29 December 2006

American Autographs. Signers of the Declaration of Independence

Another book that is not listed anywhere -- as with other essential dealing reference books, either they have to reprint it or someone has to die, or go bust before a copy becomes available. Or possibly any of the five 'Ds' that cause books to be sold -- Death, Disinterest, Divorce, Displacement, Debt.


Fattish 652 2 vol invaluable reference in a rich and desirable area of collecting. The first volume is filled with samples of U.S. Revolutionary War leaders. The second volume depicts the signatures of: U.S. presidents, First Ladies, and their assassins. 1900 facsimiles. The place to find whether your Button Gwinnett signatures are kosher. The example below is housed at the Georgia Archives in Morrow for which much thanks.
VALUE? A much wanted and resolutely unfindable book that probably sells as soon as it appears online. It might sit in a bookshop for a few days. There are over 40 people waiting for it at ABE and it's probably on eagle eyed ebay watch lists. Customers for the actual signatures tend to be well cushioned. Suspect it would take at least $700 to give punters pause. According to the venerable Blackwell's its in print price was $300 so lets say it's o/p price is at least twice that. A reprint however would put the kibosh on that.

Current Prices
$700+? /£400+? Want level 25-50 Highish

28 December 2006

The Bluest Eye...Toni Morrison, first book 1970

Toni Morrison. THE BLUEST EYE. Holt, Rinehart, NY 1970.ISBN 003085075

Author's first book. Much admired American writer, she won the Pulitzer in 88 and the Nobel in 93. A shortish bildungsroman/ coming of age story of a year in the life of a young black girl called Pecola told by her friend Claudia. She experiences misery and degradation (including rape by her father) and becomes fixated on the blue eyes of her friend's white doll, praying for her eyes to turn blue so that she will be accepted... The novel was not generally well received, sparsely reviewed and misunderstood. I found only one excellent early review from the NY Times who saw it as 'an inquiry into the reasons why beauty gets wasted in this country..' It went out of print in 1974. In this century the work was book clubbed by Oprah.

VALUE? Not especially uncommon for a debut novel but because of her high status much sought after and valued; pretty hard to buy a decent one for less than $2K. ABE currently shows a few unsigned at north of $4000. Copies might fall a bit lower on ebay, I can't be sure of that though.

27 December 2006

Awesome Wants List from 1920

WALTER T. SPENCER, 27, NEW OXFORD STREET, LONDON, W.C. Any Parcels of Books sent, I willingly pay carriage both ways, if we do not come to terms. Telegraphic Address- "Phiz, London."

We recently found this closely written 24 page catalogue of 'books wanted' put out by London bookseller Walter C. Spencer in about 1920 (date taken from BM copy.) I have put it on our website. We are publishing it almost in its entirety (long lists of Scott, Ainsworth and Dickens have been abbreviated.) Some of the books are now impossible to find, a lot were very rare even then - especially anonymous pamphlets put out by the Romantics and items such as Elizabeth Barrett Browning's impossible first book 'Battle of Marathon', Poe's 'Tamerlane' or anything by the Hermit of Marlow (Shelley political tracts.)

Spencer, author of "40 Years in my Bookshop" (London 1923) whose dates were possibly 1860-1952 (unknown to Wikipedia, Google, etc. but these old booksellers lived long lives) was a major book seller of his time and a good friend of Thomas J. Wise, but at the time presumably ignorant of his darker side (we're talking forgery.) His shop was at 27 New Oxford and he dealt in prints, plate books, bound sets, the Romantics, Americana, first editions of his time (Wilde, Conrad, Galsworthy, etc.). A big Dickens man, popular with visiting American plutocrats like pickle king Henry J. Heinz and numbering among his customers, Sir Henry Irving, Gladstone, George Meredith, Andrew Lang, Gissing, Pater, Swinburne, and Richard Jefferies.

