The 45th annual Boston Antiquarian Book Fair was notable for three days of unseasonably lovely weather, with sunny skies, gentle breezes, and temperatures well into the 70s. Also notable was the fact that Beantown seems to have mistaken itself for the Big Apple, at least as far as Halloween-weekend hotel prices are concerned. Walk-ins could stay at the convenient Sheraton for $400 a night. If you were driving, you’d spend an additional $70 per night to park, or $135 if you chose the valet option. Rack rates are negotiable, of course. While the ABAA offered a reduced rate for a limited number of rooms, and Hotels.com and similar apps found deals where deals were to be found, the overall trend was, well, annoying to say the least. I mean, the Sheraton’s not getting any younger, but she’s still asking top dollar for sharing her charms. And why can’t she figure out how to hang her schlocky lobby art? I mean, this 3 x 5-foot painting at the top of the “Down” escalator is hung up sideways, no?
Top – The way it is. Below – The way it oughtta be
As far as logistics went, Julie Roper and her crew did their usual excellent job of getting us into the venue with minimal stress. However, getting out presented challenges. The sunny days marking the beginning of the weekend had passed, and we were looking at a steady drizzle. But that wasn’t the worst of it. Most years, Hall B – the space between our exhibition center and Dalton St. – is empty, allowing us to drive in, load out and head home. This year, however, Dalton St. was under construction and Hall B was closed. Oy.
I was so uptight about the whole situation that I wheeled three cartloads of Ten Pound Island stock down the front elevator to Boylston St. where wife and vehicle awaited. It was the equivalent of half an hour at the gym, and it got us to our traditional post Boston night spot – “The Continental” (where it’s always 1955)
just in time for dinner and the last quarter of the SF-Cincy football game. Foreign dealers – who made up a typically large percentage of exhibitors, as well as many Americans from far away – had private shipping companies or friendly locals to carry their goods out of the Hynes. A few other hearty or desperate souls lugged suitcases and pelican trunks out to Boylston or through the Pru. That left local drive-in dealers with a wait, while union guys schlepped them down to the loading docks where cars lined up and waited, and waited and, by early reports, waited some more. At 6:45 I received a text from a dealer friend who was one of the first packed up. He was still in line for a spot at the loading docks. I was in the Continental waiting for my first Manhattan.
As far as the show itself went, those lovely sunny days might have worked against us. Who wants to go to the Hynes Convention Center when you could be at the beach or walking in the woods, or on the golf course? The book fair was fairly well attended (at least we avoided any “bowling alley” days)
but attendees seemed somewhat distracted, slow to reach for their wallets. “Subdued” was a word I heard several times.
Maybe it’s just me – I barely broke $10,000 for the weekend – but this seemed to be a rather slow fair. Subdued, indeed.
But hey, it’s still exciting and fun to be surrounded by the best of the best of rare books. As with every such event, I learned things (including the fact, pointed out to me by two knowledgeable civilians, that my two large-format photos of Boston by Southworth & Hawes actually made up a single panorama).
Continuing the positive thread, the fair itself was well organized. The list of speakers and related events varied and interesting. Setup lunch and morning coffee hit the spot, and security was excellent. In fact, even getting into the Hynes had a TSA feel to it. I had a brief conversation while being strip searched by one of the guards at the entrance from Prudential center, and she told me her last job had been for TSA. “This is better.” She said. And it was.
Meanwhile, down the block, Duane Stevens and Richard Mori are to be heartily congratulated for finding a viable and convenient site for a Boston Shadow Show. In the midst of the absurd and discomfiting inflation of Boston hotel prices, they managed to secure a venue on the second floor of the Hilton Hotel (a 5-minute walk from the Hynes) that was clean, accessible and wonder of wonders – affordable.
These days it’s almost impossible to find a big city Shadow Show booth for less than $1200, but they pulled it off. Our new employee Jared Turner (more on Jared next week) paid only $600 for half a booth. And he made his booth rent!
So, I suppose you could say it was a typical Boston Book Fair weekend. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly were all in attendance and, unlike what seems to be going on in the rest of the world, the Good prevailed.
In closing, I’d like to crow for a moment about the buying which, for me at least, was excellent. Eye-popping material abounded, and some of it was even affordable. A few memorable items included boudoir and cabinet-sized cigarette cards upon which were mounted albumen photos of the great America’s Cup yachts of the 1880s,
an 1850s Pacific whaling log with whale stamps and drawings, some splendid privateering manuscript material, blueprints from “USS Constitution’s” 1881 overhaul, and Saturday dinner at Bar a Vin, 1855 on Newbury St.
Final tally by the Weinstein formula (bookfair number = amount sold + amount purchased) was $24,450. Not the best, but by no means the worst.