30 November 2007

The Legend of Martin Stone, Bookscout extraordinaire.

The above book was found by East Anglian bookseller Robin Summers. He is a friend of Martin Stone and spotted the incredible likeness of the villain on the cover of this obscure French policier to the great bookscout, old rocker and now, boulevardier. Martin spends most of his time in France and now affects a brown hat, suit and tie - so it is fitting that this book should be the only image of him, especially as it is a translation from a British thriller. Take it from me - the guy with the knife is a doppelganger for Martin.

There are probably tens of thousands of bookscouts in this world and maybe even a few thousand full time. Martin is simply the most famous of them and probably the best. A legend in his own lunchtime. The writer John Baxter who accompanied Martin on a bookhunting trip on America's West Coast attributes Martin with supernatural powers of divination (rather like the 'divvy' Lovejoy). At some point on the trip they were shadowed by a reporter from the San Francisco Chronicle who wrote:
'...Stone, an elfin man in old Carnaby Street threads, a felt hat pulled down over his unruly eyebrows, was briefly famous to English rock 'n' roll audiences in the 1960s, when he played guitar in stints with the Mod band the Action and blues-rockers Savoy Brown. There are those who believe he was more gifted than Eric Clapton, but to anyone who might be in the market for a $35, 000 first edition of "The Great Gatsby," Martin Stone is much better known as one of the world's premier book scouts.
He once sold Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page a copy of the "I-Ching" previously owned by the occultist Aleister Crowley. Stone's legend is such that Peter Howard, proprietor of Berkeley's rare-book haven Serendipity and himself a renowned dealer, has published a limited-edition portfolio tribute to him priced at $5,000.
If Howard is a Christlike figure, as Baxter puts it, in the book world, then Stone is John the Baptist.
"He's out there in the wilderness," Baxter says. "He taught me most of what I know. Also took most of my money, actually."
... Stone, Baxter claims, has an uncanny clairvoyance when it comes to finding rare books. Embellishing the details of their countless scouting expeditions together, he tells of Stone, fast asleep in the backseat of a car, waking with a start to ask their whereabouts.
After directing his driver down a seemingly random off-ramp into a singularly unpromising backwater, they'll come across a decrepit junk store run by "an old bloke, maybe brewing a pot of stew." Somewhere in the back, behind the old bike parts and the rusty tools, they'll invariably hit a mother lode -- a box of Virginia Woolf first editions, perhaps, all inscribed by the author, worth tens of thousands.
"And you think, 'How'd he know that?' " says Baxter. "On some other level, he knows."
The stuff about finding a box of Virginia Woolfs is, frankly, bollocks - John is a master blagueur in the Australian mode. His book 'A Pound of Paper' is one of the great books about books - better than Basbanes - the man is in the line of Andrew Lang.

How does Martin do it? It helps that he is very sharp, well read and seriously driven. His main talent is his incredible memory--Martin can remember a small chip on the back of a dust jacket of a book he owned for an hour in 1975. Forget 'Funes the Memorious.' *** Martin has the ability to recall books once seen, find them again by sight without having to read every damn title in a shop full of books. He knows which publishers to pull, which sections of shops are likely to yield treasures and, crucially, when not to bother. Lesser scouts have to look at every book while 'the stoned one' (as he used to be known) is across the street enjoying an espresso and selling his treasures on the mobile. NB-- in the UK a bookscout is known as a 'runner' and in France a 'courtier.' There is a subtle difference as the British runner (usually town based) does not necessarily 'scout' books - he 'runs' them i.e. from on shop to another with a decent but not large mark up, sometimes at the behest of the shopkeeper. Martin is both a scout and a runner (and a courtier. )

*** A short story from "Ficciones' by Jorge Luis Borges. This comparison with the memory of Funes is something of an exaggeration. Borges says of him:- "He remembered the shapes of the clouds in the south at dawn on the 30th of April of 1882, and he could compare them in his recollection with the marbled grain in the design of a leather-bound book which he had seen only once, and with the lines in the spray which an oar raised in the Rio Negro on the eve of the battle of the Quebracho. These recollections were not simple; each visual image was linked to muscular sensations, thermal sensations, etc."

29 November 2007

George Orwell. Animal Farm. 1945.

George Orwell. ANIMAL FARM. A FAIRY STORY. Secker and Warburg, London, 1945.

Current Selling Prices
$1500-$5000/ £900-£2500

The first edition of Animal Farm (4,500 copies) was delayed from May to August 1945 and was an immediate success requiring a reprint of 10,000 copies. Nota Bene the second edition is in exactly the same jacket and is quite common. It says 'Second Edition' high up on the flap (it can't be cut off and you can't be fooled by it ) and it is not a candidate for marriage. Possibly worth a couple of hundred bucks if real nice, many charge more but seldom get it. Always a bitter disappointment, because it's often very fresh. An enduring political satire on dictatorship and Communist ideology especially Stalinism. A world famous work, it still has bite and is even known to some teenagers. Prefigured by the likes of Candide (also short) and Swift's 'Tale of a Tub.' Unsatisfactorily filmed so far. Has to be a cartoon and one from, say, Pixar might turbo charge the books already high value.

I remember buying a whole lot of mostly indifferent books from the library of Sonia Orwell in the late 80s. The interesting thing about them is that many were presentations to George Orwell from as far afield as Brazil and Ceylon, some as late as fifteen years after his death. I remember the same phenomenom with a bunch of books from H.G. Wells' library, books were being sent to him as late as the 1960s. Both authors seemed to have enyoyed an odd sort of afterlife--news travelled slowly before the infobahn.

VALUE? Although a few persons want the unpleasant leathery Easton edition and some the US Harcourt edition, it is the Secker London edition that is most desired and has become quite valuable in nice condition (ie in a sharp green and grey d/w.) There are a plethora of grubby firsts around but nice jacketed copies command at least a grand Sterling, up to £3000 for beauties. The book is stiil on the rise having suddenly shot up around the year 2000. An intrepid ebay seller is selling the facsimile jacket for £15 and getting orders. Follow the flag. The US edition from Harcourt however must have been more like 450,000 copies and is worth less than the price of a hamburger dinner unless in exquisite condition. The one in black boards is a little better and some brave souls hold out for $100 +. Visiting Brits used to buy it until they saw one in every shop.

An interesting edition is the first Ukrainian edition of 'Animal Farm' Kolhosp Tuarin - it was published in Munich in 1947. Somebody found a box of them in the late 1990s and they were making £100+. All now seem to have sold. I described my last one thus:
'First edition in Ukrainian. Small 4to. pp 91. Pictorial wrappers--in pinks and reds, a striking image showing a gross, fat pig with a whip, and a horse in the backgound pulling a heavy load uphill.. With a 6-page introduction specially written by Orwell for this edition, and a full page photo of Orwell apparently contemplating a cigarette. In the 'autobiographical' introduction Orwell claims that he had been a Socialist since 1930 but during the Spanish Civil War he had considered considered fighting on the side of the Spanish government.The original manuscript has disappeared, but the introduction was retranslated back into English and included in ' Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters.' Wraps, about fine.'

28 November 2007

Bram Stoker. Dracula. 1897.

Bram Stoker. DRACULA. Constable, London, 1897.

Current Selling Prices
$20000 / £10000

A press notice in a later edition says it all - 'The very weirdest of weird tales.' Also the most desirable book of its genre. An ebay perennial making fat sums even in the most obliterated condition. There are points which are not entirely settled, but basically the earliest issue does not have ads at the rear and the best of those 2 is on slightly thicker and better paper which tends to discernibly 'bulk' the book. Yellow cloth, of course, and a yellow which seems to attract dirt so that bright copies are something of a wonder and a faultless, factory fresh copy is almost unthinkable. I did hear of a copy that because of its supposed salacious content had been kept in brown paper wraps and emerged as bright as a new A.A. book but this was before prices for the book had become serious--until the early 1980s no copy had made over £100.  The second issue has a single page advertisement at the rear for 'The Shoulder of Shasta.' That is still a bloody good book.

