Rare Book Monthly

Articles - March - 2010 Issue

Observations on Bookselling from the San Francisco Fair

Sfbookfair2010

Booksellers offer their views on the San Francisco Fair.


By Michael Stillman

This month, two booksellers have been kind enough to share their written observations from the recent San Francisco Antiquarian Book Fair. One, Susan Halas, of Prints Pacific, Maui, Hawaii, attended as a visitor, the other, Chris Lowenstein, of Book Hunter's Holiday, San Mateo, California, was a vendor. Interestingly, their observations were somewhat the reverse of what I expected.

It's hardly news that book fairs are not performing as well as they once did. With the current recession now tacked onto what had been a general decline, many see fairs as an endangered species. However, participant Chris was, for the most part, pleased with the results. Visitor Susan, on the other hand, was disappointed.

That a seller would be pleased with a fair's performance today is good news and somewhat surprising. What we weren't expecting to hear was that a visitor was disappointed. Maybe that isn't bad news. If visitors are disappointed, there is room for improvement, and if there is room for improvement, there is room for increased sales. So, if you are a bookseller, you should listen carefully, especially to criticism, as a pat on the back will do you no good. Here we have thoughts from both booksellers, starting with those of Susan, the observer.

"I tried to visit every booth. I saw much to admire and covet," comments Susan. "I saw little or nothing to buy. There were however many wonderful people who I finally got to meet in the flesh."

To intersperse a little editorial commentary here, there was much to admire and covet, but almost nothing to buy. How is this possible? I'll go out on a limb and say price is a major issue. Booksellers should take notice. Some are adjusting prices to the times, others are waiting for time to readjust prices. That is the individual seller's call, but it's a mistake to send a willing buyer away empty handed.

If books are too expensive to collect, there will be no collectors. So, if you don't choose to lower prices on your best material, then bring something along the not-so-wealthy dealer or collector can afford. Few new collectors start at the top end of the price spectrum. Every young, potential new collector who walks out the door thinking that books are too expensive represents a failure for the trade.

Now, we return to Susan's own words for some excellent marketing advice from someone who has spent forty years in sales, "from a blanket on the ground at the swap meet to selling commercial properties for millions of dollars."

"I hated the lighting. Almost all of the booths with rare exceptions were dark and gloomy. It had the ambience of an aquarium. Most of it had the pizzazz of the very back of your darkest closet."


