Published: January 16, 2018
Review and Photos by W.A. Demers
HARTFORD, CONN. – “I had surprisingly robust sales despite the minus-11-degree weather, which did seem to scare away several of my usual customers but attracted a new ‘hardier’ – read: crazier – bunch,” said pop culture ephemera specialist Lisa Bouchard following the winter edition of Papermania Plus at Hartford’s XL Center January 6-7.
Bouchard was one of about 100 antiques dealers assembled for Hillcrest Promotions’ long-running show devoted to all things paper and ephemeral, who, like their customers, braved one of the coldest weekends on record in the area to come out and search for their heart’s desire.
That is not to say that the polar vortex left the event unscathed. Show manager Gary Gipstein surmised that about 10 percent of his dealers who normally participate in the winter show were missing in action for weather-related reasons. One dealer, Stephen Hanly of Bickerstaff’s Books, Maps, Etc, Scarborough, Maine, had set up his booth, only to discover on Saturday morning that his home’s pipes had frozen so had to decamp from the show to tend to the disaster.
“I drove down from Maine Friday afternoon and set up. Then got a call early Saturday morning that there was no heat in the house back home where the outside temperature was well below zero,” said Hanly. “So I did a quick pack-up and drove home Saturday morning. Saturday and Sunday were spent with plumbers finding and fixing a frozen heating pipe. Luckily, there was no major flooding from the burst pipe – just a few holes in the ceiling where the problem had occurred.”
Hanly added that he had been looking forward to Papermania, “especially since I brought a neat and very scarce 1935 pictorial map of UConn, back when it was known as Connecticut State College,” he said.
“For the conditions outside, we had a very reasonable show,” said Gipstein. “It was slightly below what we’d like to have for a Saturday, but still it was reasonably well attended and customers came to buy.
Papermania Plus got its start in the late 1970s, when founder Paul Gipstein and his wife, Arlene Shea, decided to shift the focus of the antiques shows they had been mounting at the civic center earlier in the decade to paper items like postcards, advertising and other things deemed to be ephemeral or nostalgic. The “plus” was added later to include items like antique and vintage scientific equipment, cameras, stereoviewers – even a pair of denim overalls as seen this time in the booth of poster specialist Bob Veder of Class Menagerie.
The show remains a delightful mash-up of serious historical books and paper along with the compelling detritus of pop culture that runs through American DNA.
At the intersection of science, history and pop culture is Topsfield, Mass., dealer John Kuenzig. He buys and sells rare items in many fields, but the focus is always on Nineteenth and Twentieth Century science, technology and engineering. So you will find things like computer “nerd boxes” used by early MIT students to design integrated circuits, microscopes, early motors and so on – as well as items relating to science fiction. For this show, Kuenzig, who himself holds a computer and electrical engineering degree from MIT, brought an original artwork by fantasy artist Ken Kelly (b 1946), from New London, Conn., who has been compared to Frank Frazetta, The large artwork was for the cover of a 1988 paperback, Soldier of Fortune.
Large, too, was an 1865 or shortly thereafter poster depicting various woodworking equipment supplied by a firm that originally had shops in Worcester and Boston and later Cincinnati. Also on offer were several architectural renderings in watercolor done by students in the 1920s and 1930s, which were required for their studies, but also revelatory for the genius of design as the usual one-dimensional grids and lines are translated into dimensional views of, say, a post office or concert hall.
Vernacular photography was abundant at Easthampton, Mass., dealer Stacy Waldman’s House of Mirth. “My sales were a bit off, but I attribute that to the weather,” she said. “Several regular customers had contacted me and told me that they wouldn’t be attending. I sold several cyanotype photographs, so that was the hot ticket item in my booth.”
Vernacular photographs were also popular at Lisa Bouchard’s Melrose Books & Art. “My inventory is more of the quirky black and white imagery from the mid-Twentieth Century than the traditionally collectible Victorian albumens and daguerreotypes. Uncoordinated ballet dancers, ugly pets and moving vans with odd contents sold quickly,” recalled the Melrose, Mass., dealer.
“I did have a remarkable experience, late in the day on Sunday, which reaffirmed my theory that at any book/antiques show at any time, there is a treasure still to be uncovered,” Bouchard added. “I have to be cagey, but I left Hartford with one of the most important photo archives that I have seen in more than 20 years. I purchased it at 3 pm on Sunday afternoon, after hundreds of fairgoers had come and gone.”
