I spent this past Sunday at the annual Michigan Antiquarian Book Fair in Lansing, which bills itself as the largest such show in the Midwest. I love book fairs as they’re a chance to catch up with old bookselling friends, meet new ones, and check out a lot of interesting books from all genres under one roof at one time. It’s also a good place to “people watch” as there were ample tables set up throughout the floor where one could take a break with a cuppa joe and watch the multitudes. One observation stayed with me: The number of patrons I saw who appeared to be under the age of forty could probably be counted on two hands. That may not bode well for the long-term future of these gatherings.
Sunday’s show featured about 70 dealers and there was a good amount of Civil War stock, especially from the generalized dealers. Not only books, but plenty of paper items, prints, and related ephemera. As is sadly often the case, much of it was in less-than-desirable condition though priced as if it were in stellar shape (IMO). I noted however that those dealers who specialize in military history tended to have a larger selection of WWII books on hand than Civil War. That conflict seems to have supplanted the Civil War as the book collector’s military topic du jour for many. In answering my question about the overall health of the Civil War book trade, one specialty dealer reported that sales of older, OP titles in premium condition still sell very well and at good prices, however much of the newer stuff moves a lot slower these days. Of course, he reiterated the old maxim that condition of both book and dust jacket is everything.
As for myself, I picked up a like-new first edition of E. A. Porter’s Fighting for the Confederacy at what I felt was a good price and a nice 1st from 1984 of the late Professor Frank Klement’s Dark Lanterns: Secret Political Societies, Conspiracies and Treason Trials in the Civil War. That topic is of considerable interest to me as part of my ongoing research on Detroit during the Civil War. In reading the jacket flaps, I note that Klement, who spent much of his academic career exploring this topic as well as Copperhead resistance to Lincoln, asserts that these so-called secret societies ultimately existed more on paper than in reality. I think my best find though was beautiful copy in jacket of The Civil War in the Indian Territory (modern day Oklahoma) by Donald and Larry Rampp. And at a great price to boot – considering the prices being asked here, I’d say my $40 purchase was quite the bargain! It was published by Presidial Press in 1975. That small press out of Austin, Texas seems to have published quite a few military titles over the years that focused on the American Southwest, in particular the Civil War. I could find very little info on them during a cursory web search. If anyone can let me know more about Presidial or if they’re still active, I’d certainly appreciate it.
One item I didn’t buy but struck me as quite interesting was a copy of Earl Schenck Meirs’ The General Who Marched to Hell: William Tecumseh Sherman and His March to Fame and Infamy. It’s very common OP book (Alfred Knopf, 1951) that’s readily available in its trade state, however this copy was bound in full blue leather with gilt lettering and raised bands on the spine, and also featured special endpapers. It was also signed by the author and warmly inscribed to the recipient. It’s simply too recent of a title and of insufficient collectors value for someone to go through the expense of having it custom bound like that, therefore my thought is that it was one of perhaps several specially bound by the publisher for the author’s personal use. The price was $135. If this is of interest to you, let me know and I’ll give you the bookseller’s info.