29 December 2008

Edwin Abbott. Flatland, 1884 (revisited)

'I call our world Flatland, not because we call it so, but to make its nature clearer to you, my happy readers, who are privileged to live in Space.

Imagine a vast sheet of paper on which straight Lines, Triangles, Squares, Pentagons, Hexagons, and other figures, instead of remaining fixed in their places, move freely about, on or in the surface, but without the power of rising above or sinking below it, very much like shadows — only hard and with luminous edges — and you will then have a pretty correct notion of my country and countrymen...'

[Edwin Abbott.] FLATLAND: A ROMANCE OF MANY DIMENSIONS.(With illustrations by the author, A Square.) Seeley & Co, London 1884.

Current Selling Prices £600+/ $1000+

Our image shows the cover of the Blackwell's later edition but it is substantially the same as the 1884 first from Seely and Co., 'Flatland' is a science and mathematics fantasy that satirises class consciousness in Britain through the depiction of a society where geometrical characteristics are the basis for class distinctions and protocol: circles are the elite, with squares, triangles and lines subordinate in that order. Three dimensional objects are encountered only in the dreams of the populace, and anyone who claims the reality of a third dimension is considered mad. I can be seen as an attack on the staid and heartless Victorian society, with its bigotry and stultifying prejudice. "Irregulars" (cripples) are put to death, women have no rights at all, and when the protagonist in the story Mr. A. Square tries to teach his fellows about the third dimension, he is imprisoned. There is a good discussion of the work and 'Dimensionality' in general at the University of Winnipeg Cosmology site.

A very popular and much wanted book although with 700 copies on the web it is not hard to find if you merely want to read it. Occasionally when you tell people you sell books they immediately ask for a copy of 'Flatland.' I saw a copy somewhere for $0.09, a hard price to beat. Interesting claims are made by purveyors of firsts of the book include:-
'... Prior to Einstein's general theory of relativity, it aimed at redefining the frame of reference of our perceptions of the world, and opening up the possibility of the kind of self-awareness that came to characterize the modernist, and post-modernist, perspective...."

The precursor game is fun - I saw someone on TV recently claim that Saki was the forerunner of Monty Python and even The Mighty Boosh. John Betjeman once claimed Theodore Wratislaw was the first punk. Suvin in Victorian Science Fiction in the UK calls the book "A pioneer of SF as cognitive parable, and the culmination of UK SF up to that time." The 1884 first is cream-colored parchment over stiff wrappers. The US first a year later is a hardback. Much desired is the Arion Press 1980 edition in 275 copies, each signed by Ray Bradbury who provides the introduction, it comes with aluminum covers & aluminum case. There is a 1983 reprint with foreword by Isaac Asimov and in 2002 'The Annotated Flatland' appeared. The book is used in classrooms as a teaching aid and has been translated into many languages, it is especially liked in Spanish. There have been references to it in the Simpsons and people talk about it over at My Space, so it is still au courant.

VALUE? (Written May 2007) The first can go for £600 and more and because it is a fragile production it very seldom shows up in fresh condition, the 1885 US edition about half that and the 1980 Arion Press metal edition £500. In auction a compromised copy at Pacific Book Auctions made $600 in 2003 ('covers wrinkled & darkened, some loss, front hinge cracked - large spot on page 8...') and an Arion Press edition made $900 in 1998. There is a fine one for sale at the moment for $1350. Currey has a chipped but else fairly decent 1884 first at $1500. I guess a superior copy could top $2000 and a signed copy , so far unseen in auction at least, might go through the roof.[ W/Q ** ]

Edwin Abbott (1838 - 1926) was a London headmaster, a clergyman and author who wrote several theological works and a biography (1885) of Francis Bacon but is best known for his standard Shakespearian Grammar (1870) and of course this pseudonymous work. Dionys Burger has written 'Sphereland' (1965) a sequel to Flatland, that depicts the adventures of A Square's grandson, A Hexagon, who investigates the shape of flatland as it sits in three-space.

