Yesterday I wrote about how I entered the exhibition hall at the book fair and wondered about my own potential as a bookseller. As a small bookseller who brought only about 200 books to the fair, I was thrilled to be there, but I realized that a big fair with 200 or more exhibitors offered a challenge. Would my books stand out or be lost in the shuffle? I wondered if I’d sell more books than I did at the smaller book fair in Sacramento last September, the first book fair I ever did. I wondered if it was appropriate to compare the two fairs. Each fair is different. As San Francisco was only my second book fair, I didn’t have a lot of basis for comparison. Instead, I compared myself to Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger, the Notre Dame football player whose persistence in his pursuit of a dream brings him great fulfillment — not fortune, not fame, not a pro-football contract, but something greater — fulfillment. I felt inspired to be in the presence of some truly great booksellers and happy to be at the fair.
I decided that if I ever expect to be a successful bookseller, I had better quit spending my time ruminating over dreams of bookselling grandeur and do the practical thing — get to work unloading eight bookcases and eleven boxes from The Book Mobile. My boothmate Jeanne from The Book Prowler arrived soon after, and she (thankfully) brought an entire army of support — her husband Gary, her daughters Eliza and Jessica, and her sister-in-law Laura.
With all of this help, we were set up in no time — shelves assembled, boxes unloaded, and a couple of special touches. Laura cut a beautiful art paper to the shape of the shelf in our glass counter cases and laid it in for us. It was a lovely background for the fragile ephemeral items that went in the glass case. Gary made the most beautiful wood bookstands for Jeanne — made them!!! They were lovely. He also very generously made a beautiful wood business card holder for me. Thanks, Gary! (P.S. Gary, if you are reading this, you could go into business making these lovelies for booksellers and collectors. They are that beautiful.) Jessica and Eliza unwrapped books from the copious amounts of bubble wrap and helped place them on shelves. It was so nice to have help and to have a full and busy booth. My friend Mr. Z. had a booth near ours, too, so there was lots of bookish banter across the aisles.
You might remember a book I referred to before the fair. It was my first really good “find” as a bookseller, and I had assembled a small collection of five items around this book. In order to raise the necessary funds needed to print the Dante catalogue in color and to buy some new stock, I decided the time had come to sell this little collection. I catalogued it thoroughly, following the advice of another bookseller who once told me that when I have something amazing to sell to “describe the hell out of it.” Five typed pages and many hours later I had a small catalogue of each of the items in the collection.
Another bookseller who was aware of my collection and the fact that I planned to offer it for sale asked me to set it aside for him before the fair. In the midst of our set-up frenzy he came over to see if I had remembered to bring the books. He looked at my material and we negotiated a price and the collection was sold before the books ever hit the shelves. I don’t want to tease you. I would really like to tell you what the items were, but as I sold them to another dealer who plans to re-sell them, I feel it unprofessional to do so. When I think about it, I would not like another dealer to sell me a book I plan to re-sell and then to publicly state, “That used to be my book. She got that from me.” (i.e. she only has that great book because I found it first.) Once I buy the book, it’s mine. So, in an effort to do unto others, I’ll have to keep quiet about it for now. I hope you understand. And I thought you would like to know that I did sell the book at a good price and that the proceeds will help me finish that when-will-it-ever-be-published Dante catalogue.
I was a little sad to say good-bye to my first valuable book “find”. It kick-started my pursuit of bookselling as a career. I missed it so when its new owner walked away with the collection — until I got a nice check for it. Hey, this bookselling thing is exceptionally fun when it pays! I’d like to do that again. 😉
I rationalized that selling this small collection would not only generate some income but it would also make room for new finds. From what I have observed, booksellers who don’t continue to acquire new stock stagnate and people quit visiting their booths at fairs because they always offer the same things for sale. I knew that a book fair with material offered by 200 dealers would be a good place to find hidden gems, and I spent the rest of the day in search of them.
I had a few more pre-fair sales to other booksellers on set-up day, and I spent the afternoon shopping in the booths of other booksellers, looking for new books to acquire. I found two books about Westerner’s visits to Russia — one from 1877 and one written and inscribed by the author of Mary Poppins. Collecting books by Westerners who visited Russia or the Soviet Union is a personal interest of mine, but it looks like enough interesting material exists that it may generate a future catalogue. While there were many amazing books offered for sale, I was a bit disappointed not to find more books that I thought would be a good fit for Book Hunter’s Holiday. (There aren’t many of us booksellers selling pioneer women or Dante — consequently not always a lot of stock from other booksellers.)
At the end of the day, I met up with my friend Penny from Vandello Books. She flew down from Seattle to attend the fair, and we met in Union Square and went to a wonderful Italian dinner. San Francisco is a great dining city. There are more food snobs here than there are book snobs, and the restaurants try to rise to the challenge. Delicious!
After dinner, I walked back to the hotel where Jeanne and her family and I were staying, feeling fulfilled.
Tomorrow: 2008 San Francisco Antiquarian Book Fair, Part 3, Or, The Fair and The Finds