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Literary treasures at the Brick Row Book Shop


Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of visiting the Brick Row Book Shop in San Francisco, which is run by John Crichton – one of the most respected names in the North American rare bookselling business. The Brick Row Book Shop is found at 49 Geary Street – a building that also includes two other rare booksellers. John specializes in English and American Literature from the 17th to the 20th century. He offers many fine first editions, rare books and manuscripts, and his shop – which has a long history that begins on the East Coast – is a must-see for any serious collector visiting San Francisco.

During my visit, John casually placed a couple of true treasures in front of me.

The first was a first edition of Leaves of Grass by Walt Waltman – a real piece of American history. It’s one of 795 copies published by Whitman himself in 1855 and contains 12 poems by the great man.

“How much is it worth,” I asked.

“$125,000,” he replied.

It is the most valuable book that I have ever touched. You take a deep breath when you see a book like this. It’s a true thrill.

And then there was a letter from John Steinbeck (below) written when he was just 19 years old. Dated April 20, 1921, the letter was sent to his friend and Stanford University classmate Robert Bennett. It contains the line “It is a weak mind however which can be hogtied by a woman’s leg,” (I guess that writes off my intellect then) and he continues “Just now I am collecting rejection slips from various magazines. I suppose that is part of the trail which one who wishes to write, must travel.”

If only young Steinbeck knew what lay ahead.

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Richard Davies

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