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

In past years, when the...

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.


(Image courtesy of Michael Maslan ( 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