Inscribed copies are not uncommon, Bram was well known in the theatre world (being Henry Irving's secretary) and presumably quite approachable. An inscribed early state Dracula is currently being offered at $55K, another, the Marlowe - Rechler copy, inscribed to one Henry A. Blyth made $40K in 2002. Both very reasonable condition but not remarkable copies. The first American edition, considered better looking, came out in 1899 and goes for a little less than half UK firsts. It was published by Doubleday & McClure, not Grosset as some people persist in thinking. Grosset is, with a few notable exceptions, a reprint house; however they did produce a very attractive 'Photoplay' edition in 1931 to coincide with the Bela Lugosi movie. (See below) This can go for over $1000 to $3000 in bright d/w. There is one on the net at present at $13,500 with an eminently sane bookseller. As we used to say in the hippy days "I cannot get my head round that, man."

VALUE? Condition, condition, condition-- those are the 3 things you need to know about this book. A friend once tried to sell a worn and soiled copy, excusing the condition on the grounds it had character and that the soiling was patina! It doesn't work that way and $20000 copies have to be as the song has it 'all yellow.' And bright. It is a  common book in mediocre to lousy condition. Soiled copies that are internally OK get bound up in fancy leather bindings and command about £4k max. Some sellers ask 4 figure sums for 4th, 5th and early 20th century editions. They very rarely sell, even on ebay they no longer work. One chap (at a shop nowhere near Scott Fitzgerald's old college) has a whole collection of them at buffoon prices that sit on the web year after year. I recall in one shop in San Francisco they had a Dracula in a cabinet in  poor and rather delicate shape woefully overpriced--every dealer and chancer who came in the shop would examine it and shove it back in disgust. Eventually it fell to pieces and was taken away in a bag by the peevish proprietor. The shop has now closed. Talking of bloodsuckers see poster below.

STOP PRESS.   The entry above was mostly done in January--since then about a dozen yellow 1897 'Draculas' have been seen in auction, the highest price was $10,200 in NY for a copy described as 'an unusually bright copy' (although it had a number of minor faults.) A few soiled copies made between £2000 and £3000. There were several high profile buy-ins where the reserve had been too ambitious. High reserves are sometimes forced on the chinless wonders who man auction houses by over demanding, not to say greedy, consigners. This tends to happen if the consigner has something sexy to sell or is a favoured client (i.e. rich ).

One of the buy-ins this year that, in the language of the saleroom hack, 'failed to impress' was a Dracula in a very fancy Sangorski box and slip-case estimated at $30,000 to $40,000. It was catalogued as  'a beautiful and unique hand-made leather slipcase and box by the legendary bookbinders of Sangorski & Sutcliffe with their anthemion located on the bottom of the back cover...the slipcase is supple black leather with applied white leather to form the stark image of Count Dracula about to feast on the neck of Mina Harker...' Slip-cases and such adornments tend to be site specific, once you take them out of an auction house they can lose much of their value and may only repeat the result in a similarly hyped up setting. This very binding had been sold  in London in 2005 at £6000 and had been returned to the rooms too fast. 15 firsts from 1897 can be found at ABE awaiting punters--from £3500 to £35000 for a copy inscribed on the day it was published.

26 November 2007

Poe. The Murders in the Rue Morgue. 1841/ 1843/ 1932

Our first meeting was at an obscure library in the Rue Montmartre, where the accident of our both being in search of the same very rare and very remarkable volume, brought us into closer communion... I felt my soul enkindled within me by the wild fervor, and the vivid freshness of his imagination. ..It was at length arranged that we should live together during my stay in the city; and as my worldly circumstances were somewhat less embarrassed than his own, I was permitted to be at the expense of renting, and furnishing in a style which suited the rather fantastic gloom of our common temper, a time-eaten and grotesque mansion, long deserted through superstitions into which we did not inquire, and tottering to its fall in a retired and desolate portion of the Faubourg St. Germain... Our seclusion was perfect. We admitted no visitors. Indeed the locality of our retirement had been carefully kept a secret from my own former associates; and it had been many years since Dupin had ceased to know or be known in Paris. We existed within ourselves alone.

'There is assuredly much to be said for Joseph Wood Krutch's brilliant over-simplification: "Poe invented the detective story that he might not go mad."
Men still read them for the same reason to-day.' Howard Haycraft. 'Murder for Pleasure.'

Edgar Allan Poe. THE PROSE ROMANCES OF EDGAR ALLAN POE. No. 1. (Murders in the Rue Morgue, and the Man That Was Used Up.) William H. Graham, Philadelphia, 1843.

Current Selling Prices
$200,000 +/£100,000+

Edgar Allan Poe. THE MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE AND OTHER TALES OF HORROR... Illustrated with Scenes from the Universal Photoplay. Grosset and Dunlap, New York. (1932)

Current Selling Prices
$800-$1600 /£400-£800

Edgar Allan Poe wrote only three detective stories: 'The Murders in the Rue Morgue,' 'The Mystery of Marie Roget,' and 'The Purloined Letter.' The appearance of 'The Murders in the Rue Morgue,' in 1841 is often cited as the first detective story. The word 'detective' was not even in use then and the only thing available were the racy reminiscences of policeman (especially the 1827 'Mémoires de Vidocq, Chef de Police de Sûreté' which Poe is known to have devoured). 'The Divine Edgar' as Nabokov calls him, had immediately established the archetypal detective and Doyle and Christie are very much in his debt. The ingenious deductive (and reductive) mental processes, the admiring narrator as sidekick and foil , the strange and brilliant detective, the bumbling constabulary, locked rooms etc. were all there. He also initiates the storytelling device where the detective announces his solution and then explains the reasoning leading up to it. You can still see this almost any night on T.V.

Howard Haycraft writes in 'Classic Crime Fiction' that Poe 'had no precedent for his "tale of ratiocination." The closest example is Voltaire's Zadig (1748), with a main character who performs similar feats of analysis.' He also cites Dickens's 'Bleak House' (1853) which has detective elements. Wilkie Collins' 'The Woman in White' (serialized in 1859-1860) is often cited as the first (and finest) mystery novel-- but that's another story.

VALUE? Loadsamoney. Quite worn and even defective copies have achieved the price of a footballer's Bentley (£100K +). There are only 15 copies known of the 1843 printed but it can surface - it looks like a pamphlet or magazine and is only 48 pages. It is preceded by the 1841 appearnce of the single story "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," in Graham's Lady's and Gentleman's Magazine (the Casket and Gentleman's United). Volume XVII. Philadelphia: George R. Graham, January-June, 1841. Note that it has an engraved frontispiece and 5 other plates by Sartain after various artists, 2 black-and-white costume plates on one leaf and 5 handcolored costume plates. It is conceivable that some benighted breaker ignorant of the glories of the divine Edgar could have the item and slice out the costume plates and toss the text in the trash. It can go for as much as $10,000 and shows up with some regularity as does his similarly valuable poem 'The Raven' first published in 'The American Review: A Whig Journal of Politics, Literature , Art and Science, February, 1845'. Always worth looking through these dry old periodicals for contributions.

Only three of the known copies are perfect. There have not been many copies of 'Prose Romances' going through auction, the last made $230,000 + commission at Christie's New York in December 2000 described thus '...spine lacking, rear wrap detached, soiled & spotted; repaired tear to blank lower margin of front wrap - Some foxing - "The recently discovered fifteenth known copy".' Another copy made $60,000 in 1990 described as ' foxed & stained; 1st page abraded, costing 5 letters in last line - "One of only fourteen copies known...." Brown-Martin copy...' Rather like the 1887 'Study in Scarlet' punters are able to put up with a good deal of condition problems as waiting for a factory fresh example is a fool's game.

The history of the book in dealer's hands reveals an enigmatic copy in the hands of the Americana dealer Edward Eberstadt who flourished 1930 to 1950s. His puff for a copy he possessed is difficult to top even by the barkers of Ebay. Admittedly this a book where some superlatives are justified--he wrote in his 1954 catalogue:

FIRST EDITION OF THE GREATEST RARITY IN AMERICAN LITERATURE. The Murders is by far the rarest book of the world’s most collectible author. It is more than that: it is an important work as well. It introduced to the many thousands of later imitators an entirely new (and ever-increasingly popular) kind of tale---the detective story. The work has been called “the greatest short story in the literature not only of America but of the world.” Even the famous Tamerlane must give precedence to the Murders, both in point of rarity and, of course, literary significance. In the entire history of English and American auctions the work has appeared only twice, the last time in 1909 when J. P. Morgan acquired his copy for the highest price that had ever been paid for an American book.
The curious thing is that Eberstadt was selling the book for $20K in 1946 and eight years later at $5K. It is demonstrably the same book (both had the outer wraps in facsimile) and he may have bought it back off a collector and was looking for a quick sale in a very flat market. Prices can go down as well as up.