Spencer's list encapsulates bookseller wisdom of his age and rarities passed down from 19th century book sellers. These were the 'sexy' books of his day and some of them are still appearing on wants list, some no longer wanted or easily found (e.g. Charles Lever, Frank Smedley, Walter Scott.) I will add a few notes in but time forbids me from identifying every anonymous and pseudonymous item. Occasionally he offers money for a book and one can multiply that by about 100 to get his modern price. It is to be assumed with some books that they are there because a valued customer had asked for them. For more info on Spencer see our item 'Priceless books in Hampstead' or have a look at the whole catalogue Our picture shows Thomas J Wise -exposed as a forger of rare pamphlets in 1934 by biblio sleuths Carter and Pollard. His awesome (here the word is justified) book collection went to the British Museum in 1937.

Astra Castra

An old favourite, a style of book that used to be known for no good reason as 'roast beef' - a coinage of bookseller Martin Stone to denote sizable, worthy oldish non fiction on robust subjects like early aviation, roads, towers, pirates, local history etc., This used to be on wants list and proudly displayed at book fairs..sic transit...


A desirable book but paradoxically not as much wanted as in days of yore - like the 80s when a book scout like X. Driffield would hit the Portsmouth Road mumbling Astra Castra, Globe by the Way Book and Scatological Rites of All Nations to every bemused bookseller en route. Autre temps, autre bores. A big ballooning book, beautiful to behold in the original publisher's cloth with a gilt Pegasus on front and back. Lists the first 500 aeronauts, is large, heavy and finely illustrated with 40 plates, mostly photozincographs. It is worth less than a signed Lemony Snicket but is a bit more impressive. Could find no image of the book so have put attractive Montgolfier image from the National Air and Space museum (many thanks.)

VALUE? Used to go for £150 20 years ago now goes for nearly double that and a bit more for copies in superior condition. A copy was auctioned in LA Feb 2006 and made a mere $179, one assumes it was rebound or shot. An unpleasant rebound copy with a starting price $799 failed to get a bid on ebay in June 06. Several better copies on ABE at less but many ebayers seem unaware of other book sites. Turns up signed but do not pay a premium for that, signatures tend only to kick-start prices when the dude is famous.

Current Prices $350-$750 / £180 - £375 Want level 10 - 20 Modest

To the Lighthouse

This is the first unequivocal modern first edition I am evaluating and pontificating about. It is a category that means less than it did in the 1980s and 1990s. Now everyone is a modern first edition dealer and the game is no longer in the hands of suave and sophisticated specialists. The books have become too damn valuable just for those dudes. Antiquarian dealers have added modern firsts esp 'highspots' to their wares and locked cabinets are filled with mylar protected jacketed treasures like....

Virginia Woolf. TO THE LIGHTHOUSE. Hogarth Press, London 1927

Key modernist work and one of Virginia Woolf's masterpieces ( 'Dalloway' and 'Room' and esp 'The Waves' have their champions.) 3000 printed but uncommon and valuable in a decent jacket - illustrated by her sister Vanessa Bell. VW was worried about the reviews when it came out. She wrote in her diary "Book out..I am anxious about Time passes...think the whole thing maybe pronounced soft, shallow, insipid, sentimental.' 'Time Passes' was the name of the book's middle section and signifies the stream of consciousness style. She quickly bucked up with the obvious success of the book and treated herself to a car. It was a Singer-- I used to see Hillman Singers around when very young, I guess they were heirs to Virginia's motor. Where is that car now!?

VALUE? One sees copies in decent jackets for nigh on £10K (($18K) and a really decent copy made a heady £15K at Bonham's 2005. Said to have been bought by a dealer. A good looking copy made $9000 on ebay, 12/06, in nice d/w but significantly restored. To be fair this was fully disclosed and an interesting d/w restoration word was used - 'blended' - referring to the expensive paper microsurgery process and the 'touching in' that takes place. Sans jacket it makes a few hundred quid and some bind it up in full leather, talk it up ('triumph of modernism' etc.,) and ask and sometimes get a grand. Buying VW, for Bloomsbury lovers, is an act of reverence. Btw our photo shows a 1920s 848cc Singer Junior, almost certainly the model that she bought. It was introduced at the London Car Show in 1926. It was available in a covered version but I like to think Virginia would have gone for the open top. She used to write standing up at her desk and liked to do things the hard way so a bit of fresh air would not have bothered her.

