Book Club of California
Interior of the Book Club of California

The Book Club of California has long been a haven for bibliophiles. With a mission to promote West Coast literature, the book arts and a general love of fine books, the Book Club of California - based in San Francisco - will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2012.

The Book Club has a plush but relaxed ‘club house’ on Sutter Street in the heart of San Francisco’s financial district. A non-profit organization for book lovers and collectors, the Club acts as a meeting place for bibliophilic souls but does so much more by offering a regular program of events, speakers and exhibitions that showcase fine printing, collecting and the book arts. Its fall exhibition (until December 12) showcases artists’ books from the collection of Robert J. Ruben.

I walked into the Book Club unannounced on a Monday lunchtime and was warmly welcomed. Several friends chatted in one corner while some other bibliophiles browsed books in the extensive reference library that houses over 3,500 titles. It’s a beautiful venue filled with fine books and people who love to talk about fine books.

The Book Club of California is more than a club. It’s also a publishing house and has been publishing books since 1914. Many prominent bibliophiles have been members over the decades, including Phoebe Apperson Hearst, the San Francisco philanthropist and mother of William Randolph Hearst, publisher Alfred A. Knopf and pioneering landscape photographer Ansel Adams. The Club has strong connections to many other Californian institutions, such as the Bancroft Library at the University of California Berkeley and the Huntingdon Library in San Marino.

John Crichton, the owner of San Francisco’s Brick Row Book Shop, is the president of the Book Club of California and a strong advocate of West Coast literary culture.

Book Club of California
Book Club of California

“Our goal is to support and encourage fine printing, the book arts and book collecting primarily in California through public programs and exhibitions,” he said. “The Club was founded in 1912 to support the Pan Pacific Exposition, which never happened, but the Club grew and grew. Our members come from every walk of life – doctors, lawyers, attorneys, librarians, printers, bookbinders and booksellers.”

Lucy Rodgers Cohen is the Club’s executive director and its only full-time employee. “Over half our members live within driving distance of the Club with around 25% located in Southern California, but, for instance, we also have members in Detroit and Atlanta who pop in when they visit San Francisco,” she explained.

More than 220 books have been published by the Club and these books - always printed in limited editions - would be worthy of collecting in itself. Many of their books have been printed by legendary printers like the Grabhorn Press, the Allen Press and the famous bibliophile and printer John Henry Nash.

“We have published a remarkable variety of books over the years and not just about California - books about Japanese scrolls, the bookplates of Eric Gill and one recently about The Wizard of Oz,” said John Crichton.

And why did the Club take the decision to publish? The answer is because so much wonderful material was easily accessible.

“Our members have always had access to great content but also printers and fine press bookmakers. It’s been a fascinating convergence of books and content,” continued John Crichton. “The decision was taken very early by the Club and lots of work has gone into publishing books.”

Book Club of California
Book Club of California

Roberto Trujillo, who is the head of Stanford University’s Special Collections Library and a director of the Book Club of California, explained how the club’s publishing program works.

“We have a publishing committee that works through manuscripts,” he said. “We argue within ourselves – we ask if we publish 300 to 500 copies will it sell? We ask about the cost. The process is similar to the process at an academic press – we drag in other members into the discussion until we have consensus. There is no vote.

“We have just finished publishing two books and we are currently working on contracts to print two to three more. We have always used small print runs. The fine press community in the Bay Area has always been strong and we’ve always had access to them. When we publish a book, there is always a connection to a member in some way or form.”

And what has been the secret of the Club’s longevity?

“The Book Club has succeeded because it’s a social network that is not insignificant,” said Roberto. “It’s part business, part entertainment. The Club isn’t just about having fun but also learning.”

“It also acts as a focal point for these people,” added John Crichton.

Learn more about the Book Club of California at http://www.bccbooks.org/

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Books Published by the Book Club of California

Concerning Two Cats. Two Tales by Mark Twain
Concerning Two Cats. Two Tales
by Mark Twain

1959. 450 copies printed by Grabhorn Press. Introduction by Frederick Anderson.
The Nuremberg Chronicle With Two Leaves From The First Latin Edition by Henry Bullen
The Nuremberg Chronicle With Two Leaves From The First Latin Edition
by Henry Bullen

1930. Printed by John Henry Nash. Limited to 280 copies.
Heraldry of New Helvetia: With Thirty-two Cattle Brands and Ear marks Reproduced from the Original Certificates Issued at Sutter's Fort 1845 to 1848 edited by Carroll D Hall
Heraldry of New Helvetia: With Thirty-two Cattle Brands and Ear Marks
edited by Carroll D Hall

