Having returned more or less in one piece from Concord, New Hampshire, and the first “live, in-person book fair” in over a year, I spent most of last week preparing my “booth” for the next Getman Virtual Book Fair which, if I have my dates right, opens this Wednesday at noon, eastern time.
As we approach the end (we hope!) of this pandemic, the place of virtual book fairs in our trade becomes an open and relevant question. As you might imagine, while I was uploading text, checking off categories, and combing my C drive for wherever the hell I stashed those damned photographs, I did some thinking about VBFs, their origin, their development, and their future. I’ve come to a few conclusions and discovered a few more complaints which will constitute this week’s blog entry.
- First and foremost – Dealers who put photographs of themselves in the Dealer Information section of Virtual Book Fairs seriously need to re-think this decision. It’s worse than fluffy kittens. Don’t do it. Just don’t!
- I love the convenience of VBFs, and the sense of order they impart in our chaotic trade but, to be honest, I’m about as tired of them as I am of Zoom calls. There’s a certain sterility, a dryness, that accompanies virtuality. Spending thousands of dollars on an item one cannot touch or smell is a curiously arid exercise. Books are objects!
- Speaking of aridity, does it seem to anyone else that the quality of material being offered in these virtual events is declining? There are just too many online fairs, and acquisition of fresh stock cannot keep pace.
- Along with dealer photographs, one of the major drawbacks of VBFs is the impossibility of scouting during setup. I’ve heard that there are book dealers who participate in book fairs with the intention of selling books, but for many of us, book fairs are mostly about buying. No one has ever explained to me why it wouldn’t be possible to have dealer-to-dealer transactions before the VBF goes live. Items sold would be deleted from online booths up to a certain time – say 2 days before opening, with a deadline of one day for final uploading of stock. The viewing public would NOT be subjected to the display of items already sold. (Just like in live book fairs, all the pre-opening sales would be stashed under the “table.”)
- Meanwhile, back in the present, if there is no pre-fair selling, how can it be that so many items are marked SOLD within seconds or minutes of the VBF opening?
- And what in God’s name would possess dealers to publish lists of their VBF stock BEFORE the VBF opens? I thought the reason items were in the show was to use that venue to sell them. More and more, before each VBF we see dealers publishing lists of the items they plan to exhibit. What’s up with that?
- I understand the risks involved in scheduling live shows when the future is still so uncertain (Adios, dear old Boston!). VBFs are easier to organize and promote, and probably a lot more profitable for the promoter in terms of time/money. I sincerely hope promoters don’t get lazy about reopening in-person events (Where are you, Brooklyn?) Yes, walking around with a clipboard in dreary gyms and conference centers is no picnic, nor is dealing with whining dealers. But this is our history; it’s who we are. Promoters, don’t abandon us!
- Lastly, and most importantly, dealers who put photographs of themselves in the Dealer Information section of Virtual Book Fairs seriously need to re-think this decision. It’s worse than fluffy kittens. Don’t do it. Just don’t!
Well, that’s all I’ve got on the VBF topic. Just to make sure you understand how seriously I take myself, here is one of the items I’ll be bringing to Wednesday’s VBF. It will be followed by a photograph of me.
Photographs. The New Ocean House, Swampscott, Mass. 1914 (and) 1916. Two albums containing 177 b/w silver prints on glossy stock. Image size 9 1/2 x 7 1/2 inches. Page size 12 1/2 x 10 inches. Swampscott is a coastal town situated on the shore of Nahant Bay, about 20 miles north of Boston. It was a choice destination during summers in the 19th century, as Boston’s upper crust fled the oppressive heat of the city. The sprawling New Ocean House was built in 1888 after fire destroyed the original hotel built in the 1870s. According to contemporary newspaper reports, “The attitude of the place spelled out one word: sophistication.” In later years it attracted such luminaries as “President John F. Kennedy, Helen Keller, Billy Graham, Sinclair Lewis, Harpo Marx, and Lucille Ball.” (That must’ve been quite a night!) In May, 1969 a general-alarm fire broke out in the front lobby of the 500-room hotel. Reinforcements were soon summoned from nearby communities, but the firefighters never had a chance. (Also quite a night! Dramatic videos of the event can be viewed HERE .)
In 1914 and again in 1916, owners of the resort, E.R. Grabow Co. (reputed to be the largest hotel operator in America at that time), hired the photography firm of Brown & Dawson to take beauty shots of the hotel and surrounding areas. These two albums, totaling 177 black and white silver print photos, are the results of that commission. Obviously, the photos provide a splendid sense of the magnificence of the New Ocean House – featuring interior and exterior views, and demonstrating some of the many pastimes available for guests, such as archery, tennis, croquet, swimming and diving, skeet shooting, loafing about hoping to meet members of the opposite sex, and honing one’s sophistication. They’re talkin’ Baseball
Along these lines, they also provide an intimate view of the dress, manners and, to some degree, social customs of the day. As a bonus, the albums include images of scenic spots along the coast, the Swampscott Country Club, the Myopia Hunt Club, the Eastern Yacht Club, as well as photos of local mansions, and street scenes of urchins playing in the poorer parts of town.The prevalence of automobiles is noteworthy as well. Horseless carriages were all the rage among people of this class, and the photographers made sure to include plenty of them, in order to demonstrate that they could provide scenic drives and all the necessary support facilities. A splendid documentation of an era long-since gone by. All the photographs are in excellent condition, printed out as glossies on heavy stock, secured in 2 screw post albums, with cover titles in gold. $1750