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Codex Book Fair, the largest of its type in the world, visits Richmond

on February 9, 2015

An estimated 4,000 people are expected to converge upon the Craneway Pavilion in Richmond on Monday for the Codex Book Fair, a biannual convention of hundreds of the world’s leading fine press publishers and artists. Over 22 countries will be represented at nearly 200 booths, some from as far as Chile, Russia and Japan.

Started in 2005 by Codex Foundation founder Peter Koch, a four-decade veteran of the fine print community, the fair is now the largest of its kind in the world, surpassing similar events hosted in Paris and London. Unlike traditional book fairs, the works exhibited and sold at Codex are literally one-of-a-kind, made using a number of different techniques, such as wood carving and leather tanning.

Now, a decade after the inaugural festival, Koch has seen his vision of a global symposium for art book appreciators come true. “I wanted to make it the world’s fair,” he said as he walked around the sprawling gallery of booths. “It’s an event on steroids.”

Fine print press is not new; it harkens back to the work of Renaissance luminaries like Johannes Gutenberg and Albrecht Dürer, and before that, the hand-written holy books of Celtic monks. Printing was, for centuries, a labor-intensive undertaking before the rise of mass-production.

But manual printing has seen a recent resurgence in the past few years. Koch believes that this return to hand-made books is due in part to a backlash against the digitization of printed media over the past couple of decades. “It’s our fundamental belief that it’s the younger people that are attracted to the work of the hand,” he said.

Many small publishers also sprouted up after many institutions liquidated their old printing presses at bargain prices. This permitted a number of artists to begin their enterprises with a low operating overhead. Now, some universities—including UC Berkeley, Stanford and Princeton—are even buying old printing presses back and offering graduate programs for those seeking to excel in the burgeoning community.

Codex is also attracting a number of buyers from academic and artistic circles. According to Koch, many appraisers and art connoisseurs are now seeking out fine print books before they become mainstays on the auction tables of the high-class art world. “I was just talking to two of the greatest collectors on Earth,” he said. “One of them had already spent $100,000 today, and he’ll be here for the next three days.”

Many of these works are also catching the eye of some of the largest libraries in North America. Even the Library of Congress had delegates roaming the floor looking for pieces to add to their collection.

The books ranged from the conventional to the conceptual. Some, like the works of wood engraver Richard Wagener, combined wood etchings and poetry. There were also books with bindings made from shoe leather, buffalo hide and even the skin of a river snake.

“You will not see the same quality of work anywhere else,” said Victoria Von Arx, the fair organizer, of the variety of books on display. “It’s so beautiful and so unique.”

The Codex Book Fair will remain in the Craneway until Wednesday. You can check out the schedule here.


  1. Abby Schoolman on February 26, 2015 at 5:39 am

    Thanks for the article about Codex. I’m so pleased to be in the feature photo. That’s me holding the striped book, PaperRad’s BJ and da Dogs, bound in Charles Jourdain shoe leather by Sonya Sheats. Sonya Sheats is also the artist who bound the beige book, Tomas Transtromer’s Madrigal. However, it is not bound in “river snake.” It is zebra wood and birch mosaic veneer with a calf skin spine. Green water snake (not shown) is used as part of the internal structure of the binding. She also bound the other two books on the left (the black leather is water buffalo, the one with neon colors is made with polycarbonate and airbrushed automotive paint). The volume on the right with the Scrabble board on the spine is a binding by Mark Cockram of a signed limited edition of Sir Peter Blake’s Alphabets. The small book just visible on the lower right is Le Mort du Papier bound by Christine Giard. Close up photos and descriptions of all of the books pictured, and many others, can be seen on my website

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