Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar 2014: Accept No Substitutes!

I am a long time bookseller, having owned a used bookstore since 1996 in upstate New York. I am now also a 2014 Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar (CABS) alumnus and grateful recipient of an Antiquarian Booksellers' Association of America (ABAA) scholarship to attend CABS during the first week of August. One might think I had enough bookselling experience so that the CABS sessions wouldn't have taught me much that was new, in which case you'd be completely wrong.

The Hill Behind the CABS Classroom at University of Colorado, Colorado Springs

I learned an enormous amount; about what I have been doing reasonably well, but more importantly, about all that I have been doing wrong. I also learned about aspects of bookselling and research that were not even on my radar. CABS is simply an essential education for anyone who is serious about being a better bookseller. My seminar certificate has given me bookseller credibility, friends, colleagues, revitalizing energy, inspiration, edification, thirst for additional knowledge and more. In the weeks since CABS ended, I have already put some of my new found skills and knowledge to work at my shop, evaluating incoming books with sharper, fresher eyes and greater confidence.

Professor Terry Belanger with CABS Students

Most CABS attendees this year had some experience selling or collecting books, but there were also a few novices and some veterans, like me, who SHOULD HAVE attended many years ago. A sprinkling of librarians and book collectors also filled our ranks, and we learned volumes of book knowledge, the compressed equivalent of a semester of rare book university curriculum.

Imagine learning about early printed books from one of the foremost booksellers of such material, Nina Musinsky, and the Eric Weinmann Librarian at the Folger Shakespeare Library, Daniel De Simone, or about high spots of American literature and Americana from the legendary Rob Rulon-Miller, a former ABAA President and CABS Director, or book scouting and the history of American radicalism and other social movements from top shelf bookseller Lorne Bair. There were lectures on bookseller catalogues, websites, databases, and photography from marketing expert Dan Gregory (check out a Between the Covers Rare Books catalogue sometime to see what he pioneered). University of Tennessee Dean of Libraries Steve Smith introduced a wealth of book references and revealed how to approach academic libraries and what they are looking for as they develop special collections. Booksellers Sally Burdon of Asia Bookroom and Brian Cassidy offered reams of information on how to run a profitable specialty book business and shared precious, hard-won advice on current trends in book collecting. Then there was Terry Belanger, Founder of Book Arts Press and the Rare Book School, Professor Emeritus, and Wikipedia entry, who tutored us on printing history, book anatomy, collation and repairs.

Dan DeSimone with Penny Clipperton of Calgary's Sparkle Books

There were libraries of reference books to peruse, rare and beautiful books on which practice cataloguing techniques, breathtaking books to be auctioned at Thursday's CABS auction fundraiser, books that displayed various bindings and features (a 3-D version of John Carter's ABC for Book Collectors), and an array of rare and unusual books from Rulon-Miller Books for the very last book evaluation exercise of the seminar, Rulonomics.

CABS Students Examine Some of the Shelves of Antiquarian Books

The CABS Class of 2014 was a fascinating group. Among us were artists, writers, lawyers, geologists, physicians, a chemist, a midwife, an advertising executive, a pair of flower farmers and even that most increasing rara avis, the bookseller from an open shop (I counted a dozen of that species, including Nelson Harst of Antifurniture, who carries and hawks his wares en plein air around Manhattan's SoHo neighborhood). After the first day, I had twin personal goals for the week ahead: 1) examine all of the fantastic books on display; and 2) have at least one conversation with all of my fellow Seminarians. I ran just shy of both goals, but I still consider that a smashing success.

Warning: It takes a lot of physical and mental fortitude to keep up with the faculty and CABS participants. One must have:

-The Brains of a bookseller,
-The Hands of a medieval scribe (I filled up one spiral notebook and one legal pad full of notes),
-The Bladder of a camel (constant hydration therapy required for this high altitude location has predictable results),
-The Liver of Charles Bukowski (one can get well-marinated during the after hours bull sessions),
-The Guts of a book scout (some guts are instinctual, but guts honed after CABS function so much better).

Our CABS faculty displayed all these anatomical features and more. They gave us constant gifts of invaluable information and patient answers to our many questions. CABS is incorporated as a nonprofit, so having the faculty members take a week away from their businesses -as well as all the time spent organizing, writing and rewriting the lectures, traveling and recovering from this tumultuous week- is no small effort. It was evident that CABS faculty sincerely wanted every last one of us to share in their knowledge and success in the antiquarian book trade. While the sessions were full of information and entertainment, there was also plenty of sincerity and heart.

Sally Burdon of Asia Bookroom celebrates with newly minted CABS Alumni at the Closing Ceremonies

The best way I know how to repay these smart and dedicated book professionals is to incorporate their teachings in my own business and to impart what I've learned to others coming into the book trade. As they exhorted, I don't want to be a quasi-bookseller, I want to really "look at the books", and I don't want to give them Schulduberkatastrophe (Dan Gregory's fanciful phrase for guilt over having overstimulated and overwhelmed by all the information packed into the seminar week.

In short, my advice to anyone who is serious about studying, collecting or selling antiquarian books and ephemera, is : Get thee to CABS 2015! There are a number of scholarship opportunities that can help ease your decision and it will jump-start your further education in the trade. There is still much research and work ahead for me and the others in the 2014 CABS crop (they never did get around to showing us the secret bookseller’s handshake) but it was a wonderful introduction to an arsenal of skills, research techniques and range of antiquarian bookselling business models to explore further. 

And that’s how I became a CABS-evangelist.

1 comment:

a granny said...

Hey Rachel, thank you for this 'rekindling! of the CABs experience! It was great and it is true, I did learn a lot!
Best, Penny at Sparkle Books