold especially -- gave me both time and perspective to think about the fair some more, so a few additional things occurred to me. Last year we benefited greatly from the ability to process credit cards. In several instances we made sales after the buyers had run out of cash and saw something they wanted. This year, however, we had exactly ONE credit card sale – the rest were cash and checks. I knew credit card usage was down, but Eric was the one checking people out so I had no idea that the number of cc transactions had fallen off that dramatically. Why this would be I don’t know – perhaps the economy and worries about incurring debt. The other thing that occurred to me is something Darwin told me a couple weeks ago about the Ann Arbor Antiques Show. He said that this year attendance soared, but the buyers were not really collectors. They knew nothing about antiques, asked astounding questions, paled at the prices, and ended up being more like museum goers. As mentioned previously, we saw that same phenomenon. Again, I’m not sure what this means in the big picture, but I hadn’t immediately made the correlation between antiques and books.
A third difference this year was dealer sales. Last year we sold only to consumers. This year we walked away from our booth before the sale started on the first day and returned to find a children’s book with a dealer’s business card in it on our check-out table. I also sold three journals to the guy set up next to us and a scientific ephemera item to a third dealer. There may have been more, but even if not, those three sales represented yet another surprising difference. What's interesting is that a long time dealer who was at the show, but not as an exhibitor, remarked that he couldn't buy inventory at the fair anymore because there was no margin for profit. I agreed, as I used to try buying stock at this fair even before I was an exhibitor and succeeded only once in doing so. Clearly, my prices allowed dealers room for profit which struck me as interesting given how much price resistance we experienced this year.
But of course we’ve only exhibited twice, so it may be premature to make assumptions about any of it based on so little experience. Perhaps every year is its own year, each one arriving and departing with its own eccentricities. Perhaps the fact that I sold a lot of paper this year means no more or less than the fact that I sold a lot of paper this year. Maybe next year I will bring a bushel of it and haul a bushel home again. Last year my hot category was technical books. This year I didn’t sell a one.
Monday, April 25, 2011
Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! Did you hear that? If not, it was an enormous sigh of relief that last week’s frenetic activity is finally over. By the end of the Akron antiquarian fair on Saturday night I was so tired I was practically comatose. Our daughter, her husband, and our two grandsons showed up about an hour after we got home, so I whirled and twirled with the kids for a couple hours and was in bed by nine. The next morning we were back at it by 6:30, cleaning, cooking, flying with the kids, and hosting Easter dinner for ten. Needless to say, by nightfall the Wreck of the John B. had nothing on us!
But enough about that. Let’s cut to the chase and talk about the fair. If I were confined to a single descriptive word I guess I’d choose quirky. From the moment it started ‘til the final bell it felt very different to me than last year. There were several reasons for this which I will enumerate, but the important thing is the take-away message, which is this -- the future of the physical book is more secure than previous indicators may have led you to believe. I don’t know how many people I talked to who have e-readers and love them, yet still love and buy traditional books, primarily collectibles, or books perceived as potential collectibles, but it was a LOT. The other bright spot was the crowd. Eight hundred-plus people passed through the doors over two days and kept traffic at the booths constantly flowing. AND my book guru and neighboring booth proprietor scored $4000 on just TWO sales the first day!
On the downside, the number of dealers had dropped by about ten, but the soaring price of gas, plus the cost of hotels and meals probably had a lot to do with that. The other negative, or at least surprising, difference was the appearance of a never before encountered kind of customer. I talked to several other dealers who noted the same phenomenon and, like me, were a bit flummoxed by it. This customer had no clue about the pricing of collectible books, as in, “Why would a book that only cost $2.95 when it was brand new be $50 now that it’s so old?” This was also the kind of customer who picks up a $200 book and asks if you’ll take ten dollars! And the kind of customer who writes down the pertinent facts about a book when he thinks you’re not looking, so he can buy it cheaper online. And the kind who tells you that a collectible catalog is only worth $10 because that’s how much his friend paid for it at a garage sale. As much as they rattled me, I'm actually delighted these customers were there because we need newcomers badly if books and paper are going to be preserved and appreciated. So I tried my best to educate them as well as I could, though I'm not reallty sure they quite believed any of it!
Sadly, however, this kind of customer also does not know how to handle antiquarian books. In a heartbeat a woman opened a folio-sized 19th century book, allowed the front cover to flop over in mid-air and popped the first page following the front free endpaper. I can tip it back in, but I must admit to a surge of well concealed “shock and awe” when it happened. Believe it or not, we also actually talked ourselves OUT of a three-fgure sale when a woman wanted to buy a complete 13 volume set of children’s books in their original slipcase, throw away the case, and divide the spoils between three grandchildren in three states! When we finally convinced her not to do it Beethoven rewarded us with a few bars of Ode To Joy from the netherworld.