Current Prices $9000-$18000 / £5000-£10000 Want level 25-50 Highish

26 December 2006

The Confidential Golf Guide

Tom Doak. THE CONFIDENTIAL GOLF GUIDE. Sleeping Bear Press, USA 1996. ISBN 186947090

Much sought after and hard to find tell-it -like-it-is guide to US golf courses. Doak, a golf course architect designed such world class courses as Pacific Dunes in Oregon. Unlike many critics he has no problem in giving both the lowdown and offence (zeugma?). Of one course he writes: 'One of the most poorly constructed courses of all time. The superintendent asked me for advice on rebuilding his 9th green; I got out of there as fast as I could. You"d have to blow up the whole course to accomplish anything.' He also gives some interesting and amusing top ten lists (rated on the 'Doak scale' the most beautiful clubhouses, best walks, best front nine, courses worth groveling to play, courses most fun to play, hardest courses, longest courses, best opening holes, best finishing holes, and unusual hazards (like the goats at Lahinch, the wild horses at Pennard, and the railway at Prestwick). A cool book, the Driffield of Golf (oddly enough XD used to go around in plus fours like an extra from 'Murder on the Links' but never played to my knowledge.)

VALUE? No copies online at less than $800 but several of them. 13000 copies were printed. Turns up regularly on ebay and unless under par seems to usually get up there, even hitting $1k + for nice signed ones. An affluent game, many golfing book collectors so the market is well underpinned but continual appearances of the book may chill the price.

Current Price $500-$800 /£260-£420 Want level 25-50 Highish

Handbook of Meteorites... Vagn F. (Fabritius) Buchwald

A book that shows up infrequently and tends to get 'relisted' i.e. listed by dealers who don't actually possess the book, at an unreasonable price. If anyone is keen enough or foolish enough to pay their dastardly price they will procur a copy from a genuine lister who has it at a (much) lesser price. This cheaper book will often be sitting quietly on a less trafficed site. Relisted books tend to be more obvious on mega book sites like Bookfinder and Addall which is why keen buyers should use them, rather than just ABE or Alibris or Biblio etc.,

It is greatly disapproved of but it's not illegal and buyers should watch out for such venturesome dealers...

Vagn F. Buchwald. HANDBOOK OF IRON METEORITES. THEIR HISTORY, DISTRIBUTION, COMPOSITION AND STRUCTURE. 3 VOLS. University of California Press, Berkeley, 1975. ISBN 0520029348

Much sought after scientific book 1372 pages in length. The first volume describes pretty much what it says on the tin, the second and third volumes present a detailed survey of all iron meteorites known to the author as of Jan. 1, 1973. Results of chemical analyses are given, and the structure of each meteorite is described in detail. Very hard to find but the kind of book that might inspire a revised edition so one should be wary of paying a fortune. The first vol is general the second goes from Abakan-Mejillones and the third Merceditas-Zerhamra.

VALUE? One copy on web in late 2006 at $4000 but it is possibly a relisting of a copy that briefly flashed through Amazon at about a third of this; the lister gives the University of California Press place of publication as New Jersey which might indicate they did not have the physical book in front of them. Another unlikely lad had one at $5500 but has vanished, possibly a relister of a relister. There is also a used copy on a meteorite site at $1500 (jensenmetorites.com) Sometimes it pays to go outside book sites and ebay to find books, esp science and art.Use Google. Also try offline in a book shop. Bookshops are sometimes found in the centre of populous towns. There is a brisk trade in meteories on the web (e.g. meteorite.com) and they tend to be sold by the gram with prices ranging from 25 cents a gram to as high as $150. Reference such as this comes in handy establishing provenance and source. Stop Press - another fine copy (in slip - case) has appeared at $1900 from a specialist on ABE, confirming this, for the moment is a 4 figure book in dollars, euros and escudos. Btw that's Vagn Fabritius Buchwald →
Current Prices $1200-$1500 /£750-£900 Want level 25-50 Highish

24 December 2006

Alcoholics Anonymous...The Big Book 1939.