1945. Limited to 250 copies. Printed by Allen Press.
Landscape Prints of Old Japan: From the Beginning of the 18th Century to the Middle of the 19th Century by Jack Hillier
Landscape Prints of Old Japan: From the Beginning of 18th Century to Middle of the 19th Century
by Jack Hillier

1960. 450 copies. Illustrated from prints owned by Edwin & Marjorie Grabhorn.
The Allen Press Bibliography
The Allen Press Bibliography

1985. Facsimile of the original 1981 edition. 750 copies.
The Diary of Patrick Breen, Recounting the Ordeal of the Donner Party Snowbound In the Sierra 1846-47
The Diary of Patrick Breen, Recounting the Ordeal of the Donner Party Snowbound In the Sierra 1846-47

1946. 300 copies. Facsimile of original manuscript found in the Bancroft Library.
Donner Miscellany: 41 Diaries and Documents edited by Carroll D Hall
Donner Miscellany: 41 Diaries and Documents
edited by Carroll D Hall

1947. 350 copies from the Allen Press. Janson typeface and all-rag Oxbow paper.
The Drawings of John Woodhouse Audubon Illustrating His Adventure Through Mexico & California
The Drawings of John Woodhouse Audubon Illustrating His Adventure Through Mexico & California

1957. Introduction & notes on the drawings by C.S. Dentzel. 33 full-page plates
John DePol: A Catalogue Raisonné of his Graphic Work 1935-1998
John DePol: A Catalogue Raisonné of his Graphic Work 1935-1998

2001. 400 copies. Quarter-bound in black cloth.
Fire and Other Poems by D.H. Lawrence
Fire and Other Poems
by D.H. Lawrence

1940. 300 copies printed by Grabhorn. Title illustration by Valenti Angelo.
El Triunfo de la Cruz. A description of the building by Father Juan Ugarte of the first ship made in California by Theodore H. Hittell
El Triunfo de la Cruz. A description of the building of the first ship made in California
by Theodore H. Hittell

1977. 400 copies. Designed and decorated by Valenti Angelo.
Themes in Aquatint by Colin Franklin
Themes in Aquatint
by Colin Franklin

1978. 500 copies. Color plates printed at Curwen Press.
Mr Strahan’s Dinner Party by Edward A Newton
Mr Strahan’s Dinner Party
by Edward A Newton

1930. 350 copies. Printed by John Henry Nash.
Frank Norris: Collected Letters
Frank Norris: Collected Letters

1986. 500 copies. Norris was an American novelist who wrote ‘naturalist’ fiction.
Silverado Journal by Robert Louis Stevenson
Silverado Journal
by Robert Louis Stevenson

1954. 400 copies by Grabhorn on handmade paper.
San Francisco 1806-1906 in Contemporary Paintings, Drawings & Watercolors by Jeanne Van Nostrand
San Francisco 1806-1906 in Contemporary Paintings, Drawings & Watercolors
by Jeanne Van Nostrand

1975. 500 copies. The Book Club's 150th book.
The Engraved Bookplates of Eric Gill
The Engraved Bookplates of Eric Gill
Compiled by Christopher Skelton.

1986. Printed by September Press in the UK.
Bayside Bohemia: Fin de Siecle San Francisco & Its Little Magazines by Gelett Burgess
Bayside Bohemia: Fin de Siecle San Francisco & Its Little Magazines
by Gelett Burgess

1954. 375 copies printed by Black Vine Press.
The Grabhorn Press: A Biography by Roby Wentz
The Grabhorn Press: A Biography
by Roby Wentz

1981. Limited to 750 copies, includes photographs.
The Man with the Hoe by Edwin Markham
The Man with the Hoe
by Edwin Markham

1916. Printed by John Henry Nash. 300 numbered copies. Markham’s famous poem.
Second Reading: Selections from the Quarterly News-Letter 1933-1963 edited by Oscar Lewis
Second Reading: Selections from the Quarterly News-Letter 1933-1963
edited by Oscar Lewis

1965. 425 copies printed by the Plantin Press in Los Angeles.
Catnachery by Percy H Muir
Catnachery
by Percy H Muir

1955. 325 copies. Books & woodcuts of James Catnatch. Printed at Greenwood Press.

 

AbeBooks Visits the Book Club of California






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