Wednesday August 16th 2017




Bandits, Rebels and Other Subversives at an Antiquarian Book Fair.

The month of February is shorter this year but it brought plenty of visual stimulation: from the Codex International Artist Book Fair right up to the California Antiquarian Book Fair, with several of the same exhibitors and librarians attending both events.

On the Fair’s opening day private collectors are among the first to arrive looking for one (or several) of the many treasures brought from all over the world, some more affordable than others. This Fair alternates between Los Angeles and San Francisco and one year the rumor was that a Hollywood actor in dark glasses was among those “early birds.”

As librarians, our mission is to document culture in its multiple manifestations. And there we were: Theresa Salazar (Bancroft Library), several other colleagues from as far as England and yours truly, sharing the exhibit hall with SALALM vendors (Alfonso Vijil and Beverly Karno) along with other rare book enthusiasts.

This year there were fewer exhibitors from Europe, mostly from the U.K and Germany, with others from France, Holland and even one from Hungary.

As I made my way through the exhibit hall, I encountered a pristine copy of Album Pintoresco de la Repúbica Mexicana, from a French exhibitor, with a price tag of $30,000 for the original 1850 edition! I asked if I could see it and the vendor was most affable. How can I forget the image of the women making tortillas. Once I had a peculiar reference question: to verify if a similar image by Diego Rivera had a title other than tortilleras. The patron wanted to include it in a textbook to teach Spanish, where the language has to be as neutral as possible and she hoped for another word to reference that culinary art that other visual artists like Carl Nebel captured in their travelogues.

At $1,200 and even $3,500 a copy of the 19th-century California “bandit” Tiburcio Vasquez looked like a bargain! The legendary Californio has been in the news recently after the city of Salinas, birth place of Nobel laureate John Steinbeck, decided to name a school after Vasquez. Interestingly, news headlines used some of the same words from this book: bandit and murderer. Other media venues opted for gang leader, outlaw and even serial killer!

More affordable items could also be found, like Mexican vintage travel brochures for less than $30. Some pamphlets were jointly issued by the National Tourist Council and the railways, while others came from the Pemex Travel Club and were clearly designed to showcase the country’s cultural heritage to tourists. Gone was that 19th century publicity aimed at luring potential foreign investors to mining and agricultural ventures during the Porfiriato when an add referred to the regions of the western sierras as a “sub-tropical Switzerland.”

There were other visually attractive items, like a Spanish Civil War poster. By the last day of the Fair it seemed to have found a home away from the Bolerium Books radical movements collection. From the same period, there was also a display case with several first editions of Hemingway’s novels next to an original matador outfit and photos of the writer and other celebrities at a corrida, clearly when the fiesta brava was considered quite a glamorous event.

Not everything was old, the current can gain new life as unique and rare, like the limited edition portfolio of protest art: Migration NOW, or even a historical map of 1825 North America, reminded us that the region constantly experienced movements of people both North-South and East-West, and this time: North-South.

Adan Griego, Stanford University Libraries.

1) Alfonso Vijil, Theresa Salazar and Clemente Orozco (courtesy of Adan Griego)
2) Beverly Karno and Adan Griego (courtesy of Peter Hanff, Bancroft Library)
3) Las tortilleras (
4) Tiburcio Vasquez (
5) Travel posters (courtesy of Adan Griego)
6) Protest prints (

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