The most wanted book so far and one of a handful of books from the 20th Century to have radically changed peoples lives...all praise to Bill W and Dr Bob. Bill Wilson had been a stock analyst at the time he met Dr 'Bob' Smith the co - founder, a doctor and surgeon. Dr. Bob drank a bottle of beer on June 10 1935 ('to steady his hands') outside Akron hospital in Ohio. It was his last ever drink and is taken as the founding date of AA. There are now 2 million members worldwide.

Anonymous.(Bill Wilson.) ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS. Works Publishing Inc., NY 1939.

A big book, in fact 'The Big Book.' Landmark work not merely in saving the minds, souls and bodies of millions of out of control drinkers but also in being the first broad manifestation of group movements, 'steps', 'sharing' 'self help' and what later became known as 'recovery.' Alcoholics had precious few options before Bill W saw the light. Impossible to overstate it's importance etc., In terms of people wanting the book, it outranks 'The Hobbit' and defers only to 'Alice in Wonderland.'

VALUE? Reasonable red cloth first editions regularly go for $5000 to $6000 and nice ones can climb to $10000 and well over that for inscribed and /or jacketed copies. You occasionally see what appear to be fairly decent ones get bought in (ie fail to sell) at ebay at around $5K and even dip below that figure. About 4730 copies were printed so it is not madly scarce and the market is kept fuelled with copies. There are a few easily found points on the book to determine true firsts. Most of the high end copies sitting on the net have them spelled out. It is hard to find bright clean firsts as the book got read, used and passed around and often has the scrawled names of members and/or AA meetings and groups written in. Healthy market esp on ebay for reprints with connoisseurs of different editions and occasional dramatic prices when 2 collectors get locked in a bidding war (aka 'a pissing competition.') The 7th edition of 1945 a mere 5000 copies is highly prized, it was mainly sent out to US troops serving in Asia and Europe. I guess one might pick one up in a junk shop in, say, Manila or Macao or Munich - a four figure book.Also into four figures is the 1954 UK first, a book I haven't seen since the 80s. It is said that recovered alcoholics (presumably the biggest collectors of the book) often start making serious money and some become formidable collectors of the literature of addiction, starting with the big red book.

Current Prices $6000+/ £3250+ Want level 130+ The Highest

Finnegans Wake...riverrun, past Eve and Adam's, from swerve of shore to bend of bay

I went up to Berkeley (CAL) the other day and bought a few books at Moe's and the redoubtable Serendipity. Also bought some cheap DVD's at the enormous record shop Rasputin which is just down the road (Telegraph) from the equally enormous Amoeba. Those 2 shops have probably got more records in them than every record shop in Oxford and Cambridge and York. I bought the DVD for $12 of Fortunes of War (408 minutes) with Kenneth Branagh and the lovely Emma T, his then consort. My point (and I do have one) is this. KB alias Guy Pringle is teaching Finnegans Wake to his war torn students and at one point comes up with a slightly Joycean line 'when I hear the word gun I reach for my culture'. Whether it is in Olivia Manning's novels or not I am not sure, but it's a good motto and I am now living by it....

James Joyce. FINNEGANS WAKE. Faber & Faber,1939.

