Guest Blog: Report from the Searles Castle Book Fair

Guest Blog by bookseller Garry R. Austin

The Searles Castle Book Fair was held the last weekend of July in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, in the heart of the Berkshires. This fair has been run for a number of years by Bernice Bornstein who also produces the “Shadow Show” to the Boston ABAA Show in November. Bernice is a good-hearted bundle of energy, frenetic, dedicated and has a memory for people’s names and business history that is nothing short of amazing. Years ago she and her late husband Hal, ran the “Woburn Antique Show” three times a year, with about 400 dealers in each show with a waiting list as well. Today in the “Castle,” the number of dealers is about sixty, the floor plan is fluid given the nature of the rooms in this late 19th century mansion, columns here and there, large pieces of furniture that can’t be disturbed, a Veranda that is utilized, a stage and a lovely painted ceiling in the Music Room. The price of admission is worth the walk through in this remarkable facility that now houses the John Dewey Academy, a private school. And it’s the Berkshires in high season!

This fair has a very good mix of dealers and there are always a number of finds that make the weekend fulfilling and profitable. This year’s event was no exception. What was noteworthy was that amidst a time of depressing economic news, high unemployment numbers, passionate debate on debt ceiling deals, debt downgrades, and what market analysts term uncertainty, this fair seemed to be immune to those pressures. There were interesting books to be found. The trade was engaged and buying, and the public that attended also contributed to a healthy “handle” for the affair. Without naming names, at opening there was a line, and on that line were some of the more well known, sophisticated, high-end booksellers of the ABAA. One of the great tell-tale signs of a vibrant fair is the number of patrons carrying packages. Folks were browsing and clutching their previous purchases. One dealer was observed folding up a case from his table mid fair, he had sold all the books in it. I’m not claiming that everyone had a successful show, that rarely happens, but the stars seemed to be aligned and there were plenty of buyers there, both from within and without the Trade. The material was a cut above the average regional fair, was reasonably priced in most cases and was moving. It was a very good weekend, and many of us left in an optimistic mood. So I’ll be back next year as I assume will most of this year’s exhibitors too.

Garry R. Austin
Austin’s Antiquarian Books
Wilmington, VT
Auction Guide