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Monday, February 16, 2009

Veni, Vidi, Legi

(Ineptly translated from my nonexistent Latin as I came, I saw, I read.)

Through this oversized book-shaped portal lies a wonderland for the curious and intense little world of book obsessives, collectors, and those who wish they were.

Who is that Boy whizzing by with his green umbrella?

The Antiquarian Book Fair pays a visit to San Francisco every two years. For anyone who might lose their mind with joy at seeing a 15th century illuminated manuscript page and actually be allowed to touch it (albeit in a clear plastic sleeve), cry happy tears at seeing a first edition of whatever their favorite children's book was (in mint condition) or hyperventillate slightly to see Abraham Lincoln's signature, this is the place to be. (Last time, I hung around a booth full of Charles Dickens' first editions. Did I almost cry? Yes.)

It's like the coolest museum, except you can touch stuff.

And if you have enough money, you can buy what you're touching.
(The above card on the copy of Candide reads: One of thirteen known copies, preceding all other editions. Printing and the Mind of Man. $100,000.) I did not ask to handle that book, fyi.

Below are some items that intrigued me for whatever reason. But this tiny collection of photos was nothing compared to the vast variety of what was there on display.

A children's book written by Nazis. Charming.

Another non-PC title for children: John Chinaman

And yet another.

These children's books make me hope we've made some sort of progress. (We have, right?)

Maps of a world that no longer exists.

Fascinating stuff for explorers and armchair travelers.

I'm still not quite sure what purpose this lovely certificate had, but I'm sure the Red Man didn't come out to be the winner here, despite the bright colors and the gold seal.

This book reminded me of Brad.

Not that you could tell from this crap photo, but here is a letter written by George Washington. You'll be glad to know that he had lovely penmanship.

Who doesn't want a first edition of To Kill a Mockingbird?
(A steal at $26K)

Besides the books, incredible maps, posters, and autographs were everywhere.

A folio of Shakespeare's comedies, histories and tragedies, for the drama geek in your life.
Dated 1678.

Descartes, with someone writing in the margins.
Dated 1737.

Tiny perfect miniature sets.
This is a collection of Shakespeare.

I tried to give you an idea of how many booths there were but there was no way to get the scale of this place. You'll just have to see it for yourself in 2011.

One mind-boggling display after another. Booksellers from all over the country packed up their best items to sell here. Many many from England, and also France and Germany.

A Hebrew grammar book from Paris. Dated 1636. It looked new.

What every child needs to know about Vladimir Ilych Ulyanov (V.I. Lenin). Sorry, I have to throw some Big Lebowski in whenever I can. You should know that by now!

You can pick up a first edition of Mao's Little Red Book for a mere $25K.

I don't collect things and normally don't really covet them. But this was the one item (only $950) that I would have bought if I could. From Vienna, a policeman's ball, this petite pouch in soft white leather with a matching tassel contained a tiny vial of perfume and a miniature dance card and pencil. These dainty trinkets were given to the ladies attending just a run-of-the-mill ball in 1913. *sigh*

And there you have it... a day's mania in one post!


KennethSF February 16, 2009 at 6:53 PM  

Hey, I was there too! I was admiring some old copies of Dickens and Sherlock Holmes. Of course, it was strictly window shopping for me. A $15,000 edition of Martin Chuzzlewit would be out of the question on a freelancer writer's income.

Relyn February 16, 2009 at 7:17 PM  

OH! I'm one of those who wish I were. Pure joy just to be there. I know it was. Thank you so, so much for letting me be there vicariously.

The Pink Cowboy February 16, 2009 at 9:00 PM  

I held my breath while reading the whole post. I'm tingling all over not from the lack of oxygen but because nothing gives me more pleasure than old books, old beautiful books. I would have spent hours on end inside that place. We live in a world of ideas and books are their vessels. I can make a list of first editions I would love to own: The Pickwick Papers, Sonnets from the Portuguese, Confessions of an English Opium-Eater by De Quincy and Salomé by Oscar Wilde with the Aubrey Beardsley illustrations. Lovely just lovely. My grandmother kept a dance card she used while a young lady. They called them Carné in Spain. It included the Waltz, the Mazurka and the Habanera. It was around 1915. Thank you darling for taking me with you to this book antiquarian promenade.

It's Just Me February 16, 2009 at 9:10 PM  

I was almost awed enough by the books to forget the man or "boy" with the green umbrella... intriguing!

What a wonderful way to spend part of a day.

Thanks for sharing.

FrenchGardenHouse February 16, 2009 at 9:31 PM  

sigh. and sigh again. I am sad/glad I didn't go to this. Sad, because it looks amazing! Glad, because I KNOW I would have gotten into much trouble. Thanks for sharing...my heart is a flutter.

dutchbaby February 16, 2009 at 9:56 PM  

That looked like a very fun day! Very different from the book conventions I attend. I enjoyed every photo you took, but of course I loved the letter from Washington best. He has very loose, open handwriting - amazing.

Gabby February 16, 2009 at 10:25 PM  

I am the walrus.

