Utah Stories

Ken Sander’s Rare Books

A collector since childhood, Utah history buff Ken Sanders curates rare books, postcards, soda bottles.


Ken Sanders’ father started a tradition of collecting rare local brewery ephemera that set Ken on the course to creating one of the coolest book shops in Utah.

Ken Sanders, Utah’s Curator of Cool

A serious book collector since he was a child, Ken Sanders was 14 when he bought his first rare books. He was on a trip to Long Beach, California with his family and visited a famous bookstore called Acres of Books. He found a rare edition of Alice in Wonderland illustrated by Gwynedd Hudson, a Maxfield Parrish Arabian Nights and a giant folio edition of Poe’s The Raven illustrated by Gustaf Dore.

Ken was drawn to the illustrated book as a child, but, he says, “Great illustrators illustrate great books and they led me to more serious reading —from Oz to Shakespeare, Dante and Milton.” His obsession with books led to his career today as the owner of Ken Sanders Rare Books.

Ken says that he probably inherited the “collector’s gene” from his father, Stan Sanders, who collected everything from rocks, coins, and stamps to tropical fish. At one time his dad had 100 aquariums to house all of his fish. Besides his extensive rare book collection Ken continues to collect antique bottles, Utah postcards and anything related to Utah history – collections he inherited from his dad.

Ken has a collection of around 25,000 postcards. One postcard that he would like to add to his collection is a rare photo card of Maude Adams, a world-famous Utah actress born in 1872. J.M. Barrie wrote the stage version of Peter Pan for her to perform. It is the one card he would like to add to his collection, but it is rare and valued at thousands of dollars.

His collection of Utah soda bottles from the late 19th century and early 20th century is complete save one bottle. It is a Mount Pleasant soda water bottle. If he could find that one his set would be complete and the hunt continues. Ken’s collections tend to center on Utah history and he collects anything related to that subject. He once owned an extensive Utah brewery collection of bottles, cans, trays, openers, and posters that he has sold off over the years.

A Utah history expert, Sanders does have a favorite item from all his collections. It is a postcard with a photo by Charles Ellis Johnson of Halley’s Comet streaking across the night sky of Salt Lake. “It is not really a pretty photo, but I connect to the idea of someone capturing that image 100 years ago,” he says.

His current passion is a project he calls, “The life and death of the book through the picture postcard.” He said that until 1907 it was illegal to write on the back of a postcard and send it through the mail. The only thing that could be on the back was the address and so people wrote their messages on the front around the margins. In 1907 Congress passed a law allowing a person to write on the back of postcards. For some reason, the new postcards created what Ken calls, “A tidal wave of collecting.”

People put on their finest clothes to have a photo taken for a personal postcard. In many of the pictures the subject posed with a book – usually in the act of reading it. Ken started collecting these postcards in a response to the dire prediction that books will eventually go away in the new electronic age. He doesn’t believe that will happen and the postcards are a way of showing our human connection to the written word.

Ken calls his collecting an obsession. It is an obsession that preserves a sense of wonder and history.

Ken is the owner and proprietor of Ken Sanders’ Rare Books.

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