Landmark work of literary modernism, the greatest work in the canon, the key book... it opens thus: 'riverrun, past Eve and Adam's, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.' Riverrun btw is now the name of a decent California wine. Although trumpeted along with the infinitely more accessible Ulysses as one of the great unread books, many readers have read it several times and there are list - service groups on the web devoted to discussing it, sometimes word by word. Championed by Connolly and Burgess, the latter edited a shorter version of the work and the former described it as having 'passages of unearthly beauty.' Sometimes compared to The Beatles 'Revolution Number 9' - a brave work in the experimental realms but something of a cul-de-sac ( Connolly compared it to 'the unfinished obelisk which lies on its side at Assuan'.) The book is, however, collected and revered and also eagerly bought and dealt in by chaps who are usually handling Fleming, J K Rowling and Dick Francis. Joyce felt that the ideal reader would be someone who devoted his/her life to understanding the many meanings of the book (like the Koran.) His wish may be being fullfilled, even now on the infobahn.

VALUE? The signed limited edition is the most sought after and valuable with the highest prices for copies that still have the original publisher's yellow folding box. Can make over £8000 thus, the regular trade edition goes for about a £1000 nice in its maroon jacket. Jacketless copies are sometimes seen doing rather well on ebay, one sold recently at £400 from a seller who seemed to think Joyce was a woman (called Joyce?) The signed limited is constantly traded in auction at around the £5000 mark, the highest record being $15000 in 2002 for retired dealer Maurice Neville's copy described as 'unopened.' I have never heard of a signed presentation from Joyce and assume such a thing would go ballistic. JJ died in Zurich a year and a half after the book came out and was said to have been disappointed by its lacklustre reception. He felt that the ordinary man in the street would understand the book if it was merely read aloud to him. Might work on the right street in Berkeley.

Current Prices £1200+/ $2000+ Want level 25-50 Highish

23 December 2006

How to Bag the Biggest Buck of your Life

While ploughing through millions of wants I came across a few amusing titles. These are fom the F-J section. I gave a few to Brian Lake ( of Jarndyce, London) for his Bizarre Books reprint and he thanked me. Anyway here goes:

1. I Drank the Zambezi.
2. I Want to be the Person I used to be Repulsed by.
3. I was Kim Il Sung's Bodyguard.
4. Hey Beatnik this is the Farm.
5. I was Lean and I became Stout.
6. Historic Tinned Foods.
7. How you too can make $1,000,0000 in Mail Order.
8. How to get more out of Smoking.
9. How to Bag the Biggest Buck of your Life.
10. How to Build a Flying Saucer.
11. History of Purple as a Status Symbol.
12. Fags, Bags, Slags and Jags.
13. Flapper Spankings.
14. History of the Strange Sounds or Rappings heard in Rochester (1850)
15. Inner Skiing.
16. Irritating Experiments.
17. Isis very much Unveiled.
18. Investing by the Stars.
19. Investment Trusts Gone Wrong.
20. Forest of Bondage.
21. Invisible Exercise.
22. Irish Lunatics.
23. Jarvis Clay. Social Spy.

Before anyone accuses us of political incorrectness, please note these are real titles (unless someone is having a laugh.) Also I suspect that item 12 is a Brit book where fags are cigarettes and Jags are cars, however slags and bags is probably vintage sexism for which there is no excuse. More soon.

22 December 2006

Margin of Safety. Risk Averse Value Investing...

A much wanted book, there are many people looking for the book but they don't want to pay the slightly silly list prices; after all the book advises great caution in buying...


Current Prices $750-$1250 / £400-£650 Want level 50 - 75 High

Value investing. A much wanted book that always seems to be v expensive, some people get it from the library and copy it. Not esp scarce and not nice to look at. Slightly dated in some aspects now but from the horse's mouth, Librarians even in late 2006 report that it is the most requested of all books. Klarman is said to trouser $60,000,000 a year from a multibillion (Baupost) dollar fund operating out of Cambridge, Mass. He wrote this when he was 33 and doesn't (according to a librarian on bookfinder) want to see it reprinted.
Basically, and this is also true of books, the investor has to develop the discipline only to buy when prices are attractive and sell when they are not, developing a longer term strategy- -Klarman hated Junk Bonds. His advice is to avoid fads and he teaches how to think long and deep about the market and the rationales behind it. A UK edition, with the title 'At the Margin of Safety, Going beyond Finacial Mythmaking to Find Real Investment Value' is worth even more than the US ed.