The Grosset photoplay edition can make as much as $2000 in great shape and like many of these books often shows up in pitiful condition. The title can turn up as ending in "Horror', 'Mystery' or 'Terror' -nobody seems to care; the value is determined by the state of the wonderful jacket. The stills are from the 1932 Universal film directed by Robert Florey and starring Bela Lugosi (still above) as the villainous Dr. Mirakle.Not a masterpiece, apparently. Lastly it should be noted that the 1843 'Prose Romances' was published at 12 and a half cents and Poe was hoping to make some money to help him out of debt - so it it is possible that a 1000 or more were printed. That 16th copy is waiting somewhere to be unearthed. Poe was much admired in France by decadents and symbolists (he was translated by Baudelaire) and copies could conceivably show up there at, say, a marché aux pouces.

24 November 2007

Martin Amis. Dead Babies. 1975

Martin Amis. DEAD BABIES. Cape, London 1975.

Current Selling Prices
$350-$600 /£170-£300

Margaret Drabble wrote in 1976 in the New York Times Book Review that 'Dead Babies' was '...about the nature of civilization, and the world it portrays is quite extraodinarily repulsive....a satiric book, written by a puritan, who, like that other satirist Swift, is deeply repelled by the normal functions of the human body as well as the more abnormal ones. Does it work, as a satire? On balance, it is probably too extreme, and its targets both too many and not sufficiently serious....Moreover, it is not at all funny. Its characters are so uniformly unpleasant that they are hard to distinguish. .. . It must be said that this book in its way is memorable. One might want to forget it, but it won't be easy." As I recall it was pretty funny. It is now grouped with Houellebecq's brilliant 'Atomised' ('Les Particules Elementaires') - a zeitgeist piece, an assault on the values of the Sixties and their disastrous effects etc.,

In the background of the novel is a shadowy terrorist group committed to murderous gestures - the Conceptualists. The book was filmed with Paul Bettany in 2000 (rated by some, hated by many, liked by Amis) with the group transmogrified into internet anarchists. Publisher's found the title distasteful and it was re-issued in paperback as 'Dark Secrets' but has since reverted to 'Dead Babies' -- a reference to outmoded and antiquated values and ideas.

Amis's father Kingsley accused his son of '...breaking the rules, buggering about with the reader, drawing attention to himself...' and is said to have given up reading him and thrown the book out of a window when he came across a character in 'Money' called 'Martin Amis'. Recently Amis fils came in for a lot of bad reviews for his novel 'Yellow Dog' (to my mind yet another in a line of masterworks). He gamely countered with:-
'...no one wants to read a difficult literary novel or deal with a prose style which reminds them how thick they are. There's a push towards egalitarianism, making writing more chummy and interactive, instead of a higher voice, and that's what I go to literature for."

VALUE? Dealers trying to sell a copy of the book often claim this is his rarest novel, however although a better book, it is worth less than 'The Rachel Papers' his debut novel. Think £200 to £300 for a limpid example and £400+ for 'Rachel.' The one you really want with Amis is the foolishly trendy livre d'artiste ' The Coincidence of the Arts' (Coromandel, Paris 1999) a limited edition of 55, with prints by Mario Testino, signed by Amis and Testino. Russell values it at £2000 and there are no copies on any web bookmall. I want one.

TRIVIA. Amis and smoking. Amis was a serious smoker of Old Holborn (?) roll ups. Now as Professor of English at Manchester (with quite a bit to say about Islam) he may have knocked it on the head or switched to nicotine gum. He once claimed that without baccy his prose style would change , even conceiving a fag free opening line such as 'It was a baking hot day...' In 'The Information' he says of the protagonist '...he felt the desire to smoke a cigarette even when he was smoking a cigarette.’ Pic below of the alternatively titled Panther paperback, faultless copies of which can command a tenner. Amis's current publicity over Islam and his feud with the Spart-like Terry Eagleton is probably adversely affecting his first edition prices. From a dealer's point of view the best kind of author is a recluse, a 'fiercely private' enigma, one who follows the advice of Serge Gainsbourg - 'Sois riche et tais-toi.'

21 November 2007

Captain Corelli's Mandolin, 1994.

Louis De Bernieres. CAPTAIN CORELLI'S MANDOLIN. Secker and Warburg, London, 1994 (ISBN: 0436201585)

Current Selling Prices
$400 - $700 /£200-£350

The story of a peaceful and remote Greek island (Cephallonia) impacted first by Italian occupation and then German and communist forces during World War II. A huge hit that inspired incredible loyalty and devotion among its champions. Top lovey Richard Eyre declared that he could not love someone who did not like the novel and handed out copies to all his actors at the National etc., House prices in Cephallonia climbed steeply -- how many novels can affect the housing market? Some were less enthusiastic, one wag called de Bernieres 'the new Paul Gallico' and some were underwhelmed by its prose and plot or put off by it's magic realism schtick. Certainly it was made into a forgettable movie, poorly received by critics and the general public - the NY Post called it 'a howling dog'. It was also described as '...one of the year's most embarrassing big-budget miscalculations'. It cost $100 million to make.

VALUE? A 'netblown' book. It has made as much as £900( $1850) in auction (June 2001 Bloomsbury) but can now be bought in the (presumed) first state white boards and fine in jacket (sometimes even signed) at no more than £300 ($625). It was a question, as always, of supply and demand--too many copies were printed and when it was selling for £500 they just kept surfacing until the punters were no longer around to buy it at that price. The crapness of the film didn't help. Even Louis didn't like it. The amusing thing is that there are still dealers trying to get £700+ for the book and they almost always insist that it was made into a great movie, a palpable hit e.g. this blagueur "...the film, starring Nicholas Cage, was a great hit a few years ago, and is still one of the benchmarks for romance and war movies."

In 2007 about 5 copies have appeared at terrestrial auctions making from £110 to £334 with an average of about £150--the high result was from Edinburgh where there may be a lag factor--it is not uncommon to see good prices made in the provinces for books that have died in London. Possibly somewhere titanic bidding battles still break out for Tombleson's Rhine and bound Art Journals which in London now get lotted with a dozen other books.

TRIVIA. Last year, the book received a mauling at the hands of the communist daily 'Morning Star.' Accused by Andrew Murray, former spin-doctor to the transport union leader Bill Morris, of writing a book of "the most crude and brazen anti-communism" and being an "apologist for the excesses of the right in Greece", the seriously riled LDB lashed back giving as good as he got. "How long are you people going to sit in the dark in an air-pocket, wanking each other off?" de Bernières demanded to know in a reader's letter. "Your ship has sunk, brothers," he declared, adding that he was "delighted to receive a hostile notice from your paper". Rave on, it's a crazy feeling.

19 November 2007

Elizabeth David. A Book of Mediterranean Food. 1950

Elizabeth David. A BOOK OF MEDITERRANEAN FOOD. John Lehmann Ltd. London, 1950.

Current Selling Prices
$550-$1400 /£280-£700

Elizabeth David's first book came out at a time when cookery was at an all time low in Britain. Even olive oil was rare and she advised readers that it could be found at chemists (where it was sold in small bottles for the treatment of aching muscles.) There is a scene in the recent TV biopic of her life where, in the late 1940s she is sitting in a provincial hotel having dinner with a lover, and is brought an inedible plate of soup that resembled the paste used to hang wallpaper. Such scenes are now less common in England- something due largely to her efforts. The film also emphasised something new to me--she had a sort of mentor- the great expat Capri based writer Norman Douglas. She hung out with him during the winter of 1939-40 in Antibes. It was Douglas who taught her 'how to search out the best, insist on it and reject all that was bogus and second-rate'. And his injunction, 'Always do as you please and send everybody to hell and take the consequences. Damned good rule of life...' was one she took passionately to heart. Norman Douglas was also a great influence on the fabulous Nancy Cunard - she wrote a book on him ('Grand Man.')

A breakthrough book. A great and influential book acknowledged now by many celebrated cooks. Unashamedly literary 'A Book of Mediterranean Food' stills stands up today as an inspiring collection of recipes from France, Italy, Spain, Turkey, Greece and Egypt. Best of all they can be cooked from, something not always true of recipes. Alice Waters, of Chez Panisse, said "When I go back and read her book now...I feel I plagiarized them. All of it seeped in so much, it's embarrassing to read them now." Even Jamie Oliver pays homage to her and the food at the River Cafe where he started was partly inspired by her cooking.

