Sunday, February 5, 2012

A Day at the Antiquarian Book Fair

Yesterday, I spent an enjoyable afternoon at the San Francisco Antiquarian Book, Print and Paper Fair. Having worked my first seven years after college for two distinguished rare book businesses, it was a happy homecoming. I also had the pleasure of reminiscing and learning about the state of today's antiquarian book world with my friend and former colleague, Jennifer Larson.

Antiquarian book fairs are amazing places to visit. Booth after booth features dealers from around the world showing off their best and most interesting wares. It could be a first edition of The Great Gatsby in its original paper dust jacket or a beautiful set of Shakespeare in handsome leather binding. I saw original drawings by Dr. Seuss, a case full of tiny miniature books, the first issue of Sports Illustrated (August 16, 1954), and a signed portrait of Margaret Thatcher. How about Harry Potter in the original British editions or a 1937 Coronation Souvenir book from the UK? Everywhere I walked there was something fascinating.

I was especially impressed by an amazing two-volume set of gorgeous plates of cities and monuments. Joan Blaeu's Theatrum Italiae from 1663 was so mind boggling that it took a 10-minute explanation from Paul Michael Dowling of Liber Antiquus to fully grasp the wonder of this item. Price? $75,000. See the photo.

Rare books can cost a lot, and so much is dependent on the true and perceived rarity. Jennifer explained how just as the Internet has made almost anything available to anyone anywhere with a checkbook, it has also discouraged some collectors, who are now aware of exactly how many copies of a book are available for sale at the moment. It reduces the urgency to own an item when it seems so easily found.

Despite this ease of location, there are still many surprises to be found. Don Lindgren, of Rabelais Inc., specialists in books on food, wine and the arts, explained that he can go into a shop that claims to have nothing he'd be interested in and turn up some treasures. Not everything is catalogued online, so the hunt continues.

I was impressed by the Judaica I found at Eric Chaim Kline's booth. Kline is a longtime expert in this field, and he kindly showed me some amazing old Hebrew bibles, books on Hebrew typography, and, two special treasures from his display case. The first was a Passover Haggadah from 1946, a slim paper volume printed right after World War II. It contained some shocking and painful depictions of concentration camps and the other horrors of the day. On a happier note from that period, a 1948 colorful book presented the story of emigration to an Israeli kibbutz for children, with sweet illustrations that would have helped the kids adjust to the move.

So much to see and talk about. How about a hand-drawn cartoon and letter from a San Quentin Prison inmate from 1935? A book from Adolf Hitler's personal library, with his bookplate (no thanks). I saw a sample book with hundreds of tiny skeins of silk in a rainbow of colors ($495).

Thanks to the Bonnetts of Windgate Press for sharing that delicious sandwich. Wayne was showing some beautiful automotive prints he's developing that may become available someday.

My community, San Francisco, hosts a major book fair every year in February. Be sure to see the 2013 fair, or look up one of the many dealers in your community. If you're in the Los Angeles area, their big fair, in Pasadena, runs February 10-12, 2012. You're sure to find something wonderful.

1 comment:

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