‘Distancing’ might be a word to live by these days, but book dealers are refusing to be limited by restrictions and cancellations. Instead, they have been teaming up to issue a succession of joint catalogues to give themselves – and each other – a boost.
Among the first produced as the coronavirus crisis went global was At Home with Books, a 40-object catalogue from UK dealers Justin Croft and Simon Beattie, along with Heather O’Donnell (who runs Honey & Wax) and Ben Kinmont from the US.
All four had been at the New York International Antiquarian Book Fair in early March and were in close touch.
“The idea came up between us spontaneously, at the same time. It was an almost instinctive reaction,” Croft told ATG.
The quartet chose works that they could easily collect from their stock before shop doors closed, assembling a selection that reflected each business, and which offered a certain visual appeal.
Sales so far include an 18th century lady’s fan printed with a fortunetelling game (questions include ‘whether one is to get riches’ and ‘whether a match will succeed’) offered by Honey & Wax, and a 19th century chocolate museum in a box by the Menier Chocolate Factory, from Ben Kinmont.
Another recent publication was compiled by three UK dealers: Deborah Coltham Rare Books, Amanda Hall Rare Books and Susanne Schulz-Falster Rare Books. Discombobulation or Musings on Life in Lockdown was named for the sense of confusion and uncertainty that has accompanied the outbreak.
It is divided thematically rather than by dealer with 75 objects coming under the headings ‘Public Health’, ‘Reflection & Self Improvement’, ‘Home Entertainment’, ‘Well-Being and Fitness’ or ‘What the Future Holds’.
“I thought that we should try to get something out there,” Coltham said. “I’d been watching Twitter feeds and saw these five common themes coming out. I thought this was something that we could all do together.”
Previously the trio had worked together and had put out another joint catalogue, A School Day in Books. As well as being a more cost-effective way to release a publication, joint catalogues can help each dealer reach new markets.
“Online selling is working – there’s definitely an appetite out there,” Coltham says, adding that this has been particularly true for private buyers. Sales to institutions and libraries, on the other hand, have temporarily slowed since many have shut down or halted spending.
However, Coltham adds, sending out a catalogue can be a good way of just keeping in touch with clients.
Meanwhile, Johnson Rare Books & Archives (California), McBride Rare Books (New York) and Tschanz Rare Books (Utah) have just released their second consecutive joint catalogue.
The first, Wish We Were Here, came about when the Western Archivists Meeting, which all had planned to attend in April, was cancelled.
Dealer Jennifer Johnson said collaborating on the catalogue “was a really good experience for all of us, providing a sense of connection at a time when we all need to be socially distant”.
Teri Osborn of McBride Rare Books added: “This gives us all a chance to work together to overcome the distances between friends and colleagues.”
A third instalment is planned for late June when the trio of traders would have been at the Rare Books and Manuscripts Section showcase in Indiana.
Joining forces is neither new nor distinct to book dealers. The trend for sharing stands at fairs has been on the rise across the antiques trade for several years, and and, as publicised in a recent episode of Art Basel Conversations, many new collaborative efforts among galleries have arisen during the pandemic.
However, the speed and ease at which these groups of booksellers entered into these collaborations is telling. The book trade is collegial.
“It’s an information-based trade and we share a lot anyway,” Croft says. “We’ve shared stands and accommodation during fairs, it’s just an extension to how some of us work. If it is specific to the book trade, I’m quite proud of it.”