Vol. 9 No. 1
Please note: As web publication of the newsletter often does not coincide with actual publication date, some outdated items have been removed. Please refer to the printed version of the newsletter for those articles.
MWBH Board Minutes and Financial Reports will be found in the Members only area.
Tribune Purchases Printers Row Book Fair
The Chicago Tribune announced on November 29, 2002, that as part of its ongoing commitment to the written word and its support of literacy and literary endeavor, it had purchased the Printers Row Book Fair from the Near South Planning Board.
The Printers Row Book Fair is the largest free outdoor literary event in the Midwest. Last year it drew more than 75,000 book enthusiasts to the 5 block area surrounding Dearborn station, according to Bonnie Sanchez-Carlson, president and executive director of the near South Planning Board.
The two day fair, which is scheduled to run June 7 and 8th this year, aims to showcase independent and mainstream authors and book vendors from across the region.
Begun in 1985 to promote the Printers Row area (at one time Chicago’s book publishing hub, and still home today to several printers, and bookstores) the fair has expanded to include all of Dearborn Street from Polk Street, south to Congress Parkway, displaying new, used, and antiquarian books and featuring six stages with more than 80 free literary programs.
The Tribune Co., which owns the Pulitzer-prize winning Chicago Tribune (with daily readership of more than 2 million and nearly 3 million on Sunday), and many other local media outlets including CLTV, WGN-TV. WGN-AM and Chicago magazine, also owns other entities across the country including the Los Angeles Times. The L. A. Times owns the successful Festival of the Book, held each spring in Los Angeles.
“We’re going to be looking at the best practices across the country to see what we can bring from them,” said Patty Wetli, manager of communications for the Tribune. The Tribune’s vast promotional capabilities and resources could also be tapped to promote the fair.
The Near South Planning Board would continue in an advisory role with the fair, organizing the annual Harold Washington Literary Award ceremonies, the literary dinner, and the various bus tours around the South Loop during the Festival.
Paul Garon, long-time MWBH member, has just had published his new book: The Devil’s Son-in-Law, The Story of Peetie Wheatstraw & His Songs. ( Paul and Beth Garon own Beasley Books — specializing in, among other things, books about the blues– and Paul is one of the owners of Chicago Rare Book Center).
Blues-singer, song-writer, piano- and guitar-player, William Bunch (1902-1941) was well-known in his day as Peetie Wheatstraw, the Devil’s Son-in-Law, and the High Sheriff From Hell. Long recognized by connoisseurs as one of the most influential blues people of all time, his life and work are little known to the broad public.
Garon explores Wheatstraw’s crucial role not only in blues history, but also in African-American urban mythology ( he was, for example, a pivotal character in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man.)
Originally published in England in 1971, this substantially revised and expanded edition includes a mass of new information and images as well as an updated bibliography, discography, and index. Also included with the book is a 24 track CD portraying Peetie at his best.
Published by Charles H. Kerr in cloth ($21) and paper ($15). Available from the publisher, or from Chicago Rare Book Center.
Garon is also the author of other books on the blues, including: Woman with Guitar, Memphis Minnie’s Blues (written in collaboration with Beth Garon); and Blues and the Poetic Spirit.
Midwest Bookhunter, Frank Stephen Pollack, 1935 – 2003
By Thomas J. Joyce , 18 January 2003
The Midwest Bookhunters lost a remarkable member when Frank Pollack, 67, finally succumbed to complications from cancer on January 17, 2003.
I cannot state when I first met Frank, but I learned a lot about him subsequently, and I learned even more attending his memorial service.
Frank and his wife, Barbara, were strong, independent individuals whose love and respect for one another resulted in a remarkable partnership for nearly fifty years which merged their friendship and fondness for the arts into a marriage, family, and business partnerships that nourished each other and those around them. Sam Stott, Chicago bookseller and appraiser, spent three intense days with Frank as his assistant to exhibit at the Twin Cities Book Fair in 2001. Sam recalls that, “I know a lot of guys who love their wives, but I have never heard anybody talk about their wives the way Frank talked about Barbara.”
Barbara met Frank in high school in Chicago, and followed him to college and law school in Michigan, before returning to Chicago to start a family and Frank’s law practice, Pollack & Weis which specialized in Real Estate, Real Estate taxation, and Corporate Law, especially as related to tax situations.
Frank’s early interest in books was no secret to Barbara, who used to accompany him to bookshops in Chicago where Frank bought books about the Civil War. Later, Barbara too bought books -about folk art, art and antiques. They became her reference library when they started the Frank & Barbara Pollack Antiques business, and over the decades, Barbara became a nationally renowned specialist in folk art antiques, and Frank worked side-by-side with her at the antique shows. Eventually they became “fixtures” at some of the biggest and best antique shows, including the annual Pier Antiques Fair in New York City, which took three weeks to do.
