Library Intern Mayra Cortez Goes Book Hunting!

Today's post was written by Mayra Cortez, our library intern in the Department of Archives & Special Collections. Mayra recently attended the 49th California International Antiquarian Book Fair in Pasadena. She is an English graduate student and enjoys watching crime documentaries in her spare time.

The date is Saturday, February 13th. Project Archivist Penny Neder and I arrive at the Pasadena Convention Center at about 10:30 a.m. where we anxiously wait for the rest of LMU’s scouting team: Cynthia Becht, head of Archives and Special Collections; Carla Bittel, professor of History; and Judy Park, professor of English. Doors open at 11 a.m. We trade in our passes for tickets and head in as a team ready to take the Antiquarian Book Fair by storm.


But first a photo opp with the White Rabbit from Alice and Wonderland! The popular story by Lewis Carroll served as the theme for this year’s fair.

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There was a small exhibit to commemorate Alice and many of the book dealers had fairy-tale themed literature and artifacts as well.

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Once inside I was overwhelmed by the vast number of book dealers from all around the world with materials ranging from early medieval literature to contemporary pop culture. Despite having had a game plan (which we discussed prior to the event) I found myself a bit distracted by the beautiful, interesting and sometimes disturbing objects I encountered.

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My Top 3 Discoveries

Here is a 1771 first edition of A History of the human teeth: explaining their structure, use formation, growth and diseases by John Hunter. It is thought to have revolutionized the practice of dentistry by providing groundbreaking methods. The small gadget that’s pictured was used to extract teeth. The dentist visit of today doesn't seem that bad now does it?

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I saw this set of 50 glass prosthetic eyes from the 1880s and was amazed at how real they looked. They were used by a sales representative of the manufacturer to show doctors, who might want to place an order. They were thereafter used by the doctor as models for fitting a patient who had lost an eye. Sizes range from adult to children, both right and left eyes, with a selection of colors to match.

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Lastly the book I was most intrigued by was La pratique de autopsies by Maurice Letulle, which is a first edition from 1903. It contains 136 text engravings that offer a young medical examiner a complete guide to commencing and completing the complex process of autopsy. This is a profession I had considered when I was younger. Cringe worthy? Let’s just say this was one of the more “tame” images.

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LMU’s scouting team was not alone! I found another Lion enjoying himself at the fair.

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Once we had explored the grounds, we reunited for lunch and discussed our top picks for possible purchase for the library’s rare book collection. After this, the team revisited the vendors by whose items they had been entranced. 

Our first stop allowed us to look at three different fore-edge paintings. This was a technique where a scene/image was painted on the front edges of the pages of the book. Here we can see how fanning the book reveals an image of a man (a Chinese Christ) on a cross. The box which holds the book is also remarkable: look at the design and color. Our team was amazed!

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Second was this book of actual plant specimens from the 18th century. They were beautifully dried and preserved listing their herbal function as well as other key characteristics.

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We did not buy either of those two books, but they were worthy contenders.  

The three purchases that came back with us include two Jesuit manuscripts and an 1846 Bible with a beautiful fore-edge painting. Goodbye Antiquarian Book Fair; thank you for the fun eye-opening experience!

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