VALUE? A difficult book to find as a true 1950 first in its colourful John Minton 10/6 jacket. I have seen copies as much as a thousand pounds but certainly a decent clean copy with no chips to the jacket would be catalogued at £500. Used copies in slightly worn jackets can be had at around £300. Even sans jacket it can make just over £100. In 1987 Dorling Kindersley put out a signed limited edition of her 'French Country Cooking' limited to 450 signed copies, this can command £200+ and seems unaccountably scarce- presumably it was bought at the time by well heeled foodies and they are jealously holding on to it -such is the reverence that Elizabeth David inspires.

Sometime in the 1980s I was called to a posh house in the Belgravia /Chelsea area to offer on a a load of books. They belonged to a pleasant person called Felicité Gwynne who was then manager of the cult Chelsea bookshop Sandoes. I remember walking along the hall past rows of fabulous cookbooks including what seemed hundreds of 18th century cookbooks. I mentally punched the air as there are few things that sell faster or more easily than antiquarian cook books. I was whisked up to the attic and asked 'What about those cook books?' - Felicité politely informed me 'Oh those are my sisters and are not for sale--she's Elizabeth David you know...' You win some, you lose some. As I recall Felicité had some bloody good books including a lot of Mervyn Peake...

18 November 2007

Goddam, Goddam the Relister Man

Lady With a Mead Cup: Ritual Prophecy and Lordship in the European Warband from La Tene to the Viking Age.  (ISBN: 1851821880)

FOUR COURTS PRESS, 1996. Published by FOUR COURTS PRESS in 1996. Hardback with Dust jacket. Condition: Very Good. May show some wear.
Price: £ 812.50 ($1665)

Lady With a Mead Cup: Ritual Prophecy and Lordship in the European Warband from La Tene to the Viking Age (Hardcover)
by Michael J. Enright (Author)

FOUR COURTS PRESS, 1996. Published by FOUR COURTS PRESS in 1996. Hardback with Dust jacket. Condition: Very Good. May show some wear.
CDN$ 2,961.75 (£1480)

The above is a daft web price for a book from the Irish academic press Four Courts. It mainly concerns barbarian drinking rituals. The book has been on sale for about a year. It sits with a genuine seller at £812.50 and is also being 'offered' by a 'Relister' at a grotesque £1480. I have tried in quiet reflection to work out how a person who is probably otherwise a pleasant individual, not giving to chewing carpets or shouting at bus queues, could come up with £800+ for a recently out of print insubstantial and slightly obscure academic book. A book that the author himself has stated is not worth more than $200 and where the publisher has announced a reprint at any moment. It dawned on me that this is how it came about.

The book goes out of print and copies start appearing at about £300 and actually sell. About a year ago there were copies on Amazon at $300 to $500. While they are still around a RELISTER (the villain of the piece) relists the genuine copies at £900 (under a thousand they tend to treble up, over that a near double is attempted.) He does not own the book but if lucky enough to get an order will buy the £300 copy and pocket the difference. Meanwhile a slightly dim bookseller flown with greed and ignorance gets a genuine copy and sees the £900 price and not realising that it's a relister's price puts £800 on his copy. All cheaper copies sell, the £900 pragmatic relister now has only the £800 one to sell if he gets an order, a crap profit and risky to boot, so he now relists at £1400 - an almost certifiable price that only a rich, stupid and desperate person obsessed by La Tene and barbarian drinking rituals would pay. Not a lot of people fit all four categories. Note the exact same description and the not even bothering to describe condition - 'may show some wear' - for £800 one might expect a conscientious condition report, even a scholarly puff and some unctuous remarks like 'possibly the finest work on the European Warband etc.,'

This process happens all the time and explains many an outrageous price on the web. One might call these 'ghost prices.' They are trace reflections of real books that have sold in the past. Against these prices dealers who genuinely acquire this title, and have their greed firmly in check, probably get a fast £300 but the monumental prices are very, very rarely achieved. People are simply not that stupid. Relisters list hundreds of thousands of books on many sites and wait for some poor bastard to come along and order at their inflated price and then they (the relister) buy the book from a dealer or the publisher who has it at a fraction of theirs. I doubt it's the kind of business that gets you a Porsche but it is legal and requires absolutely no books. Avoid these people like the plague! But as they say in France Je m'en fous -polite translation 'I've said my bit and I'm out of here.' Here is the publisher's own listing (a reprint is scheduled for this year at a cheerful £76.50--- schadenfreude all round! ).
'Lady with a Mead Cup is a broad-ranging, innovative and strikingly original study of the early medieval barbarian cup-offering ritual and its social, institutional and religious significance. Medievalists are familiar with the image of a queen offering a drink to a king or chieftain and to his retainers, the Wealhtheow scene in Beowulf being perhaps the most famous instance.
Drawing on archaeology, anthropology and philology, as well as medieval history, Professor Enright has produced the first work in English on the warband and on the significance of barbarian drinking rituals.'

17 November 2007

The Mysterious Affair at Styles. 1920 / 1921

Poirot was an extraordinary looking little man. He was hardly more than five feet, four inches, but carried himself with great dignity. His head was exactly the shape of an egg, and he always perched it a little on one side. His moustache was very stiff and military. The neatness of his attire was almost incredible, I believe a speck of dust would have caused him more pain than a bullet wound. Yet this quaint dandyfied little man who, I was sorry to see, now limped badly, had been in his time one of the most celebrated members of the Belgian police...

Agatha Christie. THE MYSTERIOUS AFFAIR AT STYLES. John Lane, Bodley Head. London, 1921.

Current Selling Prices
$8000+ /£4000+

Agatha Christie began writing during World War I while employed as a nurse. The Mysterious Affair at Styles, her first novel, was written at this time although not published until 1920. Christie's sly, solipsistic Belgian supersleuth, Hercule Poirot, makes his debut in this book. Captain Arthur Hastings, a guest at Styles Court, the family manor of his old friend John Cavendish, finds himself in a locked room mystery when Cavendish’s mother, Emily Inglethorpe, is discovered poisoned by strychnine inside her bedroom. Hastings, who fancies himself an amateur sleuth, suggests the Cavendish family engage his friend, Hercule Poirot, a recently retired Belgian detective to solve the murder. Thus begins one of the more memorable partnerships in mystery fiction--with the nice but dim Hastings as the Watson like foil to the masterly deductive powers of Hercules Poirot. Christie was not an outstaning prose stylist, Dick Francis can write better, but few come close to her skill in plotting. Her writing is clear and easily assimilated, we sell many of her books to foreign visitors to London wanting to learn or improve their English.

The book is not scarce but seldom turns up in fresh condition, it is usually worn at the spine and I have never seen it in jacket. Russell values it at £25000 in a jacket. About 7 years ago a copy was reported stolen from the cottage of a family member that was said to be in the jacket but I never heard of it surfacing anywhere. It is not impossible it was stolen to order by some gloating tycoon with a fetish for early jackets (a case for Poirot and 'his little grey cells.' ) To find a copy in a jacket would certainly be occasion for celebration, boasting and some serious overcharging.

We sold a jacket of an early edition (a 1920s Grosset) on ebay about 2000 and it attracted much interest. Similar jacket shown below. I recall it made over a $1000. Several punters emailed to ask where I had got it. This was a question that was never asked before the net and one was tempted to reply with a 'see you next Tuesday' but didn't. It was always a professional secret and in many cases one couldn't recall anyway. Since then I have replied civilly to such questions but still with vague disquiet and distaste lingering like the pain in an amputated limb.

VALUE? The US edition precedes by a year but is not as saleable (follow the flag) and the very first was the Canadian Ryerson edition but that is also worth a good deal less than the Bodley Head. The highest price achieved in auction was £4100 ( including commission) for a copy with a review blind stamp in 2000 ('original light brown cloth lettered and decorated in black, some light spotting, top edge occasionally roughly trimmed, binding slightly worn.') A US first ,cocked and soiled, made $2400 in 2005. A mediocre first sits at ABE at a toppish £6K right now. Later Christies from the 1920s and early 1930s in jacket are worth more.

