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.

Banner for the 49th California International Antiquarian Book Fair (Photo Credit: Gina Ruiz)

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.

Printing Press (photo credit: Gina Ruiz)
Type set on printing press (Photo Credit: Gina Ruiz)

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.

Sample of the Alice in Wonderland books on display. (Photo Credit: Gina Ruiz)

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.

An example of an illuminated manuscript. (Photo Credit: Gina Ruiz)
Example of an illuminated manuscript. (Photo Credit: Gina Ruiz)

Also on display were well-known and classic works of literature going back to some of their earliest printings.

First English printing of the Declaration of Independence. (Photo Credit: Gina Ruiz)


Some booths also offered up maps.

Example of a map on display. (Photo credit: Gina Ruiz)

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.

Children’s Classics on display. (Photo Credit: Gina Ruiz)
An illustrated tale from the Arabian Nights. (Photo Credit: Gina Ruiz)


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.

Display case, including noir novels, at the booth of Los Angeles area based book dealer Biblioctopus. (Photo Credit: Gina Ruiz)


Rack of Pulp Magazines on display by The Book Bin, located in Oregon and exhibiting at the Pasadena event. (Photo Credit: Gina Ruiz)

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.

Bookshelf. (Photo Credit: Gina Ruiz)

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.

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