Well – we have a partial answer. The four books by The Pitcher pictured on last week’s post were (very obviously and so predictably) the first to go at the Olympia fair – fellow exhibitor John Windle from San Francisco (who had read the blog the night before) simply and instantly marched up and bought them – sight unseen, price unasked. “That’s a hex broken for you”, he said. Charming man. Very good bookseller. ‘Nuff said.
The iron rule of the ‘last book in the box’ triumphantly vindicated. And next to go was War with the Newts, which had also featured in an earlier post. After that it admittedly tailed off a bit – rather more than a bit – no interest at all in Bulwer Lytton, G. P. R. James, Tennyson, or anyone else I’ve mentioned lately. But many other things sold gently over the three days – so, for me, a wholly adequate if not outstanding fair.
Much, much, better elsewhere. Across the aisle were two new ABA members from the north of England – both first-timers at Olympia – Anthony Smithson (Keel Row Bookshop) and Neil Summersgill. Both obviously very happy indeed at their first experience. Tindley & Chapman next door were doing fine too. And as I wandered round, the chorus of satisfaction was pretty well unanimous. High praise for the new space in the National Hall – the lightness and airiness – the layout – the extra space on the stands – the looking at books by natural light. Loading in and out as easy and simple as can be. Plenty of porters. The air-cooling system kept us comfortable even on a scorching day. More than one overseas exhibitor took me aside to say how splendid it all looked, that London had palpably moved up a level, was now fully the equal of Paris or New York.
A few quibbles of course – bound to be. Public address system. All too markable cream-coloured carpet in the booths. A few stands a little over-exposed to the sun. Lack of signage to the lavatories. All readily fixed next time. But as it all unfolded, it was clear that the fair overall had been an outstanding success. It came through in the declared totals as we moved past last year’s three-day figure before the second day was done. There are always little (and wholly legitimate) questions about how these results are calculated of course – the odd massive sale skewing the average – but then there always is the odd massive sale. The reluctance of some exhibitors to submit even a wholly anonymous total. A median figure rather than an average one might well be a better yardstick – ABA number-crunchers working on that. But ABA secretary John Critchley assured me that he and his team had calculated the figures in precisely the same way as in previous years – the only way we can be certain of comparing like with like.
As a matter of personal observation, I was surprised that overall attendance is reported as being down. Although not exhibiting last year, I was there throughout much of the fair – and it certainly looked appreciably busier this year to me. But then I suppose that it’s genuine book-buyers who stay for hours and come back two or three days in a row that we want rather than simply numbers through the door. I chatted to some collectors too – one hastening away to remortgage something or other to cover an unexpectedly large purchase, but a very, very, happy man. The collectors too were delighted at the new sense of space and easiness of vision. In fact ran into to my very oldest customer, full of high praise for both the fair and the new breed of bookseller (Sophie Schneideman in particular can probably blush at this point).
Congratulations and my heartiest thanks to all concerned – Brian Lake (Jarndyce) and his Olympia committee, Marianne Harwood our indefatigable events manager, and of course John and his team. And all the exhibitors and all the visitors too. Well done – you make me very fearful of how we can possibly match it next year.