27 December 2007

Arthur Cravan. Maintenant 1912 - 1915.

Arthur Cravan. MAINTENANT. Revue Littéraire. 5 issues. Self Published. Paris, April 1912 - April 1915.

Current Selling Prices
$10000+ /£5000+

Arthur Cravan--poet, traveller, boxer, charlatan and possible forger published the proto-Dadaist magazine 'Maintenant' in Paris beteween 1912 and 1915. The 5 issues are now very scarce and can command over a thousand dollars each. The market for them is probably slim and collectors of this material tend not to have deep purses but the mystery of his life and death is still pretty potent...He was in the news this year when someone turned up at the New York ABAA book fair with a bunch of Oscar Wilde manuscripts of intense value (if they had been right.) They were pronounced forgeries, and Cravan (or Fabian Lloyd as he was born) was mentioned as the possible source and maker of the fakes. The story was well covered at The Times Online. Cravan was actually the son of Wilde's brother in law and was born in Lausanne in 1887. He grew to 6 foot 6 inches and weighed 18 stone. At one point he became the boxing champion of Europe and even fought the World Champion Jack Johnson (poster above) in a rigged fight in Barcelona to get enough money to travel to New York to avoid the military call-up. A relentless world traveller, he wrote "I have twenty countries in my memory and trail in my soul the colors of one hundred cities." He also wrote in Maintenant that "Every great artist has the sense of provocation" --the key to his style.

I was reminded of Cravan recently on hearing of the death of another poet and boxer Vernon Scannell. How many other boxers wrote poetry? Muhammad Ali made a pretty good fist of it (as it were) Roy Campbell was something of a bruiser, T.E. Hulme fought Wyndham Lewis in Soho Square, Marlowe died in a pub brawl - possibly there are more. With Cravan all you can collect are the five issues of Maintenant and two or three boxing posters, the one to the left can be bought in 'limited edition' facsimile for £200. The originals have got to be into four figures sterling.

Cravan paraded himself as "the poet with the shortest haircut in the world." One is reminded of the book dealer and writer Driffield, an almost daily visitor to Trumpers and himself a larger than life character and a bit of a bruiser to boot. The most memorable thing about Cravan was his total disappearance in 1918. Cravan had established a boxing school in Mexico City and married the highly rated poet Mina Loy. He and Loy planned a short sojourn in Buenos Aires, but only had enough money for her passage, Cravan decided to navigate himself with a friend in a small fishing boat; he and Loy would rendezvous later in Valparaíso. Nobody ever saw Cravan again. Loy bore their daughter, Fabienne, in April 1919. Two issues of Maintenant are archived on the web at Iowa (see below.) Interestingly they show all the original ads including a creamery, a bonbonniere, a Mercedes dealer and an evening with Cravan himself (see below.) The contents are best described by a great Cravan enthusiast Andy Merryfield of The Brooklyn Rail site:
'Still, Cravan’s spirit is best evoked by Cravan himself, in the pages of Maintenant, his pesky journal, the centerpiece of the publisher Champ Libre’s handsome Arthur Cravan Oeuvres: Poèmes, Articles, Lettres. (The now-defunct Champ Libre was the brainchild of millionaire French producer and agent, Gérard Lébovici, who, in 1984, was gunned down in an avenue Foch parking lot in a murder never solved.) Only five issues of Maintenant appeared between 1912 and 1915; Cravan was editor-in-chief and sole contributor, often penning diatribes under pseudonyms like W. Cooper, Robert Miradique and Edouard Archinard. Soirées of poetry and boxing instruction were advertised on its cover; inside, we find not only Cravan’s manic poetry, which sizzles on the page, but also hilarious frontals against establishment figures–like André Gide—and hallucinogenic dialogues between Cravan and his late "uncle" Oscar Wilde. "I looked at him in his entirety," said Cravan in "Oscar Wilde is living!" "He was fine. In his armchair he had the air of an elephant; his backside crushed the seat where it was narrowest; in front of those enormous arms and legs I tried, with admiration, to imagine the divine sentiments that inhabited these same limbs… ‘Come on! Have a bloody drink!’ I exclaimed with an American boxer’s accent." "You are a terrible boy," quips an indignant Wilde to Cravan, "my God, have you lost all your dignity!"

Cravan’s stanzas are similarly exuberant and raving: "I would like to be in Vienna and in Calcutta," he wrote in "Hie!" "catching every train and every ship,/ fornicating with every woman and devouring every dish./ Socialite, chemist, whore, drunk, musician, worker, painter, acrobat, actor;/ Old, young, swindler, hoodlum, angel and reveler;/ millionaire, bourgeois, cactus, giraffe or crow;/ Coward, hero, negro, monkey, Don Juan, pimp, lord,/ peasant, hunter, industrialist,/ Fauna and flora:/ I am all things, all men and all animals!" And in "Words," he warned that "You need to dream your life with great care,/ Instead of living it merely as a party." Then, "Weary of searching for the day, you will taste the night." "I have lived in an epoch," Cravan said in "Arthur," "where I could have the drunkenness to think that nobody else was my equal./ An idea!"
Other Cravan enthusiasts include Andre Breton, Marcel Duchamp, Greil Marcus and Guy Debord.

