California Antiquarian Book Fair February 18 -20

- by Bruce E. McKinney


An important Jefferson letter offered by John Waite. Booth 604

By Bruce McKinney

There was a time, twenty years ago, when the book business existed at three levels: trade shows, catalogues and open stock. Every level emphasized human contact and the book business really was, and for many remains today, a relationship business.

In the 1990s online book listing sites began to fundamentally change the book business. Where previously AB Bookman's Weekly had provided a limited way for sellers and buyers to list their books and wants, books could now be posted as ever-green listings. Simply pay the monthly service fees and your books stayed up for months and even years. In time the volume of listings exploded into the tens of millions. What had been a business of storefront dealers has since become a field dominated by more than twenty thousand sellers listing books on one or more of the approximately twenty-five listing sites worldwide. With the development of this trend have come greater emphasis on material and a reduced emphasis on the dealer-client relationship.

The personal relationship, though, remains for many an essential component of the book business. This month the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America is holding its annual west coast fair in San Francisco at the Concourse Exhibition Center, 635 8th Street at Brannon, where the primacy of the bookseller-book collector relationship will be celebrated. Here, old style bookselling and book buying will be much in evidence and more than 5,000 bibliophiles are expected to scan the material that has been shipped in from around the world. For those who love books, and enjoy a day spent looking at them, the show should be great fun.

The vast majority of old and used books today sell online but the most important books, as measured by dollar value, are still sold by experienced book dealers to collectors who rely on professional judgment to confirm authenticity, completeness and original color [in plate books]. Book fairs, that may once have occupied center stage, are still under the big-top and for many collectors are events they look forward to attending.

This year more than 200 dealers have signed up to participate in the ABAA San Francisco Show. For the fledgling collector this is a great way to begin the collecting odyssey. For the experienced collector it is a chance to measure a dealer's knowledge and offerings against their descriptions and prices. And of course for many it is simply a chance to again meet people who share your interest in printed material. You may not find the book you want but you will find plenty of confirmation for this unique avocation.

Here is a link to a list of participating dealers. Further links to their sites and inventories are included. Dealers aren't always sure what items to bring so if you find one or more things of particular interest in their online listings contact the dealer by phone, fax or email and they may be able to bring them to the show for a discussion. Then select VIEW ALL EXHIBITORS.

Links: The Official Show Site [ ]

Parking information and hours are given on the official show site.