Notes from the 48th California International Antiquarian Book Fair

I’ve just returned from a book weekend in the San Francisco Bay Area where I was able to spend a day at both the 48th California International Antiquarian Book Fair and the CODEX Book Fair.

There’s a little bit of everything for collectors at the Book Fair, from true antiquarian books and manuscripts to modern firsts to ephemera and incunabula. What I like the Antiquarian Book Fair best for is it gives me the opportunity to see fine press books from presses that are no longer in existence. Presses like the Allen Press, the Grabhorn Press, the Limited Editions Club (Macy era), and the Black Sun Press. There are also out of print editions from existing presses that are obviously not available direct from the presses anymore.

The holy grail of older fine press books for me is the Limited Editions Club Ulysses, because of my love for all things Joycean. And there was indeed a fine copy of it there, along with a couple of true firsts. This particular LEC was one of the 250 or so out of the edition of 1500 that was signed by Joyce in addition to Matisse. I didn’t even look at the price or give the book itself much of a look other than to laugh at the booksellers’ statement about installment payments. I’m happy to have my Easton Press facsimile. That’s close enough to the grail for me right now. A more realistic goal is to one day acquire the Black Sun Press edition of Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Cohderlos de Laclos. Every time I see it I fall more in love with it. Published in 1929 in two volumes in soft wrappers and illustrated in amazing colors by Alistair. Someday, someday. It passes my first test for purchasing books: I would definitely read it and enjoy it immensely while doing so. And at only a third of my monthly mortgage payment, it might be doable at some point.

There were quite a few other fine press books I was really impressed with and that I enjoyed the opportunity to see and feel. I saw Grabhorn Press’ edition of The Taming of the Shrew. This is a beautiful edition in multiple colors and exceptional typography. There was a dealer who had a good 10 or so Allen Press titles. Those are some beautiful books for a fine press lover. I especially liked Conrad’s Youth with its beautiful illustrations, Henry James’ The Beast in the Jungle with its text printed in seven different colors corresponding to the emotional theme of each chapter, and the Greek plays of Antigone and The Oresteian Trilogy. I also saw one of the Arion Press back-catalog titles on my wishlist, Nabokov’s Pale Fire, but it looks like that one might also have crept out of a comfortable price range as well.

The Antiquarian Book Fair was an excellent side adventure and warm up for CODEX. Stay tuned for more on that in an upcoming post.

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