Blackwells, who seem to like Agatha, have £13K on a 1936 jacketed 'Murder in Mesopotamia' - something of a noli tangere price. The highest price ever achieved in auction was £8500 in 2000 for a jacketed 1936 ABC Murders. She may no longer be going ahead spectacularly but super copies and early jackets on firsts are rare and valuable and easy to sell. I have a feeling they sell fairly quickly without need of cataloguing and thus leave little record. Signed copies show up often with persons with an archaeological connection (friends of her husband archaeologist Sir Max Mallowan) - at one point we bought a bunch inscribed to Sir Steven Runciman. Many good collections have shown up in the last 20 years and have usually sold fast - there must be many collectors holding rare Agathas in their locked cabinets. [ W/Q ** ]

14 November 2007

The Road to Oxiana...

After Akcha, the colour of the landscape changed from lead to aluminium, pallid and deathly, as if the sun had been sucking away its gaiety for thousands and thousands of years; for this was now the plain of Balkh, and Balkh they say is the oldest city in the world. The clumps of green trees, the fountain-shaped tufts of coarse cutting grass, stood out almost black against this mortal tint. Sometimes we saw a field of barley; it was ripe, and Turcomans, naked to the waist, were reaping it with sickles. But it was not brown or gold, telling of Ceres, of plenty. It seemed to have turned prematurely white, like the hair of a madman – to have lost its nourishment. And from these acred cerements, first on the north and then on the south of the road, rose the worn grey-white shapes of a bygone architecture, mounds, furrowed and bleached by the rain and sun, wearier than any human works I ever saw....

Robert Byron. THE ROAD TO OXIANA. Macmillan, London 1937.

Current Selling Prices
$1500-$4000 /£750-£2000

The greatest travel writer of his day, aesthete and leading member of the Brideshead generation and connoisseur of coloured architecture. The Road to Oxiana, describes his journey to Persia and Afghanistan in 1933-34. 20 years ago the book was known to a mere few of the cognoscenti (the cognac scented as one wag has it.) After it appeared in a catalogue for £500 and sold, one over zealous dealer travelled the length of Britain looking for it (they had quite a few shops back then) and asked every seller if he had a copy. It is not an especially rare rare book so he found a few. The book was then wide awake and later started to achieve spectacular results in auction and is no longer fun unless you find it at the bottom of a tea chest in a sale that somehow has eluded being listed on the web. Trouble is they are all listed and they don't use tea chests anymore...

Robert Byron is referred to (by Philip Hensher) as a 'High priest of Camp' mainly from the set he ran with at Oxford (Hypocrites Club etc.,) His taste, sometimes called kitsch, was for things that others at the time disdained - like Byzantine art and Persian architecture, Georgian buildings, Victoriana etc., He was said to resemble Queen Victoria and occasionally dressed up as her for parties. He never gave up his youthful enthusiasms or his desire to shock; he lost friends over his insistence from the start that Hitler would have to be fought, and that the Munich agreement was a disgrace. He did not get on with Evelyn Waugh. He was surprisingly rugged, his journey into Tibet in 1929, for instance, was by any standards extremely harrowing and physically taxing. This is covered in a useful work 'First Russia, Then Tibet' (Macmillan 1933)--not uncommon but can command a £100 note and a lot more in the jacket. His signature is highly uncommon, earlier this year we bought a couple of presentation copies --including one of his first book 'Europe in the Looking-Glass. Reflections of a Motor Drive from Grimsby to Athens' (1926). We described it thus:
'Signed presentation from the author --'Mrs.Harrod - if only I had seen her more- Robert Byron.' This is Lady Wilhelmine 'Billa' Harrod who was married to the economist Roy Harrod and co - authored the Shell Guide to Norfolk with John Betjeman, to whom she had been briefly engaged. In 1937 as Billa Cresswell she had been the secretary and only employee of the Georgian Group with which Byron was passionately involved; he said of her '...she would make a wonderful agitator.' On her marriage to Roy Harrod in 1938 she gave up the job and this inscription obviously refers to that. Billa Harrod continued to agitate for the saving of beautiful buildings all her long life, Robert Byron was killed in the war in 1941.'
It was not a nice copy but went to a collector fairly smartly at £800.

VALUE? A copy of 'Oxiana' in a decent jacket made £1400 + premium in 2004. A fairly decent copy is on sale as we speak at £2000. The book will probably go up gently as modern travel writing becomes more collected. The great proponent of Byron was Bruce Chatwin who has turned him into something of a cult. Meanwhile Chatwin's own 'Oxiana', his first book 'In Patagonia' has declined in value--at one point it was knocking on a grand but can now be found for less than £500 'fine/fine' -- there are too many about and it is possible that he is less admired than he was in the 1990s. There are several other Robert Byron rarities and 'sleepers' that I might address at some point...

Elvis and Kathy, 1987.

Kathy Westmoreland (with William G. Quinn.) ELVIS AND KATHY. Glendale House (USA) 1987. ISBN: 0961862203

Current Selling Prices
$450-$800 /£220-£400

Uncommon and expensive memoir of life on the road with Elvis. In 1970 after being in the Sandpipers and singing on their deathless hit 'Guantanamero' she was hired to sing backup vocals for Elvis Presley, both in the studio and on stage. He would introduce her as "the little girl with the beautiful high voice." She continued to perform with Presley until his death in 1977, sung a tribute single, “You Were the Music” and sang at Elvis funeral, her chosen song was “My Father Watches Over Me” She is on record as having been a lover of Elvis-- he even bought her a few cars including a Lincoln Continental. A reader at Amazon reports:
"...a unique insight in to the man's life. Whilst Priscilla wrote about 'her' life with Elvis, focusing on how neglected she felt etc etc, Kathy writes about her experience of sharing and witnessing Elvis' life for a time. She was on stage with him all those years, knew what he was like before and after performing...She gives insight in to the man behind the image without tarnishing his character. She was a virgin when she met Elvis but that was to change... This book is a collector's item and very expensive to get a hold of but I am told that Kathy is in the middle of re-releasing this book (updated version) which will be affordable for everyone... must be read by the public for a clear view of Elvis the man, entertainer, prankster and KING!
Interesting to note that it might be reprinted as this will soften the price, but the true Elvis collector will always desire the first edition. A copy at about $500 is descibed thus: 'Hardcover. Small tears in dust jacket. Binding is tight. Moderate cover wear. Some pages show wear. No writing inside pages.' Sounds slightly nasty, especially alarming is the phrase ' some pages show wear' which could be pretty bad as the word 'wear' is not qualified - as in "slight wear' or 'mild wear'. Caveat Emptor.

VALUE? In 2006 some madmen had a poor copy at $2K. In October 2005 it made $207 on ebay, there are copies currently at ABE at $500 to $900. A rarer and possibly more valuable Elvis book is 'Memories Beyond Graceland Gates' by Mary Jenkins (cook and housekeeper to Elvis known at Graceland as Mary Langston, her married name) published in USA by Eastland in 1989.( ISBN 0962375608 110 pages, illustrated -pic left.) Only one copy online at £600, this with a relister who probably does not possess it. One to look out for at the flea market and possibly worth more than Kathy's book, but surely not $12 a page.

In this food orientated book Mary writes that Elvis returned from a concert tour in 1972 and told her about a fried peanut butter and banana sandwich he had eaten while on the road. Mary said it took her three tries to get the sandwich to the King's satisfaction, and then she cooked them for him the rest of his life. One for the food book collection to put next to the Elizabeth David and the Careme.

Some astonishing Elvis trivia. 1. His favourite Monty Python sketch was the the Knights who say Ni! The King would occasionally do his version of the sketch for his friends. Elvis as noted above was a prankster and as evidenced by out takes from his recordings he liked jokes and playing jokes on people. 2. I read somewhere that in his late teens his hair was blonde. 3. In the mid 1970s I was in a Russian cafe on Sunset Boulevard in L.A. Elvis had eaten there and there was a polaroid of him on the wall with a waitress. Even in this simple photo he looked astonishingly handsome. 4. In the mid 1990s I went to a 'gathering' in Northern California, where there was a lot of drumming, the party was thrown by a striking Amazonian ex hippy soixante huiter who was said to have numbered Elvis among her old lovers. He was, apparently, 'very hot.' 4. Sometimes when being driven through small towns he would have his chauffeur stop at a Cadillac or Lincoln showroom. There he would buy one and present it as a gift for someone ogling the gleaming autos through the window. Maybe apocryphal or a one off. 5. His poshest fan is one of the Mitford Sisters - Debo, Duchess of Devonshire. She has a collection of Elvis memorabilia including an Elvis telephone. Favourite song 'His Latest Flame.'