STOP PRESS A copy of the Arion Press 1980 edition (signed by Bradbury and Hoyem) sits at ABE at a punchy $3000--however the seller notes '....the text pages and illustration units measure 7 x 14 inches and are joined accordion-style to a length of 33 feet printed on each side, making a 66-foot long book.' A copy signed only by Hoyem, the illustrator, can be had for $1500. We bought a decent 1884 first in early 2008, put it on Ebay hoping (as always) for a spectacular result but it failed to meet its reserve of $1200 and subsequently sold for $1100 to a private punter. It was described thus:
Large octavo. 9 inches by 7. [2 blank], viii, [1]-100, [2 blank] pp. Original publisher's off white printed and illustrated parchment over stiff card plain covers. Diagrams and figures in text by the author. Some small chips at spine and hinges and edges. Printed covers slight browned and slightly soiled - overall a sound about vg above average example of a vulnerable book. Contemporary neat inscription with some relevant quotes from Samuel Johnson on f.e.p dated 4 December 1884, initialled by one 'E.L.' As Lilly writes ". . . the most influential fantasy tale to explore mathematical theory. Satirically cast in autobiographical form, the narrator--- one A. Square---is an inhabitant of a two-dimensional universe who tries to conceive of what it would be like to live in three dimensions."
OUTLOOK? A book that will always be good for a $1000 in decent condition. The trouble is that the kind of people who lusted after this book (geeks, boffins, technocrats) are no longer making silly money; however their time will come again so the book is one to hold on to through recession, slump and financial Armageddon.

Also worth looking out for is the related 1907 fantasy novel by EA's fellow fourth dimensionalist C.H. Hinton - 'An Episode of Flatland; of How a Plane Folk Discovered the Third Dimension to Which is Added an Outline of the History of Unaea.' Currey has 3 copies in varying condition from $300 to $650. Stableford says of it -'....a very strange story (it) describes a two-dimensional world rather more complicated than Abbott's, and features a startling plot in which the inhabitants of a two- dimensional planet avoid collision with another by diverting their 'world' in[to] the third dimension, taking advantage of the fact that... their souls have access to more dimensions than their bodies."

26 December 2008

Tales of the Uncollected...3

continued... Another book that he is convinced does exist appeared under the pseudonym of Gaffer Peeslake.'

'We know it as Bromo Bombasts by Laurence Durrell. There's a copy in the BM, another in the Library of Congress; the collector of Durrell had one and I vaguely heard that Martin Stone had found another. Someone offered me a copy in appalling condition- it looked as if it had been draggedup from the sea or something. I said, well, I'll give you a £100, because you could just about read the thing- to which the bloke announced, "I've been offered a grand." So I told him to take it!"
Then there's The Girls of Radcliff Hall, by 'Adela Quebec'- in real life a great book and a rare one by Lord Berners, who obviously took the title from the name of the notorious lesbian novelist. 'It will cost you £2,000 and if you want one Maggs have got a copy,' Burwood says. 'It never shows up in great condition. It's another roman a clef. Everyone in it is a real person disguised and the reason it is rare is that those portrayed in it bought up copies and destroyed them because they felt Berners had shown them up in bad light. Cecil Beaton was especially incensed, but there's no doubt that he deserved his treatment by Berners.'

A famous pseudonym sleeper is No Decency Left by Barbara Rich, a novel of 1932 written mainly by Laura Riding, but containing contributions by her partner Robert Graves and a chapter by TE Lawrence. 'When Laura Riding was up there with Sylvia Plath it used to be a two thousand quidder, but nowadays most people find Riding very hard going. However, it's still a good find. You can find expensive copies on the net today, whereas years ago the book could be picked up for a couple of quid.'

One of the most famous sleepers is Henry Music, a work put together by Nancy Cunard and published by the Hours Press. 'This not only contains Samuel Beckett's first appearance in a book,' Burwood points out,' but features a cover by Man Ray. It's a simply fabulous book and usually goes for $10,000. However, I know someone who needed a copy of the book... He went online to the usual specialist booksites. No luck. He then went on eBay and struck lucky. However, the vendor hadn't mentioned anything about Beckett or anyone else. All he said was that "I think it's from the 1930s." This person bought it for nine and a half euros! Nine and a half!'

