Rare Book Monthly

Articles - July - 2010 Issue

Bolerium - Bookselling as Performance Art

Main-street

Bolerium - the long perspective


By Bruce McKinney

An interesting shop in the San Francisco barrio south of Market Street; this is Bolerium Books on Mission. The street is busy, the traffic young. From down the street a giant BOOKS sign, in the same type and size New York used a few years ago to salute the Yankees after winning their umpteenth baseball championship, is visible on the building front. Across the street an unusual combination of loiters suggest illegal activities. Passing by I pat my wallet. No one pays them or me any mind. This is San Francisco. One intersection over is Capp Street that ten years ago was the place to speed-date.

For those not scanning the horizon as they approach, Bolerium and three other bookstores in the building at 2141 Mission; Libros Latinos, Meyer-Boswell, and Valhalla Books, are easy, as you walk by, to miss. Their names are printed in 24 point on the recessed entrance, Bolerium one of the buzzers temporarily attached years ago to the door's seen-better-days frame. These bookstores, it turns out, are nested in a three-story building, occupying all or parts of the upper floors. The entrance to the building is locked, the keypad provided to signal your interest, the doors secured until you establish your bona fides. Even Lex Luther has to be buzzed in.

I have the company's card in hand and read it carefully:

Bolerium Books specializes in American social movements - labor and radical history, African-American Studies, Hispanics in the U.S., gay and lesbian studies, Asian-American history, and the Spanish civil war. In other words: mainly if not exclusively twentieth century movements.

The stairs I now climb will be a barrier to some, but may explain why John Durham, the proprietor, soon mentions that the clientele is younger. I didn't ask how many people have died on the way up. Never mind. Later I learn there's an elevator.

I soon discover the seventy-four steps are worth the trip. The door on the third floor at No. 300 opens into a warren of floor to ceiling displays retrieved from garage sales a century ago. A map of the store tells all, both the categories of material, and the Bolerium approach to them. The two thousand square feet are divided into passages, sections, divisions and dichotomies. The "gauntlet of boxes and bags" on the left side, and the "Berlin Wall of Boxes and Piles" on the right, are bridesmaids ushering you to the alter where the head man waits to seduce and direct you toward shelves with such names as "overpriced books, "gay, more gay and even more gay," "refuge of endangered ideologies," "inlet of high hopes," and "purgatory" to name only some. In one direction the subjects under these banners are clearly, if innocently, marked: Labor, Radical & African-American Small Pamphlets & Ephemera; Lesbian Literature, Hispanic-American material and Black History. Going the other way opportunities to get insight into various sins are provided. In nooks and crannies niche subjects wait their chance to command entire alleys. Lenin gets a book end, Sacred Texts another. Lesser characters and subjects must petition John for placards. He's no doubt negotiable; how many things do we have? Can we put shelves in the water closet? Think J. K. Rowling's "Room of Requirement." You are in it. All space is occupied, if not assigned, most once empty corners named.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>
  • <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Shackleton, Ernest. <i>Aurora Australis.</i> Printed at the sign of 'The Penguins'; East Antarctica, 1908. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Shackleton, Ernest. <i>South Polar Times.</i> 1st edition, limited issue. from the library of Michael Barne. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> General Washington's <i>Proceedings of a General Court Martial... of Major General Lee.</i> Philiadelphia, 1778. 100 copies printed for Congress. BOUND WITH: ...Court Martial... of St Clair and ...Schuyler. $25,000 to $35,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>The Voice of the People.</i> Boston, 1754. Rare pamphlet on the Excise Tax. Nathaniel Sparhawk's copy. $4,000 to $6,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Autograph Letter Signed ("S.L. Clemens"), offering extensive hard-earned advice on writing, 5 pp, 1881. $30,000 to $50,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> After Fra Egnazio Danti. <i>L'Ultime Parti not:e nel Indie Occid:ntli" [The last known parts of the Western Indies].</i> Painted Map of California, Western Mexico, and Japan. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Ptolemaeus, Claudius. <i>Geographie opus nouissima...</i> 1513. The most important edition of Ptolemy, containing the Admiral's Map. $250,000 to $350,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> De Arellano, Don Alonso. Manuscript, his <i>"Relación mui singular y circunstanciada... Capitán del Patax San Lucas,"</i> manuscript copy from the Sir Thomas Phillips collection. $50,000 to $80,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Purchas, Samuel. <i>Purchas his Pilgrimes.</i> First edition. With John Simth's engraved map of Virginia. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Lewis, Meriwether. Contemporary manuscript true copy of his final power of attorney, 1809. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>A New Method of Macarony Making, as Practiced at Boston in North America.</i> Mezzotint. London, 1774. $5,000 to $7,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>Scientific Base Ball Pitching: A Treatise on the Pitcher, Pitching, Origin and Philosophy of the Curve.</i> Chicago, 1897. $2,000 to $3,000
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Franklin H. Brown, <i>State Sovereignty, National Union,</i> Chicago, 1860. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Thomas Paine, <i>The American Crisis,</i> Fishkill, NY, December 1776. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b><br>The Aitken Bible, Philadelphia, 1781. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Francisco Loubayssin de Lamarca, probable first edition of the first novel set in the Spanish New World, Paris, 1617. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Juan de la Anunciación, <i>Sermonario en lengua mexicana,</i> first edition, first book of sermons in Nahuatl, Mexico, 1577. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Maturino Gilberti, <i>Thesoro spiritual en lengua de Mechuacá,</i> first edition, Mexico, 1558. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Commission of William O. Stoddard as secretary to the president, signed by Lincoln, Washington, 1861. $7,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> <i>Clay and Frelinghuysen,</i> flag banner, circa 1844. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Daguerreotype of a man believed to be Frederick Granger Williams Smith, son of Joseph Smith, circa late 1850s. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> John C. Wolfe, <i>Portrait of Abraham Lincoln,</i> oil on board in period wooden frame, circa 1860s. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Francis W. Winton, manuscript on pow-wows with indigenous Canadians, 1881. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Family letters from two young daguerreotype artists, 1826-79. $10,000 to $15,000.

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