Elvis appears to have requested Kathy Westmoreland to sing at his funeral, which suggests that he had some idea that he wouldn't make old bones. “My Father Watches Over Me” is a religious song, by the way, and Elvis sung it on one of his more churchy albums. Pic of funeral procession below. Long live the King!

STOP PRESS First posted April this year. A few more copies of this have shown up but none less than $200 and a couple at $1000. The Beyond Graceland Gates cook book has become more plentiful, none below $400 but about 4 for sale and 2 beneath $500. These are books to find, not to blow hard won C notes on, however.

13 November 2007

Samuel Beckett. Waiting for Godot, 1952 /1954/ 1956

"But that is not the question. Why are we here, that is the question. And we are blessed in this, that we happen to know the answer. Yes, in this immense confusion one thing alone is clear. We are waiting for Godot to come."

"Let's go. Yes, let's go. (They do not move)."

Samuel Beckett. EN ATTENDANT GODOT. Les Éditions de Minuit, [Paris], 1952.

Current Selling Prices
$1500-$4000 /£750-£2000

Samuel Beckett. WAITING FOR GODOT. Grove Press, NY, 1954.

Current Selling Prices
$1500-$2500 /£750-£1500

Samuel Beckett. WAITING FOR GODOT. Faber and Faber Limited,, London:, 1956.

Current Selling Prices
$400 - $800 /£200-£400

'Waiting for Godot' is a play by Samuel Beckett in which the characters wait for a man (Godot) who never arrives. This may be giving away too much, but it is not 'The Mousetrap.' The two main characters Estragon and Pozzo are often portayed as tramps, although it is nowhere stated that they are; they are almost always played wearing bowler hats - now a rare form of headgear. Godot's absence, as well as many other aspects of the play, have led to myriad interpretations ever since the play's premiere. It has been voted “the most significant English language play of the 20th century." Certainly it is the great triumph of the 'Theatre of the Absurd'. Beckett never regarded it as his greatest work but it brought him a very good living and huge admiration and probably the Nobel Prize. He said of it:
'I don’t know who Godot is. I don’t even know (above all don’t know) if he exists. And I don’t know if they believe in him or not – those two who are waiting for him. The other two who pass by towards the end of each of the two acts, that must be to break up the monotony. All I knew I showed. It’s not much, but it’s enough for me, by a wide margin. I’ll even say that I would have been satisfied with less. As for wanting to find in all that a broader, loftier meaning to carry away from the performance, along with the program and the Eskimo pie, I cannot see the point of it. But it must be possible … Estragon, Vladimir, Pozzo, Lucky, their time and their space, I was able to know them a little, but far from the need to understand. Maybe they owe you explanations. Let them supply it. Without me. They and I are through with each other...'
Sam had a Johhny Cash moment when the play was performed at San Quentin California State Prison with the former prisoner Rick Cluchey as Vladimir. Beckett, ever generous with money, is said to have helped Cluchey over a number of years. SB also supported several of his own impecunious friends and his Irish relations. As well as being financially generous he was also endlessly obliging when it came to autographs and letters and there are plenty around. The better ones are warm inscriptions or letters -- not notes such as 'Dear Sir. I am unable to help with your request...' which are often touted about for unrealistic sums. Martin Stone, who knew the great man, said that when he worked at Shakespeare and Co in Paris literary tourists would show up demanding his address and expecting a good long chinwag with Sam the Man. Rather like a hippy coming to San Francisco who thinks that he will be hanging out with the Grateful Dead.

VALUE? The 'Godot' you really want is the one of 35 of the 1952 French edition on velin superieur. At the hyped Drapkin sale at Christie's NY in June 2005 a copy in folding case by the Dragonfly Bindery inscribed to William Targ made $45K. In 1990 an amazing Godot showed up - Beckett's working rehearsal copy used for the original production of the play, annotated, marked by him "prompt copy 1953" & later inscribed to John & Bettina Calder. It made £30K without commissions, the equivalent now to say £75,000. The ordinary paper French first seldom shows at less than a grand sterling but there are alot about and the US first from Grove is probably easier for a dealer to offload at these prices. The British Faber first is an attractive book and although of lower value seldom shows up in limpid condition.

TRIVIA. It is hard to find anyone anywhere saying a bad word about Beckett. John Osborne had a bit of a knock but this is usually put down to professional jealousy--they were both putting plays on at the Royal Court in the 1950s. In his autobiography Osborne records the "apostolic awe" Beckett inspired in the Royal Court's founding director, George Devine. "Uncle Sam had the monstrous good fortune of actually looking like one of his own plays, a graven icon of his own texts. The bristled cadaver and mountain-peak stare were the ultimate purifier that deified all endeavour, pity or hope." Beckett is greatly admired by actors - to appreciate Beckett, always seen as a 'difficult' writer, is to confer a kind of status on oneself - possibly the reason why he is so loved by 'loveys'.

Deep drilling on the net via Dogpile reveals the following subversive group - THE ANTI BECKETT LEAGUE. A little known and shadowy organisation, occasionally committing outrages like muttering mild criticism of Beckett, falling asleep at a Beckett play or leaving before the interval. They are shunned by decent people and meet in great secrecy, usually in pairs.

12 November 2007

CODEX SERAPHINIANUS by Luigi Serafini (Seraphianus)

CODEX SERAPHINIANUS. Franco Maria Ricci, Milan 1981.

Current Selling Prices
$350-$750 /£200 - £400

Other wordly encyclopaedia in an unknown, imaginary language describing an arcane system of fantastical knowledge. A masterpiece of fantasy painstakingly illustrating a non-existent world and written in a non-existent language which seems to be a surrealist parody of our own world and is also a pastiche of Diderot's Encyclopaedia and illustrated antiquarian books of the 16th century and earlier. Created by Luigi Serafini, 'globetrotter and architect,' historian and gastronomer, set and costume designer, an industrial designer,a potter and a painter, and a writer of stories and articles. Also worked on design of Fellini's last film 'La Voce della Luna.' The book covers such topics as gardening, anatomy, mathematics, geometry, hairstyles, cards, flying machines, transport, chemical analyses, labyrinths, Babel, costumes, foods... Talking of Babel the intro is by Italo Calvino who proposes a deciphering machine - an idea regarded with amusement by Il Serafino. Great stuff - probably inspired by all the kerfuffle around the mysterious but probably fake Voynich Manuscript. Sometimes wrongly spelled Codex Seraphianus or Codex Serafini of Codex Serafianus...

VALUE? A book that used to be easily found and I wish I had kept a few. All editions, even latish reprints, seem to command at least a $100, the first US was by Abbeville in 1983 hard now to get at less than $250 and often more, but not scarce. There are about 6 different language editions, one of the few books where it doesn't matter too much. These came out in 1993 and were limited to 5000 some signed and go for $400+.

Finally the 1981 2 vol Italian FMR ed which sits on the web currently at $1800 with another at a vertiginous $5K (signed). Wacky book, wacky price. Stories of later eds going for a few hundred on ebay, ex lib and beat copies less. STOP PRESS. Initially posted Jan 07, since then the $5K one has disappeared and there are 2 signed ones of the 1981 edition limited to 4000 copies each in clamshell boxes at a steep $4000 and an equally decent one at $2000. Some unreconstructed dealers are still trying for $3500 + for the 1993 edition (available easily at minus $500) one with the shouted description '...beyond rare--a true cult classic in it's ultimate form::::::::::OVER-THE-TOP ===LIMITED EDITION. FINE CONDITION. CLOTH COVERED CLAMSHELL BOX HOLDS THE MAGNIFICENTLY HARDBOUND BOOK. BOARDS OF VOLUME ARE CLOTH COVERED, GILT, EMBOSSED AND HAS A GRAPHIC AFFIXED. SHOCKING REPRODUCTION QUALITY...' Shocking , I guess, is a good thing in the counter intuitive world of web bookselling; from here it sounds like 'appalling.' [ W/Q *** ]

11 November 2007

Gerald Kersh. Jews Without Jehovah, 1934.

Gerald Kersh. JEWS WITHOUT JEHOVAH. Wishart & Co., London, 1934.

