In From the Cold

15th March 2019

For the past twenty years or so we've been regular exhibitors at the New York Antiquairan Book Fair. It takes place in Manhattan's smart Upper East Side and the world's leading specialist book dealers and collectors jet in from around the globe. It's the Antiquarian book trade's equivalent of the Oscars, the most glamorous event in the calendar. 

I wouldn't be British if I didn't mention the weather, previous years the fair took place in April and we've been treated to all manner of weather, heatwaves, snow flurries and spring sunshine, sometimes all in the same trip. The new date of early March meant that we packed all our warmest clothes, well apart from Tom who claimed that to do so would have required greater organisation. The book fair venue is an old military armory, a cavernous space with high ceilings and draughty gaps between the floor boards. During the two days of set up the vast double doors were kept open to allow delivery trucks onto the floor, and a glacial chill filled the exhibition space as temperatures barely rose above -6 and we didn't remove scarves, coats or gloves even inside the armory. Usually a cheery lot, the book dealers were less than chipper in these temperatures, there was a lot of grumbling and some unenthusiastic shuffling around of books and paintings. 


Park Avenue Armory, behind the scenes at the book fair set up

The arctic temperatures served to get us in the mood for displaying some of the highlights from our recent Polar Catalogue, which attracted a lot of attention from visitors and press. The Aurora Australis, famously printed by Shackleton and his crew whilst in Antarctica caught the eye of visiting fashion icon Daphne Guinness, whose presence raised the glamour level in our booth to a whole new level. How does she stay upright in those trademark heel-less shoes?

 The opening night of the New York fair has something of a party atmosphere, with free flowing wine and canapés. In the good old days all serious business was done on day one of the fair, but over the past decade the preview night has become more of a social event. Visitors spend the evening taking a first tour of the booths, glass in hand, and in the words of one of our customers "reassuring people that they are still alive." 

This shift in buying patterns has the advantage that if sales are slow on the opening night dealers no longer have their heads in their hands. In Manhattan business can be done on any one of the four days and for us the weekend saw book buyers come in a steady flow. There were many of the stalwarts of the Park Avenue fair, but also a host of younger collectors keen to make new contacts, and in the brave new world of book collecting book lovers are keen to receive their catalogues digitally and have no worries about distance buying.

A corner of our booth

It was International Women's Day while we were at the New York show, which we celebrated by having a tantilising display of the works of American poet Sylvia Plath. The books and inscriptions illicited a lot of discussion. Was Ted Hughes really as cruel as media reports? Did their genius rely on their meeting? A copy of Light Blue, Dark Blue, an anthology of writing from Oxford and Cambridge Universities published in 1960 and signed by both Ted and Sylvia, contains a list of contributors among which Sylvia is the only woman - was her poetry included because of her associaton with Ted? The Bell Jar was hailed as a masterpiece, a beautiful and deeply saddening piece of writing, as well as an important insight into the effects of depression, and a vital tool in raising awareness of mental health issues.

Our plane home on Sunday evening was full of book selling colleagues who all seemed reasonably satisified with their fair. We're already looking forward to next year's fair and who knows perhaps the book fair lottery fairy will get us one of the big booths next time!


#NYBookFair #DaphneGuinness #NYC

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