VALUE? With ads for cafes and car dealers one suspects that the run of Maintenant was not tiny and it is likely that the always broke Cravan hawked them about forcing sales by his sheer physical bulk. However I have never seen one, and Martin Stone in 20 years of patrolling the boulevards and quais of Paris has only seen two issues. A run turned up a few years ago at Benjamin's auctions in the Netherlands and made circa $10000 but that result might have been site specific. From the look of the copies held at Iowa University they were printed on cheap paper and won't have survived in limpid state. Kind of thing one might find with a bunch of dull, yellowing French journals--and what a find!

TRIVIA. A biographical graphic novel on the life of Arthur Cravan has been published by Dark Horse Comics. Written by the publisher, Mike Richardson, and illustrated by Rick Geary, "Cravan" puts forth the idea that Cravan and the enigmatic author of 'The Treasure of the Sierra Madre' B. Traven might be one and the same. Haven't read it but reckon that it would be easier to prove that the Duke of Earl was Shakespeare.

24 December 2007

Ludwig Wittgenstein. Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus.1922

“Well, God has arrived. I met him on the 5:15 train”. John Maynard Keynes on Wittgenstein's return to Cambridge in 1929.

Ludwig Wittgenstein. TRACTATUS LOGICO - PHILOSOPHICUS. Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner. London, 1922.

Current Selling Prices
$1250-$2800 /£650-£1400

A regular looking OUP 1920s book of 189 pages published in navy blue cloth lettered gilt. Not impossible to find - I have had 3 copies since the Falklands war. I was reminded of the book recently when Lord Paddy Ashdown quoted Wittgenstein when being hounded by the press over his refusal of a job with Gordon Brown. In a typically British way he prefaced the quote with '...I think it was Wittgenstein who said' and then trotted out the final sentence of Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus word perfect:
'Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.' ("Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muß man schweigen.")
The BBC said that he quoted an obscure Austrian philosopher, which can't be right... Wittgenstein has been mentioned on Monty Python ('Wittgenstein was a beery swine / Who was just as sloshed as Schlegel') and is one of the greatest philosophers since the European Enlightment of the 18th century. My congratulations to Paddy--normally the British are so afraid of being thought pretentious they would not dare quote a philosopher to a pack of rabid hacks.

Wittgenstein is of course a bloody difficult read - the Tractatus is written in an aphoristic style and is best swallowed in small chunks. LW's story is well known -- Jewish descent, went to the same school as Hitler, fabulously wealthy parents, studied Maths, had mystical experience as a soldier on the Eastern Front after reading Tolstoy, met Russell, outshone him, open necked shirts, gave away all his money, gay, recited Tagore facing a wall, furnished his room at Cambridge with deck chairs - the stuff of legends. The book starts off stating a metaphysic where the world consists entirely of simple or elementary facts none of which is dependent on one another; the job of language is the stating of facts, which it does by picturing the facts...after this it gets difficult and Finnegans Wake is probably an easier read; however aphorisms such as this are perfectly palatable- 'the limits of my mind mean the limits of my world' (also translated as 'the limits of my language mean the limits of my world') and his later gnomic pronouncement- 'If God looked into our minds he would not have been able to see there whom we were speaking of'.

The book is in German and English and the English was translated by the remarkable C.K. Ogden. It is preceded by the 1921 German edition. There is a point of sorts on the book--in the ads at the rear other, later titles in the series the 'International Library of Psychology, Philosophy, and Scientific Method' edited by C.K. Ogden can be present in true first editions up to the mid 1920s and there are ads dated as late as 1931. The price is not radically affected by this.

VALUE? The U.S. edition from Harcourt (also 1922) can be had in nice condition for $1000 or less--it follows the U.K. ed and was printed with the original British sheets. The UK edition can top £1000 or $2000 if it is a decent copy which it rarely is. A 'a very good firm copy' sits right now in London with a carriage trade dealer at a remarkable £2500. Several association copies have turned up, in 2002 we had philosopher J.N. Findlay's copy -not bad because he wrote a book on LW. More spectacular was F. P. Ramsey's copy, with Wittgenstein's autograph notes which made £4200 in 1981. Ramsey while still in his teens had assisted the polymath Ogden in his translation and later visited Wittgenstein in Austria. It is hard to imagine a better association copy. Of the German edition I can find no prices and assume it is 1000 euros or more but as to it's true value at present, this is a matter that 'we must pass over in silence.'

TRIVIA. A book, not thin, came out a few years ago trying to show that Wittgenstein knew Hitler at school and Hitler had become anti-semitic as a result. The book was Kimberley Cornish's' The Jew of Linz' and it's thesis has been fairly roundly rejected- illustration left. However the teacher whom Hitler commends in Mein Kampf for teaching him German history and making him into a fanatical German nationalist, one Dr Leopold Poetsch, also took Wittgenstein's class on overnight excursions - tenuous, but conspiracy theories have been built on less. Further Trivia-- one of the drop-in attendees at Wittgenstein's Cambridge classes in the 1940s was a black USAF sergeant fom a nearby American base (Lakenheath?) possessed, it is said, of a cheerful face and disposition. Ludwig was apparently inconsolable when, due to pressures of war and work, he no longer came by. Who was that man? There's a book right there.

22 December 2007

Betty May. Tiger Woman, 1929

Betty May. TIGER - WOMAN. MY STORY. London: Duckworth, 1929.

