Each year, more than 220 booksellers from America and around the world gather in California (alternating between San Francisco and Los Angeles) to exhibit and sell one of the most endangered species of the modern world — the printed book. This happens to be the book fair’s 46th year. Although the number of exhibitors has dwindled slightly through the decades, the level of passion for books and bookcollecting has not waned. You will never find this many book lovers and experts gathered under one roof in all the world. And no, there are no booths for iPads, Kindles, or Nooks in the exhibit hall.
For a dedicated bibliophile, the feeling of attending the International Antiquarian Book Fair is akin to a child (with an insatiable sweet tooth) who steps into Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. Amid neat rows of booksellers’ booths, creating mini-bookstores with their polished bookshelves and bookcases, are great literary and historical wonders that you can actually touch and hold in your hands. Unlike a museum’s priggish, stern docents that admonish you to “look with your eyes and not your hands,” the book fair’s exhibitors encourage you to touch and feel the treasures that sit on the bookshelves. Imagine holding a first edition of The Wasteland signed by T.S. Eliot, or a first edition of Great Expectations signed by Charles Dickens. You may not be able to afford the books, but the experience is absolutely priceless.
The book fair is a time machine, transporting the attendee back in time, a half century — or several centuries — to behold rare books, collectible books (eg, first editions of literary masterpieces, some even signed by the author), manuscripts, historical documents, maps, incunabula (pamphlets printed in the 15th century), photographs, and artifacts. Books cover a wide range of topics: literature, children’s literature, arts, architecture, religion, science, medicine, history, law, commerce, travel and exploration. The booksellers even set time aside for book appraisals and seminars on book related-topics throughout the three day event.
There is a misconception that the books and items sold at an antiquarian book fair require the deep pockets of a vested employee of Google or Facebook, but booksellers know that there is a broad range of collectors, and a large portion of the inventory is within the budget of most mortals with a moderate income. However, for those bibliophiles with vast disposable incomes, there are a number of very rare and precious items for sale this year:
Ulysses by James Joyce: A first edition, printed in 1922, and 1 of 100 signed copies. Value: $400,000.
The Federalist Papers by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay: A rare uncut set of the first edition of 85 essays written in 1788 that support the new Constitution. Value: $362,000.
Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith: First edition. Value: $150,000.
Autographed Manuscript of Chapter 20 of A Tramp Abroad by Mark Twain: Value: $79,000.
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens: A first edition, 3-volume cloth-bound set, printed in 1861. Value: 79,230.
Birds of America by John James Audubon: A rare octavo edition. Value: $32,000.
Bag One Portfolio by John Lennon: Lithographs of sketches by John Lennon inspired by their wedding and honeymoon. Value: $134,000.
Photos of Rolling Stones by Gus Coral: A group of photos of the Stones from early in their career (1964). Value: $43,000.
For further reading: www.sfbookfair.com/index.php.