I hope you won’t take this as unseemly complaining, but any time I sell more at a provincial book show than I spend, I know I’m in trouble. This year, at “Papermania Plus – 2023” I sold about $4370 and bought $750 worth of goods. A bad day for me. Here’s how it happened.
Several years ago the Gipstein family decided to re-brand their long-running ephemera show. For decades it had been known as “Papermania,” and in that era it had been one of the biggest and best paper shows in America. (A 2003 article in the “Hartford Courant” said there were 150 dealers from across America set up at that year’s event.) Inevitably, however, the market shifted; Paul Gipstein, the show’s founding genius, died; competing paper shows began to appear; the original clientele aged out. In an effort to inject some energy into their declining event, the Gipsteins turned “Papermania” into “Papermania Plus” and, for a while, their marketing ploy seemed to be working. (NB ~ See Gary Gipstein’s correction in the comments below.)
There were still long lines at the opening of each show. “Papermania Plus” still made local TV news on Saturday night, and each year the weekend section of the “Hartford Courant” ran a feature on the show, usually highlighted by a color photo of that life-size carboard cut out of Marilyn Monroe that stood near the entrance, beckoning customers in. You know the one – she’s walking across a grate in New York City and the rising air has blown her skirt above her knees.
Not only that, but each January there were upwards of 100 exhibitors filling the XL Center, and they weren’t there to ogle Marilyn.
I could go on about the great things that turned up over the years – the two reels of 16 mm film documenting a Japanese Antarctic whaling expedition, the clipper ship cards, the royal navy signal books, the whaling logs… or how about that archive of the papers of Moses Brown? Filled up the whole back of the car, which proceeded to die on the way home in the middle of a blizzard, forcing me into a motel after an overwhelmed AAA failed to appear. Me and my 15 boxes of paper, lugged through the storm, only to find out too late that I had purchased the papers of the other Moses Brown, the one from Newburyport. Oh, well…
However, after several years, it began to seem that “Papermania Plus” had sprung a leak. The number of exhibitors declined swiftly – in proportion to the decline in attendees. With fewer dealers, of course, there was less money for advertising. And why rent and staff a two-day show when nobody came on the second day? Soon we were down to Friday setup and Saturday only shows and, while this move was largely applauded by dealers, it’s clear in retrospect that the toilet-bowl swirl of extinction had set in. This year, the “Papermania Plus” event attracted 60 exhibitors, about half the number that had exhibited here when the show was in its salad years.
Crowd in 2006
And don’t get me wrong. I am not attributing this decline to the maladministration of the show’s promoter, Gary Gipstein. One of the trade’s smartest promoters, Marvin Getman, got out of live shows completely a couple of years ago. What does that tell you? It almost seems like a natural progression. A show is born. It blossoms and grows. It reaches maturity, and then…
So, maybe it was just bad luck that there wasn’t more to buy this year, or maybe it was a measure of the show’s decline. Time will tell. But it is a fact that “Papermania Plus – 2023” had turned into “Papermania Minus.” And what was “minus” was the presence of about 40 more dealers.