The 50th California International Antiquarian Book Fair was recently held in Oakland. More than 200 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. 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 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. Imagine holding a first edition of The Wasteland signed by T.S. Eliot, or a first edition of Great Expectations or a note signed by Charles Dickens. You run your finger gently across the signature, touching the very paper that the great author once held in his hand — magically you are connected in time. You may not be able to afford the books, but the experience is absolutely priceless.
The 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books, collectible books (eg, first editions of literary masterpieces, some even signed by the author), manuscripts, historical documents, maps, incunabula (pamphlets printed in the 15th century), photographs, and artifacts.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. 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:
Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies by William Shakespeare: Third folio edition, printed for Philip Chetwinde in 1664, generally regarded as the rarest of the 17th-century folio editions. An unknown number of copies is thought to have been destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666. Value: $625,000.
The Tragedy of Prince of Denmark by William Shakespeare: A rare 6th edition of the play. Value: $65,000.
The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer by Geoffrey Chaucer: First complete edition of his works printed in 1532. Value: $187,500.
The Republic of Plato translated by Scottish classicist Henry Spens: Bound in contemporary calf in ten volumes. Printed in 1763 by the University of Glasgow. Spens was inspired to translate Plato’s seminal work from the original Greek “to stir up the youth to the study of the Ancients.” Value: $18,000
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens: First edition, third issue, printed by Chapman & Hall (London) in 1843: Value: $12,500.
The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle: A first edition, first issue printed in 1902: Value: $5,000.
Facsimile Reproduction of Original Manuscript of Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens: 1 of a limited run of 250 copies printed in 1890. Value: $1,100.
Ulysses by James Joyce: Printed by John Lane the Bodley Head (London) in 1937). Value: $1,000.
Moby Dick by Herman Melville: Printed by Random House in 1930, featuring the woodcuts of Rockwell Kent: Value: $1,000.
Handwritten note from Charles Dickens to Charles Reade, author of The Cloister and the Hearth: Note, written on stationery from “Office of All the Year Round (No. 26 Wellington Street, Strand, London)” is signed by Charles Dickens and dated August 27, 1869. Value: $800.
The Magus by John Fowles: Printed by Jonathan Cape in 1977, signed by the author: Value $250
The Aleph and Other Stories by Jorge Luis Borges: First edition printed in 1970 : Value: $65.
For further reading: https://www.abaa.org/blog/post/50th-ca-book-fair-featured-items