Bookselling

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A Little History

By Greg Gibson

I'm writing from the magnificent pile of stone and anguish known as Chapter 11 Books, situated between a Jiffy Lube and a drive-thru mortuary, and patronized primarily by people who'll have to come back when they've got more time. At the moment I'm wondering how one retires from a trade that most people take up after they retire. No answers are forthcoming. It's beginning to look as if I'll die with my books on. The dream ends. I wake to find myself in a slightly too comfortable chair at the edge of my booth at the Twenty-Fourth, or Twenty-Fifth, or Twenty-Sixth Annual Antiquarian Book Fair at John Dewey Academy, in Searles Castle, Great Barrington, Massachusetts. It's been a slow day, but days at this show are always slow. People drift in and out - polo shirted upper middle class people with frighteningly well behaved children, men in pink shorts, a lady with a Service Dog in a baby carriage. These folks are on vacation, and they've got all the time in the world. They poke around, consult one another, amble off, return, ask questions. They seem to be intelligent, sophisticated people. They're here in the Berkshires from places like Boston and New York, for the Tanglewood Music Festival or to visit the area's many galleries and museums, and we entertain their questions because, occasionally, a question will lead to a purchase. Often the question is, “Can you do any better on the price?” If you say it right, I suppose, it sounds intelligent and sophisticated. Because every... [more]

In a few days I'll be heading out to Colorado Springs for my fifth tour of duty on the faculty of the Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar. Hard as it is for me to believe that five years have passed since my first visit to CABS, as a guest lecturer in 2010, harder still must it be for those who were involved with it from the start — wonderful dealers like Ed Glaser and Mike Ginsberg — to realize that CABS has now been a continuously-running institution for almost forty years. In the interim enormous changes have taken place in the book trade, and some pretty big ones have taken place within the seminar, too. But one thing certainly hasn't changed, and that is the Seminar's central mission of providing booksellers, collectors, and librarians of all levels of experience with the most in-depth, intensive introduction to the antiquarian book trade that is currently available. I wrote passionately about my belief in the seminar on my own blog a couple of years ago. I still believe, as I did then, that this week in Colorado is among the best and most exciting things I do in the world of books. The opportunity to open new dealers' eyes to the enormous and ever-expanding range of possibilities this business has to offer is hugely gratifying, and each year I leave the seminar feeling better-informed, re-energized and re-committed to my own business. I also leave tired: it's the most exhausting week of my year, harder even than New York Book Fair week (and that's saying something!), ... [more]

Demystifying Social Media “Social media” may very well be the single most pervasive yet misunderstood term of the last decade. I would be pointing out the obvious to say that over time, social media has fundamentally changed the way we interact; it has also raised the bar for businesses, altered the way we construct communities and discussion, and given birth to some pretty cryptic lingo (be warned: LOL does not mean Lots Of Love). Furthermore, a bewildering number of social media platforms exist, from the mega-networks like Facebook and LinkedIn to media sites like Youtube and Pinterest, and everything in between. And then there are the endless blogs, and tweets, and apps…oh my! Feeling overwhelmed yet? While I think it is safe to say that most booksellers have a website and use the internet for research, buying, and selling, my sense is that there is some lingering hesitation when it comes to using social media as a tool for business. And no small wonder! How does one even get started, let alone navigate all the interfaces and etiquette required across various websites? More importantly, how does one use this new technology effectively? Social media engagement has become such an important aspect to doing business these days that bigger companies will hire people expressly for the purpose of creating content and monitoring their presence across multiple platforms. While that might be necessary for companies with hundreds or thousands of employees, where does that leave... [more]

The making of catalogs is on my mind tonight. I just put my own nineteenth catalog to bed — it left for the printer's an hour ago, a massive thing by my standards; over a hundred pages, just shy of two hundred-fifty items, all pictured. Research and cataloguing aside, lots of work goes into a catalog like that. The last two weeks at Lorne Bair Rare Books have been spent frantically photographing, photo-editing, laying-out, and proofreading. None of which I would describe as traditional “booksellerly” vocations — in fact, I'm not sure a single new book has gotten catalogued around here in the interval — but there we are. The New Antiquarian (if I may be so bold) finds himself going to great lengths these days to sell a book. Not that there's anything “new” about rare book catalogs! For a few hundred years they were the standard medium through which antiquarian books were distributed. But then (you've heard this one before) came the internet. Not everyone stopped printing catalogs when on-line bookselling came to prominence, but many did. Those of us who continued putting them out were looked on with a bit of suspicion by some of our more progressive colleagues, as though we weren't quite getting with the program. Now, it seems, there's a bit of a resurgence in printed catalogs — I'm seeing more of them lately, many from dealers new to the scene. Clearly there's something up. I'm not certain exactly how many of my colleagues issue printed catalogues, but I'm cer... [more]