Current Selling Prices
$400+ /£200+

A beast of a book - literally, because it is very hard to find and also because its value derives from its connection to the Great Beast himself, Aleister Crowley. Briefly, Betty May was born in in Canning Town, (around Tidal Basin) London where she endured an extremely rough childhood. She became an artist's model, moved in decidedly bohemian circles and migrated to Paris where she hung out with the Apaches (motorised robbers mostly). She was known among the Apaches as 'The Tiger-Woman.' Five feet tall and of a witchy appearance she was not a woman to cross, at one point she threatened to murder Crowley. She was married three times, her second husband divorced her because of her overuse of cocaine; having cleaned up she married again for love. Her third husband Raoul Loveday whom she had met at the Harlequin club in London was a young Oxford graduate and keen Egyptologist. Together they made a fateful journey to Crowley's retreat Thelema Abbey in Cefalu, Sicily.

Betty May writes that she detested Crowley but it appears that Loveday was captivated by his personality. Loveday died at Thelema after an illness in slightly mysterious cicumstances. Betty May surmises it was after drinking tainted water at a nearby monastery but the rumour (completely false) was that he expired after drinking cat's blood in a magick ceremony. The newspaper went mad in England and America with headlines such as 'Varsity Lad's Death. Enticed to 'Abbey'. Dreadful ordeal of a young wife...' This is where Crowley's reputation as the Great Beast was made. Betty May, obviously no innocent, was cast as the 'Young English bride' 'Girl-wife' 'Parlour Puss' and Loveday as her 'boy-husband.' It was the beginning of the great tabloid sensations and was like, say, Pete Doherty, Kate Moss and Amy Winehouse all rolled into one.

Crowley did not sue Betty May, but a little later sued Nina Hamnett over her book 'Laughing Torso' which he said had associated him wrongly with Black Magic. He lost, appealed and then lost again and became bankrupt. Rather a shame as nowadays he could have capitalised on his tabloid fame and become rich.

VALUE? Now a rare book. The copy I have before me, somewhat used and jacketless is the only copy currently around according to Addall, Bookfinder etc., It is in fact an 'Uncle' (acrronym in use for 'Unique No Copy Located Elsewhere') and when I get round to it I will probably list it at £200 (later note 2/2/08--just sold it at a shade less than that.) A jacketed, shipshape copy would probably command twice that. Nina Hamnett's book 'Laughing Torso' is relatively common and the Constable 1932 edition can be had for £25 although it should fetch £100 in jacket and £200 or more in the signed limited edition form.

TRIVIA. Anthony Powell and the Great Beast, 666. This to be found at the excellent Thelema Lodge site:
'...in 1929, Crowley telephoned the Duckworth offices to invite its editor to lunch for a discussion of accusations made against the Abbey of Thelema (where Betty May's husband Raoul Loveday had died from drinking tainted water from a Cefalu stream). Taking the call, Powell found the "near-cockney accent" of the magus unappealing, and knowing that his ancestors had been among the dissenting sects of the Quakers and Plymouth Brethren, "wondered whether his cadences preserved the traditional 'snuffling' speech ascribed to the Roundheads." The restaurant was called Simpson's, in The Strand, and Crowley said Powell might recognize him "from the fact that I am not wearing a rose in my buttonhole."
Recalling his mother's dread as well as his childhood perusal of The Equinox, Powell was uncertain about the meeting, wondering "whether I should be met in the lobby by a thaumaturge in priestly robes, received with the ritual salutation: 'Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law'; if so,whether politeness required the correct response: 'Love is the Law, Love under Will.'" In fact the "big weary-looking man" who "rose from one of the seats and held out his hand" was "quietly, almost shabbily, dressed in a dark brown suit and grey Homburg hat." His figure seemed "intensely sinister" due to the"unusual formation of his bald and shaven skull." They dined on mutton, and Crowley had a glass of milk. After fully stating his case against the"inaccuracies and vulgarities of phrase" marring Tiger-Woman, Crowley expounded in general upon "the hard life of a mage, its difficulties and disappointments, especially in relation to the unkindness and backbiting of fellow magicians."

16 December 2007

Mushrooms, Russia and History, 1957.

Valentina Pavlovna and R. Gordon Wasson,. MUSHROOMS, RUSSIA AND HISTORY, Pantheon Books, New York 1957.

Current Selling Prices
$2000-$4000 /£1000-£2000

A great book and a great find. Only 500 were printed and it is a fine production printed by the prestigious Stamperia Valdonega (following Hans Mardersteig's design) on heavy paper with deckle edges and with pochoir plates. Two sizeable quartos - in a slip-case if you are lucky. If offered a copy always check that there is a fold out chart in the sleeve of volume 2. Much wanted by collectors of drug books as it is often cited as the book that began the psychedelic revolution through its rediscovery of the magic mushroom.

Gordon Wasson, a merchant banker, and his Russian wife Valentina became interested in mushrooms on their honeymoon in the Catskills and originally conceived the work as a cookbook. However it grew to incorporate ethnography, the literature and lore of the sacred psilocybe, and a catalogue of the rituals and religions which grew around it - a science now called etnhno-mycography, with Terence McKenna as its heir. It also chronicles the Wassons' first encounter with Maria Sabina, and their first experience with psilocybin.

VALUE? Hard to find copies for less than $2000 unless they have had a hard life. Some copies on the web at over $4000 with up market dealers - but none from the usual coterie of reckless overpricers. Gordon Wasson's later work done after the sad death of Natalia 'Soma. Divine Mushroom of Immortality' (1968) is also much desired and leaves little change from $1000. The work that can be found more reasonably priced because it was at one point remaindered (at £5) is his 1975 book 'María Sabina and her Mazatec Mushroom Velada.' This comes with 4 casettes that may or may not have lasted the 30+ years. This can fetch $500 or more.

