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Tracking down Western classics at Bay Area bookstores.

Tracking down Western classics at Bay Area bookstores

Here's early advice for visitors to Yosemite Valley:

"Leave all finery behind. People do not stand on ceremony in the Valley. Do not let timid or silly people alarm you on the way. We met persons last year who gave the most dolorous and terrible accounts of their fears and sufferings in going into the Valley; but . . . no lady who is not physically or mentally incapable of walking a mile, or sitting on a very gentle and surefooted horse, need have the slightest apprehension.'

That comes from Charles Nordhoff's 1873 volume, California for Travellers and Settlers. Like Land of Little Rain or Mountaineering in the Sierra Nevada, it's the kind of classic that makes you remember why you live in California. Luckily, the San Francisco Bay Area has well over a dozen stores that specialize in books-- used, rare, and new--about California and the American West. Gold miners and gold diggers, Ohlones and Yokuts, Marks Twain and Hopkins--these are some of the notables to whom the stores play host.

A hunt for treasures, rare . . .

Frederick Moore, buyer for Oakland's Holmes Book Company for 30 years, likens his job to his childhood game of sifting beach sand for lost dimes. "It's a treasure hunt. Book buyers are like pirate Henry Morgan.'

Truly rare examples of Californiana and Americana can be pricy treasures indeed. An 1876 account of the Virginia City silver boom, History of the Big Bonanza (with introduction by Mark Twain), can sell for $250; a first issue of a first edition of Huckleberry Finn can run $2,500. In some cases, later editions are equally prized: revisions of Clarence King's Mountaineering are valued for their improved maps. (Orient yourself by perusing the catalogs many antiquarian stores issue; you'll find copies in the stores.)

Less expensive treasures can be found, too--treasure admittedly being in the eye of the beholder. Holmes Book Company labeled a $25 first edition this way: "Cranky essays and bad poetry, including a poem rhapsodizing Mount Diablo at sunset.' But many good rare books can be found in the $20 to $30 range.

Many of the stores also contain Western ephemera--that's anything paper, from football programs to wine bottle labels-- and prints and photographs.

Whatever you buy, booksellers advise to buy it out of love, not avarice. Says Jennifer Larson of Yerba Buena Books, "Books don't make ideal investments. They aren't that liquid. People who try to play the market don't keep it up very long.'

. . . and not so rare

Along with rarities, most stores stock plain old used books that run from $2 up. They include special volumes on railroads, architecture, and local histories along the lines of Cities and Towns of the San Joaquin Valley and Los Altos Hills: The Colorful Story. Some stores also carry new books on the West.

San Francisco

Acorn Books, 740 Polk Street; (415) 563-1736; open 10:30 to 8 Mondays through Saturdays.

Albatross Book Store, 166 Eddy Street; 885-6501; open 10 to 6 weekdays, 11 to 6 weekends.

Antiquus Bibliopole, 4147 24th Street; 285-2322; 11 to 5 Wednesdays through Saturdays.

Argonaut Book Shop, 786-792 Sutter Street; 474-9067. Open 9 to 5 weekdays, 9 to 4 Saturdays. This elegant shop boasts a strong collection of books on California and the American West, along with fine press books and first editions.

The Bookstall, 708 Sutter Street; 673-5446. Open 11 to 6 daily except Sundays.

California Book Auction Gallery, 965 Mission Street; 243-0650. The gallery holds catalog sales of rare books every other Thursday at 1:30 P.M. Carton sales of less expensive books occur other Thursdays. A sale of Western Americana is scheduled on March 3; call for catalog.

Fanning's Bookstore, Ghirardelli Square; 775-2067. Open 10 to 7 Sundays through Thursdays, 10 to 9 Fridays and Saturdays. Fanning's sells new books about northern California and by northern Californian authors--from Harte mining camp tales to Hammett mysteries to contemporary novels and travel guides. Fifteen authors of the region's past are honored in a striking mural on the store's back wall.

Jeffrey Thomas, 49 Geary Street, Suite 230; 956-3272. Open 9 to 5 weekdays.

Yerba Buena Books, 882 Bush Street; 474-2788. Open 10:30 to 5 daily except Sundays. This well-bred cubbyhole specializes entirely in rare and used books about California--history, first editions of Golden State authors, and volumes printed by Californian fine presses. Crowding the walls are prints, paintings, and photographs.