In recent decades, Frank’s interest in books had changed from military to mystery, and, having dealt antiques for so long, selling books was just a short step to take. Frank began exhibiting at MWBH bookfairs, and Barbara would usually be at his side — except when she was shopping the fair for books on antiques. Frank attributed a large measure of his success at selling at book fairs to constant and aggressive marketing. He always ordered many extra announcement cards and mailed them out to his clientele in advance of a fair. He was unwilling to simply rely on the promotion of the fair management. Fair after fair that diligence paid off for him in larger sales.
Several years ago, Frank sold his non-mystery fiction and was concentrating on detective books, especially first editions by Hammett, Chandler, and especially, Rex Stout. However, that did not stop Frank from buying quantities of the Civil War-related novel, Cold Mountain, before it became a Pulitzer-prize winner. While en route from O’Hare airport, Frank noticed a bookstall there had a number of first printings of “COLD,” so he bought them all. On his return trip, he noticed that the stall had restocked with additional first printings. He bought those too. Then he sold a fraction of the copies to hungry dealers in California and elsewhere, recouped his initial investment, with other copies left to profit from at his leisure.
Frank was generous with his time and talents. Whether it was books or antiques or friends, Frank became the official or unofficial legal counsel to the organizations he joined. He became the designated legal adviser to the Bookhunters -without pay, of course. As recently as last November, having learned of a delicate employment situation of a friend, Frank called him and offered encouragement and gave legal advice, because that is the kind of a guy he was.
In his law practice, Frank routinely turned mountains into molehills, so there were few mountains left to climb in the law, and he talked about retiring into grandfatherhood and doing books full-time. That was when a number of us ( Ann Dumler, Paul Garon, Tom Joyce, Frank Pollack, and Ed Ripp) became concerned that, with the disappearance of the ABAA Book Fair in Chicago, and the challenges experienced by the MWBH Chicago fairs, it appeared book fairs around Chicago might be facing extinction. All of us had worked on bookfairs, so we decided to start a new one to forestall their disappearance. Frank and Barbara had been involved in successful antique shows at the Winnetka Community House. He urged us to try that as a venue, and made the arrangements to meet with the WCH management to explore a contract. Patricia Martinak joined the team to replace Ed Ripp, and together we planned an invitational book fair for December, 1998 – the Holiday Rare Book Fair. Frank particularly supervised the physical set-up of the show, and the selling of tickets, while making substantial sales in his own booth. Despite the usual unexpected problems, the Holiday Rare fair was generally conceded to be a success by the vendors, and even turned a small profit for the partnership.
While brainstorming about a new bookfair, another idea popped up that Chicago needed an exciting new rare bookstore. We thought about a book mall concept like an antique mall. And it had never been tried in Chicago, altho it had in other cities. And if we did not do it, then who would? Frank and Tom knew a real estate mogul with a storefront onMaple Street, a block north of the Newberry Library. For Frank, a multi-dealer bookstore offered a potential route to make a transition from law into bookselling. Frank drew up the contracts. When we opened at the end of September, 1998, the Chicago Rare Book Center had over fifteen vendors, and eventually had nearly twice that many. But the day after our gala opening, we had to immediately turn our combined attentions to pulling-off the Holiday Rare Fair. It nearly killed us.
If we had not opened the CRBC, there would have been another Holiday Rare Book Fair in 1999. The rest of us ceded our interests in the book fair, and, despite his ongoing medical treatments, until very recently Frank was still visiting potential venues for his next Holiday Rare.
Frank was like a quiet force of nature. He just got things done. I learned at his funeral service that, while his children were growing up, he never missed dinner with his family. I also learned that Frank had been an amateur painter. He never showed me any of his canvases when I had visited his home. I also learned that he had been writing stories involving his three grandchildren. Barbara intends to see that they get published soon. It may be Frank’s posthumous final chapter as an antiquarian, a bookman, a friend, and as a family man.
The Midwest Bookhunters organization has made a donation of $100 to the Dr. Richard Knop Cancer Research Fund at Evanston Hospital in memory of Frank. In this regard, Frank’s wife, Barbara, and Dr. Knop, who was treating Frank, both indicated it was Frank’s wish that any donations made in memory of him be made to that research group. -Hank Zuchowski
Raiders of the Lost (Book) Archaeology, or The Camaraderie of Codes
by Aimee England of Volume I Books
An obscure field in book collecting is what I like to call the “Archaeology of the Book,” or, “How Booksellers Can Tell a Book’s History by Deciphering Other Bookseller’s Codes That Have Been Written into a Book.” (whew!) The reason this has occurred to me at this moment is that I was just entering a book into our database and I was distracted by thinking of when and where we bought this particular tome. It’s not really a thrilling book, it’s just a plain volume of Marx-Engels, but what intrigues me about it is the history of this book and the memories the history evokes. Books are often just recycled amongst booksellers, and sometimes it may take years for them to actually reach a “true” customer who actually wants to read the book. That is not to imply that books are treated by booksellers as mere commodities, but rather more like our foster children, that keep going to new homes for months, and in some cases years, for extended home visits.
