Handmade, unique books at Codex Book Fair

Two years ago when Reinhold Nasshan came to Berkeley from his home in Laudau, Germany, he was struck by the telephone poles of Telegraph Avenue. Many of them were dotted with posters and others were covered with staples once holding up posters. What a strange way of communicating, thought Nasshan. The telephone poles are meant to send messages, but it is a people-less communication.

Nasshan was so intrigued by this notion of communication and what it said about society that he took dozens of pictures of various telephone poles. He has combined those photos with velum pages printed with his thoughts in a spectacular five-run $500 edition of Data Mining: Telegraph Avenue.

Reinhold Nasshan and his Telegraph Avenue book

Nasshan and his wife Sylvia Schreiber, the owners of Einhand Press, were among dozens of publishers exhibiting books on Monday at the Codex Book Fair, now being held in the Pauley Ballroom at UC Berkeley. Every two years, those who make and sell handmade, distinctive, books come together for an international conference on the art, craft, and economics of fine bookbinding. Started by Peter Koch, a printer who uses old presses in the Bancroft Library to teach students how to make handmade, hand bound books, the Codex Book Fair has become one of the most significant fairs of its kind in the world, drawing people from as far away as France, German, Mexico, and Canada.

“It’s a real niche market because there are not many places you can go to see this kind of thing,” said Bill Stewart, who runs Vamp & Tramp Booksellers in Birmingham Alabama with his wife, Vicky.  “This is the cream of the crop, the best, certainly in this hemisphere.”

The Stewarts had come to the West Coast for a month-long tour. After the Codex Book Fair, they were planning to head over to the Antiquarian Book Fair, which opens in San Francisco on Friday. While most of the books on display in the Pauley Ballroom were new and unusual, libraries and universities like those at Mills College, Stanford and UC Berkeley collect them because they are considered rare, said Stewart.


And looking at books printed using old printing methods on various types of thick and textured card stock, it is easy to see why people covet them.

Stewart had a book on display made entirely in cloth with words printed on material and sewn inside. Titled Ravel Unravel it was produced by four women on Bainbridge Island. The Four Plate Press book sells for $2,900.

Stewart said those who make books like that are really artists and do it for their love of books, not money. Most of these book makers just try and recoup their expenses.

“It’s un-American,” he said. “No one is getting rich. They do it because they love it.”

The Codex Book Fair will continue through Wednesday at the Pauley Ballroom at UC Berkeley. It is open to the public from 12:30 pm to 6:30 today and 12:30 to 4:30 on Wednesday. Tickets are $10.

Frances Dinkelspiel is co-founder and executive editor of Berkeleyside. Email: frances@berkeleyside.com.