Among the regular visitors at Etc Fairs’ ephemera event is Leon Robinson, who at last month’s staging was on the hunt for items showcasing the historical experience of black people in Britain.
Exhibitors at the event know Robinson and bring items to suit his interest – and at the most recent staging he made discoveries on the stand of Jeremy Carson.
He was one of around 30 exhibitors at the fair which took place at the Bloomsbury Holiday Inn on November 27. Carson brought some folders of sheet music that appealed to Robinson, who was attracted to them because of the images on the front depicting a black man playing guitar and black dancers doing the Cakewalk (a pre-American Civil War dance originally performed by slaves on plantation grounds). Other sheets contained international patriotic melodies. Priced at a pound each, he picked up 11 for a £10 deal.
Carson had a good day. Other sales included a copy of the Riverside Interviews by Lawrence Ferlinghetti for £10 to a buyer who was visiting to find new material for his politically radical collection. He also sold Ambrose Heath’s 1942 Cooking for One to a collector of cookery books for £20.
Less is more
Despite strong results, solid exhibitor-client relationships and a typical visitor count of 200-300 per event, change is in store for the Ephemera Fair. In 2023 it will be dropped from a monthly event to run only six times across the year.
According to organiser Kim Jeffery, the decision was made because many of the regular dealers have dropped their attendance down to bi-monthly. (The monthly book fair which is also run by Etc Fairs will not be affected and continues as usual in 2023.)
Carson, who stands at around 40 fairs a year, was among those hailing the news. He told ATG: “This one’s a regular event for me. The customers are passionate about their subjects and there’s something for everyone. Next year it’s not monthly which will be even better.”
Clive Baker, who runs Old Postcards Ltd, agreed. He said: “As a dealer, I welcome it because I would rather have a bigger event each time to go to because of more customers. The problem is that the customer base has shrunk so it makes good financial sense for the organisers, but does quite make good sense for the dealers, as we’ll certainly be able to meet our expenses easier.”
Baker is also an event organiser, running postcard fairs in Kent where he focuses on topographical postcards.
In London, however, he sees a trend for subject-related cards featuring people or objects. Some of his usual customers have been coming to this fair for over 20 years and he knows exactly the items to bring. He praised the November event.
“Since the pandemic and since the fair restarted, each event has got slightly better each time and we’re definitely beginning to see more foreign customers – it’s building up, very slowly, but it’s definitely building up. Each time is that slightly bit better. This was probably the best event I’ve done since the pandemic.”
The turnout at this event was high despite the threat of rail strikes.
Jeffery attributed healthy numbers to the central London location – easily accessible by Tube, bus, and car.
Among those with good sales to report was Matthew Burt of Windsor Rare Books who sold to a visitor with an interest in the Duke of Cumberland. He found at Burt’s stall an 1821 advertisement for Figaro’s Magazine’s caricatures including many of the duke. He snapped it up for £50.
Burt stands at these fairs as well as larger showground antiques fairs around the country. He says that “the fair here is always buoyant and everybody who comes through the door is interested in paper and books, rather than at antique fairs where it’s only around 10%”.
Throughout the staging, items with a personal connection, whether geographical, sentimental, or political, were in high demand.
For example, first-time visitors included Jon and Tim who left with postcards depicting their hometowns of Swindon and Cardiff that they’d picked up spontaneously for between £1-4 each from different postcard dealers. They came to the fair through a friend’s recommendation.
Filmmaker Clive Gardener, another regular visitor, came for postcards depicting south Wales industrial transport, but after perusing the fair he left with more books and magazines. He told ATG: “Browsing the fair, you always spot things that you might not have thought to search for” and showed some film-making magazines that he bought from Magic Magazines for £1 each.
He added that some of the offerings “would go to stupid high figures on the internet as opposed to the prices here”.
Another regular visitor, David, comes to all the events as an avid general ephemera collector. With a bag of items at his feet, he was particularly pleased with his find of a June 1946 copy of Picture Post Hulton’s National Weekly Victory Special which he purchased for £1.
David liked this magazine because of the interesting cover illustration. He said: “The beauty of the fair here is the range of what’s offered.”