The word antiquarian, or even the less complex word rare, conjures up images of dusty tomes when used in relation to books.
However, when AmoXcalli blog host Gina Ruiz and I visited The 49th California International Antiquarian Book Fair on 13th February, 2016, our discoveries were anything of the sort! The year’s theme was A Wonderland of Books, celebrating 150 years of Lewis Carroll’s classic Alice in Wonderland. The event took place at the Pasadena Convention Center.
While the main exhibit hall featured the book sellers, a number of organizations relating to various aspects of the art of books had displays in the hallway just outside, including areas such as calligraphy and book binding. One of the organizations – The International Printing Museum – brought along a working printing press that attendees were offered the chance to try and take home a print to keep with a small donation.
As mentioned earlier, the theme for the year emphasized an important anniversary milestone for Alice in Wonderland. To help celebrate, the organizers worked with the University of Southern California Doheny Memorial Library of Special Collections. Parts of the Cassady Lewis Carroll Collection were showcased on display in the hallway entrance area to showcase the evolution of the beloved Alice character in print and other media through the years.
Inside the hall, the selection of items available ranged far beyond any preconceived notion of a rare book might be. While the definition easily would include illuminated manuscripts, one might not expect to actually see them out on the floor. While not common, there were more than a few examples.
Also on display were well-known and classic works of literature going back to some of their earliest printings.
Some booths also offered up maps.
Children’s classics were evident, but whether this is common or specific to the show’s theme is unclear. The rarity of the books varied based on the edition of the title.
Of great surprise were the noir novels and pulp magazines that appeared on the floor, that through time on the market are just beginning to fall under the definition of rare or antiquarian books.
Also, for those interested in learning more about the field of rare and antiquarian books, seminars were held throughout the weekend on Rare Books 101, as well as a couple academic focused talks about the Alice special collection and Alice’s effect on popular culture.
Going to an event such as this serves as a reminder that books have been and continue to be magical, and the endurance of the printed word.