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News & Updates Antiquarian Booksellers' Association of America

Look who’s collecting rare books: A new generation of bibliophiles hits the book fair

Following the ABAA-ILAB San Francisco California Book Fair, the San Francisco Standard writes:
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The Antiquarian Booksellers' Association of America began in 1949 with around 50 members. Most, unsurprisingly, were white men. Now in its 75th year—and the first time in a decade it has convened in San Francisco—the association looks a lot different than it did in the beginning.

“It’s moved from a gentleman’s pursuit to a pursuit for everybody,” said Susan Benne, the organization’s executive director.

The approximately 400 members represented at this year's California International Antiquarian Book Fair last weekend include many women-owned businesses, with offerings stretching far beyond rare books.

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Suzanna Beaupre of Peter Harrington Rare Books sorts through the collection at California International Antiquarian Book Fair at Pier 27 on Friday. | Source: Camille Cohen for The Standard

You could pick up a 1487 guide to eradicating witches for a cool $185,000. Or perhaps you were more interested in the 1887 bartender’s guide that first codified cocktails, yours for a mere $2,200. You could also find posters protesting forced sterilization ($195), original drawings by Charles Schulz of the Peanuts Gang ($165,000) and a handmade flag made from a grape stake for Cesar Chavez’s 1993 funeral procession ($1,000).

Indiana University curator Rebecca Baumann came to the fair, held at San Francisco's sunny Pier 27, to build a collection of queer materials for the school’s library. She zeroed in on things she’d never seen before, like the “transploitation” film poster she scored on Friday night. “We want to show our students their pasts are here and their futures can be here,” she said.

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A staff member of Antiquariaat Schierenberg from Amsterdam sets up her display on Friday. | Source:Camille Cohen for The Standard

“Trends in contemporary culture are reflected in our world,” said Sammy Jay, another bookseller at Peter Harrington. “It just takes a bit longer.”

Jay noted that there has also been a recent spike in interest in fantasy and science-fiction genres. “There’s a lot of people who have made their money in tech, and they’re kind of heady,” he said.

Jay got pulled into the rare book trade via a remarkable discovery—when he was 22, he found a first edition of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein inscribed to Lord Byron. “It was an introduction to a world I had no idea existed,” he said.

This article was first published on 13 February 2024 by the San Francisco Standard. Copyright of all text and images are with the San Francisco Standard.
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