Last week we had a Boston Book Fair Committee meeting – seven of us, with several hundred combined years of book fair experience, earnestly discussing the 2017 edition of the ABAA Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair. What were the problems last year? How can we fix them this year? How, within the constraints of venue politics, unions, service providers, time, and money, can we maximize this year’s book fair experience?
It was a serious conversation. We take our jobs seriously. And so, I’m certain, do our colleagues who work on the New York, NoCal and SoCal ABAA book fair committees.
As it happened, the 50th California International Antiquarian Book Fair took place last week. This year I didn’t exhibit (too close to the New York Fair) and I didn’t attend (too close to the red line in my check book) so I didn’t write a review of the event.
But plenty of other people did. All week the ABAA chatline has been humming with opinionated emails decrying or defending the venue, the publicity, the security, the crowds. If I had attended and written a review, my opinion would have fit somewhere along that overcrowded continuum. Booksellers, in case you haven’t noticed, LOVE to argue about book fairs. About the only thing everyone agreed on was that the food sucked.
Then, in the midst of the usual muddle, a very sensible email from Joachim Koch, an old colleague from the IOBA wars, and proprietor of Books Tell You Why. This is what he told us:
Where is the participants’ survey (“fill it in and get a chance to win $100 to spend on the fair”) that asks for simple demographics? Give security a counter to click folks leaving with or without bags. Where is the sellers’ survey that asks for how much (#, $) did you bring, how much did you buy, how much did you sell (fill it in and get $100 off the booth fee and get to see how you stack up against the others (anonymously)? Yes, every one of those surveys will be “wrong” in detail, Over time, though, there’ll be trends for each venue and comparisons to look at. Over time we will be looking at those with promoters and say, “we need more of this population on that day, go run an ad to promote those to come in”.
If we don’t articulate what we want and don’t measure and don’t commit to improving, it is hard to see how this will be much different going forward, regardless of who runs a fair or where it is being run.
I thought it was brilliant. I’ll even go a little farther and suggest that the ABAA sponsor the gift certificate for participants and the free booth fee drawings for exhibitors. Let’s get some data on what’s working and what’s not, and on what people do and do not want. Over the years, we might be able to spot important trends. We might be able to use this information to support, and to bargain with, promoters. It’ll certainly make our job on the Book Fair Committee clearer.
It snowed again, so when I wasn’t reading California Book Fair babble, I was shoveling white stuff, skiing in the woods, and cataloging books. Here’s my workbench
And here’s the description of this week’s featured item:
“I think if I live to git Home of off this voyge I will not come A whayling hear any more.”
Manuscript. Journals Kept by Jephthah G. Nickerson Aboard the Whale Ship Victory, August 1823 – June 1824, and Ship New Galen, July – December 1824. Folio, about 100 pages of manuscript entries. The Victory was a 269 ton whale ship built in New Bedford in 1812. On this voyage – a relatively short and prosperous one – she sailed to the Brazil Bank and the “Coast of Pattigony” and, in about a year’s time, returned 1150 bbl whale oil. Though this part of the Atlantic is a breeding ground for humpbacks, the Victory was fishing for right whales. Nickerson, the journal keeper, was undoubtedly a mate on this voyage. His entries record weather, sail handling, ships spoken and gammed with, events on board, and the excitement of killing, and nearly being killed by, whales. Boats are stove in, a Mr. Norton is seriously injured, and a man severely cuts his foot with a cutting spade. On top of all this, Jephthah Nickerson was of a depressive cast of mind. The voyage is not long underway before he is overwhelmed with homesickness and melancholy – which he is also careful to record. The ship departed New Bedford July 10 (Neither Lund nor Starbuck have this exact date, but Nickerson’s “days out” calculation enables us to ascertain it.) However, with the first two pages lacking, this journal begins at sea, August 21st. By October, Nickerson is still in a jovial mood. He writes, “Saw 70000 finbacks and 20000 humpbacks.” Soon thereafter the waistboat is stove, and “Mr. Norton git hurt bad… lying sensless… spitting blood of his stomach.” They kill their first whale October 22, and Nickerson notes this with a very unusual whale stamp, depicting a sort of spouting, cavorting whale, almost more like a dolphin. He continues using this stamp until November 13, when he switches to a more conventional smiling whale, with a blank spot just aft of her jaw in which to record the number of barrels of oil she yielded. Action continues apace as they cruise up and down the south eastern coast of South America, and Nickerson’s mood disintegrates. On October 12 he writes, “I most Ardently wish I was to home this night.” November 16, “I feel very lonesum I pray to God to return me home one more in safety to the arms of my dearest beloved Brother and sister.” By December 19 he vows “I think if I live to git Home of off this voyge I will not come A whayling hear any more.” And on January 24, 1824, “I will retire and read my bible.” We gather from these and other entries like them, that he is not yet married, and on April 4 1824, he notes his 25th birthday. “Yes 25 year of my sweet life is gone never to be recall no more Yes and I think that I have spent them in folly.” Well, gee. On March 21 “the main stock of the rudder split in three pleaces.” They spend a week repairing it, then head home, much to Nickerson’s relief. Much to our surprise, however, he is not home more than a few weeks before he departs on another voyage, this one aboard the New Galen, a 330 ton ship built in 1806 in Charlestown, Mass. bound to the Yucatan for logwood. This is also an eventful journal. Nickerson’s handwriting improves (though his spelling does not) and he stops his whining. He records in some detail the loading of their cargo, and events on board, which include drunkness, fights, a riot and a murder.(“Sep 30 At 6 10 am William Butler departed this life his death acationed by… a soldier in the riot on board the ship the knight of the 13 Septm.” At the end of this account, December 31, 1824 he writes, “Delivered the remains of Mr. Butler who Departed this life on board ship New Galen on the 30 septm. Unfortunately, along with the initial two pages, several more are partially or completely torn away – including the page on which the riot occurred – possibly to avoid recording incriminating evidence. Despite these minor gaps, these are two complete and fully rendered accounts. The whaling portion takes up 66 pages, and the New Galen voyage occupies 33 pages of this journal. There are 16 whale stamps, four of which are those unusual cavorting whales. Bound in worn calf over marbled boards. Hinges cracked but sewing intact… Sherman records no logs of this voyage in any institution. Ancestors.com records a Captain Jephthah G. Nickerson (our journal keeper recorded his middle initial as G) born 1799, died 1852. Apparently he overcame his melancholy and went on to a career as a captain. $6000
Groovy Whale Stamp