The Literary Treasures at an Antiquarian Book Fair

alex atkins bookshelf booksThe 2018 San Francisco Antiquarian Book Print and Paper Fair was recently held in South San Francisco. More than 100 booksellers from across the country and around the world gathered to exhibit and sell one of the most endangered species of the modern world — the printed book. Although the number of exhibitors has dwindled slightly through the decades, the level of passion for books and bookcollecting has not waned. 

For a dedicated bibliophile, the feeling of attending the International Antiquarian Book Fair is like a child stepping into Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory and being overwhelmed and dazzled by every candy you can dream of. Amid neat rows of booksellers’ booths, creating mini-bookstores with their neatly arranged 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 — even ones worth more than $100,000! And then there are remarkable signed first editions. Imagine holding a first edition of The Little Prince signed by Antoine de Saint-Exupery ($8,500), or a first edition of Fahrenheit 451 signed by Ray Bradbury ($20,500). You run your finger gently across the signature, touching the book that the great author once held in his hand — magically you are connected across time. You may not be able to afford the books, but the experience is absolutely priceless.

The antiquarian book fair is also a sprawling 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books, collectible books (eg, first editions of literary masterpieces, some even signed by the author), manuscripts, historical documents, maps, incunabula (pamphlets printed in the 15th century), photographs, and artifacts.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.

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:

Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies of William Shakespeare [Second Folio] (1632): $372,000

The Life of Samuel Johnson by James Boswell (1793). Value: $250,000

On the Road by Jack Kerouac (1957); first edition, inscribed by author. Value: $102,000

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (1955); first edition, inscribed by author. Value: $92,000

The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand (1943); author’s personal copy. Value: $67,000

The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer (1561): $47,500

Dracula by Bram Stoker (1899); first American edition, inscribed by author. Value: $35,000

Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka (1915): $30,500

Green Hills of Africa by Ernest Hemingway (1935). Value: $27,000

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (1953); first edition signed by author. Value: $20,500

Dr. No by Ian Fleming (1958). Value: 20,500

To Kill a Mockingbird (1960). Value: $19,500

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1813). Value: $13,500

Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949). Value: $10,500

The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane (1895). Value: $8,500

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway (1952). Value: $1,250

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Read related posts: The Most Expensive Dust Jacket
The Most Expensive Book in the World
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