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 'MarĂ­a 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.

1 comment:

Carl de Borhegyi said...

The Wassons, published Stephan de Borhegyi’s article on the subject of Mushroom Stones of Middle America, in their monumental book, Russia; Mushrooms and History, (Wasson and Wasson, 1957).

Borhegyi de, S.F., 1957b, "Mushroom Stones of Middle America," in Mushrooms, Russia and History by Valentina P. Wasson and Robert G. Wasson, eds. N.T.