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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.

Images:
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 (http://brbl-dl.library.yale.edu/vufind/Record/3519047)
4) Tiburcio Vasquez (www.dsloan.com/Auctions/A15/A15Web183-185.htm)
5) Travel posters (courtesy of Adan Griego)
6) Protest prints (http://migrationnow.com/)

The Rare, Unique and Exotic @ San Francisco’s Antiquarian Book Fair.

In past years, when the Antiquarian Book Fair comes to San Francisco, the rainy weather has been a welcome incentive to spend a weekend indoors discovering the rare, unique, exotic and colorful. This time, a Spring-like sunny morning welcomed the 200 exhibitors from as far away as England. With names like “Cook Book Lady,” and “Vagabond Books,” it promised “Amazing Adventures” and not to disappoint even the most exigente of collectors.

It was not meant to be a chronological adventure, but the first item that caught my attention was an illustrated manuscript from the early 1700s. The dealer allowed me to take a photo and gave me a catalogue with the full description of the $55,000 item. He was most amiable, even when I finally said I “was just looking.”

The recorrido continued until I could not resist the stare from a Mexican movie poster (Novillero-1937), which claimed to be the first color movie in Spanish. The cast included a young composer (Agustin Lara), whose famous paso doble has become one of the most emblematic melodies we now associate with the fiesta brava. Lara’s fame endures to this day with other songs as Granada, Solamente una vez, and has even made it to Almodovar’s High Heels with Piensa en mí.


The same vendor also displayed the album Central America with watercolors by Max Vollmberg, a British artist who spent several years traveling throughout the region. The portfolio includes seventeen watercolor scenes from El Salvador that were originally published as postcards. The preface notes “…the characteristic types and subjects which the artist had opportunity of encountering on his travels, and the painting of which was often enough carried out under the most difficult conditions possible.” (OCLC: 13972155, 11860892, 651295904).

Other pictorial accounts of travels to our shores (even if less of a real visitor than Vollmberg) included Theodor de Bry’s Brevis narratio eorum quae in Florida Americae…. A pristine copy can go for as much as $70,000. Although missing a few important pages, this one was still priced at $27,500.

Courtesy of Michael Maslan (oldphoto4u@aol.com)
Much closer to home, for the adventurer North of the Border, travel guides described the distant as a very accessible destination. Postcards of those from here, who have visited over there, made that far away place more familiar: “July, 1910…spending my vacation in Mexico and having the loveliest kind of time….” Although, every so often, there is a not so subtle advertencia.

Surprises await at any moment, at any corner, at any booth, like some of Gabo’s translations into English. If you have a first edition of One Years Years of Solitude, with dust jacket and all, especially with “no number line at the end of the text, a price of $7.95 and an exclamation point (“!”) at end of first paragraph on the front jacket flap,” you’ll be surprised what a treasure you posses.

Adan Griego
Curator for Latin American, Mexican American & Iberian Collections
Stanford University Libraries

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