... it was time for one of Burwood's favourite sleepers. A Gent from Bear Creek was the first book by Robert E. Howard, who went on to write Conan the Barbarian. It appeared in 1937 from Jenkins, who specialised in adventure stories, but who also published Wodehouse. Most copies were destroyed for some reason and Howard himself died young. But since his death, he has become a cult figure with whole books and comics being written in his style. 'I got £3,000 for a not very nice copy with no jacket,' he says,' but a good one would set you back over double that sum today.'

'Black literature is also collectable and there's a slim volume of poetry by Claude Mckay called Spring in New Hampshire which appeared in 1920 and which now fetches a thousand quid. I recall going into this bookshop in Virginia Waters run by a British nationalist Party member. There was a bloke sitting behind the counter reading some Nazi newspaper called Stormstrooper, or something. I found this particular book on a shelf and in it he had written "thirty pence". I left the shop with it and sold it on the blower for £200... to be continued with further tall tales, boasts and blagues...

20 December 2008

Tales of the Uncollected...2

Interview by the redoubtable R M Healey continued... We return to the subject of bizarre book titles. 'I remember putting out at an American fair books by HA Manhood with titles like Gay Agony. I sold them to a dealer because he thought they were a laugh. Today, Manhood is vaguely collected, but in a minor way, like Wilfred Roland Childe. But genuine gay verse- Uranian was the term then used- is certainly collected. Books by the Reverend E E Bradford- the books on "boy love" that were sniggered at by John Betjeman and his friends in the 20s-are very sought after now. Titles like Songs and Ballads, Passing the Love of Women- now there's a clue- Lays of Love and Life, The Romance of Youth, The True Aristocracy, Boyhood. They're always in red cloth and when you find them it's an instant hundred pound note.'

It was time to talk about 'sleepers'. Burwood regularly puts out a list of books that are always wanted by collectors of various genres- debut books, horror, fantasy, cult, the occult, experimental fiction, detective fiction. He starts going through the list, summing up their genres like a litany, occasionally expanding on those that interest him.
'Charles Birkin, Devil's Spawn... Jocelyn Brooke, Six Poems, his first book and Uranian... rather boring, but worth a few grand. Baron Corvo- well, that's cult. Aleister Crowley- occult. A book by Georges Darien called Gottlieb Krumm, Made in England, which Martin Stone told me to look out for, but which I've never found. Robertson's Davies's first book published in England, called Shakespeare's Boy Actors. That's a great find.
'I used to buy copies of this particular book from a guy in Stratford who specialized in Shakespeare. He'd always have a copy and you'd always get it for £30, but you'd have to pay £100 for it elsewhere. George Gissing, Workers in the Dawn- his first book and a fabulous rarity. By the way, Paul Theroux's Murder at Mount Holly is worth looking for. It's not his first book, but it was remaindered. I remember actually seeing it marked at 20 pence. Talking of valuable remainders, someone I know recalls seeing The Negro Anthology- a 5,000 quidder- remaindered in the 50s! This was a big book that appeared in the 30s. why it suddenly reappeared in the 1950s I have no idea, but such things can happen. Years ago you could find Fortune Press titles remaindered. I remember seeing them.'
We've only reached the letter 'H' on his list. 'Oh yes, Heron-Allen* is very collected,' he continues. 'He was in the Sette of Odd Volumes and wrote on a number of different subjects- on Thanet, topography and fantasy.' (picture left)
Then a jump to W and HR Wakefield. 'They Return at Evening- horror. Yeat's first book, Mosada, is a sleeper. If you ever find a copy, it's worth 50,000 quid.'
Another market hot spot, he advises, is sleepers written by people using pseudonyms.
'Helen Ferguson, who also used the name Anna Kavan and Helen Woods, is deeply collected,' he says. 'Something to do with being a pioneering woman writer, a drug addict and a general bohemian. A sort of Nina Hamnett figure. Spirits in Bondage, which was published in 1919 under the name of Clive Hamilton, is actually the first book by CS Lewis. A great find! It's not worth as much as Narnia, but it's still useful. Incidentally, he wrote another book under the same pseudonym. But the most valuable of all is the legendary Questions at the Well by 'Fenil Haig", a book of poems by a very young Ford Madox Ford. I've never seen a copy. The British Museum copy is missing, which is always a sign of a great rarity. It's still listed in the catalogue, but if you try to order it, you come up with nothing. But the book does exist. You can look it up in the Library of Congress catalogue. Incidentally, another literary debut stolen from a national library, this time in Australia, is the House of Cain, by that great Antipodean writer Arthur William Upfield, who created a detective called Napoleon Bonaparte.'
Another book that Burwood is convinced does exist appeared under the pseudonym of Gaffer Peeslake.' to be continued...

