By Karen Wright
Diversity! It's a word that is bandied about all the time nowadays in regards to people, music, and food. In February, at the San Francisco Antiquarian Book, Print and Paper Fair, it was the name of the game in books. In our eighteen years in the book business, I don't believe we have seen a more diverse or interesting conglomeration of books and booksellers.
Where to start, where to start? The weather was so perfect that it was hard to go indoors, but once we did, we began with Booth 100, PBA Galleries, to see if my pal, Justine Berkeley, was there. She was out, so we trekked on. There were booksellers from Tokyo, Japan, Oxford, England, Hay on Wye, UK, Amsterdam, China, and pretty much everywhere in between, including, of course, lots of California book dealers. There were manuscripts that were hundreds of years old adjacent to wonderful, tawdry, pulp fiction paperbacks. There were books on modern thought and philosophy next door to botany and cooking. I saw books about cowboys, Indians, and bad guys keeping company with Judaica, House at Pooh Corner, The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner, natural history and science, and beautifully illustrated kiddie lit. Alaskan and Native American art books were snugged up with science fiction and French manuscripts, and Victorian fashions were hand-in-glove with illuminated religious texts, historic photographs, and books as art. There seemed no end to the diversity of it all. If you can think of a type of book you like, it was probably there.
It would take a lot of space to name and talk about all the great folks we met and the books we saw, so I will give you some highlights. My husband and I were first attracted to the booths that had books of the type we sell in our store, but we are also very visually-oriented people, so next we most enjoyed booths with lots of color or proprietors who had taken the time to make them attractive or eye-catching. The prize, to my way of thinking this time, went to The East is Red. Dwight McWethy, "The Chairman", has lived in China for many years and has been collecting Mao-phenalia since right after the Mao takeover, or as he put it, "We specialize in rare and collectible books, posters and other artifacts from the Chinese Cultural Revolution (c. 1966-1976.)" The poster of two Mongolian ponies and their riders was truly a work of art. I wanted it SO much!
Another really nifty bookstore was Handsome Books. They specialize in elaborate, decorative publisher's bindings and Press Books from the 19th and early 20th centuries with lots of Victorian, Art Deco, Art Nouveau, and Arts and Crafts tomes. Similarly, John Windle of San Francisco had some amazing color plate books and children's books. Oh, dang, I wish I were really, really rich!
Because I was a botany major in college I carry a lot of books related to that subject in my own store. I was fascinated by the various botanical books and prints we found in many of the booths, but most particularly those of Robert Berg Antiquariat from Regensburg, Germany, and Eugene Vigil of Antiquariat Botanicum from Lynden, Washington. The exquisite, colorful plates made me want to go in debt up to my ears, but I knew I would never have the heart to resell them, so I slapped my hands and continued to wend my way up and down aisles until I had seen most of the 200 booths and chatted with some of the booksellers. I found several really nice western history bargains for my store at Eric Stetson Books from Flagstaff, Arizona, but more than anything else I just feasted my eyes on the delicious selections.