28 September 2007

Smythies & Garthwaite. Birds of Burma, Rangoon 1940

B.E.Smythies and P.F.Garthwaite. BIRDS OF BURMA. American Baptist Mission Press, Rangoon, 1940.

Current Selling Prices
$550-$1000 /£280-£500

There is a good story that goes with the 1940 first edition. It seems that the book was seized by the invading Japanese Army. They did not destroy the book on the spot but shipped the lot back to Tokyo...The story is detailed in the 1951 reprint of the book. A dealer on ABE tells it thus:
'The first edition (1940) was printed in Rangoon in a limited edition of 1000 copies by the American Baptist Press. Put on sale in January 1941, all copies were sold out by the end of that year, with very few finding their way out of Burma proper. Just prior to the Japanese invasion of 1942, all the original paintings and printing blocks of the first edition were saved and shipped back to England. All copies of the books that could be found were confiscated and shipped to Japan where they were later destroyed during an air raid.'
Presumably the book was seized because it was in English. Despite its colourful and violent history copies turn up fairly regularly and are then sold with varieties of this histoire. The copy pictured above in the elusive jacket turned up in East Anglia recently and there are a small handful on the net. The book is never cheap and as ornithological books go it is quite desirable. It has 31 colour plates from paintings by Lieut. Cmdr. A.M.Hughes, however they are not of the print quality to attract the attentions of a breaker.

VALUE? £200+ sans d/w and possibly twice that with the jacket and a bit more for a really sharp copy. The history of rare books is full of books that became rare because of warehouse fires (see Moby Dick, Gadsby, Murphy etc.,) Also books seized by soldiers, customs men, policemen and religious zealots. At the British Museum one used to call some books up and get a note back saying that a book was not available because it was 'destroyed in enemy action.' T W H Crosland left the entire print run of his first book 'The Pink Book : being verses good, bad and indifferent' on the train back from Brighton in 1894 ater he had picked up the few hundred wraps copies from the publisher Guy and Co. The book is rare but actually shows up, because the run was probably stolen or auctioned and filtered back into the trade.

The slight rarity of another bird book, this in the King Penguin series called 'Egyptian Birds' was caused by a maker of place mats buying up part of the run to use the images hot pressed into the dinner mats. Occasionally the author himself causes the book's rarity by buying up copies (sometimes in remorse, fear or shame) and destroying them. Book runs are lost in floods, hurricanes, ship wrecks, earthquakes, bombings, plane and auto crashes and occasionally they are thrown into skips (dumpsters) either due to negligence, indifference, pressure of space or possibly in contempt or disgust.

I am always interested in books published in English in exotic places - like Belize, Shanghai, Macao, Leopoldstown, Monaco, Valparaiso, Port Au Prince, Caracas, Ulan Bator (Ulanbaatar) Iraklion, Haifa, Tehran, Gwalior, Kinshasa, Dar Es Salaam or Timbuctoo (Tombouctoo) .Ted Joans (below) the late, great latterday black surrealist poet and Parisian expat used to have a flat in Timbuctoo and published a couple of pamphlets there. Another cultish expat hip writer, Charles Henri Ford published several things in Kathmandu (1960s) which occasionally show up in the trade at decent prices. C.H.O. Scaife, one of several British Council writers who published poetry in far flung spots had several books printed in Beirut and Tehran. One wonders how much English language poetry is being printed there now--also how much is printed anymore in troubled Rangoon.

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