We were all sitting around the XL Center in Hartford CT Saturday afternoon wondering what could be said about the latest iteration of Papermania Plus, once New England’s premiere paper show. This year’s event seemed in many ways like a ghost of its former self, but it was still viable. Despite the fact that the show was far smaller than it used to be, customers still walked the aisles; some of them even bought things. Old friend Peter Luke suggested that Papermania ought to be judged in the context of the trade as it is today, not as we remember it.
“You can’t keep comparing this show to your nostalgic memories of what it was like in 1990!” he bellowed conversationally. “The trade has changed… The WORLD has changed! So stop writing obituaries for this show. It’s bad for business! I mean, I made $76,000 this morning; I ALWAYS make tens of thousands of dollars at these shows. It won’t help anyone to write about Papermania as if it were dead.”
After my ears stopped ringing, I had to agree. Sure, the event has only half as many dealers as it pulled in 30 years ago, but so what? At least it’s still going on. Think of all the provincial bookfairs that have croaked in that time.
Still, it’s eerie for us old timers, looking around the mostly empty exhibition space, remembering how lively things used to be. Dave Bergman came up with the most apt comparison – Edgar Allen Poe’s story “The Pit and the Pendulum” – in which the walls of a gruesome chamber slowly begin to close in around a nameless narrator, trapped within. (Everyone remembers that awful pendulum. The walls, not so much.) Dave gestured over his shoulder at the farthest line of pipe and drapes. “Those curtains used to be all the way on the other side of the hall. Look how close they are now. I tell you, the walls are moving in on us! Someday the entire show will be just one aisle wide. And then…”
So, thanks to promoter Gary Gipstein for keeping this show going, AND for having the sense to turn it into a one-day affair. And thanks to all the hearty dealers who refused to make lame-assed excuses for not attending Papermania, and for refusing to take the easier path of staying home and doing those boring “virtual book fairs” – which bear as much resemblance to real, live, book fairs as that cardboard cutout of Marilyn Monroe in the XL Center lobby bore to the goddess herself.
For years this cutout greeted visitors to the lobby of Papermania
On the other hand, there’s a sense in which Peter Luke is the Pollyanna. For dealers like me… Or, no, let me put it another way. For dealers unlike Peter (which includes the rest of us), Papermania is an important place to BUY the items we need to keep our businesses running. There can be no denying that, with only half as many dealers in attendance, this show presents fewer buying opportunities than in days of olde. Some people had surprisingly good sales results; most seemed pleased to have sold what they sold. But almost everyone noticed that there seemed to be less to buy. Duhh.
Anyway, the long and the short of it is that another Papermania is behind us now. We all bought a few things. We all sold a few things. We all had the pleasure of sharing real, live post-covid face time with our dealer friends. Yes, it was work, and yes, most of us have had better shows in other venues, but Papermania Plus is still worth doing. And I’ll be doing it until we’re down to that one last aisle. And then…
Here’s an interesting item I bought this weekend. It wasn’t the most expensive but, as I sat reading it Saturday afternoon, it brought the most surprises.
Journal of the Adventures of William Perry, at Sea and Ashore, 1866 – 1874. Lined paper journal, 17 x 21 cm., unpaginated. (About 125 pp.)
This is the poignant journal of a Welshman named William Perry. It begins in September, 1866 when Perry, apprenticed as a man before the mast, sails aboard the “Fame” from Cardiff, Wales to “Alexander” (Alexandria), then back to Liverpool. After this experience, young Perry decides he is “quite sick of the sea.” He gets out of his apprenticeship and, after a spell at home in Cardiff he is again apprenticed “for forty pounds sterling for four years.” He departs aboard the bark “Iphegenia” in October, 1867 with a cargo of coal bound for Montevideo. They deliver their cargo and depart in ballast, around the Horn to Callao, which they reach in May, 1868. From there they sail to the Chinchas to take on sixty tons of guano – a process he describes in considerable detail. In July they depart with their load of fertilizer for Queenstown, Ireland, but encounter a terrible series of gales along the way. The ship is damaged and flooded, and the guano gets wet, causing it to turn into clay. The crew digs through the hold full of bird shit in order to reach the pumps, which they must man to save themselves. The water casks are smashed and they run short of food. The mate dies from injuries suffered in the storm. Heading round the Horn they encounter an iceberg and are covered with tons of slushy ice. Finally, they reach Ireland and discharge their lumpy guano, then receive orders to Hull, where they load 1700 tons of iron. In May 1869 they depart with this cargo to Quebec. Following this voyage, Perry returns home to Wales after an absence of three years, then sails back to Quebec. He must be striking for a mate’s position by this time, because he keeps a regular “Log of the ship Mermaid from Cardiff bound to Quebec” in September and October of 1870. He’s back in Cardiff in time for Christmas, “the first for four years that I have spent at home.” In 1871, after witnessing the grisly death of a shipmate, he decides to swallow the anchor and take up life ashore in Canada. However, he fights with his employers, bounces from job to job, and eventually becomes a penniless hobo, sleeping in train stations along the Canadian-US border, taking odd jobs where he can find them, and generally depending on the kindness of strangers. This section is written factually, with little self-pity, and is one of the few detailed narratives I’ve seen of a life on the skids. In 1872 he lands a job running a lathe in a machine shop, and seems finally to have achieved some stability. By 1875 he is writing to his brother from Montreal. The rest of the journal serves as a sort of commonplace book, filled with inspirational snatches of poetry and prose from famous writers, and by page after page of shorthand exercises, suggesting that Mr. Perry had hopes of rising to an office job. Bound in quarter calf over marbled boards. Sewing nearly undone, with signatures loose but holding. $750