* Edward Heron-Allen (1861 - 1943) British scientist, polymath and writer of fantasy fiction. Some of his weird fiction was written under the pseudonym Christopher Blayre including the rara avis/ black tulip 'The Cheetah Girl' 1923. Oddly enough I have a customer for this book if you chance upon one. He wrote poetry, including 'Ballades of a Blasé Man' and novels ('Bella Demonia.') He also wrote on palmistry, the violin, fossils, barnacles, Irish and Dorset topography and was Brother Necromancer Wednesday nights at the Sette of Odd Volumes...

15 December 2008

Tales of the Uncollected...

Recently I was honoured to be interview by book maven R.M. Healey from Rare Book Review...here are some highlights and a few notes. Some of the stuff has already been covered in Bookride but what the hell...It took place in our shop shown below; forgive the shameless self promotion!


When it comes to rumours of ghosts, unicorns and sleepers in the bookworld, only one man can provide the answers. R M Healey speaks to Nigel Burwood about the ones that got away- and the ones that never existed at all.

His Bookride website is already required reading... and his Any Amount of Books shop on Charing Cross Road has one of the few genuine bargain basements known to me. Nigel Burwood, therefore, seemed the ideal person to chat about the elusive, ultra-rare, and possibly non-existent titles that continue to evade dealers and fascinate collectors alike.
I was delighted to be invited down to his cubbyhole of an office, where the rumblings of trains on the Northern Line a few metres below can be heard quite distinctly. Appropriately enough, given these strange sounds and the darkness that lay beneath us, we began talking about ghosts. Apparently these are books that possibly don't exist, despite being announced in magazines or catalogues, or mentioned on the jackets of other books by the same author, and my host had obviously prepared mentally for the interview because he mentions my name.
'Et Tu Healy, supposedly by James Joyce, is one of the most notorious,' he declares. 'No one has ever seen a copy, which suggests it never existed in any form, or was destroyed or lost.'
A more modern example then springs to mind. 'I was at a Salman Rushdie signing in the States recently, and he revealed that when he was young his father had printed several copies of an early work of his- a piece of juvenilia- and he had boasted that he owned several examples of his son's earliest printed work. But he had never actually dug them out to show Salman, and when he died no one looking through his possessions could find them.'


