The sighs of relief from organizers were palpable. The 2003 Rochester Antiquarian Book Fair was under new management, in a new location, and had a new sponsoring agency. But the fair exceeded expectations, drawing a significantly higher number of patrons than it did in 2002. You could almost hear the fingers uncrossing.
The recently formed Rochester Area Booksellers Association had had its hands full. Following the 2002 fair, the Friends of the University of Rochester Library announced that they would no longer be able to sponsor the book fair. Add that to dealers’ disaffection with problems at the former site at St. John Fisher College, and there began to be some question as to whether the fair would continue. But RABA members ponied up front money and divvied up the tasks of finding a new location (the Genesee Valley Ice Rink), securing dealers, sending out contracts, advertising, and obtaining a new not-for-profit sponsor (the Rochester Historical Society). The Rochester Bibliophile Society provided staffers for the admissions table, and the ABAA graciously funded the hiring of two musicians, who soothed savage bibliomaniacs all afternoon.
The result was a well-attended, well-lit book fair, in a congenial atmosphere that brought little but praise from 600 paying customers and fifty dealers alike. There was a brisk dealer-to-dealer trade on set-up night, and the commerce on the day of the fair, judging from the amount of change-making I observed at various booths, was very good as well. In addition to the many fine offerings of regional dealers, attendees were treated to some breathtaking literary firsts brought by Royal Books of Baltimore, Between the Covers of New Jersey, Peter Stern of Boston and Rob Rulon-Miller of St. Paul (who won the longest-haul no-prize). Thomas Benton’s boothful of rare Americana (featured in a recent issue of Book Source Monthly) also generated a good deal of interest. I spotted some nice out-of-the-way items, including a 1915 first printing of the Boy Scout scoutmaster’s handbook, a set of page proofs from William Strunk’s original 1918 Elements of Style, and a gorgeous pre-Civil War territorial atlas, all at extremely reasonable prices (giving the lie to the misconception that, because of Internet comparison-pricing, there are no longer bargains to be had at book fairs).
Refreshments ran out early as the manager of the food-vendor service confessed he’d had no idea how big the turn-out was going to be, and had only stocked a rudimentary supple of snack food. “But next year,” he said, “we’re gonna have calamari.”