To be sure, bibliophiles existed in San Francisco prior to the birth of The Book Club of California, and there was fine book-making, as well. And, as Oscar Lewis noted, there had been an idea to exhibit local and international fine bookmaking at the upcoming 1915 World’s Fair, the Panama-Pacific International Exposition.
But where was the organization to assure the PPIEs Exhibit committee that the proposed display would be done the right way? The Book Club of California answered the call.
Why the proposed book exhibit never took place remains a mystery since the PPIE contained a variety of art exhibitions, including paintings, prints, and sculpture. Indeed, one of co-founder Florence Lundborg’s murals won a bronze medal at the fair. But not presenting an exhibit at the fair certainly didn’t stop The Book Club of California. Spurred on, perhaps, by the Club’s stated purpose—“the study of letters and the promotion of the arts pertaining to the production of books”—within a year the fledgling Club had sponsored a variety of events, including lectures, entertainments, and two special exhibitions: one of rare bookplates and another displaying fine book bindings.
In 1914, the Club published its first book: Robert Ernest Cowan’s monumental Bibliography of the History of California and the Pacific West, thereby beginning a tradition that has lasted nearly one hundred years.