And yet, all that being said, we still did okay. With less items than last year our bottom line was almost exactly the same, minus one first edition Twain. This time the big winner was ephemera, though we did of course sell some nice books, including my favorite, a first edition of Sylvia Beach’s Shakespeare & Company. Of all the sales though my three favorites were to people who so totally loved what they got they couldn’t stop telling me. Who knew that a Varga pin-up girl calendar with its original envelope, a salesman’s pocket sample of Victorian die-cut calling cards, a 1930’s Hollywood magazine with Jeanette MacDonald on the cover, Don Freeman’s rare magazine Newstand; One Man’s Manhattan and a refrigerator catalog from the 1890’s could elicit such unabashed pleasure. None of these things were especially pricey – the highest were just $50 and $60 – but the joy they engendered was so expansive I felt like the luckiest seller at the show.
Of course we went there to make money, which we did, but I think we can sometimes get so caught up in its pursuit that we fail to appreciate the less obvious pleasures of the trade. One guy who bought three of the items listed above said to me, “Man, you’re the one with the GOOD stuff! I spent all my money right here.”
Music to my ears. Bethoven not required.
P.S. It's been ten minutes since I posted and I've already been asked about the circle on my leg in the picture. I have no idea. I never even saw it until it was pointed out to me. It's not on my clothes, so it must be a beam from one of tthe overhead cannister lights (see photo). You guys amaze me with your powers of perception!
Monday, April 18, 2011
Some people would argue that there’s no such thing as perfection here on earth. Both Amish quilters and Persian rug weavers believe that only God is perfect and so they will purposely make a tiny mistake in each of their creations to remind themselves of the need for humility. While the sentiment may be true, I think we just attended a library book sale that, if not perfect, is as close to it as humanity is apt to get. It was the first time we attended it though, so I’m not shouting “Eureka!” as if I'd tapped into a permanent gusher. I’ve had this experience before with antiques mall buying, so my optimism for the future of the sale dangles on a cotton thread for good reason. There used to be a mall in Toledo where we always stopped when we went to visit our daughter in Michigan. The first time we went it was so good I thought I’d just discovered the eighth wonder of the world. But never again did I feel so much as a twinge of exhilaration in all the years which followed, though we could always count on getting at least one or two decent books every time.
As to be expected, scanners abounded at this sale, including our local crazies, of which we have three who are extremely colorful. In fact, they are SO colorful that I never met their match at any sale outside of a fifty mile radius. I think if there were a national prize for the most vivid characters at a book sale northeastern Ohio would be dragging home a trophy the size of Mt. Rushmore. Anyway, they were there, the crowd was huge, a loud argument erupted at the front of the line seconds before the sale began, and I almost got mowed down because I didn’t realize that as soon as the doors opened everyone would run like a herd of wild horses. I’m not kidding when I say run either. We’re talking Boston Marathon here. Fortunately, Eric grabbed me by the arm and steered me into a little piece of book heaven before I was flattened like a cartoon character.
But forget that stuff. Imagine instead a tiny room -- Ernest Hemingway’s “a clean well-lighted place” which instead of café tables is lined with beautiful, expensive books. There’s a large window, a very nice attendant, and antiquarian titles blooming here and there like tiger lilies at the side of a winding sun-dappled road. Prices began at $400 and went down to around $10 with the average being $25. At first I scanned the titles quickly, but soon realized something absolutely without precedent. We were the only people in the room! And we remained the only people for an astonishing fifteen minutes! Needless to say, we did very well. In fact, we did so well that we didn’t even bother with the rest of the sale, so never encountered anyone wielding a scanner the entire time.
But here’s the interesting twist. When we got home I immediately unpacked everything and sorted it into three piles – antiquarian fair, antiques mall, online. That’s when I realized that several books did not make it home with us even though I’d paid for them. By the time we checked out another dealer had also bought a ton of stuff and was behind us in line. Eric packed as fast as he could, but her stuff tumbled all over the two square feet of available carpet space and we had no choice but to pile our bags in a heap by the door. The only thing we could conclude was that one of them must have migrated under the card table they used to check out.
Friday morning I phoned and, sure enough, that’s exactly what happened. Fortunately, I remembered two titles in the bag so we were able to claim it easily. I was rather annoyed though that we had to make another long trip even though we were already headed in that direction on Sunday due to yet ANOTHER aggravation. I’d bought Eric a new chair for his birthday and the furniture store had called to tell me that the fabric I chose was discontinued and I would have to come back and choose something else. With the book fair only five days away I felt absolutely crunched for time. The last thing I needed was another thing to do that I’d already done.