Current Selling Prices
$650-$1000 /£320-£500

Gerald Kersh's first book. London writer with a good and enthusiastic collector base, some of his books (esp the short stories) have fantasy elements and are noted in Bleiler. He lead a fairly rackety life, sometimes 'in the cush' from movie deals etc., but often broke or pursued by the taxman. We catalogued a small archive of of his letters and books (bought in auction at Godalming, Surrey in 2000)- the description gives some idea of the writer, it is written by our occasional cataloguer Martin Stone:
10 autographed letters, 26 typed signed letters and 1 telegram, with envelopes, 1000 words plus in toto, 1946 - 1965, London, Mexico, West Indies, and Canada, all to an infatuated female admirer (married). The first 11 letters unfold heated postal flirtation, with Kersh’s sometimes hesitant priapism occasionally bursting free: “Just received the lock (sic) of girdle of chastity - just you wait”; “Naturally you’re frustrated my lamb! Is such an elegantly - organised concatenation of flesh, blood, nerves and sensibilities made to caress itself in day - dreams”; “We’ll probably meet soon and make love to each other, or something” etc, etc.
Despite the primary carnal thrust of these letters, Kersh manages to discuss a number of other matters less at the forefront of his mind - a tussle with an octopus off Barbados, the sending of bogus billets - doux on dirty postcards to the editor of “The People”, who had published unflattering photos of him; his work in progress, problems with the taxman, etc. The final letter, 15 years later, has a more formal tone, although a carbon - copy of a long adulatory letter by his admirer makes clear she remains available.
Together with two original signed and inscribed photos, somewhat creased and worn, and three signed and inscribed books: Brain and Ten Fingers: Heinemann, 1944, 1st edition. Cloth rubbed and marked, good+ (amorous inscription.) Faces in a Dusty Picture: Heinemann, 1944, 2nd edition. Hinges cracked, cloth worn: about good only.An Ape, A Dog and a Serpent: Heinemann, 1945, 1st edition. Cloth worn at edges, damp spotted; good only. An amusing and illuminating archive of one of the prime-movers of the school of modern London proletarian realists - and a big lecher to boot. £500.'
It sold but not with alacrity. Born in 1911, Kersh began to write at the age of 8. After leaving school he worked as, amongst other things, a cinema manager, bodyguard, debt collector, fish & chip cook, travelling salesman, French teacher and all-in-wrestler all the while writing and attempting to get published. He finally managed to get his first novel 'Jews Without Jehovah' published in 1934 but in this autobiographical tale of growing up in an impecunious Jewish family in the East End of London he had not sufficiently concealed the identities of some of the characters and a member of his family sued for libel: as a result the book was quickly withdrawn and is now damned hard to find. He had more luck with his novel of the London underworld 'Night and the City' which was published in 1938 and has been filmed twice, most notably with Richard Widmark in 1950 although there is also a 1992 version with Robert de Niro in the lead role. It contains many memorable characters like Lipsky, Liquid Finger, Phil Nosseross, Anna Siberia, Adam the sculptor, and Figler, whose notebook carries “a lifetime of tortuous research in the snake haunted hinterland of questionable commerce… a kind of Kabbalah of buying and selling”. The Jewish Chronicle notes 'Kersh’s creations almost resemble Sholem Aleichem’s, but are far darker in hue.'

VALUE? No copies on the web at present, they are said to go through Ebay now and then and are possibly traded amongst enthusiasts without dealers being involved. Xeroxes of the novel are passed around between fans as there are a handfull of library copies in the British Interloan system (possibly cracked at the spine.) In November 2000 a signed copy (pictured above) sold in the $600 range. Despite the suppression it is not Kersh's rarest book, at the Yahoo Kersh group a collector notes - '...in terms of frequency of appearance for sale on ABEBOOKS. I've seen 3 copies up forsale on ABE in the past 2 years. Of course, all 3 were sold before I got there. Battle of the Singing Men has only come up once, and only the paper version. Private Life of a Private and the HB edition of Battle of the Singing Men/Selected Stories have never come up for sale at all. The Michael Joseph true first editions of Night and the City and I Got References have also never come up for sale. The Wishart edition of Men Are So Ardent has only come up once.'

Harlan Ellison is a collector and it is noted on his site he needs 'Jehovah' and also 'I Got References.' He calls Kersh the 'Demon Prince of Literature.' Anthony Burgess was a big fan calling 'Fowler's End' the greatest comic novel of the century. It is said that less than 50 copies of 'Jehovah' were sold before its withdrawal, but of course the withdrawn copies are not necessarily destroyed and sometimes find their way back on to the market. Even the 3rd edition Ulysses where 499 of 500 were said to have been seized and destroyed by customs turns up fairly regularly (possibly from Customs agents taking the book home--the last we copy we had came from Dover.) [ W/Q ** ]

09 November 2007

Ed Ruscha. Royal Road Test 1967.

"Good art should elicit a response of 'Huh? Wow! ' as opposed to 'Wow! Huh? ' Edward Ruscha (Ed-Werd Rew-Shay.)

Edward Ruscha, Patrick Blackwell & Mason Williams. ROYAL ROAD TEST. Los Angeles, 1967.

Current Selling Prices

I first saw Ruscha's work when staying in L.A. in 1975. Some friends were renting a studio from the artist on Western Avenue and Sunset. I never saw him but there were a few of his little artist's books kicking around and occasionally one saw his Rolls Royce --a late 1950s Burke's Law job with the USA plates over the British plates which was the Los Angeles style of the time. The books were amusing and stylish - conceptual art that also seemed to mock conceptual art. I have read since that Ruscha is a fan of Duchamp. Most people know his gas station and parking lot books and, of course, his 1966 'Every Building on the Sunset Strip' but 'Royal Road Test', a collaborative effort is less celebrated and possibly more interesting.

Ruscha books are hardly asleep pricewise, and it is hard to find them anywhere undervalued, every two bit scout looks for them. They are constantly traded on Ebay. At the moment, in fact, they seem overvalued as they have risen on the great photo tide that has floated every 'photobook'. It is hard to see them with original eyes. I guess the books I saw in L.A. were all signed and inscribed but I was unaware of them having any value.

Basically some time in 1966 the artist Ed Ruscha, his buddy writer and musician Mason Williams ('Classical Gas') and the photographer Patrick Blackwell took Highway 91 out of Los Angeles into the desert in a a 1963 Buick LaSabre. Getting up to 90 miles per hour on a deserted road with Ed Ruscha driving, Mason Williams (designated thrower) ejected a Royal Typewriter from the window and Patrick Blackwell photographed the incident including shots of the scattered parts and the keys. As I recall there is one shot off a letter draped from a cactus in the desert scrub. The core of the book is a photographic examination of the wreckage of the typewriter strewn over many square yards; it is done in an ironic, deadpan Consumer Report, forensic documentary style with times and wind speed etc., There is a vague suspicion that one or two shots may have been set up or 'improved'. One cataloguer notes that it 'is all done with a species of quasi-scientific gravitas...' A great and influential 'artist's book' - one day another trio may retrace their steps and throw another Royal, or possibly a Dell, into the Californian desert. Or the now grizzled threesome will do it again like a Crosby, Stills and Nash reunion concert.

VALUE? One signed copy of the first on the web at $3000, unsigned early reprints at about a tenth of that. A nice first now has to be a four figure dollar book. The top Ruscha item is his first book 'Twentysix Gasoline Stations' (1962) which at auction has made $16000 unsigned and sits on the web (signed) at the fuckoff price of $35000. You can buy good Ruscha wall art for way less. At that kind of price the fun and the whimsy are over, however it is not unthinkable that such a price could be achieved. Ruscha's books can mostly be bought as late reprints for bearable amounts. Photo below from his 1974 work 'Thirty-Four Parking Lots in Los Angeles.'

07 November 2007

Trainspotting. Irvine Wesh. 1993.

Irvine Wesh. TRAINSPOTTING, Secker, London, 1993

Current Selling Prices
$3000+ /£1500+

Top novel of the early nineties. Short listed for the 1993 Booker prize (the year Roddy Doyle"s "Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha" won). Druggy. Written in a Scottish / English dialect known as Port O' Leith. Reputedly only 600 hardbacks were bound up and (here it comes) most went to libraries. It is, however, as rare as rocking horse. Stunning debut novel, 'king good film, Ewan McGregor brilliant, shocking dead baby sequence, enough to put you off drugs for life etc.,

VALUE? Even the paperback, which is printed on the same sheets as the hardback, can get you a few hundred quid, the hardback is currently being offered by only one person-- a very high end Hell A dealer at $3000 and you can't argue with that price, Jimmy. Very hard to find and even the $3K one seems to have sold. Here is an example of IW's deathless prose- Tommy is discussing his drug problem:

If he asked us the question last week, ah'd huv probably said something completely different. If he asks us the morn, it wid be something else again. At this point in time though, ah'll hing wi the concept that junk'll dae the business whin everything else seems boring and irrelevant.
Ma problem is, whenever ah sense the possibility, or realise the actuality ay attaining something that ah thought ah wanted, be it girlfriend, flat, job, education, money and so on, it jist seems so dull n sterile, that ah cannae value it any mair. Junk's different though. Ye cannae turn yir back oan it sae easy. It willnae let ye. Trying tae manage a junk problem is the ultimate challenge...

