Here’s a Frequently Asked Question (FAQ, for those who can’t read anything on the computer without an acronym). “When are you going to have those bags again?” People have been terrifically loyal to the Newberry Book Fair canvas bag, even if they’re a little vague on the passage of time. “You had ‘em last year, didn’t you?”
Well, no. The last time we gave out those canvas bags, Bill Clinton was running for re-election, a first class stamp cost 32 cents, and the Bulls were predicted to win the NBA championship. It’s been a while.
The history of our canvas bag is brief, but passionate. In 1993, the first bags were donated by a now-defunct bank. They were very nice, but a trifle small. In 1994, we had the first of what are now known as the Nuveen bags, with a John Nuveen logo on one side and the Newberry Library Book Fair logo on the other. The logos were red that year, blue in 1995, and green in 1996. The Nuveen bags were larger than the 1993 bags, but not big enough to break an arm when filled with books. They were sturdy, and useful for dozens of things, as those who still cling to theirs will attest. (They were also completely washable, but you can’t tell from the bags I’ve seen.)
What did you do to get a bag? Well, in those innocent days, it as simple: you bought a book. One canvas bag came free with every purchase. I don’t know if there are records on how many bags we started with, but there were always leftovers at the end of the Fair. We used the leftovers as thank you gifts: taking them along on book pick-ups and giving them to the donors as a special bonus for giving something to us.
Then what happened? Well, the world turns around, friends. Giving strategies change; so do solicitation strategies. And, of course, the price of bags goes up. There was no angry parting of the ways. Donations of dollars just became more important than donations of bags. But that could always change. With our new push to Go Green, those canvas bags are now called Recyclable bags. (Does this make sense to you? Any bag is recyclable if you use it again.) Maybe some donor will like the idea anew: seeing the name of their enterprise on five or six thousand canvas bags around the city. If we’re feeling needy, we can sell the bags (which might lower the financial burden on the donor a bit) You know the sort of thing: $10 per bag or, with purchase $5.
In the fullest version of my pipe dream, of course, the bags are underwritten by Saks Fifth Avenue, so I can make jokes about Saks Bags. Especially if they’re a little too big, and I can call them Baggy Saks Bags. But if they’re very popular, they could be sexy baggy Saks Bags. And if…. Maybe I’d better go back to sorting books now. This could go on all day.