But I’m here to tell you that what appears to be a bad thing can actually be Mother Theresa in a Richard Nixon mask. We arrived at the library to find that almost everything in the little room was half price on Sunday! I wound up buying even more than I had the first day of the sale. It was so good it was almost surreal. All week I’d wrung my hands, gnashed my teeth, and rended my garments as people continued to buy the books I’d packed for the show. I knew that realistically my chances of acquiring a quantity of quality new items to replace them were about nil.
But I did. And all because of a forgotten bag. It may not be a coincidence that the first book we got (pictured above) was called The Book of Blessings.
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
I have to tell you though that the whole book sale experience was the equivalent of tumbling down the rabbit hole into Willie Wonka’s chocolate factory. Yes, I know I have mixed my literary allusions, but that’s the kind of day it was. This sale tends to be the equivalent of Filene’s basement during the annual wedding gown grab, so the staff is constantly looking for ways to make it run smoothly and keep tempers on an even keel. The new idea was to hand out numbers at two o’clock for a five o’clock opening. Of course this means the die-hards now turn up at noon instead of two. We got there around one-fifteen and were happy to find only about half a dozen people waiting, among them a couple favorite old-timers like us. We passed the time pleasantly enough, grabbed our numbers (seven and eight), and headed off to Applebee’s for lunch/dinner at two where we lingered over spicy Cajun shrimp pasta.
Before we went though another new wrinkle appeared at the sale. It seems that the library decommissioned so much stuff that they had no room to display it. So creative lot that they are, the volunteers decided to rent a POD, box the books by category, and sell the boxes sight unseen for $15 each which made the average book price around 60 cents each. The way it worked was you chose your category, they issued you a box number and you went outside to the parking lot to collect it. Ah, nothing like a little gambling to add some spice to the book sale! Plenty of people availed themselves of the opportunity but, alas, we were not among them. I buy ex-libs so infrequently that even when they are fabulous my aesthetic sensibilities cringe like a Victorian dowager at the appalling sight of a young lady’s ankle. I know, I know, I’m something of a book snob, but now that I just celebrated my ickiest year birthday to date I don’t have to apologize for it.
Anyway, after the repast at Applebee’s and some in-car reading in the library parking lot we returned to the sale with about an hour to spare. Again, good people to talk to and an atmosphere of such tranquility you would think it was peopled by a tribe of Tibetan monks. Finally the doors opened and we headed to the collectibles area. Now here’s where it gets interesting. God love them, these volunteers are so nice and so hard working and sincere, but their pricing system is on par with the eternal question “what is the meaning of life?” Believe it or not – and I don’t believe it yet -- in this wonky little world in which I found myself a nine volume leather-bound set of Ridpath’s History of the World could be had for fifteen dollars. By contrast, a battered copy of a cheap children’s series book printed on high acid paper was $12! Needless to say, I chose the $15 option (see photo above). I only snapped four volumes though because the rest are in another box and the box is in the garage and it’s freezing out there, so you’ll just have to use your imagination to picture the whole set in all its glory.
The other thing I got that made me dance a little jig was two of the eight Sara Ware Bassett invention series books. Oh, how I love these and in first edition too. I have never had them before, but my “bookdar” went off like a factory whistle at high noon at the very sight of them.
All told, we spent an astounding seven hours from the moment we left our driveway to the moment we returned and yet somehow it ended up being a fun, satisfying day. Yes, the scanner people were there, but it was as though they’d been issued valium at the door. The world may have been wonky at the library, but I’d be happy to fall down that rabbit hole again any time.
Thursday, April 07, 2011
Over the years I have bought and sold many of these – it’s amazing how many types there are covering so many topics – The Roth Memory Course (LOVE that one and so do buyers), The Purinton Foundation Course in Personal Efficiency and How to Master the New Science of Personal Efficiency (just shipped that to Denmark last week), and The Course in Human Betterment. There are also radio courses, electronics courses, singing courses, art courses, courses on phrenology, and, my two other all-time favorites, The Home Study Course for Hawaiian Guitar published by the U.S. School of Music in 1938 and the rare Marshall Stillman Boxing Course. I’ve bought them all and sold them all, yet my love for them remains boundless.