I believe that like Rushdie, a number of authors have these Et Tu Healy skeletons in their closet- tantalising objects of desire that may exist in a modest form, perhaps as a pamphlet or even a 'unicorn', in other words, a book of which only one copy was ever printed. Not only does Burwood agree, but he proves extremely knowledgeable on the subject.
'Take the poet George Barker and the erotic writer Anais Nin,' he says. 'These and a whole lot of other people were co-opted by a millionaire collector and erotologist to write rude books for him, which he then published in a handful of copies. Barker told me about "his rarest book" which he'd never actually seen, but which he was sure existed somewhere.'
The rarest work of Aleister Crowley, Aceldama among them, are now the province of rich collectors, like Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page.
'If you find them it's retirement money,' Burwood says, 'but no bookseller could base a career on tracking down these books because they only turn up once in a few years, if you're very lucky. In fact the way you make money in this game is to sell a lot of books that you see all the time.
'Snowdrops from a Curate's Garden is one of the rarest Crowleys. This is shocking porn written to amuse his wife on their honeymoon, or something like that. It's way over the top erotica and it's rare, very rare. According to the title page it's by the Reverend Deary*, or some such name. White Stains is another in the same vein, but not so rare.'
A book's scarceness can be more important than its author's name.
'I remember having a book of skiffle poetry which proclaimed it was "one of only five copies"- you see such pronouncements all over the internet,' Burwood says. 'I catalogued it for £45. It was by nobody, but I managed to sell it because t was from the Age of Skiffle. The subject matter and rarity was what sold it, not the author. Conversely, some of those little 'butterfly' books supposedly by Auden and others, but actually forged by the American poet and critic Dr Frederic Prokosch, were issued in editions of five or so, but now fetch a few grand each.'
Incredible rarity- even uniqueness- by itself is not enough, however. 'I'm offering on the web an example of a unicorn*,' Burwood admits. 'It's by Roy Notley, who was probably some sort of wag from the 50s who wore a beatnik jersey down to his knees and recited his own poetry in the local milk bar. Someone straight out of Tony Hancock. He probably produced this one copy to impress a girl he fancied. I only want £40 for this unique, slim, hardback but there's no interest. If you could tie it into the beatnik era it would be saleable, but I don't think it has even that virtue. It might take a hundred years to sell.'
Occasionally books that don't exist can be in greater demand than books that do. A common haunt of the unicorn is the film industry, where a book is mocked up by the prop department for a particular scene. Burwood, of course, has examples at his fingertips.
'In a movie called The Edge, Anthony Hopkins is shown reading How to Survive in the Woods, and I've been deluged with requests for it.' he says. 'Some have even claimed that they've read it! But it doesn't exist. In ...Sex and the City, a character is shown reading a book,' he says. 'Obviously, the book doesn't actually exist and yet people email me begging me to find a copy.' Burwood wasn't the only person deluged with requests. In fact, demand was so great for the book Love Letters of Great Men that several mainstream publishers rushed to release titles under that name.


Technically, the one-off film creations are both unicorns and ghosts- advertised but never printed. On the subject of the latter, I'm delighted to learn that some of the titles in Bizarre Books...one of the funniest books ever published- are ghosts too. 'There's a guy in San Francisco who swears he found a book called The Romance of Proctology, but I don't believe this exists,' Burwood says.
Books by madmen or cranks, however, is a growth area and well served by Bizarre Books.
'Martin Stone once reckoned he found a book which contended that some pub in Berkshire called The Old Bull and Bush, or something, was the Centre of The Universe,' Burwood laughs. 'This wasn't a joke. The bloke was convinced about it.'
Then there is Crook Frightfulness. This was published in Birmingham under the pseudonym 'A Victim' in 1932. 'The author's account of hearing imaginary voices of "crooks" that meant him harm sounds ludicrous to us, but the writer was a bit of a sad case- undoubtedly a paranoiac,' Burwood says. 'Today he'd be given a pill and told to go away. A jacketed copy is on the web for £400. I got £100 for mine. It's part of a literature of abnormal mental states, which is quite collectible today. Even big players, like Maggs have asked me if I've got any books by madmen. It's very sexy, you might say.'

*NOTES. 'Unicorn' is a charming mistake that crept in--the word should be UNICUM. It is hardly ever used because you seldom see them (just like unicorns!). The actual pseudonym used by the Great Beast was Reverend C. Verey. It's a slim book of verse and I need it for a customer if you spot one. More to follow...

09 December 2008

Fuzz Acid and Flowers Revisited...

Vernon Joynson. FUZZ ACID AND FLOWERS REVISITED: a Comprehensive Guide to American Garage Psychedelic and Hippie Rock (1964-1975). Borderline Productions, 2004.

Current Selling Prices
$150+ /£100 +

A hefty large format paperback with an exhaustive list of American 60s bands most of whom are completely forgotten. Anyone who was in any of these bands (25000+ persons) is a potential punter for the book. Something of a 'sleeper' - it looks like a £20 book but worth five times that. Almost all books by Vernon Joynson are much sought after - Tapestry of Delights, Up Yours! (punk history)The Acid Trip: A Complete Guide to Psychedelic Music and Dreams, Fantasies and Nightmares from Far Away Lands. The man must have a serious record collection.

