Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Snobbish book dealers

This wasn't like the other book fairs we'd been to and not just because of the books. The dealers behaved differently. The usual banter was missing. They were less accessible and friendly. They even dressed better. Often, they seemed to size you up to guess at your bank balance before they would even answer a question about something they had on display.
Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone, Used and Rare

Nancy Goldstone
Lawrence Goldstone
What Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone are describing in the above excerpt from their book Used and Rare is their visit to the New York Antiquarian Book Fair in 1996. They had been to other book fairs, but this one had a different atmosphere. They felt that they, with their modest bank account, weren't really welcome.

I mentioned in my review of this book last week that they didn't feel welcome in some used bookshops either. In one they were denied access to the rare book room each time they asked. The first time they were told the woman in charge of the room wasn't available. On other visits when that woman was at her desk, apparently doing nothing, she had ready excuses as to why they could not enter. Once she said she was about to leave for lunch, although the Goldstones remained in the shop looking at less rare books and the woman never left her desk.

Caution by dealers in rare books makes sense, even if rudeness does not. Valuable rare books lose value the more they are handled. When I sold my first-edition copy of Sue Grafton's A Is for Alibi a few years ago, the dealer who bought it told me he would have paid much more if the book and especially the dust jacket had been in better condition. Why, he wondered, had I loaned it out to friends? But who knew back then what the book would be worth today?

When I attend the Florida Antiquarian Book Fair each March, I notice the most valuable books are kept behind glass so they won't be handled by everyone who comes along with an interest in seeing them but no interest in spending the thousands of dollars necessary to purchase them. People like me, in other words.

The snobbishness the Goldstones encountered may even be understandable up to a point. Relatively few people spend big money for rare books, and most of these people are just interested in certain books by certain authors. They probably would never ask to just look around the rare book room as the Goldstones did. Thus the woman guarding the door knew the couple were not serious buyers, so why allow them in?

Yet as the Goldstones wandered deeper and deeper into the book world, they found themselves spending more and more money on books. It might have been smarter if some of those dealers had treated them less like tourists and more like potential customers. And if they knew the couple would one day write a book about them, perhaps they would have.

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