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Not This Time

By Greg Gibson

Where do you start with a place like Vegas? Bally's Hotel and Casino is hosting the 2014 Moose International convention and dealing with a chronic shortage of aquatic plant life, willow shoots, and other forage. Hairy guys with backwards baseball caps. Old men and their leisurewear. Fatties in mobile chairs work away, tethered to slot machines. A Bally's credit card at the other end of the line drips the money in and out. The tether prevents the card from being stolen, lost, or forgotten. Sorry, sir, no photographs. What is the plural of Moose ? Do the International Moose employ it? There is a convention in noir cinema – someone has slipped the detective a mickey, or the alcoholic is in the middle of a lost weekend, or an innocent party has received a life altering shock. “Sorry, honey. I'm leaving you for a Moose.” The movies represent this state of psychic distress by means of flashing lights, carnival midway noises, and squirming, spinning shapes. Everything is out of focus. Voices come in and out, layered with hallucinogenic visuals and shreds of pop songs. Places and times jam together like a freeway pileup. This is the lobby at Bally's Las Vegas Hotel and Casino. The mickey is optional, but the lights, noises, voices, and ghastly visuals surrounding me leave no doubt that I'm in someone's grade B detective flick, or lost weekend, or that the life altering shock is Las Vegas itself. A line in one of my aural hallucinations croons, “It's just too marvelous, too ma... [more]

Last December, the Rare Book and Special Collections Division at The Library of Congress held an excellent symposium on authenticity. “Authenticity,” was a day-long program that looked at one of the most difficult subjects facing libraries, private collectors, and booksellers today -- judging the genuineness of printed materials. The symposium focused on the research which curators, scholars, and conservators have been conducting regarding all elements of printing and book production. The speakers included specialists who are at the cutting edge of research on printing techniques, paper manufacture, binding construction, and typography, as well as scholars, conservators, scientists, and booksellers who are dedicated to establishing methods for determining authenticity in the field of rare books, prints, and manuscripts. The Library of Congress has released a webcast of the symposium, which you can view below or on their website. [more]

For the past five years the New Bedford Whaling Museum has been sponsoring a scrimshaw show in conjunction with their annual Scrimshaw Symposium. This year they opened the show up to include a wider range of maritime antiques and books, and I figured “Why not?” I thought there was a fair chance that the show, which was taking place in the lobby of the museum, would be clogged with clueless tourists, but since the event only lasted for a day I knew my suffering would be limited. Happily no suffering was involved. The show was crowded most of the day with a niche audience, knowledgeable and highly focused. I met many old friends from the whaling world, Alan Granby, in repose and made a few new ones. Most importantly, I met new customers. Their purchases were relatively modest, but their interest was deep and they were well informed. I see a happy future for us. I'm always talking about getting out of the rut and exploring new venues, and this was a perfect example of what a brilliant idea it is – when it works. (Don't even ask me about the last Nantucket Antiques show I did, an event crawling with dandies in pink pants and neck knotted cashmere sweaters escorting pudgy ladies clutching lightship baskets. The reading habits of that crowd maxed out at 50 Shades of Grey.) It was a good whale week for other reasons as well. On my way to the show I bought a book I've always wanted and never before managed to own. But that's kind a of a “watch what you wish for” situation, ... [more]

This past April, the biggest news to hit the antiquarian book trade in roughly 400 years became public: my colleagues Dan Wechsler and George Koppelman, booksellers in New York City, unveiled a copy of a sixteenth century dictionary which could, quite plausibly, have once belonged to William Shakespeare — complete with annotations possibly in the bard's hand and many tantalizing, if ultimately circumstantial, linguistic and stylistic links to his plays. I'll leave it to better minds than mine to make a final determination regarding the dictionary's provenance. Wechsler and Koppelman have laid out an entire volume of compelling evidence in their just-published book, Shakespeare's Beehive (a copy of which I've just ordered); the Folger Shakespeare Library, the New Yorker, and numerous book bloggers have already begun weighing in, and I'm sure many more scholarly voices will be added to the fray over the coming months and years. I hope it's years, not months. I hope it's real, real enough at least to merit many years of scholarship – I really, really do. But regardless what this volume turns out to be, whether the hundreds of annotations on its 400-year-old pages turn out to be the long-sought mainline to Shakespeare's creative process or just a host of happy coincidences, the whole wonderful escapade serves to remind me that this pursuit my colleagues and I are engaged in, which so many days feels like little more than a glorified exercise in rag-picking, has resonances far... [more]

Registration for the 2014 Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar is in full swing! In its 36th year, CABS "provides an opportunity for leading specialists tot share their expertise and experience with booksellers, librarians, and collectors in a comprehensive survey of the rare book market, both antiquarian and modern." I've attended myself and can attest that it is a wonderful program, lovingly referred to in the trade as "bookseller boot-camp". This year the seminar runs from August 3-8th. The keynote speaker is Michael Zinman and the speciality dealer is ABAA member Brian Cassidy (Brian Cassidy, Bookseller). The rest of the faculty this year includes ABAA members Lorne Bair, Nina Musinsky, and Rob Rulon-Miller, Jr., Terry Belanger, Sally Burdon, Daniel De Simone, Dan Gregory, and Steven Escar Smith. It's been said time and time again: CABS is a must for anyone entering the antiquarian book trade or those interested in taking their bookselling business to the next level. Interested in attending but money is tight? There's a $250 savings for participants who enroll prior to 5/31. In addition, there are a number of scholarships offered including the ABAA Woodburn Fund's Ed Glaser Scholarship, which you can apply for at apply.abaa.org. [more]