They record the shamanic ceremony where "the officiants were under the potent influence of the divine inebriant, a species of Psilocybe. In [the] sound track nothing is deleted...' We used to have several copies of this book and would occasionally play the tapes of the stoned, ecstatic chanting in the shop - to the mystification of our customers. Picture of Wasson in Mexico above. John Lennon, Peter Townshend, Mick Jagger, and Bob Dylan were among the celebrities who travelled to seek Maria Sabina's spiritual guidance at Huautla. Natalia Wasson (pictured above with her husband) wrote a children's book published by J. B. Lippincott Company in 1939. It is the story of an adopted child and based on a story she had told to her own adopted son, Peter, when he was four years old. It had at once became his favorite story. It is called 'The Chosen Baby' and is Illustrated by Hildegard Woodward. Uncommon as a true first in jacket and probably worth circa $100 thus. It is still considered an important work in the field.

TRIVIA. I am indebted to the ABA newsletter for pointing out that some mushrooms are now grown using old books. I have heard that phone directories are preferred but cheap paper and newspaper is best (no vellum). Below is Fothergill's Pink Oyster grown on 'recycled old books.' We have plenty of them.

14 December 2007

J.K. Rowling. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. 1998.

J.K. Rowling. HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS. Bloomsbury,London 1998. ISBN: 0747538492

Current Selling Prices
$1500-$3000 /£750-£1500

I thought I would republish this entry to commemorate the £1.95 million ($3.98 million) paid yesterday for a shortish Potter manuscript -"The Tales of Beedle the Bard". One of seven copies of the Tales, bound in brown leather and decorated in silver and moonstones. Six have been given to people closely connected to the Harry Potter books. Nice presents. Obviously an absurd price but the money goes to a great charity (The Children's Voice) so one cannot knock it and the buyer will have bought many quarters of an hour of fame. (Stop Press--now known to have bought my Bezos of Amazon for publicity, kudos and out of sheer decency etc., The purchase is a pittance compared to his investment in space flight. ) A 'Mad Hatter' price - higher than that achieved for an Alice manuscript even if you adjust the price for inflation. Will do the math on this later - the Alice sold for about £35,000 in the 1930s as I recall. The money will help a very good cause so who really cares?

'Chamber of Secrets' is the second in the immortal Hogwarts series. Print line must read 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1. If that is there you have a first edition. In the copy inscribed to her father and stepmother sold in NY 2003 for $9000 JK has circled the figure 1 and written 'First Edition- I got one!' We were once offered a copy by the dedicatee of the book and the owner of the Ford Anglia pictured on the cover. Deal fell through because the guy wanted to buy a house with the notional money, however we asked the all important question. Where is the Ford Anglia? Apparently it was scrapped years ago - a pity because I could see that making housebuying money.

Harry Potter seems to have brought into being a new kind of slightly naff bookseller with plenty of patter and heartfelt blandishments in their book descriptions:
'Hand signed directly onto the main title page'...'Unread with good square corners'... '100% ironclad provenance' ... 'great addition to any serious collection'....'we wish you every success with your collecting'.. 'Books laced with contemporary and long-term appeal, distinguished by fine condition and that touch of the unique'...'providing the astute collector with high quality books for pleasure and investment'...'everything is just right about this one, you have our assurance... highlights of long-term promise in all genres... A most attractive acquisition...'
It is curious how those who promise some kind of long term return on your investment are always charging twice the price of any other dealer. I guess you just have to hold on to the book that bit longer. The book is often 'A VERY FINE copy in VERY FINE dustwrapper...unusually lovely...' How fine can a book get, if you have 'very fine' and 'extra fine' can we assume that 'fine' is actually not very fine?

One thinks of Leonard Rossiter as the unctuous Mr Shadrack in 'Billy Liar' - determined to modernise his funeral service. The books are often trumpeted as investments with added stuff loosely inserted and illustrations by the artist etc., Putting the bland in blandishments...but perhaps these guys are providing a service and a new breed of punter has arisen to buy their wares, as they used to say 'wally goes to wally.'

VALUE? Hard to find a decent one fine in fine for less than £1000, but one should not have to pay more than that. The book is nowhere near as scarce as 'Philosopher's Stone' and copies can usually be found on Ebay every day. Auction records showing a slight flattening of prices with the book selling for betwen £600 and £1000 in 2006 about 6 times. It may rise, as exquisite copies are not especially easy to find anymore, even though the book is less than 10 years old it usually shows up used in some way. People have read the book, never a good idea. We sold a copy at Christmas 2000 in fine condition for £1500 and haven't bought one since. Pottermania was then at its height. De Luxe ed goes for £100, the Deluxe of Azkaban is the one you want - it can make £800+. Signatures are best avoided unless there is good provenance - usually a ticket or buying from an established firm who will take the book back if the signature doesn't pass the 'blink' test. [ W/Q **** ]

Wendy Cope. Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis, 1986

Wendy Cope. MAKING COCOA FOR KINSGLEY AMIS. Faber, London 1986.

Current Selling Prices
$100-$150 /£50-£70

Much loved and admired poet, sometimes compared to Betjeman but lighter in tone. However she has succeeded him as best selling poet in Britain. Her second book 'Serious Concerns' sold 100,000 copies and signed copies can be had for a tenner. I can probably get away with quoting a haiku from the book by her creation Jason Strugnell (Wendy is notoriously prickly about copyright infringement but not quite in the Salinger league...)

