For the third or fourth time, I drove to Baltimore this morning to attend the Summer Antiques Show. An immense show, held each year at the Baltimore Convention Center, its advertisements state that there are approximately 550 different vendors, and over 200,000 items on display and for sale.
These are enormous numbers. When you enter the Show, you see before you a broad aisle that seems to go on forever, and then you look to your left and your right, and you see broad aisles that appear to be even longer. As you walk through, you are bound to get lost, as you try to navigate the basic grid pattern of the aisles, broken here or there by larger intersections where you can get food.
And the exhibitors are not showing off what they would put in their yard sales. Most of the 200,000 items appear to the untrained eye to be museum quality – furniture, art work, jewelry, every type of collectible. And books – with 60 different book dealers showing their wares. And this is why I come.
Each year I have the same reaction as I look at the books and prints and ephemera. That reaction is: who buys all this stuff? The books are often beautiful, and I wish I owned a good number of them, but not at the prices offered. Books that cost hundreds, and thousands, of dollars. I repeat: who buys all this stuff? I think that the answer is “no one”. And that is why most of the dealers are sitting around looking bored, and why, when you ask them how business is, they say ” not as good as last year”. Of course, they say this every year. And they may be correct.
When I get frustrated looking at the books, and head out into the other areas of the show, my frustration increases. And I think it’s because the show is so elitist. You know, it’s one thing if you are at a small, elitist show, but a much different thing if you have 550 elitist exhibits, each with hundreds of items costing hundreds or thousands of dollars……..
And then you step outside into downtown Baltimore.
As much as I like looking at antiques and rummaging antique shows, I had to get out, and did. In fact, I went up the street to an ordinary used book store, looked at the much less fancy books, which I could relate to much better, bought a couple of nice books (including a book examining Heinrich Heine’s Jewishness dating from the 1940s).
But even that wasn’t enough to satisfy me. So I stopped at a Value Village Thrift Shop, a large store where the entire inventory is undoubtedly worth less than the inventory of any one of the 550 exhibitors in Baltimore. And I rummaged the books at Value Village, and bought a nice copy of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s book “The Majesty of the Law”, which she had signed and inscribed to friends. On the open market, the book is worth about $150. At the Baltimore Antiques Show, it would probably be sold for $450. At Value Village, I paid about $1,75.
And I also bought a nice as-new black Shetland wool sweater for about $4, and a pair of chinos in perfect condition, just my size, for $3. And then I found a T-shirt commemorating the first baseball game played at the Nationals Stadium. I was there, but didn’t have a souvenir shirt, so I thought it was about time. The listed price was 79 cents (before tax), but in fact I was told that the T-shirts were half price today, so I only paid 41 cents (including tax).
I just am not the Baltimore Antiques Show type (and becoming less so every day). Next Labor Day weekend, I may skip and show, and head right to the thrift shops.