Perusing the book one notes the zany names -Tonto's Expanding Headband, Starvation Army Band ('...of which little is known...') Roamin' Togas, Pugsley Munion, Children of the Mushroom, The Bean Denturies, Byron and the Mortals etc., There are bands with identical names identifiable only by the state they came from and some with very similar names- e.g. 'The Boss Tweeds and The Boss Tweads--the former's song 'Faster Pussy Cat, Kill! Kill! inspired a Russ Meyer movie and provided the name for a 1980s sleaze rock band. There were rumours in the summer of 2008 that the great Tarantino was going to reshoot this movie. The time has come.

Other great rock reference books are Julian Cope's Krautrock Sampler and Asbjornsen's Scented Gardens of the Mind (also from Borderline) - "A guide to the modern era of progressive rock (1968-1980) in more than 20 European countries." A copy on ABE is priced at £275, the kind of price it takes to stop it selling entirely. However it is now a three figure books as is Cope's Sampler. Dave Rimmer's 'The Rare Soul Bible: A Northern Soul A-Z' is highly elusive and probably worth £100, our last copy went like a bullet at £60. Joynson's book, by the way, values some of the records it lists with some worth $1500 or more (a category described as 'only a handful exist and they are very sought after...') However most records, even the highly obscure, are of very modest value indeed. Just like books.

02 December 2008

The Hobbit. Or There and Back Again.

J.R.R. Tolkien. THE HOBBIT. Allen & Unwin, London 1937.

Current Selling Prices
$25000+ /£16000+

The most loved and wanted fantasy classic of all (apart from Alice.) The ultimate backpacker book - admired by Auden, Isherwood, C.S. Lewis and J.K. Rowling and many others from nine to ninety .It started life in the 1920s as a story that JRR told to his children to get them off to sleep. 1500 printed off the first. 60 million sold so far. Often top of polls for best ever book in the history of the world etc.,

VALUE? Not especially scarce even as a first edition but seldom cheap unless in despicable condition. There were rumours of a nice unsigned copy in jacket having changed hands at over $100K back in 2003 at a US bookfair and a signed copy on line in a very nice unrestored d/w at $150,000 appears to have sold--possibly with a deep discount. Ebay has brought a lot of firsts out and there is a voracious market in reprints esp the second edition which is the first with colour illustrations ($10K + for sweet copies). The true first almost always has an ink correction on the rear of the jacket (Dodgeson has been changed to Dodgson.) This was done by the publisher although it is sometimes claimed it was done by Tolkien himself. Jacketed and incsribed copies have twice made about $75K in the last 3 years at Sotheby/ Christie auctions and in 2002 a signed copy with a 4 line caligraphic note by JRR in Elvish made nigh on $90K. Healthy market in fancy leather bound first eds sometimes with elaborate tooling and even illustrated characters Frodo, Strider, Bilbo etc., Restored jackets are around , almost always declared as such. Caveat emptor.

Postcript. In June this year, before the deluge as it were, a copy described thus - 'In d/j with restoration to folds & spine ends' made $40K + premium at Bloomsbury, New York. World class dealer Peter Harrington has a restored copy currently at £12,500. Meanwhile our own copy of the first in an exquisite full leather binding languishes at £4500, a price that is becoming quite affordable for American buyers.

OUTLOOK? Book seems to be passably buoyant in murky financial waters. A copy sold recently at £60000 inscribed to Elaine Griffiths who suggested that Tolkien take the typescript to Susan Dagnall at George Allen & Unwin. This was bought by a dealer who now describes it as 'THE MOST IMPORTANT COPY IN THE WORLD.' Hyperbole or what? Price on application but one assumes that it will be about the price of a new full size Bentley. Interestingly a copy is listed at ABE asking for offers over £75000 - 'This copy is linked far more closely with JRR Tolkien (than the Griffiths copy). Serious enquiries only. Offers over £75000 will be put to the owner.' Odd to see offers for books sought on ABE who will presumably receive nothing when it sells. Who can this presentee be? C.S. Lewis? Neville Coghill? Auden? Possibly a very young J.K. Rowling or someone unlikely like Aleister Crowley, Mark Bolan or his fellow inkling Dorothy Sayers. Intriguing.

