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California Antiquarian Book Fair Featured Thousands of Books Worth Millions

Walt Ratcliff of the Internnational Museum of Printing demonstrated printing press at show.
Walt Ratcliff of the Internnational Museum of Printing demonstrated printing press at show.
Ken Fermoyle photo

(1st of a Series on the Antiquarian Book Fair, Its Importance, Attractions & Implications)

Walking into the 47th California International Antiquarian Book Fair was a whole new experience for this long-time book lover. I felt like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz when she said to Toto: “We're not in Kansas anymore!” It took only a few minutes to realize this was vastly different from stepping into a Barnes ^& Noble store or attending a local library book sale.

There may not have been a a million books at the Pasadena Convention Center event (Feb. 7-9), but the books, manuscripts, prints and other items on display were worth millions of dollars. More than a few carried six-figure price tags, some in the high six-figure range—and more!. A book of the history of Troy from 1473 and valued at $1 million was one of the items on display. Value of another volume, William Shakespeare's “Comedies, Histories and Tragedies” (17th century, 2n folio, Todd's 1st issue of Shakespeare's complete plays) was $625,000—but this masterpiece is regarded as the paramount work in English literature by scholars and bibliophiles.

Other items at the Book Fair were extremely varied. They included lyrics written by Paul McCartney for the Beatles song “Lovely Rita;” two copies of handwritten lyrics by Bob Dylan; a first edition ”Great Gatsby” from 1925, valued at $140,000; a first edition “Oliver Twist” by Charles Dickens; and a first edition “The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck. Memorabilia from the 1932 Olympic Games in Los Angeles and first editions of childrens classics such as “The Cat in the Hat,” were also displayed.

It was hard—no, impossible—not to feel awe at being surrounded by books produced over the past five hundred centuries, plus painstakingly hand-crafted manuscripts that predate Gutenberg's printing press. And rate, valuable books were not the only attraction. There were maps, prints, graphics, photographs and more. On the other hand, it was easy to understand why this Book Fair is recognized as “one of the world's largest and most prestigious exhibitions of antiquarian books.” The event, organized this year by the Southern California Chapter of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America (ABAA) and the 2013 included 200 booksellers from ABAA and the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers (ILAB).

The term “International” in the Book Fair's title was more than justified. There were vendors from 12 countries and 27 states. Great Britain led the foreign contingent with 29 venders, while California, no surprisingly, topped the US states' list with more than 50 vendors.

(Second in this series on the Antiquarian Book Fair will focus on the tributes to Shakespeare and his 450th birthday that were part of the event. Another article will feature the vendors, their specialties and locations. Finally, there will be an effort to peer into the future of books, publishing and book collecting, with the Book Fair perhaps giving some hints to what might come. KF)

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