February 2015 | Nate Pedersen

Twentysix Gasoline Stations

RuschaGasolineStations.jpgOne of my earliest blog posts with Fine Books & Collections was entitled Collecting Photobooks. Pictured at the top of that post was the dust jacket for the classic Twentysix Gasoline Stations, the book that put photobook collecting on the map in 1963, when its photographer, Ed Ruscha, issued the book in a limited run from his own imprint. After a poor initial reception, the photobook gradually built a cult audience in the 1960s before being outright praised from the 1980s onward as the "first modern artist's book."

A scarce first edition of Twentysix Gasoline Stations - one of only 400 copies - will be on hand this weekend at the California Antiquarian Book Fair. Laurence McGilvery will have it at booths 510 and 511. He has priced it at $12,500, a cheaper price than any copy I could find online when I wrote the Collecting Photobooks post in 2011.

As its name suggests, Twentysix Gasoline Stations contains purposefully dull photographs of twenty-six gas stations along Route 66, traveled by Ruscha from California to Oklahoma in the early 60s. He self-published the book in 1963, when he was only 24 years old. In addition to the quality of the photographs, the book has long been praised for its sharp design. 

Ruscha famously submitted a copy of the book to the Library of Congress, who promptly rejected it for its "unorthodox form and supposed lack of information." 

To this day, the Library of Congress does not own a copy.

Perhaps that will change this weekend in Oakland.