24 November 2008

George Bernard Shaw-- "signed by the great man..." Part 2

There was an interesting comment on the last post asking'... Is The Apple Cart Shaw's most common book? I'd have thought the Collected plays and Collected prefaces given away free as newspaper circulation boosts in the 1920s and 1930s were more common.' Commonness is slightly subjective (or even regional) but the web allows us to run some fairly conclusive tests. If you check 'The Apple Cart ' at ABE looking for editions published in 1930 (i.e. the UK first) you get 169, put 'Complete Plays' in as a first for 1931 you get 29 and 'Prefaces' firsts for 1934 you get 59.

All 3 are desperately common and none should exceed £10 in price unless in staggeringly fine condition - which is why it is peeving to find copies of 'The Apple Cart' at £340 sans jacket (however it is described as 'text block pristine, pages tight to spine.') This is from a firm that has always been in the top ten of most expensive book listers on the web, ahead even of players in Ventura, born again relisters in Texas and madmen in shacks on the Tamiami trail etc . They list a signed Galsworthy 'Plays' one of 1250 at £6200. You can buy a 30 volume full leather set of the great man's work for a lot less than this and should have to pay no more that £50 for his signed plays. He was not Harold Pinter.

Last word on 'The Apple Cart' -- a chap in Ireland misnamed 'Bookbargains' has a copy at £240 described thus '...this is a rare copy of the George Bernard Shaw play...It is excellent condition and the dustcover is in good condition with a small tear at the bottom of the spine.' True value £5 so he is out by 50 times, but the Galsworthy people have priced their book at 120 times value so they win. End of rant.

Addendum. Have been reading James Charlton's anthology 'Fighting Words; Writers Lambast Other Writers from Aristotle to Anne Rice.' Naturally there is a lot of GBS--here he is on the bard~: 'With the single exception of Homer, there is no eminent writer, note even Sir Walter Scott, whom I despise so entirely as I despise Shakespeare.' One suspect this may have been envy-- J.B. Priestley recalls running in to him at the Grand Canyon and finding him peevish '...refusing to admire it or even looking it at properly. He was jealous.' We are back on the matter of the boundless (and necessary) egos of writers. It reminds me of something Simon Raven said about E.M. Forster; he reported that Forster was inconsolable when World War 2 broke out - because people had stopped talking about him.

On the subject of autographs, my favourite Shaw item was a vegetarian menu that was found in a copy of his 'Complete Plays'--it had been sent to him for his approval and was annotated with his preferences--all I can remember was his crossing out of a suggested omelette and the comment 'fed up with eggs.' We sold it for a meaty sum (over £1000.)

Last word on GBS from Oscar; 'An excellent man: he has no enemies; and none of his friends like him.'

18 November 2008

George Bernard Shaw-- "signed by the great man..."

That's Shaw's signature (well his initials) on the 'autograph tree' in Coole Park, Ireland. Something the autograph and art collector can never own - like a Banksy on a motorway bridge. More taunting were the drawings in the sand that Picasso was wont to do near his villa in South of France as the sea came in. Shaw was fairly generous with his signature and it is often worth looking in his books to see if they are signed. His handwriting is, I imagine, hard to forge --very clear and looped and deliberate. One of his japes was to reply to a request for an autograph with an handwritten card reading something like 'I'm sorry I never give autographs. G. Bernard Shaw.'

Here are 3 anecdotes about Shaw letters and signatures. The first is rather odd, if not foolhardy:-

A country clergyman, hearing that Shaw was an expert in the brewing of coffee, wrote to ask him for the recipe. Shaw obliged, adding as an afterthought that he hoped the request was not an underhanded way of obtaining his autograph. The clergyman cut Shaw's signature from the letter, returned it with a note thanking him for the coffee recipe, and concluded: "I wrote in good faith, so allow me to return what it is obvious you infinitely prize, but which is of no value to me, your autograph."

A lady notorious for courting celebrities sent Shaw an invitation reading: "Lady--
will be at home on Tuesday between four and six o' clock." Shaw returned the card annotated, "Mr. Bernard Shaw likewise."

