RARE BOOK GUIDE - THE RUNNERS, THE RIDERS & THE ODDS

16 January 2008

Sumo. Helmut Newton, 1999.


Helmut Newton. SUMO. Taschen, Cologne, 1999. ISBN: 3822863947

Current Selling Prices
$7000-$12000 /£3500-£6000






PHOTOGRAPHY / EROTICA
Last time we sold a copy this was our description:
'Elephant Folio. 480 pages, photos throughout in colour and b/w. 50 x 70 cm (20 x 27.5 inches) and weighing approx. 30 kg (66 lb.) Monumental, staggeringly big and heavy limited edition signed on the title page by Helmut Newton & edited by his wife June Newton (aka Alice Springs) Nudes, fashion photographs, celebrity portraits and erotica. The result of a Benedikt Taschen project at one time said to have circa fifty people working on it, with a cost of over 3 miliion dollars. The book is in fine condition in fine d/w in its original packing box complete with special nickel plated table/ stand designed by hip interior designer Philippe Starck and commisioned by Newton's friend publisher Benedikt Taschen. Nota Bene--this book weighs over 30 kilos and therefore additional shipping costs will have to apply. Literally the ultimate coffee table book.'
Somebody bought it in 2004/5 from Switzerland, we were glad it wasn't America - postage could have been up to $800. It needs 2 people to lift the package with its coffee table enclosed and it is of enormous dimensions 'putting the elephant back into elephant folio' as one wit observed. The post office won't touch it.

2 things to note about the book - it is not especially scarce as there were 10,000 produced and at one time it was remaindered as low as $500. Secondly the Starck table doesn't really work and often collapses with its sharp edges seriously affecting the books condition. There are usually a few nasty copies online at lesser prices that have been in a Starck collapse. Nice idea though and a sort of visual pun - the book as coffee table.

Newton's work is portentous rather than pretentious and in the trend driven world of photo collecting no one so far has blown the whistle on him, so his status is good. Talking of pretentious - the fashionista Karl Lagerfeld said of him "Cool for him is the exact opposite of Romantic and Sentimental two words that don't belong in his vocabulary.---- The secret of its potency (his art) lies in a mixture, which is hard to define, of distance and availability.."

His photographs were described by JG Ballard, as ’stills from an elegant and erotic movie, perhaps entitled ‘Midnight at the Villa d’Este’ or ‘Afternoons in Super-Cannes’, a virtual film that has never played at any theatre, but has screened itself inside our heads for the last 40 years’. …Ballard puts him in the in formal Surrealist tradition of Delvaux or Magritte rather than photo heros such as August Sander or Cartier-Bresson - 'certainly his models constantly seem lost, surprised, or entranced, his exotic backdrops oddly incongruous, as if we are suddenly being afforded a glimpse of a bigger narrative whose contours we can only guess at.'

Taschen, something of a blagueur claims that it is the biggest and most costly book ever produced. Can't dispute that at the moment but I have a feeling the big Audubon Birds is bigger and surely in the history of books someone spent more on producing a book?

VALUE? Hard to find one anywhere for less than £3K at present and it would be best to find one nearby where it can be picked up in a car or van. One with 'severe damage' (see reason above) can be found at a stroppy $3500. A few chancers (mostly relisters) want $10,000 to $12000 for one but are best avoided utterly. Amazon USA has several at $6500 with no provision as far as I can see for charging more than nominal postage, in fact postage is free if bought in the next 28 hours!.

Ours made £3000 on ebay, it can make a little less there but it appears to be still an object of desire. With 10,000 out there it is going to be traded until Armageddon comes.



STOP PRESS. Jan/08. 'Sumo' has risen in value and the cheapest copy I can find is at $8500 (Ebay shop) with all other copies $12000 or more with one crazy guy looking for $30000. One interesting copy at $14000 claims to be 'one of 200.' This is a book to buy on Ebay or in a shop, for the moment only economic meltdown is going to soften prices to the price level where I did the entry above (March 2007). Last word with Benedikt Taschen, no stranger to hubris, hyperbole and hype:-
"...Binding the book was another major challenge. Never before has a book of this size and weight been printed. SUMO is a vision become paper, full of so much labour and so many memories. An adventure. A project that has resulted not only in a book that makes us proud and happy, but also a new friendship. I used to admire Helmut Newton for his work. Today he is a friend. Helmut Newton's SUMO is destined to be the most successful book of the 21st century. It's my favourite book already."


I have seen books bigger than this--L.A. dealer Eric Chaim Kline hauled a book three times this size to last years ABAA fair in San Francisco. Some Audubons are bigger and I swear I saw a book the size of a door in a botanical dealer's stock in Manhattan. That being said this SUMO is probably the biggest book to have been sold in regular bookshops for many a year.
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