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Rare Books and 20th-Century South American Publishing Houses

By Audrey Golden. Sep 30, 2021. 7:40 PM.

Topics: Rare Books, Literary travel

So you say you’re interested in rare books, and you’re particularly intrigued by Spanish-language presses? While many different language and national traditions have given rise to incredible rare book presses over the decades, some of the presses in Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Spain, and the Philippines. As a result of centuries of colonization and migration, Spanish-language presses exist around the world. If you collect Spanish-language books in particular, or if you have a large collection of a particular author or specific title and you’re looking to expand to foreign-language editions, we highly recommend exploring some of the exciting presses that existed (and some that still persist) in the regions we mentioned. Today, we want to tell you more about two of the most prominent South American publishing houses that have contributed to enormous amounts of Spanish-language rare book collecting.

Screen Shot 2021-09-30 at 7.44.16 PMEditorial Losada in Buenos Aires, Argentina

We absolutely need to start with Editorial Losada, which is a publishing company in Argentina founded in 1938. The rare book publishing house was created by Gonazalo José Bernardo Juan Losada Benítez, who lived from 1894-1981.

In the course of the life of Editorial Losada, it has published works by twenty-five Nobel Prize winners and notable thinkers across the twentieth century, including Pablo Neruda, Franz Kafka, Miguel Ángel Asturias, Federico García Lorca, Rafael Alberti, and Antonio Machado. Some of those writers had been banned in Spain, but their work found a publishing home in the Southern Cone.

Indeed, in a celebration of the 75th anniversary of Editorial Losada, El Mundo described the press as “el histórico sello de Argentina y símbolo de la resistencia de los exiliados españoles del franquismo,” referring to how the publishing house had become particularly notable as “symbol of the Spanish exiles’ resistance to the Franco regime.”

What are some of our favorite objects that emerged from Editorial Losada? The press published a number of incredible Jorge Luis Borges first editions, including The Aleph [El Aleph] in 1949, an incredible 1962 edition of Pablo Neruda’s La insepulta de Paita: elegía dedicada a la memoria de Manuela Saénz amante De Simón Bolívar [translated roughly as The Unburied Woman of Paita: Elegy Dedicated to the Memory of Manuela Sáenz, Lover of Simón Bolívar], and César Vallejo’s España aparta de mí este cáliz: 15 poemas por Profecía de América (1940). For some of these, as you may have already guessed, there are no lasting English translations.

When Losada passed away in 1981, his son Gonzalo Pedro took over the publishing house. It changed hands again in 1989 but remains in existence today. And one of the greatest things about the fact that Editorial Losada is still in business? You can visit the shop on at Avenida Corrientes 1551 in Buenos Aires to buy new and old new stock until late into the evening.

If you’re walking back from a classically late Argentinian dinner or from seeing a film at a cinema, Losada Librería & Teatro might just be open for some late-night rare book shopping.

Screen Shot 2021-09-30 at 7.44.48 PMEditorial Nascimento in Santiago, Chile

On the other side of the continent, just a quick flight across the Andes from Buenos Aires, is another of the most glorious Spanish-language rare book presses of the twentieth century. Editorial Nascimento began operations in 1917 and published great works of literature for approximately 70 years.

During its time of operation, Editorial Nascimento put out works by Pablo Neruda, Gabriela Mistral, Violeta Parra, Nicanor Parra, and so many others. The founder of the press, Carlos George-Nascimento, was actually born in Portugal. Those Portuguese origins led to the name of the press, Nascimento, which translates to “birth” in Portuguese. There are a number of incredible rare books published by Editorial Nascimento across the twentieth century, including a number of works with colorful linocut- and woodcut-print covers.

Our favorite of all is the first edition of Pablo Neruda’s Residence on Earth [Residencia en la Tierra] from 1933. The luscious and saturated green inks on the very large book—limited to just 100 copies—make this book a holy grail not only for collectors of Neruda’s works, but also to collector of Nascimento objects and twentieth-century South American literature.

While Editorial Nascimento doesn’t have a shop in Santiago, there are currently attempts in the works to relaunch the publishing house. It’s possible that we could see a reincarnation of the press in the twenty-first century. Whether you’re visiting Chile or browsing for rare books in Spanish on the internet, keep an eye out for objects created by Editorial Nascimento.

If you’re visiting South America, and in particular if you’re in Buenos Aires or Santiago, we highly recommend seeking out books from Editorial Losada and Editorial Nascimento for your collection. For those of you who are interested in seeking out rarer Spanish-language presses across South America and in other parts of the world, keep an eye out for upcoming articles on additional publishing houses and Spanish-language rare book buying.

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Audrey Golden
World literature scholar and erstwhile lawyer. Lover of international travel, outdoor markets, and rare books.


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