So yesterday when I sold Annie Payson Call’s book The Heart of Good Health from 1907 (I’d previously sold her Nerves and Common Sense from 1910) it got me to wondering whether I’m the only one who swoons over vintage self-help. The field is huge – I consider early New Thought material to be part of it – and yet the stuff can be maddeningly elusive. Annie Payson Call, for example, was enormously popular in her day – she wrote regularly for Ladies Home Journal in addition to penning books on emotional and physical health, and yet today you say her name and most people stare back blankly. As for her writings, it would be easier to find a gold nugget in the backyard. I got both of her books at the same time and have never seen any since even though my “bookdar” is set so high for this stuff I swear it would go off if anything existed in a twenty mile radius even if were buried in a steel box underground. The last time I bought such a thing was last fall at an estate sale in Wooster where Orison Marsden’s The Secret of Achievement suddenly began flashing in neon red and nobody but me seemed to notice. Marsden started Success Magazine in 1897 and contributed regularly to Elizabeth Towne's magazine Nautilus – about which I will refrain from excessive gushing, as I think you already can guess I’m crazy about it.
Right now I have in stock a VERY cool course, but the thing is I’ve had it about three years, and haven’t listed it because I can’t find a comparable for it and am not sure what the market will bear. This one is Alois Swaboda’s course in Swabodism which is a blend of mind control and physical culture and is believed to have inspired Houdini. Swaboda signed mine, which includes the six lessons, a seventh called Confidential Instructions for the Application of Organic Stress to the Sexual System (yeah -- how about THAT in 1920’s?), plus How To Change From Worry to Happiness and How To Induce Others to Do For You What You Desire. I’d like to take the whole shebang to the fair, but can’t seem to settle on a fair (ha-ha) price. If any of you know anything about this my ears are wide open.
Admittedly, vintage self-help does sort of beg to be chuckled over, but it’s nonetheless a genuine collecting field even if you give it zero legitimacy. As for me, I am not a famous writer, I would be hard pressed to play even a few notes of Aloha Oe on the Hawaiian guitar, have a terrible memory for some things and a prodigious one for others, can’t divine character by the bumps on anyone’s head, can’t build a radio, can’t wire a lamp, worry incessantly, can’t carry a tune and can’t draw a stick figure. I do, however, have great boxing skills, which is good, since I have to haul sixteen boxes of books to Akron very soon.
Tuesday, April 05, 2011
Well, I think Leo the cat has decided he’s moving in. Not only does he hang out in places where you can see him, but he’s eating more (though more is relative) and is even engaging in unbecoming behavior. First I found him sitting on top of he kitchen island and then caught him just as he was about to exercise his claws on the slipcase of a Limited Editions title signed by THORNTON WILDER!! But to balance the scorecard, he has also made us laugh. Catnip to this guy is like a reefer dream in Technicolor. He squirms, he rolls, he flips in circles – can’t get enough of the weed. But the funniest thing is what we’ve taken to calling “wacko-wacko hour.” Around five or six p.m. an astonishing force takes him over. He stands at the corner of a wall and leaps wildly into the air, a mind-blowing three quarters of the way up, then lands back on the ground, only to repeat the performance. Catie says he does this many times in a row, but so far we’ve been treated to just two magnificent jumps and a mad lap around the kitchen before he collapsed in his (my) favorite chair for the rest of the evening.
But this post isn’t about Leo, cute though he is. It’s about another mysterious force known as the Book Fair Effect. I’m sure that somewhere along the line I mentioned that last year, our first to exhibit at the Akron Antiquarian Book Fair, I began to notice a strange phenomenon just as soon as I began to pack. Books that had languished all year long on their shelves suddenly developed an aura that made them irresistible. One by one they departed like jet-setters from the wooden boxes I’d placed them in, headed for parts all over the globe. While I haven’t as yet filled the wooden boxes Eric built for shows, I have been pulling out titles I know I want to take. Apparently that’s enough to fully activate the Book Fair Effect because this morning one antiquarian book and four not- small- enough-to-quality-as-miniature, but still pretty small books of Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales were ordered within the same hour. The book is The Soldier's Story of His Captivity at Andersonville, Belle Isle, and Other Rebel Prisons published in 1871 (and later rebound oibviously) which I bought last fall at the fancy estate sale where they not only served food and hot drinks, but provided fires for warmth. It’s a great book and I expected it to disappear fast, but it did not until I decided it should go to the fair. As for the fairy tales, they’ve been hanging around over a year.
I love those little books though and this is the third time I’ve had them, but this particular set is less desirable than the sets I had prior. The first was best – all four books with dustjackets and their golden award winner seals attached to the ends of their red ribbon markers, nestled like babies in their very rare original box. The second time there was no box, but I had the jackets and the seals. This time I just had the books without any additional accoutrements. But STILL, they are very cute and need a home, so I figured off to the fair with them too and if they ddidn’t sell they could take up residence afterward at the antiques mall. Instead they are off to New York tomorrow morning.
