Sunday with the Antiquarians
Specifically, the ones populating the Seattle Antiquarian Book Fair last weekend.
I’d been wanting to go to this show for years, but somehow always managed to miss it… usually by losing the flyer with the date until the weekend after the thing had taken place. This year, I wasn’t taking any chances — the same day I picked up the postcard advertising the event, I made it a point to check out their website and sign up for their e-mail updates. (As I get older, I am learning ways to circumvent my more habitual stupidities.)
It was held in the Seattle Center Exhibition Hall, a very nice space next to the Opera House.
A bit classier than the usual shows we attend, certainly, but our particular corner of the literary universe was nevertheless well represented. Lots of comics and pulps and other geek ephemera.
The only way to do a show like this is to approach it like you would a trip to Vegas — you take a set amount of cash with you and when it’s gone, you’re done.
Of course, we broke that particular rule about ten steps in. Garcia-Garst Books from Turlock, California, is a firm that specializes in juvenile books, particularly the intermediate-reader series books that Julie and I are both so fond of. Ms. Garst had all sorts of stuff — Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew from the 1930s, A.A. Milne, all the usual suspects… but what caught my eye were the Oz books on display.
They were 1930s-era hardcovers, in beautiful shape. Not first editions, but we don’t have the money for that kind of collector snobbery. Julie loves the Oz books, and I do too.
Most of them were priced at $80 to $100. “These are so beautiful,” Julie said. “The art is so amazing. And look, this one’s just ninety dollars.”
“That’s our whole budget, it’s all we have left. It would be the shortest book fair ever.”
“Oh, I can take a card,” Ms. Garst put in helpfully.
That did it. We pulled out the debit card and decided we would allow ourselves one of the dozen or so displayed there on the shelf. We finally fell for Tik-Tok of Oz, which alternates with The Scarecrow of Oz as my favorite of Baum’s original fourteen books. She had it for $90, which is really a deal for an Oz book in such good condition. (I’ve seen water-damaged copies covered in kid’s crayon for upwards of $150.) I chose it because I never see it anywhere.
Of course, we promptly saw four more on display that day in other booths. But ours was in the best shape of what we saw. What’s more, only one was priced lower, at $70, and it had water damage.
“Okay, now really we stick to the budget,” I cautioned.
And by and large we did. There was lots to look at, though.
Turned out he’d gotten into the pulp-fiction thing the same way I had, finding the Bantam Doc Savage paperbacks on a spinner rack in the sixties. He had some extraordinary pieces there, including one of the original Lone Ranger pulps, as well as several first edition Edgar Rice Burroughs and Narnia hardcovers.
I really had to work to tear myself away, even though pretty much every individual item on display cost more than I had in my pocket.
Truthfully a lot of the fair was like that for us. It was more like being in a bookscout’s museum. Mostly what I ended up doing was taking pictures, because that was as close as I was going to get to most of this stuff.
There were lots of things on display from all areas of publishing. It wasn’t just books. Julie was quite taken with the art prints and broadsides that some booths were selling, though we ended up not buying any.
Not everything was antique. I was interested to see some of the more modern rarities. Saratoga Books specializes in mysteries from the twenties to the seventies and their display stopped me for a while.
In particular, I was delighted to see a first edition of Ernest Tidyman’s Shaft.
It’s not generally known outside of book-nerd and mystery-nerd circles, but the Shaft films were based on a series of novels by Ernest Tidyman (a white guy, as it happens) who actually adapted his own book for the first film. The image of Richard Roundtree is so indelibly linked to the character that it never fails to amuse me that, in the books, John Shaft dislikes men with mustaches. He thinks they’re dirty and cheap.
I almost bought it, but in the end I settled for a picture.
The items under glass were so astronomically out of range of our budget that all we could do was admire them. Robert Frost first editions for $17,500, that kind of thing.
There were even a couple in my wheelhouse.
…all kinds of stuff. I have a pretty fair range of knowledge about rare books in general and mysteries, pulps, comics and juveniles in particular, but I was a dillettante compared to the folks manning the booths. I’d overhear dealers talking about stuff I thought *I* knew something about and feel like an ignorant hillbilly.
We did pretty well with not spending too much money. I’d talked myself into a first edition of Farmer’s Doc Savage biography for $20, and Julie wavered and finally regretfully put back a slipcased collector’s edition of Ellery Queen’s The Roman Hat Mystery.