November evening:
The moon is up, rooks settle,
The pubs are open.
Vernon Scannell, who sadly died at 85 this year, wrote a good piece on her reproduced at Geocities. Not an easy man to please and a great poet himself (and a boxer in his time) Vernon is generous about this book and compares her 'to accomplished writers of light verse such as Winthrop Praed, C. S. Calverley and J. K. Stephen.' Odd to see Virginia Woolf's cousin (and suspected molester) J.K. Stephen in the list, some of his poems were so misogynistic that he was suspected of being Jack the Ripper. Vernon concludes that her success is a mystery to him and notes that her short poems are her finest.

VALUE? 'Light verse' (a category not used much anymore and apparently disliked by Wendy Cope herself) is not a big money category but a fine in jacket copy of this can, on a good day, be converted into a £50 note.

TRIVIA. Wendy Cope wrote an attack on internet plagiarism in The Grauniad last Saturday 'You like my poems? So pay for them.' A reasoned, indignant piece but she failed to get the message understood by the likes of Prince and Radiohead that if you release some stuff for free people hear it and buy lots of your product. She appears to think that people download poems (do they?) and unwittingly sides herself with Metallica, the much cursed Gods of metal, who have batteries of lawyers stopping infringements. The internet is a buying machine, people read the poems, love them and go to Amazon and buy the book in '1 click'. Pomes Pennyeach. She concludes the piece with a short poem, not unburdened with clichés, that I shall risk a short spell at Ford Open Jail by quoting. Wendy is musing about some post-cards with poems by A.E. Housman (now just out of copyright) that she found in a gift shop:

Will they do this, I wonder
With verse of mine or yours
When we are six feet under
And deaf to all applause?
We bring home little bacon
En route for that long night
And when the profit's taken
We're out of copyright.

12 December 2007

The Invisible Man. H.G. Wells. 1897.

H.G. Wells. THE INVISIBLE MAN: A GROTESQUE ROMANCE...C. Arthur Pearson Limited, London 1897.

Current Selling Prices
$3000-$10000 /£1500-£5000

Wells's world famous tale. He later pointed out that the title is something of a misnomer: the protagonist is actually The Transparent Man. The title page is printed in orange and black, 2 pages of ads at back. It's in red pictorial cloth, front in black and gold, lettered gilt at the spine. Illustration on cover in black shows clothed man sitting in chair with no head and shoes, but no ankles. Suvin in 'Victorian Science Fiction in the UK' puts it thus: "Amoral scientist discovers invisibility, but even this fails in the face of invincible obtuseness and cruelty of petty bourgeois England. Brilliant idea, memorable scenes, and vigorous chase-plot in an ambiguous (and scientifically impossible) tale."

Wells was making a similar point to young Mary Shelley in Frankenstein 80 years earlier - that science without humanity amounts to misery and destruction. Filmed several times with the Invisible Man appearing separately as a character in many adventures, satires, jokes, parodies etc., - the last being the bitterly disappointing 'League of Extraordinary Gentleman' where he appeared alongside Captain Nemo, Dorian Gray, Dr Jekyll etc., Connery as Quatermaine gamely tries to keep the film together, David Hemmings appears at the end looking terrible (sadly his last role.) The Alan Moore comic on which the film is based remains excellent.

The 1897 book itself first appeared as a racy serial in Pearson's magazine; it is not one of Wells greatest works (like,say, Tono Bungay.) It secured Wells financially for life, bringing him not only a constant flow of royalty cheques, but money from the Hollywood film adaptation of 1933 starring Claude Rains.

VALUE? A vulnerable, cheaply produced book, so great copies are uncommon and command goodly sums. Fine copies are almost impossible. The publisher Pearson's books have survived badly- they were almost always in poor quality bindings with cheap paper - this was the only Wells book from them fortunately. Reasonable ones can be had at about a £1000 ( a not bad copy failed recently at ebay at $1000).It has turned up in terrestrial auctions 60 times in the last 30 years (according to ABPC) and seldom gets into 4 figures unless very nice or inscribed. An inscribed US first with a drawing made $23000 at the Neville sale in 2004, something of a freak result. A decent signed copy of the UK first sits on ABE at £12.5K. In a world where people will pay £35000 for a cocktail this is not steep. The LEC copy will get you $100 with a following wind. Ralph Ellison's 1952 'Invisible Man' goes for similar sums to Wells's work (but this time it needs a d/w) but not as much signed. It is itself a much admired and much wanted political parable. Because the people he encounters 'see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination' he too is, effectively, invisible.

06 December 2007

J. G. Ballard. The Atrocity Exhibition, 1970.

Watching his right-wing speeches, in which he castigated in sneering tones the profligate, welfare-spending, bureaucrat-infested state government, I saw a more crude and ambitious figure, far closer to the brutal crime boss he played in the 1964 movie, The Killers, his last Hollywood role. In his commercials Reagan used the smooth, teleprompter-perfect tones of the TV auto-salesman to project a political message that was absolutely the reverse of bland and reassuring. A complete discontinuity existed between Reagan's manner and body language, on the one hand, and his scarily simplistic far-right message on the other. Above all, it struck me that Reagan was the first politician to exploit the fact that his TV audience would not be listening too closely, if at all, to what he was saying, and indeed might well assume from his manner and presentation that he was saying the exact opposite of the words actually emerging from his mouth...

Ballard on Reagan. Re/ Search 1990 (Re-issue of 'The Atrocity Exhibition.')

