Member Blogs > ten pound island book companyAnother Hit for Garry & the Flamingoz?

  • Mon, 20 Jan 2014 12:02:08    Permalink

    Sharing a booth at the first Metropolis Book & VintageEphemera Show in New York City with old pal Lin Respess of L&T Respess Books  and taking his goods along with ours. Quite a load. This was my third show in three weeks, and I thought I’d be battle fatigued. Instead I found myself in a genial haze. Another book fair? Why not!
    As I entered the 69th Regiment Armory I was impressed by the sense of history the place exudes.

    Of course, the “fighting 69th” has a storied past, and the building itself has been the site of some notable events, including the infamous Armory Show of 1913 (unveiling “modern art” to a shocked American public), a few seasons of New York Knicks home games when the Garden was being renovated, and a counseling center in the wake of 9/11.
    My own interaction with the Armory began in 1961. The Massapequa (Long Island) High School track team used to bus in there for relay races against kids from all over the greater New York area, run on a funky wooden track set up around the perimeter of the floor. These events were also an early introduction to the Big City, as most of us managed to slip out of the building after our events were over. Courtesy of Appledore BooksFlash forward thirty years or more, to when the Trinity School book fair moved from the Upper West Side to the 69th Regiment Armory. Those were the days when book fairs ruled the earth, and Trinity was one of the great ones. Those were also the days when we were young and strong, and could party most of the night and still get through a day’s work, only to repeat the cycle, then stagger home Sunday night like weary tomcats, with chewed ears and patches of fur missing.
    After the show’s promoter Peter Klemperer died, his wife and kids ran the show for a couple of years, and then, I believe, Bruce Gventer and Garry Austin took it over. I remember doing the show in those annoying years of the late 90s when the Yanks were winning three World Series in a row. (Oh, the insufferable New York braggadocio. As if the jerk making my pastrami sandwich had scored the winning run himself!) My daughter was attending Hunter at that time, and she used to visit me at work. That would place the last of the autumn sons-of-Trinity shows sometime around 2003, give or take a year.
    Meanwhile, an antique show promoter known as MancusoShow Management took a dip into the book world, and began running a fairly successful January show out of the Armory. I only shopped that one, but I’d be there every year, my shabby room at the Gramercy Park Hotel ($109 a night) waiting for me, and my friends down in Tribeca saving me a seat at the Raccoon Lodge, Puffy’s, Walker’s, or any of several other equally sketchy joints. Older and wiser now, in front of a shuttered Racoon LodgeIt was all great fun. And it was all over by 2010 (though the late nights had stopped quite a few years before that).
    Now Flamingo Eventz and Garry Austin have joined forces to launch a new version of Mancuso winter Armory show. And I must say, given that Garry, and John and Tina Bruno of Flamingo Eventz,
    account for about 160 years of combined experience, load in and setup went as smoothly as any New York show I’ve ever done. These folks are professionals, afterall.
     The only thing they forgot to do, it seems, was advertise.
    Only kidding! Tina Bruno told me they spent $10,000 on radio and print media. Followings for these shows build slowly, and Garry & the Flamingoz are still learning their way around the nuances of NYC and Armory bureaucracy. Their Armory show is, as Tina says, “a work in progress.” Still, they could have used at least a little signage outside the building. With those big doors locked shut, there was no way for street traffic to guess what was going on inside. The crowd was sparse on Saturday and almost  invisible on Sunday. The emptiness was  reminiscent of the last years of the Mancuso Show - which, of course, was why the Mancusos gave it up. In the words of colleague Heather O’Donnell of Honey & Wax Booksellers, perhaps the format has grown a bit “tired.”
    But, hey,  I’m rooting for Garry & the Flamingoz. I Heart NY.
    I’ve got friends and history there, and I enjoy visiting. If they give me a book fair as an excuse, I’ll take it, customers or no. I never sell anything, anyway, so why should I care? I’m there to buy.
    And, as it turned out, I bought a handful of  wonderful things. Here are a couple of them, captured in situ at my booth in the Metropolis Book & Vintage Ephemera Show.

    The book on the left, with the English title page, is a translation of the Gospel of Matthew into the Shantou dialect spoken in southern coastal China in the environs of the city then known as Canton. It was published in Hong Kong in 1848. William Dean, the translator, was part of the American Baptist group that revised Marshman’s translation of the bible. With the ownership signature of Alexander Smith Palmer, a whaling captain and master of the China clipper Houqua. Excellent condition in original wrappers. $7500
    The pamphlet on the right is a religious tract written by Protestant missionary Karl Gutzlaff, a fascinating character, typical of the sort of opportunist who clustered around the opium business in the old China trade. In the 1830s he traveled as a translator on a British opium trading vessel, known as a “country ship” illegally selling opium for Jardine, Matheson & Co. down the coast of China. Gutzlaff justified his complicity with the pretty rationalization that the journey would be a good opportunity to preach the gospel and distribute Chinese language religious tracts.  So, you got opium and Jesus on the same spoon. His moral flaws aside, Gutzlaff was a smart and lucid observer, whose writings offer excellent detail about China and the China Trade in the days leading up to the first Opium War. In his later days he opened a school for Chinese “native missionaries,” several of whom turned out to be opium addicts using their missionary cover and funding for illicit purposes. The fraud exposed, Gutzlaff died a ruined man. Bad karma, I suppose. This tract, The Perfect Man’s Model,  published in Singapore in 1836, is typical of those he distributed on his opium voyage. Fine condition, with hand corrections, probably by Gutzlaff or a contemporary associate, in the text. $1500

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