This particular book was on our price-check pile. Since we have one brick and mortar store that has been operating as an open shop since 1968, we make a habit of price-checking books that have been around a while; and as our second store has been operating in various incarnations for 20 years, we are continually going through inventory.
This book tells me its story from reading our own ‘secret code’, which is really a purchase month and year, and some initials indicating where we got the book- with an X for books purchased externally – away from the store, and a Z for anything that comes in the door. (I guess it’s not so secret anymore, eh?)
I can see that that we purchased this book from John (“Can You Go A Deuce?”) Chandler, of John Chandler Books, at the corner of Clark and Wellington Streets in the bustling Chicago neighborhood near Wrigley Field. It’s always a pain to find parking at John Chandler’s, which is often particularly complicated by the fact that we always buy several boxes of books at a time from him, making loading them into the van akin to qualifying for the Olympics. A shop that is often crowded with books stacked waist high in front of the bookcases, it is always treat to go to Bookman’s Corner. On a bookfair weekend, when filling out the tax number sheet, you can check to see which of your colleagues have been savvy enough to have been there scouring his shelves before you, and who hasn’t been there yet. Everyone always finds something at John’s, which always makes it a pleasurable excursion, despite the stacks of books falling on your feet.
From his code in the book, I know that John got this book on February 20th, 1995, from Powell’s Books, another venerable Chicago used bookseller, who also carries tons of remainders. Powell’s is responsible for bringing CIROBE to Chicago. They have quite a lovely rare book room at their Lincoln Ave. location, which is always worth a visit.
Many of my trade paperback customers “brand” their books — putting small marks such as an X or check mark at the top of the first page, or often they will simply use their initials. That way they know which books they have already read, and so don’t have to keep either a mental list or a physical one.
Some booksellers have elaborate codes that are quite indecipherable, such as one colleague, who uses a mysterious string of about 17-25 alphanumeric characters. Although I have been able to aptly identify his books when I came across them in an antique mall, I have never been able to crack his code.
That’s the cool thing about book codes, they can be complicated or simplistic, but they only need to really be interpreted by the code-ee for all practical purposes. Sometimes they are informative, to tell us whether or not some of our foster kids are ready for new homes.
With the advent of the Internet and online selling, bookseller’s codes have become more and more complicated. Some booksellers use an elaborate system of coded books which then are put on coded shelving. Some dealers choose to file books only numerically on their shelves, and some choose to use the alphabet. All of this is beyond me. I’ll stick to my simple code system for now.
Wooden Spoon Books May Soon Become a Co-op
Wooden Spoon Books, owned by Midwest Bookhunter member, Richard Wunsch, may soon evolve into a co-op.
The long-time Ann Arbor Michigan bookstore was confronted with an eviction order last year, which Wunsch contested in court. In November, 2002, the court upheld the landlord’s right to evict the bookstore, but Wunsch is appealing that decision. In the mean-time Wunsch is working with about twenty-four area residents, some of them employees of the store, to turn the Wooden Spoon into a co-operative. The twenty-four have each pledged $200.00 towards the purchase of the store and existing inventory; about thirty-five to forty other area residents have committed to associate memberships, which cost $25.00 but do not include voting rights. The co-operative hopes to negotiate with the landlord to stay in the same location.
“I’ve been a believer in co-ops and have really felt that the community would lose a great deal if the Spoon closes, and I don’’t have the time, money or energy to deal with the problems and changes in the future,” said Wunsch.
Plans for the co-operative include adding new liberal political titles to the general used books already being sold at the store, as well as using the store as a sort of community center.
The Wooden Spoon opened thirty-four years ago, at first selling only cookbooks, but gradually began stocking all types of used books. Wunsch purchased the store nine years ago; he is also an owner of Volume I Books in Hillsdale, Michigan
Keep Those Cards and Letters Coming
Do you have news, gossip, or a gripe that fellow MWBH members might benefit from hearing? Bookhunting stories? Ideas for improving the organization? For improving book fair publicity? Please send us news from your neck of the woods.
Pat Martinak, Newsletter Editor
Alkahest Books & Chicago Rare Book Center
P.O. Box 492
Deerfield, IL 60015