J. G. Ballard. THE ATROCITY EXHIBITION. Cape, London & Doubleday New York, 1970.

Current Selling Prices
$400-$10000 /£200-£5000

Ballard has been much in the British media in the last year mostly because of his new book 'Kingdom Come'. Melvyn Bragg, the adenoidal duff novelist, came to call for ITV and a respectful looking chap from the BBC also profiled the Sage of Shepperton. Both can be seen on YouTube. On ITV Will Self claimed (with a few caveats) that JGB was the most significant post war novelist. Certainly in terms of knowing what is really going on (and often well before it happens) he is the supreme figure-- his novels and short stories have demonstrably foreshadowed global warming, environmental disasters, the grotesque rise of celebrity culture, science parks, 'retail therapy', even the death of Princess Diana (Crash).

There is a rumour in France that his superb novel 'Super Cannes' is to be filmed--when it came out in 2000 it was described as the first 'essential' novel of the 21st century. There have been rumours before - it was optioned in 2002 by producer Jeremy Thomas and director John Maybury with nothing doing so far. His new book 'Kingdom Come' was a slight let down and received flat reviews (although it has its fans and may read better decades down the line). One reviewer felt that Ballard, once so ahead, had been overtaken by events--' history has caught up and passed the old motorist, his late vision – of consumption as Fascism out of uniform, or at least as a precondition for the full-blown, full-dress kind – seems simultaneously unassuming and cranky.'

I have chosen 'The Atrocity Exhibition' because it was a breakthrough book in terms of shock value and also because it is his most valuable book by a long chalk. A 'stopper' for any determined completist. You need the U.S. Doubleday 1970 first. Most of the stories that make up the book had been originally published in the late 1960s in SF magazines (which by the way are rarely of value) others appeared in regular journals like Encounter, Transatlantic Review, etc., - also small change to buy. The first English-language publication was in the U.K. by Cape in 1970. The publication history is best told by Mike Holliday at the definitive J. G. Ballard - A Collector's Guide site.
"The first U.S. edition was to have been by Doubleday, also in 1970, but the entire edition was destroyed just prior to publication, with the exception of a few advance review copies and file copies. Senior management at Doubleday had taken exception to the contents, which included Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan and Plan for the Assassination of Jacqueline Kennedy. It isn't clear exactly how many copies still survive (perhaps around a dozen), but this is certainly the rarest of Ballard's books; there was a copy for sale in 2006 by bookseller Lloyd Currey for $7,500. In addition to the fifteen stories that comprised the Cape edition, Doubleday had included drawings by Michael Foreman, a dedication 'To the insane', and an interview with Ballard by George Macbeth (which had originally been broadcast on BBC radio, and which subsequently appeared in print in the book The New SF, edited by Langdon Jones). Had this edition been released on its scheduled date, then it would have been the first English language publication, preceding the Cape edition by one month.  

Following the pulping of the Doubleday edition, E. P. Dutton took the book up, but eventually decided against publication after advice from their lawyers. The first U.S. publication was therefore not until 1972 when Grove Press published the book under the revised title Love & Napalm: Export U.S.A., with a preface by William Burroughs. This edition went out of print fairly quickly, and the book did not reappear in the U.S. until 1990 when Re/Search brought out a large format, extensively illustrated, paperback edition. This reverted to the original title and retained the Burroughs introduction; it also added sidebar annotations by Ballard, as well as four additional pieces - three of Ballard's 'surgical fictions' from the 1970s, Princess Margaret's Facelift, Mae West's Reduction Mamoplasty, and Queen Elizabeth's Rhinoplasty, and (rather incongruously) a story from the late-1980s, The Secret History of World War 3. At the same time, Re/Search brought out a signed hardback edition, limited to 400 un-numbered copies; or at least, that what it says on the limitation page ... but the copyright page says that it's limited to 300 copies. Odd! "

Thanks Mike! The US 1972 Grove Press 'Napalm' edition is only worth about $50. The 1968 Brighton / Unicorn printing 'Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan', a pamphlet, is worth nearly £1000 in the signed edition of 50 and about half that in the unsigned edition of 200. There are no copies on the web. The 1990 Re/Search signed edition of 400 gets priced between £100 and £200 on ABE but can probably be picked up way cheaper at Ebay - also Re/Search themselves still have copies for sale. The UK first in its surreal jacket (below) can be found between £100 and £200. Note that the red lettering on the spine of the dust jacket of this edition is particularly prone to fading and unfaded copies are prized.

A serviceable copy of the US rarity in a chipped and nicked jacket is currently on sale for the carefully considered price of $11, 900. It is obviously howling rare but it is just possible more escaped the pulper's tank than was previously thought. Ballard mentions 'signing one or two copies that somehow escaped the Doubleday thought police.' SF overlord (pace George Locke) Lloyd Currey reckons there are ten copies around*. The rarity of pulped, seized and 'disappeared' editions can sometimes be overstated - vide the 3rd edition Ulysses where 499 of 500 were said to have been seized and destroyed by customs--there have been at least a dozen of those in commerce in living memory. If copies of 'Atrocity' are going to surface New York is the place. In the late 1990s we cleared 3000+ books (mostly novels, mostly file copies) from Doubleday's London office, sadly 'Atrocity' was not among them.

* His exact words were - 'If I recall correctly, I've sold a total of four and they all came from publisher employees or reviewers. Frankly, I don't think there are too many out there. ... I would guess there are somewhere between 10 and 25 copies extant. Number depends on how soon the order to stop distribution came down from Nelson Doubleday. Doubleday, in those days, sent out a fair number of review copies, at least 25 and sometimes more.'