VALUE? For a while there were copies at circa $700 but they actually sell, and $1500 is what you have to put on it to stop it selling. Needless to say there are quite a few chaps doing that, some vainly holding out for $3000. At one point a wily entrepreneur was renting out his copy on ebay at $75 per week. Several have made over $1000 on ebay. With this book one might follow Seth's own principles and not buy it, prices being currently unattractive. Meanwhile -- more according to Seth (and it's free) "How can investors be certain of achieving a margin of safety?" he writes "...by always buying at a significant discount to underlying business value, and giving preference to tangible assets over intangibles....By replacing current holdings as better bargains come along. By selling when the market price of an investment comes to reflect its underlying value and by holding cash, if necessary, until other attractive investments become available...Since investors cannot predict when values will rise or fall, valuation should always be performed conservatively, giving considerable weight to worst-case liquidation value as well as to other methods." That's like $5 worth of info! STOP PRESS 14 March 2006. No copies anywhere for less than $1000 and that one is an 'acceptable' only ex library copy at Amazon USA. Because it is never going to be reprinted (according to Seth) it looks like it's always going to be painfully expensive. Librarians can help if you want to merely read and inwardly digest it.

20 December 2006

Books we must have though we lack bread.

Today's post doesn't have a book to gas about but a quote from one Alice Brotherton (above.) Bill Foster of Chiswick used to tell his customers that you could, if all else failed, actually eat books. I haven't tried it but suspect they would need some sort of marinade or serious boiling. My picture is from Lilliput early 1950s, we usually have a pile of these excellent magazines (some with Bill Brandt photos--they are worth an extra £1). This pic shows a bunch of hatted gents checking out a bookseller's stock -- I suspect they are George Jefferies books on the Farringdon road. He would often tip out a pile of new arrivals straight on to the pavement and watch the punters dive in after them. Tomorrow I am going after big game and dealing with Bror Von Blixen - Finecke's African Hunter.

Arthur Upfield. Beach of Atonement

Today's book is from down under and foolishly uncommon, I have never had one, although a pal (runner, book scout, rock legend and boulevardier Martin Stone) had one for about 2 hours sans d/w back in early 1980s as I dimly recall...

Arthur Upfield. THE BEACH OF ATONEMENT.Hutchinson, London 1930.

Australian fiction - a psychological, romantic thriller not featuring his usual character Inspector Bonaparte. Rarer and more desirable than his first book published in 1928 'House of Cain.' Someone must have seen it in d/w because it is known to be by Robb and it should have 7/6 on the spine. Even the National Library of Australia's copy has been stolen. This is always an indication that a book is going to be bloody hard to find.

VALUE? I dread to think what this is worth in d/w -- there are people willing to pay over 200 quid for a facsimile. See this piece found on a fan's website--" Any Upfield fans wanting to read AWU's scarcest novel, The Beach of Atonement, will be interested to know that you may purchase a photocopy of the complete text of the 1930 Hutchinson, London original from The British Library, London, England. The cost is GBP £38.00 for photocopying plus £145.00 copyright fee plus17.5% VAT (=Total Cost £215.03). You can potentially do this with almost any book, the bloke goes on ;" To avail yourself of this facility, visit www.bl.uk. Go to The British Library Public Catalogue where you will find the book listed. The shelfmark number is NN.16529." There is a discernible movement to get the book reprinted much resisted by the Upfield estate. No copies of any edition currently available, stunningly hard to find. I want it.

THE ODDS? £4000? / $7500 Want Level 30-50 Highish