|Map of the Holy Land, from Rudimentum Novitiorum, 1475.|
A scarce, contemporaneously hand-colored copy of Rudimentum Novitiorum, the first printed history of the world, published in 1475, and the first printed book to feature maps, sold for $1,150,000 at the 45th California International Antiquarian Book Fair this past weekend in Pasadena, CA, as did "The World's Worst Copy of Gatsby," a first edition, first printing train wreck with a significant remnant of the $175,000 dust jacket pasted within, for $500. Some thought it was worth twice that, a true silk purse stitched from a sow's ear.
That those sales occurred within the Fair's opening hours was a harbinger of good things to come. While walking recon on Friday night I observed invoices being written and written often, eye music that continued throughout the weekend and calmed this anxious heart. Following the economy, the last few years have been rough on the rare book trade. "It is not the end. Nor is it the beginning of the end. But it is the end of the beginning." A new day is dawning. It's Morning in Booktown. Suddenly, it's Spring. Optimism cliches are beginning to flower.
But let's not get carried away. The sunny psychosis can cloud judgment. There were dealers who did not do as well as hoped. Yet every single bookseller had a great time. And, to be sure, no hope no life. We each need to be a little psychotic to get through it.
Attendance for this California International Antiquarian Book Fair was the best since 2004*. Of particular note was the large number of young people seen walking the aisles. Those wondering through despairing whether a younger generation would become book collectors should take heart. They are, perhaps, in the embryonic stage of the passion, looking around, seeing what's what, but will, the book gods willing, grow into neonates and further develop as their interest matures and budget allows.
Each of the special programs - Library of Congress Director of Rare Books and Special Collections, Mark Dimunation, on Thomas Jefferson's book collection (the cornerstone of the LOC); Personal Stories of Noted Collectors, a panel featuring academy-Award-winning producer, Tony Bill, Los Angeles Times film critic Kenneth Turan, renowned gemologist Mary Murphy, and moderated by L.A. Times columnist and Southern California TV/radio personality, Patt Morrison; the always popular Rare Books 101; and Discovery Day, where the old books from the attic are examined by a panel of experts to see if there's a reason for hope - was standing-room only.
Everyone was extremely pleased with the new venue. The Pasadena Convention Center - spacious and well-lit, with all the amenities dealers could hope for to make life easy for them - will remain, for the forseeable future, the California International Antiquarian Book Fair's home when in Southern California (it alternates annually with San Francisco).
As for book lovers and collectors - they were over the moon. And why not? The best rare books exhibited by the best rare booksellers in the world, the opportunity to see and hold historic volumes, the books that have given meaning to our lives, the old books with engaging and compelling back-stories that beg to be on your bookshelf, from the stunning beauty and often scathing satire of eighteenth and nineteenth century hand-colored engraved illustration albums through a pristine copy of J.D. Ballard's scarce Why I Want To Fuck Ronald Reagan, and everything in between and centuries before, the wonderful ones you didn't know about, all under one roof - it's a book lover's three-day weekend in Disneyland, an E-ticket ride.
If you love to read, and appreciate art, craft, and the test of time as a measure of what's true from what's false, have an aversion to the artificial, a preference for content in the form that has yet to be improved upon, from the sacred to the profane and in the big middle, rare books are truly the coolest collectible. And when the California International Antiquarian Book Fair is in town, the cool gets red hot.
* For SoCal.
The California International Antiquarian Book Fair is sponsored by the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America.
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