Preparing for the forthcoming ABA/ABAA/ILAB “Transatlantic Bookfair” this July 22 -27 seemed a little more labor intensive than it should have. I guess I’m spoiled by promoter Marvin Getman’s superior VBF venue, which was designed specifically for what it was meant to do – which is get that damned stuff up there as quickly and easily as possible so we can sell it and get more damned stuff up there. The Transatlantic Bookfair, on the other hand, runs through Biblio, which was not designed specifically to host VBFs. In a word, it’s somewhat clunkier. And, though the workarounds have proved workable, and the bugs have been squished, it’s still, well, clunkier.
Getman is to be congratulated for having conceived of, invested in, and delivered his superior platform. In fact, I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what he’s doing these days – congratulating himself for having etc., etc., etc.
How can I be so sure? Well, his avatar, Cartoon Marvin,
is all over the place on the Interweb, and his virtual bookfairs keep popping up like, I dunno. What pops up a lot? Gophers? Fleas? In the short term, he has fairs scheduled for July 3 (ongoing), July 14, August 3, August 11, and August 14. That’s a lot of shows in a short period and, for many dealers, the heavy schedule puts an impossible demand on our best material. We can’t buy enough fresh stuff to keep our VBF shelves stocked. As a result, in my opinion, the quality of these events is declining. Even accounting for early glitches and setup difficulties, the first half dozen or so virtual events were excellent, both in terms of buying and selling. But gradually, it seems to me, the quality of the material on offer began to decline – as it certainly must under these circumstances.
Oh, I’m sure there are statistics that show steady, or even ever-increasing sales results, but those results are skewed. People are buying lesser material because that’s all there is to buy, and they have to buy something so they’ll have more books to sell! One thing for sure, 100 booths offering 20 or 30 books each can’t compare to 100 booths offering 100 or 200 books each (which is why they only happen a few times a year instead of every week.) Despite all the hype, recent VBFs are beginning to fail the smell test. I hate to say it, but Marvin and the rest of his promoter colleagues have gotten rather lazy during Covid.
Masks are off, shots are in, and people are back together again, but there’s no Boston, no Boston shadow, no Washington, no SNEAB, no Brooklyn, no New York shadow. Only Richard Mori and Gary Gipstein have been brave enough to schedule live shows in my part of the country. (Yes, summer Papermania is rumored to be on this year, though no contracts have yet been sent out – who can resist Hartford, CT in August?). I’ve heard it rumored that the only way the Ephemera Sociaty of America got Marvin to promote a live book fair during next spring’s conference, was to let him have a virtual one, too.
So, yeah. It’s a lot riskier, and a lot harder to set up a live show and deal with venue owners, and then walk around with a clipboard listening to dealers bitch. But without live shows the quality of our trade diminishes. There’s much less to buy, more pressure on the material, and a complete absence of what truly makes live bookfairs worthwhile – the (for want of a better term) social aspect of book fairs. I’ve learned more over dinner tables and in dealer’s lounges, bar rooms, luncheonettes, other booths, and on bookfair floors than I could ever have learned from staring at images of books on my computer.
Sorry, promoters. You’re letting us down. VBFs were a good stopgap, but it’s time to get real again.
And speaking of real, here’s a really cool item that will be gracing my shelves at the July 22 Transatlantic virtual bookfair. I wish you could see it in real life. But the only way that’s gonna happen is if you buy it.
Anon. (Motte et Letronne, publisher). Pavillons des Puissances Maritimes, en 1819. n.p.: n.d. (Circa 1819).
This is a unique French flag book – unique, because it is a combination of two rare French flag books. The original, with printed boards, title, and contents pages, “Pavillons des Puissances Maritimes, en 1819”, was published circa 1820 by Charles Motte. As originally configured, it contained 30 hand-colored lithographed flag plates. At some point in its history, this copy was taken apart and combined, or “extra-illustrated” with pages from another flag book, a work of similar size, period, and scope, with lithographs by Louis Letronne. The flags and pennants pictured in the 1819 Motte book are arranged geographically, as are the insertions. For example, the “Contents” page of the Motte book calls for two pages of illustrations of the flags of Angleterre. In this copy, however, there are three pages of flags of Angleterre because a page of Letronne lithographs has been glued to the following page and the new unit sewn in.
This copy contains all 30 of its original plates. In addition there are another 30 plates from the volume of lithographs by Letronne. In every instance the added Letronne plates are flags used for signalling pilots or flags of countries not included in the Motte 1819 edition. In other words, the additions contribute substantially to the information contained in this “extra-illustrated” copy.
Whitney Smith’s “Bibliography of Flags of Foreign Nations” sheds some light on this confused affair. Smith cites this 1819 edition, and another edition, Paris, 1837, which, he says, has 61 plates (including lithographed text pages). My assumption is that the copy on offer here is a combination of the two editions, with material from the second, 1837, edition supplementing material in the 1819 edition. This theory is supported by the fact that the “Chili” flag plate, lithographed by Letronne, is dated 1837. All the plates are clean and the hand coloring is bright. There are circular stamps of the Port of Rochefort on the title and contents pages, and no other markings. The original printed boards are worn and scarred. Sewing is loose but holding. Some of the lithographs are signed in type by Motte or Letronne. Many have no attribution, but their format and typeface are identical to the signed Motte Letronne pages. See Polak 7393, Smith 85. Worldcat shows only six copies of the Motte book held institutionally. $3000