Fairs | February 2012 | Nate Pedersen

California Antiquarian Book Fair (Books, Lectures, Exhibits)


With big book fairs come big books.  This year in Pasadena was no exception.  Fair highlights included the three volume first edition of Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen's first novel, offered by Biblioctopus for $65,000.  Biblioctopus also had to hand an impressive copy of Shakespeare's fourth folio, offered for $180,000.

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Douglas Stewart, a young dealer from Australia, brought along a first edition of The Lord of the Rings inscribed by Tolkien in the Elvish language he invented for the book.  The book sold quickly in the first day.  Stewart also had a leaf from the Gutenberg Bible, which he offered for $85,000.

In the realm of the truly unique, Lorne Bair had a personal photo photo album from Adolf Hitler, showing a variety of casual (and mostly unknown) images of Hitler and his lover on holiday.  The album was priced at $65,000.


A special exhibition on display at the fair was entitled "A Love Affair with Books: Personal Stories of Noted Collectors."  Select items from the collections of Tony Bill, Mary Murphy, and Sarah Michelle Gellar amongst others, were proudly exhibited in glass display cases.  Gellar's collection of children's books focused in particular on the works of Arthur Rackham.  She has almost acquired all of Rackham's illustrated books.

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I had the pleasure of attending Mark Dimunation's excellent lecture "Jefferson's Legacy," about the building of the Library of Congress' rare book collections.  Dimunation, the head of rare books at the LOC, spoke about the nation's library as being a "collection of collections."  The first collection acquired by the nation, of course, was Thomas Jefferson's famous personal library.  Jefferson sold his truly outstanding collection of books to the US government in 1815 for $24,0000.  The 6,487 volumes in Jefferson's library became the basis for the Library of Congress.  Two-thirds of Jefferson's books, however, were subsequently lost in a fire.  One of Dimunation's goals in his tenure as Chief of Rare Books has been to reconstruct Jefferson's library exactly as it was in 1815.  Thus, he set about on a multi-year quest to track down the exact editions of some 4,000 books from the original Jefferson library that were lost in the fire.  Dimunation has almost achieved this ambitious and noble goal.  As of early 2012, there are only 275 books - from three centuries of printing and in nine different languages - left to acquire. 

Dimunation also spoke about some of the other key collections that have become cornerstones of the national library: the personal collections of Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and Harry Houdini, as well as several major private collections of Americana and Lincolniana.  Two of Dimunation's favorite acquisitions, from two separate Whitman collectors, are a copy of Thoreau's A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, inscribed to Walt Whitman, and a copy of Whitman's Leaves of Grass, inscribed to Thoreau.  The two giants of American literature met each other once in Brooklyn in 1856, where a walk in the park saved a stalled conversation.  Whitman and Thoreau exchanged their books at the end of their walk before they parted, never to meet again.  The books are now happily reunited, facing each other, on display at the Library of Congress.