A century ago, the great collectors had their dimly lit libraries, filled with dark colored furniture, bookcases, and bindings. It evoked class. People don't think that way anymore. They like brightness and light. Darkness and gloom is a turn off.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <center><b>Chiswick Auctions</b>
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, May 29:</b> Rumphius (Georgius Everhardus). <i>D’Ambionsche Rariteitkamer,</i> FIRST EDITION, 61 handcoloured engraved plates, 1705. £10,000 to £15,000
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, May 29:</b> Collodi (Carlo) Le avventure di Pinocchio. <i>Storia di un burattino,</i> FIRST EDITION, frontispiece and 61 illustrations by Enrico Mazzanti, 1883. £8,000 to £12,000
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, May 29:</b> De Bry (T, J T & J I). <i>[Great Voyages, part IV] Americae sive Insignis & Admiranda Historia de Reperta primum Occidentali India,</i> FIRST EDITION, 23 engraved plates, 1594. £4,000 to £6,000
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, May 29:</b> Wine & Beer.-Kellermaysterey. <i>Gründtlicher bericht wie man alle wein Teütscher und Welscher landen vor allen zufallen bewaren...,</i> 16 leaves of manuscript notes, 1548. £2,000 to £3,000
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, May 29:</b> Table Globe'- Doppelmayr (J G) & Puschner (J G, engraver). An 8-inch German terrestrial table Globe, diameter c.200 mm, height c.300 mm, 1730. £6,000 to £8,000
    <center><b>Chiswick Auctions</b
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, May 30:</b> An album with 107 original watercolours featuring landscapes and views of various places in England, Scotland and Ireland, late 1840s. £600 to £800
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, May 30:</b> Hemingway (Ernest). Black and white, landscape photograph of man on horseback, signed and inscribed by Hemingway. £1,000 to £1,500
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, May 30:</b> Unrecorded autograph letter by Charles William Stewart to his father the Marquess of Londonerry, describing the ceremony of the presentation to Consul Bonaparte in January 1803. £6,000 to £8,000.
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, May 30:</b> Davis (William Heath). <i>Seventy-five Years in California,</i> Author's Section of the Argonaut Edition, no. 142 [of 250 copies] signed by the editor and publisher on limitation leaf. £1,500 to £2,000
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, May 30:</b> Prussian Royal Family. Six signed photographs of members of Prussian Royal Family, in a contemporary folding triptych, ebonised wood display case. £1,500 to £2,000
  • <center><b>Ketterer Rare Books<br>Auction on May 27th</b>
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:</b><br><i>Breviarium Romanum,</i> before 1478. Est: € 15,000
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:</b><br>C. Ptolemaeus, <i>Geographie,</i> 1513.<br>Est: € 140,000
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:</b><br>M. Chagall, <i>Daphnis & Chloé,</i> 1961.<br>Est: € 130,000
    <center><b>Ketterer Rare Books<br>Auction on May 27th</b>
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:</b><br>F. Colonna, <i>Hypnerotomachia Poliphili,</i> 1499. Est: € 20,000
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:</b><br>J. H. van Linschoten, <i>Itinerarium,</i> 1644. Est: € 50,000
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:</b><br>M. Chagall, <i>Cirque,</i> 1967.<br>Est: € 120,000
    <center><b>Ketterer Rare Books<br>Auction on May 27th</b>
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:</b><br>G. L. L. Buffon, <i>Histoire naturelle des oiseaux,</i> 1765-83. Est: € 30,000
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:</b><br>K. Marx, <i>Das Kapital,</i> 1867.<br>Est: € 30,000
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:</b><br>P. J. Redouté, <i>Les liliacées,</i> 1802-16.<br>Est: € 120,000
    <center><b>Ketterer Rare Books<br>Auction on May 27th</b>
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:</b><br>M. E. Bloch, <i>Naturgeschichte der Fische,</i> 1782-95. Est: € 50,000
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:</b><br>H. A. Châtelain, <i>Atlas historique,</i> 1718-20. Est: € 18,000
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:</b><br>Bauhausbücher, complete series, 1925-30. Est: € 28,000
  • <b>Bonhams, Jun 13:</b> Darwin, Charles. <i>On the Origin of Species.</i> Presentation Copy. Very Fine. $200,000 to $300,000
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13:</b> Darwin, Charles. Autograph Letter Signed, 3 pp, negotiating the 2nd American edition with Appleton $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13:</b> Hemingway, Ernest. Autograph Letter Signed, 8 pp, Paris, 1924, to his father discussing Bullfighting, Stories, and his new baby. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13:</b> Shakespeare, William. <i>Corialanus.</i> London, 1623. 1st printing [Extracted from the First Folio]. $40,000 to $60,000
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13:</b> Swift, Jonathan. <i>Gulliver's Travels.</i> London, 1726. 1st edition, Teerink's A edition, fine, large copy. $15,000 to $25,000
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13:</b> Neill, John R. Pen-and-ink drawing from Oz, "He raised his gun, took aim and fired," $6,000 to $8,000
    <center><b>Bonhams<br>Fine Books and Manuscripts<br>June 13 - New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13:</b> Shakespeare, William. <i>Sonnets.</i> 1901. 2 volumes. Printed on vellum and illuminated by Ross Turner, bound by Trautz-Bauzonnet. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13:</b> Thompson, Kay. <i>Eloise at Christmastime.</i> New York: Random House, [1958]. First edition. In custom binding by Asprey. $3,000 to $5,000
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13:</b> Beardsley, Aubrey. <i>The Birth, Life, and Acts of King Arthur.</i> 1893-94. 2 volumes. Contemporary painted vellum gilt by Chivers. $2,000 to $3,000
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13:</b> Assisi, St. Francis. <i>The Canticle of Brother Sun.</i> Illuminated on vellum, for the Grolier Society. $7,000 to $9,000
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13:</b> Taylor, Deems. <i>Walt Disney’s Fantasia.</i> New York: 1940. In custom binding by Asprey. $3,000 to $5,000
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13:</b> Proust, Marcel. <i>Du coté de chez Swann.</i> 1st edition, 1st issue. Inscribed by Proust. $5,000 to $7,000
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13:</b> Rackham, Arthur. <i>Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens.</i> 1/500 copies signed by Rackham. $1,500 to $2,500
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 23:</b> <i>Dramatized Sales Methods,</i> designers unknown, 36 pamphlets, 1930. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 23:</b> Paul Rand, <i>IBM,</i> 1982. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 23:</b> Charles Loupot, <i>Peugeot,</i> 1926. $40,000 to $60,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 23:</b> Wladyslaw Strzeminski, <i>[Create the “Week of the Red Gift” Everywhere],</i> 1919. $40,000 to $60,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 23:</b> Charles Loupot, <i>Twining,</i> 1930. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 23:</b> Charles Loupot, <i>Lion Noir / Cirage – Crème,</i> 1949. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 23:</b> Adolphe Mouron Cassandre, <i>Triplex,</i> 1931. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 23:</b> Adolphe Mouron Cassandre, <i>Étoile du Nord,</i> 1927. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 23:</b> Edward McKnight Kauffer, <i>Shop Between 10 and 4, The Quiet Hours, And by Underground,</i> 1930. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 23:</b> Lester Beall, <i>Rural Electrification Administration,</i> 1939. $20,000 to $30,000.

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