Chapter 241 My Week in Book Paradise

The Huntington Library, a book-lover’s paradise

For those of you thinking you might want to attend the California Rare Book School in the future, I want to describe my California Rare Book School course, The Book in the West, with an Emphasis on California in more detail.

Gary Kurutz, who taught the course, is the Principal Librarian of Special Collections at the State Library of California. He also wrote, among other things, a wonderful Gold Rush bibliography that every Western Americana collector or dealer should own. It’s a great resource for books in the West. Gary is truly an expert on the history of the book in the West (western states, that is), and he had many great anecdotes to go along with the information he gave us.

I had five classmates, almost all of whom are special collections librarians from the Los Angeles area. Aside from the instructor, Gary, and his lovely and knowledgeable wife, K.D. Kurutz, I was the only Northern Californian. I was also the only antiquarian bookseller in the class, but I know of at least three antiquarian booksellers who took the course last year, so it is not unusual for booksellers to enroll. Much as I like to meet other booksellers, I was especially pleased to meet the librarians in my course. As I got to know them during the course of the week, I learned a bit about selling books to libraries and the way that some libraries build and fund their special collections. As I haven’t yet got any experience selling to libraries, I was happy to learn about their needs and hierarchical structures.

A panel of three Southern California booksellers also gave an informative and entertaining talk to all the classes about books, bookselling and book collecting at the Rare Book School one evening. The three booksellers were: Howard Rootenberg, Michael R. Thompson, and Ken Karmiole.

Each morning we began around 8:30 with Gary delivering a lecture on different aspects of books published in the West: from the libraries in the California missions to early California imprints, from the illustrated books and overland narratives, from Gold Rush books to books about wine, from menus and newspapers to artist’s books. All these topics were covered in detail and included numerous handouts and bibliographic details. Gary even brought examples of some of the books he taught us about to show the class.

We usually broke for lunch around noon and then boarded a UCLA van which took us to a different destination each day. Here’s where we went:

UCLA’s Special Collections Department (in the Charles Young Research Library — also where our class was held each day). The wonderful librarians there arranged a special display of California related books and manuscripts for us to examine. Then they gave us a printed keepsake bibliography of all the books in the display they had created for our class. Wonderfully generous.

The Lawrence Clark Powell Library Hands-down the prettiest library on UCLA’s large campus.

The Huntington Library. And Michael Sharpe Rare Books. In the same afternoon. I saw so many bona fide fine and rare books in one day that, in a bibliophilic delusion, I began to think that books like Gutenberg Bible and Arthur Rackham’s proof color plates for Peter Pan were common.

Dawson’s Book Shop, a wonderful Los Angeles book shop in the same family for three generations. Michael Dawson talked to us about changes in the book business and what that means for Dawson’s business strategy. He had a great display of early Southern California ephemera and photography.

At Mission San Fernando, we spoke with noted Catholic scholar, author, and archivist for the Archdioces of Los Angeles, Monsignor Frances J. Weber. He took us to see the oldest complete Mission Library in California (the books originally came from Mission Santa Ines, if I recall correctly), and tour the archives.

The library at the Southwest Museum of the American Indian and the Braun Research Library at the Institute for the Study of the American West at the Autry National Center and Museum.

Tour of UCLA’s Visual Arts Library, lunch at the home of and tour of the book collection of UCLA Librarian (and former California State Librarian) Gary Strong, reception at the Clark Library. (Due to the bad timing of my flight home, I actually missed the Friday night reception at the Clark Library, but I heard it is a wonderful place.)

Every stop we made on our excursions contained wonderful rare books, books with amazing hand colored plates, and true historical artifacts. I held Robert Louis Stevenson’s manuscript notebook for Silverado Squatters and examined a 1491 edition of Dante’s Divine Comedy. I saw letters written by Thomas Jefferson and Charlotte Bronte. I got to peruse the most delicate handmade artist’s books (delicate except for one, which was made entirely of human hair — eew!). It was an amazing journey,

Other than gloating about having been able to see such treasures with my own eyes, I learned a lot. Gary Kurutz wisely lectured in the mornings about the books we’d see in our afternoon excursions. It helped to discuss the bibliographic and historical significance of these books before we went to see them.

I highly recommend this week in book paradise to any of you — collector, bookseller, librarian, history lover — who might consider taking it next year.


Filed under A Bookseller's Education

2 responses to “Chapter 241 My Week in Book Paradise

  1. I have heard so much about the Huntingdon Library and Museum. I’d very much like to see them sometime in my lifetime – I hope.

  2. I’m a bit closer to Los Angeles than you are, but if you ever get to Southern California, the Huntington is well worth the trip (as is Rare Book School!).

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