If it sounds like I’m complaining, or maybe even gloating, I am -- both things. I love, love, love that the books found homes, but there is a problem here that scares me to death. I have had, as you know and are probably sick to death of hearing about, a year-long acquisition problem. I did just get in a lot of books from the dealer at the show Eric was at in Kalamazoo and from our long-lost picker, but, remember, all those books are about weapons. I am not a gun book specialist and if I was the fair would probably be a bust, so I cannot haul in boxes and boxes of gun books. I will have one box out of sixteen, but that’s it. So, I need the goodies to hang around awhile. Fortunately, a large pile of them has not ever been listed, and will not BE listed, until the fair ends, so that much at least is protected. I could also retrieve some stuff from the antiques mall if needed, but a lot of the good stuff has disappeared from there too. Last week alone I sold a record 19 books in one day, a good half of which were fair material. Of course I loved that too, but nibbling around the edges of my elation was anxiety – LOTS of anxiety which is building as we speak. In fact, last night I dreamed that my teeth fell out. For me this is classic. Push up the anxiety meter high enough and invariably my dreams focus on teeth. Don’t ask why because I don’t know. It just works that way.
Wait a minute – I just realized something! I’m always talking about book magic and how all you have to do is touch a book, think about a book, change something in its description and suddenly it will sell. The Book Fair Effect isn’t a mysterious force at all. Or no more so than plain old book magic is because it IS plain old book magic. By taking them to the fair I focus on these books, I touch them, I pencil in their prices, and I pack them up in boxes. Of COURSE they sell. But here’s the rub – how can I get ready for both the show and Easter unless I start pricing and packing? I could temporarily take my inventory offline of course, but there’s one small problem -- no sales, no money.
So I will keep packing and just try to have a little faith. There’s time – three weeks – and one book sale for sure coming up and maybe a second. Last year I did buy a first edition Twain a week before the sale, so anything is possible. There could also be an estate sale, an auction, a phone call, a – something.
And if not, I can always climb the walls. Seems to ease the tension for Leo.
Friday, April 01, 2011
Leo’s a loaner cat, here for a few days while our younger daughter and her boyfriend explore housing options near Washington D.C. where they will be moving in June thanks to Joe’s new job. He works here in Ohio for the Department of Agriculture (something to do with grain and ships), but will soon be ensconced right in the heart of the government district. Long time readers may remember last fall when I dogsat Max the boxer. Leo is Max’s adopted brother. The reason I got Leo this time is because they can’t leave him alone since their house is for sale and I’m a cat person and Joe’s father is a dog person. Though Max and I got on famously, I’m still partial to cats, so in that regard the four-legged people got divvied up just right.
Leo arrived late last night, so this morning he was still a little skittish, particularly about the hardwood floor on the steps. He prefers soft carpet so he sort of picks his way up and down. I would be secretly calling him a wimp were it not for the fact that you can’t undermine a cat who instinctively recognizes quality when he sees it. This morning I looked all over for him and finally found him in the guest room lying regally on my divine purple office chair that will soon be in the office( it WILL!). Until it is, however, I'm happy to dub it the temporary designated throne of King Leo I.
Actually, it’s a good thing I have him for company today (though I’ve lost him in the house again), as I was decidedly cranky after leaving at 6:30 in the morning to wait three freaking hours at an estate sale that advertised “lots and lots of great books” and delivered about a hundred lousy books. We were in and out in ten minutes flat and that’s with looking through three stories and a basement. From there we repaired to Panera to drown our sorrows in dark roast coffee and cinnamon crunch bagels. The caffeine and sugar revived us somewhat, at least enough to head over to T.J. Maxx in hopes of replacing the appetizer plates for the Akron Antiqaurian Book Fair basket, one of which I ceremoniously destroyed by dropping it on the brick floor of Eric’s office. I had hoped for the same ones I’d had, but that was asking far too much, so I settled for a black and white set that looks faintly Asian. They’re smaller than the original, but it’s still better to present four smaller ones than a measly two bigger ones when anyone, including those with a recessive shopping gene, knows they come packaged in fours. Even Eric, who has no shopping gene at all, agreed with me on that one.
Anyway, the fact that I can now call the basket a wrap (ha-ha) cheered me up a bit, as did the fact that Leo came out of hiding a few minutes ago and headed for the guest room. I thought I’d snap a picture of him ensconced in the divine purple office chair for this post, but NO -- I CANNOT. He’s defected to the armchair in the corner next to the bed. Maybe he and the Late Great Mickey have something in common after all.