The art of traditional bookmaking lives on at the Book Club of California, a quiet paradise for bibliophiles
San Francisco’s century-old book club has more than 10,000 rare and letterpress-printed volumes on display
By Molly Fosco
When I pick up a new book, I try to decide if the story is worth reading. Are the characters relatable? Is the plot exciting? Typically, I’m not checking whether the book was printed on a letterpress or if the end papers are hand-tipped. At the Book Club of California, however, it’s a very different story.
No longer the exclusive members-only club it once was, the Book Club of California is a non-profit open to the public. It supports the art of bookmaking, typography, design, and literature about California history and the American West. Located in San Francisco’s bustling Union Square neighborhood, the club is housed inside the World Affairs Council Center, a place where people gather to discuss global issues.
The rather unassuming building facade is easy to miss, but walking through the entrance of the wooden double doors on the fifth floor transports visitors back to early 20th-century San Francisco.
Books as art
Thousands of books in glass-doored cabinets line the walls. Victorian-era couches, lamps, and dark wood tables decorate the room, and there’s even a working 19th-century Columbian printing press. A swanky bar that looks like it belongs on the Titanic sits in the corner. This isn’t a coincidence—the club was founded in 1912, the same year the ill-fated ship ended up at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. Luckily, the Book Club of California has fared much better.