Mari February 16, 2009 at 10:50 PM  

Wow, that was amazing. I've never seen such an event! Thanks for taking us along.

julochka February 16, 2009 at 10:59 PM  

so much goodness in one place...and of course you landed on yet another reason why 1913 is THE year. i hope i was alive then.

nazi children's book for a mere $3750! wouldn't want the kids to get their hands on that (for a variety of reasons).

and i love the first map...funny how huge they thought papua new guinea (nova gvinea) was! i always love the illustrations on those old maps. little ships and the occasional sea monster.

and one last swoon over decartes plus marginalia. heaven.

Anonymous February 16, 2009 at 11:00 PM  

Oh I would have been in heaven, absolute heaven. I so wish that I could have been there.

Those old world maps make me smile. The designers always used to amplify the size of Britain, Europe and even the US to make them appear bigger than 'third world' countries.


Anonymous February 16, 2009 at 11:08 PM  

Waaaaay cool, especially the pouch and the little vial of perfume. I vote that we bring back the dance card. And wouldn't you know it, we just watched "Capote" tonight, featuring Ms.Harper Lee :-)

Red Shoes February 16, 2009 at 11:58 PM  

Please please take me with you next time! I could just swoon over the Shakespeare. Ooohhhh my.

Sue February 17, 2009 at 12:34 AM  

I wish they brought that to South Africa!! I love books and I love old books... how magical to have been there and seen it in the 'flesh'.

Sue x

moonshark February 17, 2009 at 3:19 AM  

I love the maps! I wonder what we'll be snickering about in 500 more years. Everything from today will be so archaic and 1st edition Sex and the City compilations will be worth millions. Or maybe not.

Its so nice to come visit again Tangobaby, Thanks for living your creative life and letting us hang with you.

Kimberly February 17, 2009 at 4:22 AM  

Your post made me want to head over to my favorite used book store which is located in an old ballroom/dance hall. I know it's not the same as seeing beautiful rare antique books, but sometimes you can find a treasure sitting on one of those shelves.

paris parfait February 17, 2009 at 4:57 AM  

Oh I would have loved being there! I did go to a couple when I lived in SF. I found it almost painful in a way, because I wanted so many things and couldn't afford any of them.

There's an antiquarian book fair here later this month; perhaps I'll pop in.

Adam February 17, 2009 at 6:32 AM  

i must say, this event looks amazing!

i would have loved the see the Shakespeare folio, and the Charles Dickens stuff. British Lit. was my favorite subject in high school and I am the only known person in my high school to voluntarily read the entire Canterbury Tales.

God I love books, OH, good friend of mine has a 1st edition Harry Potter and the Philiosophers stone, and also an early run of the Wizard of Oz.

Wish I could have seen this!

Anonymous February 17, 2009 at 7:52 AM  

wwwwwwwow, dickens first editions? i guess i had not even realized that such a thing still existed. that is amazing.

smith kaich jones February 17, 2009 at 8:41 AM  

Oh man, Oh man, oh man, oh man!!! Oh man!!! Wow! Ever since I was a teeny little thing - young reader, earlier than normal - bookstores & libraries have been my places of refuge, That smell of books - I can recall to this very moment the feel of the worn stairs leading to the front doors of our small-town library, and that wonderful book smell, and what? More than one floor of nothing but books? And people say there's no God! :)

This is wonderful, incredible, and I want them ALL, even the politically incorrect ones. Especially those. I want to know how it used to be, and dream of what's coming. 2011, you say?

:) Debi

~K February 17, 2009 at 2:50 PM  

What...no Comic books? man looks like a great place to be a book nut or a dust mite. If I could afford it though I would buy the To Kill A Mockingbird first edition...love Harper Lee. Still someday I am going to own a first edition Tangobaby!

Braja February 17, 2009 at 5:02 PM  

OMG I'm excited just seeing a first edition of To Kill A Mockingbird...

Char February 17, 2009 at 8:48 PM  

wish I could pull $26k outta my pocket. Then I would drive south 2 hours to ask her to sign it.

The Archduchess February 17, 2009 at 10:35 PM  

Had I been there, I would have instantly died and gone to heaven. Which would be counterproductive, really. So. Much. WANT.

namastenancy February 17, 2009 at 11:50 PM  

We must have missed each other. I was there too - enjoying the books but feeling the pain of the prices. A first edition of Jane Austen's Emma- $24K. A medieval book of hours- $135K. Even individual sheets from medieval books were 1000 and up and up. But this year was a lot better than last year where there wasn't nearly as much choice.

Christina February 18, 2009 at 6:26 AM  

Drooling over here! That's all I have to say. : )

seeree, phd February 18, 2009 at 6:29 AM  

I love books. So much that I still love them after working in a library for six years and I still miss working in a library.
That being said, all those pictures are amazing and I am so jealous that you could be thee surrounded by such greatness.
The first edition of Candide totally game me goosebumps.

willow February 19, 2009 at 10:32 AM  

I am totally green with envy! I could have easily gotten lost in this show and not been found for several days. I ADORE old books. Thanks for sharing this!!

flawsnall February 19, 2009 at 2:53 PM  

i bet my little sister was there. what an experience this must have been. great post!