SOME of the most valuable items at this weekend's Antiquarian Book Fair will also be some of the smallest. Four scraps of leather, the tiniest the size of two fingernails and the largest only 2 inches long, hold as much appeal for biblical scholars and curiosity seekers as they do for rare-book aficionados.
Dating from somewhere between the 2nd century BC and the 1st century AD, they were among hundreds of linen-wrapped scrolls discovered in 1947 by a Bedouin goatherd trying to chase his animals out of a remote cave.
In the intervening six decades, these particular fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls made their way from antiquities dealer to antiquities dealer, ending up in the hands of rare bookseller Michael R. Thompson, who will be showing (and perhaps selling) them on behalf of three American collectors.
Though not as vast as the recent Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at the San Diego Natural History Museum, these tidbits offer one distinct advantage: immediacy.
"It was very impressive, but I was disappointed" with the San Diego exhibit, says Thompson. "I have a hard time with the notion that you can't have light anywhere, which made the scrolls hard to see. And it was difficult to get up close because people were constantly talking on their idiot cellphones."
Not so at the book fair. The four fragments, encased in thin, glass picture frames, may be appreciated up close -- as will almost all of the wares on display. This includes items such as rare editions of Ernest Hemingway, Raymond Chandler, John Steinbeck and Charles Bukowski novels; gilded, leather-bound Bibles; early science texts; and manuscripts, graphic prints and autographs. Surprisingly, despite their age and value, "older books are much sturdier than books these days," says Carol Sandberg, a business partner in Thompson's eponymous store.
One standout piece is an inscribed first edition of "California Hills," a stunning quarto-size book of wood engravings made by artist Paul Landacre during the late 1920s and early '30s. Seeing his impeccably detailed California landscapes, even a casual reader might be tempted to plunk down $6,000.
"Bookish people have some genetic mistake in them. They're more interested in these books than they think they are," Thompson says. "It's just a matter of getting them to come out."
-- Elina.Shatkin @latimes.com
ANTIQUARIAN BOOK FAIR
WHERE: Hyatt Regency Century Plaza, 2025 Avenue of the Stars, L.A.
WHEN: 2-9 p.m. Fri., 11 a.m-7 p.m. Sat.
INFO: (415) 551-5190. www.labookfair.com