One of a few passages in the book without a fuck or fucking or 'fecking.' Slightly reminiscent of 'Little Britain.' Occasionally the hero Mark Renton can talk cogently in bourgeois English about such subjects as existentialism (when up before a magistrate for stealing a book from Waterstones.)

First posted 9 months ago. Since then the $3000 copy has sold and I found an old Simon Finch (illustrious dealer of dernier cri books) catalogue from 2002 where he lists a copy (that sold, possibly discounted) at £2500 ($5000). He describes it as red leatherette cloth lettered gilt at the spine with the top edge speckled and a white printed and illustrated jacket. His copy was fine/ fine and signed by the pallid Welsh '...to a sad Trainspotting bastard.' He says, however, that there were only 100 copies 'intended for, and rejected by, the British Library System...' Such is the books rarity that this is more likely than the 600 posited above.

The paperback (said to be 1000 printed) is becoming hard to find in decent shape and is worth £200+, some ask £500 for it signed but Welsh produces a steady stream of books (none in the same money league) and does a lot of signings so presumably a first paperback can be shoved in front of him for a signature, if you don't mind being called a sad bastard. [ W/Q *** ]

TRIVIA. A deserted railway station in Leith provided the shoot location for the dust jacket and paperback cover – two figures in death masks at the front (Welsh and a pal) two trains clearly visible in the background. This is, according to Welsh, a visual reference to the novel’s title, which compares the obsessive nature of heroin addicts to that of trainspotters. They also share a vocabulary – drug injectors talk about “mainlining” into their veins and have “tracks” left from repeated needle entry into the same place. The editor of the book was Robin Robertson, a serious book collector as I recall; the photos were by David Harrold. Secker went bust, Minerva who took the book over also went to the wall. Sic transit...

03 November 2007

Crook Frightfulness 1932, 1936. A Classic of Paranoia.

Crooks can hear your thoughts.
Stranglehold you by Ventriloquism.
Hold whole populations in service.

'A Victim'. CROOK FRIGHTFULNESS. Birmingham: Cornish, 1932; Birmingham: Moody Bros., revised edition, 1936.

Current Selling Prices
$100-$250 /£50-£120

A strange and slightly disturbing book with some laugh out loud passages. It tells of how a young man whose business was rent collecting in London's East End became the victim of of a life-long 'persecution' by crooks, even as he travelled round the world - persecution by muttering and whispering, staring, gassing, obscenities and 'Ventriloquial Terrorism.' The writer believed that his tormentors possessed a "stethoscope apparatus that enable[d] them to hear [his] thoughts". The subtitle of the book gives something of its flavour : "They are the most powerful, terrible and pitiless killers, cunning, amazingly and enormously treacherous." The first book I have done that is listed in the magisterial 'Bizarre Books' (Lake and Ash). They describe it thus:
"...Crook Frightfulness is the autobiography of a hunted man who believes himself to be continually hounded and molested by evil men, or 'crooks'. 'How was I to know that I had of my own violation opened the doors of Hell- to turn me from a cheery, care-free youth of 18 to a prematurely aged man, terrified by horrible men, threatening my sanity and life?' ...He also provides a detailed account of what he describes as 'ventriloquial terrorism', whereby '...a molestor using ventriloquism may be in a house or building or walking along in a tram or bus or in a car, yet he can throw his voice anywhere undetected by those who are near them.' This technique gives rise to various embarrassing experiences, including one where 'I had just bidden adieu to a friend on the Aberystwyth Marine Parade and had just turned away from him when I heard the words-"The old sod"- said in my voice tones too!' "
Copies of 'Fish Who Answer the Telephone and Other Bizarre Books' can be had at the Bizarre Books Website.

The book is listed at the excellent and comprehensive site Bibliography of First-Person Narratives of Madness. Here are a sample of other titles in this fascinating field.

Davidson, D. Remembrances of a Religio-Maniac. Stratford-on-Avon, UK: Shakespeare, 1912.
Dawson, Jennifer. The Ha-Ha. Boston: Little, Brown, 1961.
Gilbert, William. The Monomaniac, or Shirley Hall Asylum. New York: James G. Gregory, 1864.
Handler, Lowell. Twitch and Shout: A Touretter’s Tale. New York: Penguin, 1999.
Hewitt, Harald. From Harrow School to Herrison House Asylum. London: C. W. Daniel, 1923.
Kaysen, Susanna. Girl, Interrupted. New York: Random House, 1993.
Kerkoff, Jack. How Thin the Veil: A Newspaperman's Story of His Own Mental Crackup and Recovery. New York: Greenberg, 1952.
Lowe, Louisa. The Bastilles of England; or The Lunacy Laws at Work. London: Crookenden, 1883.
----- A Nineteenth Century Adaptation of Old Inventions to the Repression of New Thoughts and Personal Liberty. London: Burns, 1872.
----- Gagging in Madhouses as Practised by Government Servants in a Letter to the People, by one of the Gagged. London: Burns, 1872.
Osborne, Luther. The Insanity Racket: A Story of One of the Worst Hell Holes in This Country. Oakland, CA: 1939.
Riviere, Pierre. I Pierre Riviere, Having Slaughtered My Mother, My Sister, and My Brother . . .: A Case of Parricide in the 19th Century (ed.Michel Foucault; trans. from 1973 French ed.). New York: Random House, 1975.
Roberts, Marty. Sojourn in a Palace for Peculiars. New York: Carlton, 1970.
Styron, William. Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness. New York: Random House, 1990.
Wannack [pseud.]. Guilty but Insane: A Broadmoor Autobiography. London: Chapman & Hall, 1931.

Of these I have read the novel 'The Ha Ha' and Styron's sympathetic account of a struggle with depression where he offers no easy remedy except time. The curious thing about the 'Crook Frightfulness' is that contemporary reviews of the book (to be found in the 1936 reprint which I have at my side) mostly took the book at face value, believing that gangs of criminals followed the man round the world muttering insults. A brief reading reveals that the writer is suffering from paranoia, with many sane interludes in which he describes his travels in New Zealand, the West Indies etc., One giveaway is that wherever he is in the world the threats (uttered by passers by, people on roofs, passing taxis) are almost all the same e.g.'English sod' 'bum shit' 'sod him out' 'pooped out of England' 'the British skunk' 'the white dude' 'the beast' etc., A review in the Hampshire Telegraph in 1935 notes 'Students of criminal methods should obtain this book...exciting reading..." Far more is known about mental conditions now, doubtless pills could be prescibed and the police might now be more sympathetic to his complaints--in the book he is continually being ejected from police stations or pointedly ignored.

VALUE? When I started out book collecting in the great barn of a shop in Reading (William Smith) I was looking for oddities like this and used to find copies of the book for about 25p (50 cents). It was not especially scarce and had something of a vogue among connoisseurs of the odd and downright strange. The only copy on the web at present is a ludicrous but not completely surreal price of $325 at Amazon. I bought a copy off a canny and costive Suffolk bookseller last year for £35 less 10% and resented it. Odd books are less fun if you have to pay through the nose for them. However it seems that the book has become difficult and a collector on the web at a record site values it at $200 with the following rant:
To take an example from the world of rare books, if you have the money I can get you a fine first edition in parts of David Copperfield tomorrow. It'll cost you a huge fucking bundle but all the really big dealers know where to get one (usually from each other). But I can't get you tomorrow a copy of CROOK FRIGHTFULNESS, a very very strange book privately published by a schizophrenic in the '20s. It's only worth a couple hundred dollars because only a few people know about it and want it, but it's a lot rarer than the David Copperfield. And to my mind it's just as interesting! Put simply, expensive and common are not opposing terms...
The first edition, according to a review in the reprint, has a 4 page leaflet accompanying it 'Ventriloquial Terrorism in 1932'. I have never seen this. The author suggests a counter active 'detector' is needed that 'will give the direction and distance that the ventriloquial voice derives from...' [ W/Q ** ]