Really, we were almost starting to feel smug about our restraint… we were only twenty dollars or so over what we’d said we would allow ourselves.
Then we saw Art’s booth, and I knew we were doomed.
I’ve been seeing Art Mallonee at shows for going on eighteen years now. He deals in comics, pulps, vintage paperbacks, series juvenile novels, posters… in other words, anything and everything I would be interested in at a show like this.
Art is a jovial fellow, a very nice man and delightful to talk to. However, his gift of salesmanship is so overpowering that if you see something you like, and Art sees you seeing it, well, you will buy it. It is inevitable.
It never feels like a hard sell. I don’t know how he does it. I’ll be telling myself, No, no, shouldn’t spend the money, and then Art says, “Hey, for you, half price,” and somehow suddenly I’m reaching for my wallet.
He was pleased to see us, and not just because we always spend money. Art is genuinely friendly. “Hey, how are you guys? Great to see you.”
We chatted a little about the show, and Art said it was going well, despite the economy.
Julie giggled ruefully at that. “Well, we always spend all our money here,” she said.
Art chuckled. “Well, that’s great! Feel free to spend some more!”
He had a lot of good stuff, but then he always does. Not so many comics, though he had a long box out of really nice Lee-Kirby Marvel books from the sixties. Most of the books were things I didn’t care about or already owned — Art looked mildly crestfallen when I told him I already owned the Travis McGee adventure The Turquoise Lament in hardcover.
“In the jacket? This one’s still got the dust jacket.”
“Yeah, mine’s in the dust jacket too. That’s a nice one there though.” Then my eyes moved down to the next shelf and it was all over.
Art had a whole bunch of Whitman ‘Authorized Edition’ hardcover juveniles from the 1940s.
Regular readers will remember that I have a thing for Whitman juveniles, in particular the “TV Favorites” line from the fifties and sixties.
In recent months, I’ve stumbled across a few of the direct ancestors to that series, the Authorized Editions. In those books, a famous movie star is the protagonist of a completely fictional adventure. Usually a mystery in the Scooby-Doo tradition, where the old lighthouse keeper turns out to be a smuggler or something like that. (“And I’d have gotten away with it too, if not for that meddling Betty Grable!”)
I’d picked up a couple at thrift stores with the vague idea of re-selling them, but I find them weirdly fascinating reading… especially since, in the stories themselves, the movie star isn’t a star, or even involved in motion pictures or theater at all. They’re just the protagonists of the stories. None of the other characters ever refer to the hero’s fame or movies or anything.
Generally when you see them around they’re either the Annette Funicello ones, the last gasp of the series in the early 1960s, or the cowboy ones, because the Gene Autry and Roy Rogers stories had the biggest sales and went back to press a couple of times, there are more of them around.
But Art had a bunch of the really weird, rare ones. Gregory Peck and the Red Box Enigma. Ann Sheridan and the Sign of the Sphinx. Ginger Rogers and the Riddle of the Scarlet Cloak.
With dust jackets intact, even.
“Damn, you never see these.” I couldn’t help myself.
Art grinned. He knew he had me. “Yeah, and with the dust jacket and everything! Hey, for you, half price. See, that’s how I get your money, I’ve got the great deals.”
I ended up with the Gregory Peck. I’d almost picked it up once before, in an antique mall in Kalama two years ago. I’d talked myself out of it then… but here it was again in a nicer edition and intact dust jacket. Clearly it was supposed to be mine.
And hey, it was half price.
Julie was still giggling at me when we walked on. I said, “Why don’t you get YOURSELF something for once instead of just enabling me?”
“The Ellery Queen was nice,” Julie admitted.
“You know it was the first one? The Roman Hat Mystery was the beginning of the series.”
“Oh, okay, then we have to go back.” Julie whirled, determined. I hid a smile. Julie gets to see that fevered acquisitive look on my face all the time, but I never get to see it on her.
It was still there, and fifty dollars later, it was ours.
Considering what I spend on books in a year, I certainly didn’t begrudge her and anyway it was worth it just to see her so happy. She actually hugged it to her chest and let out a little gloating chuckle.
So that was our day at the fair. Next time, though, damn it, we are sticking to our budget. Really.
See you next week.