04 December 2007

Thomas Browne. Religio Medici, 1642/1643

As for those wingy Mysteries in Divinity, and airy subtleties in Religion, which have unhing’d the brains of better heads, they never stretched the Pia Mater* of mine. Methinks there be not impossibilities enough in Religion for an active faith...I love to lose my self in a mystery... ’Tis my solitary recreation to pose my apprehension with those involved enigmas and riddles of the Trinity, with Incarnation, and Resurrection. I can answer all the Objections of Satan and my rebellious reason with that odd resolution I learned of Tertullian, Certum est, quia impossibile est.** I desire to exercise my faith in the difficultest point; for to credit ordinary and visible objects is not faith, but persuasion. Some believe the better for seeing CHRIST’S Sepulchre; and, when they have seen the Red Sea, doubt not of the Miracle. Now, contrarily, I bless my self and am thankful that I lived not in the days of Miracles, that I never saw CHRIST nor His Disciples. I would not have been one of those Israelites that pass’d the Red Sea, nor one of CHRIST’S patients on whom He wrought His wonders; then had my faith been thrust upon me, nor should I enjoy that greater blessing pronounced to all that believe and saw not. ’Tis an easie and necessary belief, to credit what our eye and sense hath examined. I believe He was dead, and buried, and rose again; and desire to see Him in His glory, rather than to contemplate Him in His Cenotaphe or Sepulchre...

*A membrane surrounding the brain.
**It is certain because it is impossible

Thomas Browne. RELIGIO MEDICI. . [London]: Andrew Crooke, 1642.

Current Selling Prices
$4000-$10000 /£2000-£5000

The supreme literary achievement by an English doctor. Possibly any doctor, although Chekhov was a doctor, Somerset Maugham too, William Carlos Williams wielded a stethosccope, also the mighty Conan Doyle, but surely none wrote better prose than Sir Thomas Browne. Virginia Woolf said of his Religio Medici ('The Religion of a Doctor') that it paved the way for all future confessionals, private memoirs and personal writings. Browne's playful conceits, his intimacy with the reader and his psychological self examination are noticeably modern in tone. Browne, a great favourite in his day, was rediscovered by the Romantics - Charles Lamb introduced his work to Coleridge, who after reading it exclaimed, "O to write a character of this man!" Thomas de Quincey praised the 'sublimity' of his style. In our time he was again discovered by the great German writer W.G. Sebald who taught in Norwich, where Thomas Browne had practiced as a physician three centuries earlier. Sebald's 'Rings of Saturn' refers to Browne (who was born under the sign of Saturn on October 19, 1605 and curiously died on the same day he was born on October 19, 1682.) This is said to be a Saturn-like thing to do, there is a suggestion he may have planned or foresaw it, but really it's only a 365-1 chance.

The curious thing about first editions of Religio Medici is that they were not authorised by Browne and two such editions came out in 1642. An old auction catalogue (sorry source temporarily lost) declares:-
'Written in 1635, it was not published until 1642, when two unauthorized editions appeared from the same printer, one of 80 leaves and one of 96. The earliest bibliographical authorities---Wilkin, Greenhill, Williams---judged the longer version to be the earlier edition. Geoffrey Keynes in his standard bibliography of Browne (1924) reversed the order on the basis of the amount of wear to William Marshall’s engraved title, calling the shorter version the earliest. In 1948, Elizabeth Cook argued for a second reversal on the basis of textual analysis, re-establishing the longer version as the first edition. The matter of priority may be said to be still unsettled... Religio Medici describes the religion and philosophy of a tolerant, humorous and latitudinarian mind" (DSB)... (he) had an active interest in a wide range of subjects, from archaeology and philosophy to physics and biology. Religio Medici, his first published work, was a philosophical tract as much as a religious one, a Platonist's contemplation on the world. Its publication met mixed reactions; in Paris it was published by a Roman Catholic; in Rome it was listed on the Index Expurgatorius.'
Always a good sign to have your book banned in Rome. The first authorised edition appeared in 1643- it was titled: "A True and Full Copy of that which was most Imperfectly and Surreptitiously Printed before under the Name of: Religio Medici." Effectively the third edition, it was also published by the Andrew Cooke who had issued the two surreptitious editions. One imagines that Browne was an unlitigious, relaxed sort of cove--you couldn't pull that trick off with many modern authors. The authorised edition corrected printing and textual errors, but also modified the tenor of some of the more dogmatic assertions. The book was a great success, reprinted eleven times during the author's lifetime and translated into Latin, Dutch, French and German.

VALUE? A copy of the unauthorised 1642 made $20K in 2001 described thus- "contemporary blind-ruled sheep - extremities rubbed, tightly bound - title page dust-soiled; a few pencil marks in margins; library stamp.' The 1643 'authorised' edition made $4K in NY 2004 'with a bit of loss from a rust hole and cut close with a few catchwords clipped; repaired worming in final gathering affecting a few letters; some browning' - obviously not quite full size - buyers still prefer tall copies with good margins, although this is less of a fetish than it was 100 years back.

As a great classic it is always going to make goodly sums and can also be sold as a medical book to the many collectors who have made fortunes in medicine. A great copy would probably make £10,000, a copy turned up at the Macclesfield sale (2005) and made £2000 but it lacked the engraved title page (above)- the cataloguer gamely suggested that it had never been bound in, but a book without a title page unless larded with wonderful colour plates, is a pitiful thing. Whether it is much read anymore is doubtful. If I had a copy I would put it on the shelf with other pompous quartos bang next to my late 1628 Burton's 'Anatomy of Melancholy' (sadly sold to raise funds.) With the unfortunate death of Sebald (auto accident near Poringland, Norfolk) Browne may again be slightly forgotten; as Virginia Woolf said 'few people love the writing of Sir Thomas Browne, but those that do are the salt of the earth.'

