Martin Holden’s Handsome Books
on April 10, 2009
The business card of Martin Holden, the proprietor of Handsome Books, is not handsome. It’s actually kind of grotesque, a pencil sketch of a troll-faced, long-snouted, pointy eared fop, by the looks of him. Why would an esteemed dealer of rare, decoratively bound books announce his trade this way? “It’s such a dreadfully serious business. So much snobbery and precociousness. I decided to give it a little tweak,” says Holden, in his rather serious, glasses-on-the-bridge-of-the-nose voice.
No bibliophile wants to be taken for that sort of bibliophile, I’ve noticed: the insufferable know-it-all, the glum brainiac. Holden has the voice — and spectacles — of a bona fide book fiend, but he’s completely amiable, and he has hilarious things to say about the business of rare books. His small but crammed shop is at the back of University Press Books at Bancroft and Telegraph near UC Berkeley, and he houses some real treasures back there.
There’s Victorian, Art & Crafts, Art Nouveau, and Art Deco fare, with an emphasis on beautiful, strange, and rare bindings. My favorite is Things Worth Doing, a 1914 “how-to” book for young girls. It’s 444 pages of directions on how girls can entertain themselves, and, unlike what you’d expect from the early 20th-century, baking and doilies take a backseat to fort building and beach combing. According to Holden, the authors, Lina and Adelia Beard, and their brother, Dan Beard, helped found the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts movements.
Oakland North welcomes comments from our readers, but we ask users to keep all discussion civil and on-topic. Comments post automatically without review from our staff, but we reserve the right to delete material that is libelous, a personal attack, or spam. We request that commenters consistently use the same login name. Comments from the same user posted under multiple aliases may be deleted. Oakland North assumes no liability for comments posted to the site and no endorsement is implied; commenters are solely responsible for their own content.
Oakland North is an online news service produced by students at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and covering Oakland, California. Our goals are to improve local coverage, innovate with digital media, and listen to you–about the issues that concern you and the reporting you’d like to see in your community. Please send news tips to: firstname.lastname@example.org.