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and glorious City of Albany, New York, USA. Articles written and
disseminated from Albany's beautiful and historic South End by Daniel
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November 17, 2006
Buying Books at The Armory
Oh, do not ask, “What is
us go and make our visit.
This past Sunday morning (November 12) I went to the
33rd Albany Institute of History and Art Antiquarian Book & Ephemera
Fair at the Washington Avenue Armory.
If you’ve never been to one of these fairs, and
you like to read books, then I can highly recommend this event when
it returns next year. Some fifty five vendors this time, mostly sellers
of books, rented space and presented their volumes for public consumption.
For five bucks you can spend the better part of a day among quality
secondhand books of all description, from the inexpensive bargains
to the extraordinarily rare.
The atmosphere is relaxed, and most of the vendors
are pleasant and ready to chat. A number of them are fairly local
regulars, like Lyrical Ballad of Saratoga, or Owl Pen which is located
somewhere out in the wilderness around Greenwich. But many of the
vendors travel quite a distance, it’s not unusual to spot addresses
from Nova Scotia, Virginia or Ohio.
|Lincoln Park About 100 Years Ago
And oh yes, there were a handful of ephemera sellers.
Ephemera is a word you see mostly at book fairs. It describes the
valuable old paper doodads that get sold at book fairs other than
books. Mostly this means postcards, photos, prints and the like.
(If you read the misleading article in the Monday Hearst Times
Union, you would think that this was almost exclusively an ephemera
fair. Didn’t the content provider who wrote the article notice
the row upon row upon row of books? I wonder why his editors instructed
him to do that. Maybe they hate books.)
Of course I loaded up with books, but this time my
real finds were indeed ephemera. My first big score was at Lyrical
Ballad, where proprietor John DeMarco sold me eight postcards of
the sights and attractions of Beaver Park from about a hundred years
ago. “I’ve had these forever,” he told me. “I’ve
got two more boxes of postcards that I didn’t bring.” The
cards were a dollar apiece.
“So,” you may very well ask, “where
the hell is this Beaver Park?” Why, that’s the original
name of the lovely South End park practically right outside my front
door. It was named after the now underground river that runs down
the middle of it, the Beaverkill. At some point in the early 20th
Century the name was changed to Lincoln Park, in honor of the last
My other great ephemera find was sold to me by Dennis
Holzman, who has a shop down the street from the Armory on the second
floor of 250 Washington Avenue. Inside one of his banker’s
boxes of folders, I found snapshots made by an out of town visitor
of the big 1913 flood in Albany. Many of the pics had penciled captions
on the back.
I needed these to visually break up my
long ponderous article posted August 26, which is about Lake
Sacandaga and the much smaller and less damaging Albany flood of
2006. The piece included a bit about the 1913 flood, which spawned
a cholera epidemic that led directly to the creation of the Great
Sacandaga Lake, which was filled with water in 1930.
Since then the lake has been used faithfully to prevent
flooding on the Albany waterfront. That is, until about seven years
ago when the State privatized the power generators on the dams and
entered into a ruinous agreement with the power speculators. to keep
the private power producers profitable, the lake has to be kept overfilled
all year round. And that’s why Albany’s waterfront flooded
this past summer. Thanks, George Pataki. And don’t come back.
Check out the rowboat on South Pearl Street. I wonder
how people survived, how they got by while the water remained high.
And I wonder how long it took to pick up the mess and fix the damage.
Did the State and City authorities fail the South End the same way
the Federal government failed New Orleans a year ago? Or did the
authorities step in and take responsibility like they’re supposed
|South Pearl Street, 1913
I picked out the best of the snapshots. Mr. Holzman
is not a purveyor of bargains. His wares are usually quite nice,
but they don’t come cheap. Still, he very graciously knocked
a little bit off the sale price.
I’ve found that it pays to ask the vendors for
a discount at these fairs. More often than not, they are more than
willing to give a discount, particularly at the end of the day, and
particularly if the item is a large and heavy book. These folks will
readily tell you that the last thing they want to do is lug their
book boxes outside to their vehicles and back to their stores. The
smart book buyer keeps this thought in mind.
Four years ago, at this same event, I wore my “Patriot” t-shirt
for the first time, which spells out the word PATRIOT: People Against
Tyranny Racism Injustice Oppression & Truth bending. On the back
is a Liberty Bell with the words, “Patriots Act.” The
times being what they were, the t-shirt attracted a lot of comments
and stunned attention. I asked one vendor for a discount on one of
his books. He said “No, but I’ll give you two bucks off
because I like your t-shirt.”
Most everything for sale on the floor of the Armory
was within striking distance of my cash reserves, but there were
a few books that had to stay under lock and key. This is serious
collector stuff, signed first editions. Oh, they were nice, but totally
out of my reach.
I stared with amazement into a glass case at the booth
of a New York City vendor, B & B Rare books. Proprietor Joshua
Mann had a first edition of Lolita by Nabokov for a mere $3600, and
first of Pooh by Milne for $11,000.
But the real prize in the case was a 1917 first edition
of the great poem Prufrock
by T. S. Eliot. Here in front of me was one of the few remaining
examples of the original printing of a solid contender for the title
of greatest piece of writing in the English language. It was mine
if I wanted it... for only $45,000.
You know, The Wife and I paid less than that for the
house that we live in. But oh, it was lovely. Mr. Mann was more than
happy to take it out of the case and show it to me. “Don’t
let me touch it,” I said. “I might get it dirty or drool
He laughed and opened it for me. The cover was a bit
stained, but the interior stock (paper) was thick and not at all
yellowed. “Only 300 of these were printed,” he said. “This
copy was owned and signed by a close family friend, and came from
a collection in England. A copy signed by Eliot would fetch $60,000
or more, depending on condition.”
A very small part of me wanted to grab it out of his
hands and run as fast as possible. “You’d better keep
THAT under lock and and key,” I said, Mr. Mann readily agreed.
I noticed how he carefully replaced the slim book, carefully locked
the case and carefully pocketed the key.
This was the first time I had been inside the Armory
since it was renovated. I recall walking inside many years ago and
not wanting to ever go back. It was dark and dingy, quite rundown.
But the now defunct Patroons basketball team loved
to play there, as did all the other teams in the league. It seems
that they all liked the intimate atmosphere of the Armory, the closeness
of the fans to the action. This was lost when the Patroons moved
to Jim Coyne’s gigantic ugly Coke (soon to be Hearst Rag) Arena
downtown. The intimacy was lost, and it was no coincidence that the
Patroons left town and folded a few years later.
But Jim Coyne the gambler bounced back from his public
humiliation over the financing of his ugly Coyne Box and found investors
for the Armory. It looks great now. Even though it only has a capacity
of three thousand, it plays host to a steady stream of sold out concerts,
and it hosts a new basketball team. And of course, the book fair.
Inside the front door, the stairways on either side
have been refinished in brown stain. Inside the main floor is brightly
lit, and even the roof girders above look brand new. The bleachers
also look new, made of shiny aluminum. All the vendors I talked to
or overheard agreed that they would be very happy to come back to
this venue next year.
Overall, business was good. Only the food vendor looked
forlorn and unhappy when I purchased a turkey wrap and a coffee for
my late breakfast a little after eleven. “It’s been slow,” the
lady said. That was an understatement. I had just scored my postcards
and photos, and was taking a well deserved break. No one else seemed
to be interested in food and drink.
This was her first time at this event. “We’re
hoping it picks up later,” she said, trying to smile and not
look angry. I didn’t ask her if she would come back next year.
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