02 December 2007

Mark Twain. Huckleberry Finn, 1885.

Mark Twain. ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN. Charles Webster, New York, 1885.

Current Selling Prices
$13000 - $20000 / £6500 - £10000

Enduring US classic, up there with Moby Dick, Murders in the Rue Morgue and The Scarlet Woman. Hemingway (not necessarily reliable as a guide) opined: "All modern literature comes from one book by Mark Twain...It's the best book we've had. All American writing comes from that. There was nothing before. There has been nothing as good since." Quite a high print run so not especially scarce and there are points to determine early states of the first edition, the most obvious of which are that the title page and page 283/4 are cancels (i.e. page has been replaced on a stub) and that at page 155, the final 5 is slightly dropped, or slightly bigger or entirely absent also the word 'was' for 'saw' at page 57. Much argument about that five depending on which copy the dealer is attempting to sell. There are other points and a good deal of literary detection has gone into them, precedence is now fairly clearly established. Talking of which the 1884 British edition precedes the American by 4 months but is worth less -- presumably under the rules of 'follow the flag' (i.e. prefer the edition from the author's country.)

VALUE? The UK first is worth about a third of the US, but serious collectors like to have both. There is the story of the dealer who bought a copy privately lacking the front endpaper, when he remarked on this to the seller the chap said 'Yeah that had to go, some guy called Clemens wrote his name on it.' (An old chestnut-- sometimes it's Alice and 'some guy called Dodgson.') A first state copy in superior condition made $33,000 in 2003 ( "A splendid, well-preserved copy.") Most very high records are reserved for signed presentations from the author. The great L.A. dealer Biblioctupus forked out $85,000 in 1988 for a presentation copy from Twain to his wife dated Christmas 1884, also signed again on front pastedown. Fittingly it was the Doheny copy - among the points noted was that the engraving of Silas Phelps's trousers fly was in original state with "definite curve". Much is made of the bulge or lack of it in Silas's trousers and it was later replaced with a straight vertical flat fly. A question of decency. Twain's own signed copy came to auction in 2005 making circa $100K in the original publishers sheep binding. These have generally not lasted well - this one was chipped & cracked along joints & extremities. It can also be found in original three-quarter leather. Webster bound up 500 copies thus and 2500 in sheep.

There are facsimiles of the first that occasionally turn up online with persons trying to sell them as the real thing; the first clue that something is wrong is that they are in unnaturally fine condition with bright white fore edges, don't be fooled. Last word on Twain--I recall that when he was hanging out with the cannibals (to write an article) he said something like 'I suppose you would like to eat me too' and was politely informed that the flesh of a heavy smoker and drinker was unpalatable to them.

01 December 2007

Cameron Crowe. Fast Times at Ridgemont High, 1981.

Cameron Crowe. FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH. A TRUE STORY. Simon & Schuster, New York, 1981.

Current Selling Prices
$200-$400 / £100-£200

It is known that as preparation for writing his book, Crowe spent a year at Clairemont High School in Redondo Beach, California posing as a student. He was 19 but apparently freshfaced enough to pass for 16. This was done with the permission of the school administration and it allowed Crowe first hand exposure to American high school life of the early 1980s. The characters in the book and movie are based on real people and are uncannily realistic - it is claimed that all of the events described in the book actually happened. This is probably what gives the book (and the subsequent movie) its enduring appeal and differentiates it from other "teen angst" products of the time. Most memorable character was the permanently stoned, bong-addled surfer Jeff Spicoli (Sean Penn) who has now re-appeared in various incarnations and pastiches including Bill & Ted movies and the Saturday Night Live skit "Wayne's World," and its subsequent movies. The film and the book are not known outside of America but no one gives a toss.

VALUE? The book and the film may be becoming a little passé and certainly the book is making less than it did 5 years back--possibly because there is an over supply of copies. The classic common 'rare book.' It is on every part time bookscouts hitlist and a hardy perennial at Ebay. Last week a copy that appeared, from the sellers pics, to be without fault made $159 on Ebay and sharp copies never fall beneath $100 and some Herbert, not a million miles from Tennessee, wants $750 for each of his two near fine copies. Fine/ fine copies can be bought at ABE for $225 and there are about 30 decent copies for sale -some are described as 'very rare' and one as:
'Extremely rare and hard-to-find! Dj is nicely preserved in a brand new protective mylar plastic cover! Very very scarce! 253 very clean, unmarked and uncreased historical pages! Wonderfully well-preserved!'

TRIVIA. Cameron Crowe made the interesting but pretentious movie 'Vanilla Sky'. Of note is his commentary which can be heard in the DVD 'extras' - where he annotates and discusses the significance of ridiculous minutiae as if the movie were Citizen Kane or Battleship Potemkin. Good for a laugh.

TRIVIAL TRIVIA. A fantasy sequence in which Phoebe Cates exits a pool and removes her bright red bikini top in slow motion to the beat of The Cars' "Moving in Stereo" was probably the most popular section of the film. Many video store owners reported that returned VHS copies of the film had tracking errors during this scene.

Nicolas Cage appears in the movie under his given name, Nicolas Coppola.