Changes Announced, Dealers React
Regular readers of Greg Gibson’s blog at his Ten Pound Island Book Company website may recall a minor dustup that occurred last August when the historical maritime dealer from Gloucester, Mass., documented the empty booth left behind by a dealer who departed the show early. Reacting to the increasing dearth of Sunday customers at the summer edition, Gibson and others shared their growing opinion with promoter Gipstein that the show should only be a one-day event.
So Gibson acknowledged he was “gobsmacked” when Gipstein came on the loudspeaker at this most recent show and announced that henceforth the show would close at 2 on Sunday afternoons, and that the August Papermania would be a Saturday-only event, 9 am to 5 pm, with setup as usual on Friday.
“There are a couple of reasons for closing the winter show early,” Gipstein told Antiques and The Arts Weekly. “It still gives customers five hours on Sunday to catch up on what they might have missed. And for exhibitors who have to travel far away and may not be comfortable driving home at night in the winter, it gets people on the road, while it’s still light out.
Dealer reactions to the change to a one-day show in the summer were mixed. Said House of Mirth’s Waldman, “I’ve been setting up at Papermania for 15 years, but I stopped doing the summer show about five years ago, as I didn’t like being in a dungeon for three days in the summer. That said, I am thrilled that the show is now one day and I plan on doing it. I’m betting it will be sold out.”
Also supportive was Garry Austin of Austin’s Antiquarian Books. “I fully support Gary’s ‘August Solution,’ said the Wilmington, Vt., dealer. “I had not been doing that show in recent years but will definitely be there this year. There are others who disagree but I think it will infuse the show with some returnees, like myself and also some new blood. There will be a sense of urgency as well; get in, get set up and get scouting!”
As for the most recent affair, Austin said, “Overall, I was encouraged with the Saturday crowd, it was down some, but they were there to buy. My show was adequate given what I had to offer. We did sell two of our better Theodore Roosevelt pieces and a myriad of other material. I also saw some real finds that my colleagues turned up. Overall for me it was a ‘Great Gathering of the Clans.'”
“I’m hopeful the summer schedule change works out,” observed Prospect, Penn., dealer Scott Brasseur. “Usually, most of my sales activity is over by the start of the second day so an opportunity to reduce hotel and other travel expenses is beneficial.”
“I think Gary made the right decision in making the August show one day,” concurred Alfred, Maine, book dealer Frank Wood of DeWolfe & Wood. “I think the January show could also be one day but glad that it is closing early on Sunday. Most shows are having a hard time and promoters need to adapt to the changing market and dealer base. I have been doing this for 40 years and am amazed at the scope and speed of change.”
Bouchard, however, observed, “I’m kind of old school – and a glutton for punishment. When I exhibit at an out-of-town show, I want to maximize my booth time. Sundays are traditionally slower and adding arctic winds doesn’t help. But like the post office, through wind, snow, sleet and hail, etc. So I’m not a fan of one-day shows. We’ll see.”
Eric Caren of the Caren Archive also was less sanguine. “I am personally disappointed, but I certainly understand the reasoning behind the decision either way,” said the Woodstock, N.Y., dealer. “This is still one of my favorite shows of the year. I do the shows for buying and I am never disappointed at Papermania. One notable purchase this time was a huge printed and manuscript archive related to father/son doctors who report on their roles as medical and psychological examiners of the assassins of both Presidents Garfield and McKinley.”
Caren also acquired material ranging from colonial manuscripts to Twentieth Century erotic photography. “If you can’t find anything interesting to buy at this show then you might as well give up collecting,” he said.
Caren said he is proud to be donating more than 10,000 rare newspapers from the 1800s to the American Antiquarian Society (AAS), of which he is a member. “To be able to find this many items for AAS that they have not previously owned since their inception in 1812 is a big point of pride,” he said. His string of high-profile auctions under the aegis of “How History Unfolds on Paper” may be extended to seven, he added, as he was about to meet with specialists at Christie’s the week following the show to discuss a possible sale later this year.
Papermania Plus in its 75 edition returns to the XL Center on August 25, 9 am to 5 pm. For information, 860-280-8339 or www.papermaniaplus.com.
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