East Bay

Danville Books, 176 S. Hartz Avenue, Danville; 837-4200. Open noon to 5:30 Wednesdays through Saturdays.

The Holmes Book Company, 274 14th Street, Oakland; 893-6860. Open 9:30 to 5:30 Mondays through Saturdays, 11 to 5 Sundays. Founded in San Francisco in 1894, Holmes moved across the Bay after the earthquake and landed in its present home in the 1920s. It continues today as one of California's largest bookstores. Books on California and the West are but a portion of the stock, but an important portion. Some can be found on the first floor; rare and scholarly books are coddled in the carpeted sanctum of the third floor's California Room. There's a good selection of ephemera and county histories.

Ross Valley Books, 1407 Solano Avenue, Albany; 526-6400. Open 10 to 6 Tuesdays through Saturdays. This good, small store deals only in new, used, and rare books on the American West, with a particular focus on Native Americans.


Carlos Canterbury Book Store, 1121 Laurel Street, San Carlos; 593-3392. Open 10 to 6 Tuesdays through Thursdays, 10 to 5 Fridays and Saturdays.

William P. Wreden, 206 Hamilton Avenue, Palo Alto; 325-6851. Open 10 to 5 Tuesdays through Saturdays.

South Bay

The Antiquarian Archive, 160 S. Murphy Avenue, Sunnyvale; (408) 739-5633. Open 10 to 6 Tuesdays through Fridays, 9 to 5 Saturdays.

Book World, 1141B S. Saratoga-Sunnyvale Road, San Jose; 996-2384. Open 10 to 6 Mondays through Saturdays.

North Bay

Crum's Bookmark, 866 Grant Avenue, Novato; 897-1183. Open 11 to 6 Tuesdays through Saturdays.

Michael Good Fine and Rare Books, 35 San Anselmo Avenue, San Anselmo; 459-6092. Owner Good has a special interest in Marin County material. Open 10 to 6 Mondays through Saturdays.

Jack London Bookstore, 14300 Arnold Avenue, Glen Ellen; (707) 996-2888. Part of the pleasure of visiting is the chance to talk with owner Russ Kingman, a fount of knowledge on the Valley of the Moon's most famous literary son. The store specializes in new, rare, and used books by and about London, but it sells works by other authors, too. Open 10:30 to 5 daily.

Sacramento and Stockton

Argus Books, 1714 Capitol Avenue, Sacramento; (916) 443-2223. Open 10 to 5 Mondays through Saturdays, 10 to 9 Tuesdays. A co-op of four antiquarian booksellers, with specialties in Californiana, county histories, natural history, and mining.

Barry Cassidy Rare Books, 2003 T Street, Sacramento; 456-6307. Open 9:30 to 4 daily except Sundays. Rare ($50 and up) books and ephemera are the focus, particularly those printed in the West before 1930; also fine press editions.

Bookmine, 1015 Second Street, Old Sacramento; 441-4609. Open 11 to 5 daily.

Maxwell's Bookmark, 2103 Pacific Avenue, Stockton; (209) 466-0194. Open 9:30 to 6 weekdays and Saturdays. Founded in 1939, the Bookmark has 10,000 volumes, 20 percent of them new, rare, and out-of-print works on the West.

Time-Tested Books, 1114 21st Street, Sacramento; (916) 447-5696. Open 11 to 5:30 weekdays (to 8 Thursdays), 10 to 4 Saturdays, noon to 4 Sundays.

Photo: Painted pantheon of northern California writers oversees browsers at Fanning's

Photo: Varmints, tough guys, and other bad hombres populate this first edition, sold for $15 at Holmes Book Company

Photo: Jack London fans Winnie and Russ Kingman run store in Glen Ellen devoted to the author; Brewster the Rooster subs for White Fang

Photo: A Sojourn at San Francisco Bay is eyewitness account of 1816 Russian expedition to California. This 1936 fine press reprint sells for $125

Photo: Yerba Buena Island, as seen in 1901 photograph, was among art works on sale at San Francisco's Yerba Buena Books
COPYRIGHT 1988 Sunset Publishing Corp.
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Date:Feb 1, 1988
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