Two bookmeisters who curate the past for the future

“I like to to sit here and talk quietly with customers about what they’ve bought and what they hope to buy,” said antiquarian-books dealer Barry Cassidy.
“I like to to sit here and talk quietly with customers about what they’ve bought and what they hope to buy,” said antiquarian-books dealer Barry Cassidy.

When the conversation on the local book scene turns to the major players who operate at the most scholarly levels, two names invariably are mentioned.

One is Barry Cassidy, owner of the general antiquarian bookstore Barry Cassidy Fine Books, who literally lives with the 10,000-title collection that occupies most of the rooms in his house. Another 60,000 books are in storage.

“Overwhelmingly, they’re 100 years old or older, with some going back to the 1500s,” he said. “Almost exclusively, I buy books from my customers and former customers. I like (prospective customers) to be interested in a specific genre, author or book (before they come to the store).”

The other bookseller with a unique specialty is Richard L. Press. His Richard L. Press Fine & Scholarly Books on the Arts is a collection of 20,000 “occasionally rare and frequently scarce” titles. Every global art form is represented, from dance, film and winemaking, to textiles, fashion and cuisine. Also for sale is framed original art.

We visited both book dealers, who pointed out two rules of engagement: They do not appraise books for the public, and they do not discuss their books’ dollar values for publication.

An appointment is required to meet with Cassidy, who has dealt in “old and uncommon” books globally for 42 years. “You need a reason to come here,” he said. “It’s a serious place, not a tourist stop. A lot of our customers come by referral.”

A tour revealed a venerable collection that includes philosophy, antiques, theater history, the American West, travel and voyages, hunting and fishing, alcohol and cooking, and much more. There are even books about book collecting, and Victorian-era literature on sex and marriage. “They were remarkably level-headed about it,” Cassidy said.

Though Cassidy certainly has rarities in his store – a trio of proofs of an anonymously published book by military leader T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia), for instance – there is “a smattering” of modern literature “for beginning collectors.” First editions of Joan Didion’s bibliography is there, partly because her former home is nearby and on the market, and her books could be a logical household inclusion when the new owner moves in. First editions by mystery writers Erle Stanley Gardner and Agatha Christie are also among the more affordable treasures.

One eye-catcher is a complete collection of novels by Sacramento bartender-turned-writer Karen Kijewski, a Shamus and Anthony award-winner and onetime president of the Mystery Writers of America’s Northern California chapter. Her P.I. character, Kat Colorado, solved cases in River City in nine books from 1989 to 1998, before Kijewski vanished from the scene.

Also spotted were the vellum-bound “Theologica Moralis,” a hefty volume on ecclesiastical law from the 1700s. Cassidy was in the process of packaging and mailing some original posters of the 1942 “Civilian Exclusion Order No. 33,” one of 108 orders issued by the Western Defense Command. Essentially, they were the posted public announcements of the upcoming forced evacuation of Japanese-Americans from their homes on the West Coast and “relocation” to internment camps.

“I like to to sit here and talk quietly with customers about what they’ve bought and what they hope to buy, rather than sell a book every 15 minutes with no conversation,” Cassidy said. “That’s why I stopped doing book fairs 22 years ago.”

Barry Cassidy Rare Books, 2005 T St., Sacramento; 916-456-6307, Limited hours Mondays-Saturdays, by appointment only.

The art of the arts

“Every bookstore is a reflection of its owner,” said Richard Press, opening an exquisite book of Japanese prints published in 1965 by the University of Chicago. “This operation is very idiosyncratic, but so are all the others.”

Price has sold books for 38 years and has the largest collection of its kind west of the Mississippi River. “I never studied art but I was interested in every aspect of it, so when situations popped up, I went for them,” he said. “I was a librarian at universities all over the country, responsible for buying books for their libraries. I would always visit the art departments.”

A browse around the store was a study in artistic expression through the ages. On one shelf were 18th century volumes on the history of Paris, on another was the rare “Nus: La Beaute da la Femme,” described as “an album of the first International Salon of Nude Photography, Paris 1933.” Over here, “The Gardens of the Czars,” over there a stack of 1960s and ’70s exhibition catalogs from the once-legendary Sidney Janis Gallery in Manhattan.

“Not only do I specialize in books on 20th and 21st century design and decorative arts, I have examples,” said Price, pointing out furniture by American modernist George Nelson and designer Harry Bertoia. “That’s original fabric by Salvadore Dali on those throw pillows.”

Sitting down and surveying rows of book-laded shelves, Price said, “I chose every book and piece of art so I would have an environment that would always be interesting. In some sense, every one of these books is my favorite because each has meaning to me. Shops like mine are disappearing and we are mastodons. How am I gonna sell all of these? I don’t know.”

Richard L. Press Fine & Scholarly Books on the Arts, 1831 F St., Sacramento; 916-447-3413, Walk-in business 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays; by appointment on Sundays. The store buys books from the general public.

Allen Pierleoni: 916-321-1128, @apierleonisacbe

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