Shaw once came across a copy of one of his works in a secondhand bookshop. Opening the volume, he found the name of a friend inscribed in his own hand on the flyleaf: "To ---with esteem, George Bernard Shaw." He promptly bought the book and returned it to his friend, adding the inscription: "With renewed esteem, George Bernard Shaw."

to be continued with a short rant about upsetting prices for Shaw's most common book 'The Apple Cart' worth £5 as a first ed but sometimes seen at 50 times this price...why oh why oh why etc.,?

15 November 2008

Vera Caspary. Laura. 1943. Noir of Noirs

Laura is the face in the misty night
footsteps that you hear down the hall
the laugh that floats on a summer night
which you can never quite recall. And you see
Laura, on a train that is passing through
Those eyes, how familiar they seem
She gave her very first kiss to you
That was Laura
But she's only a dream.

Vera Caspary. LAURA. Houghton, Mifflin, Boston, 1943.

Current Selling Prices
$6000-$10000 / £4000-£6000

A 'psychothriller', the darkest of noirs. A curiously elusive and much sought after book, a sleeper... A big sleeper, although several high profile prices have alerted punters to its real price. Highly uncommon novel (as a first) on which the one of the greatest of Hollywood's 1940s films was based. This film noir mystery directed by Otto Preminger in 1944 was awarded two Oscars and starred Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews and a young Vincent Price. There is a scene in the bibliomystery 'The Sign of the Book' (John Dunning) where his detective /dealer sees a copy at a Burbank book fair change hands between dealers 6 times before the fair opens, moving from $600 to $7000 in a few minutes, possibly based on a real event. The psycho element in Caspary's novel comes from the way the book is written --from the five different viewpoints of the chief characters.

VALUE? A review copy in a decent but not fine jacket made $12000 in 2005 at the Cosmatos sale (Sotheby's NY), a lesser copy lotted with 3 other nothing books made $2000 a few months later at Bloomsbury. Between the Covers appear to have sold their copy,at an undisclosed price, probably high as their prices are invariably breathtaking. There are currently no copies of the first on the web and they are distinctly thin on the ground. The Eyre and Spottiswoode UK 1944 first is worth about a tenth of US editions but is a decent substitute (pic below).

The decent copy in a chipped and slightly used jacket seen at the San Francisco Book Fair in February 2008 at $10,000 has sold, possibly discounted. An exlibrary copy inscribed sits on the web at $3500 with a decent but consequently oversize first edition jacket (library rebinds often come out smaller), another inscribed copy sans jacket commands $3000. Fine copies trump inscribed copies but fine copies are quite unlikely to surface - the book has a fragile and vulnerable jacket and would have to have been kept under wraps, so to speak, from the day of publication. The witchy lyrics above are from a 1940s song, perhaps related it to the movie OUTLOOK? Patchy like many modern firsts, the movie is not talked about much more--however noir never goes away and younger collectors may get a taste for this genre as they weary of the occult and supernatural...

The Real Cost of a Library...

While another great orator* from Illinois heads for the White House and the retiring president (not known to be bookish) gets his Presidential Library it is worth recalling this anecdote about the great 19th century agnostic and freethinking politician Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899). At one point he was offered the governorship of Illinois by the Republicans if he would keep quiet about his religious views --he refused saying - "I would not smother one sentiment of my heart to be the Emperor of the round world." Echoes of William Blake.

He possessed an extensive library reflecting his views and interests. A reporter once asked him how much his library had cost him. Ingersoll looked over the shelves filled with fine books and said - "These books cost me the governorship of Illinois and the presidency of the United States as well."

*Robert Ingersoll, like Barack Obama, was a great speaker. Such was the power of his oratory that at the height of his fame, audiences would pay $1 or more to hear him speak, a giant sum for his day. Tony Blair gets the equivalent of about 5 cents. That's Ingersolls statue above in Peoria.

08 November 2008

Booksellers Come to the Crunch

This is the recent cover of a catalogue from the waggish Parisian dealer Bruno Sepulchre. He has cleverly dug up a mid 19th century cartoon from Gavarni (Paul Gavarni -the nom de plume of Sulpice Guillaume Chevalier born 1801 or 1804 in Paris – November 23, 1866). It shows a mournful looking speculator in stocks ('boursicoteur') obviously reduced in circumstances, looking at rare books he can (presumably) no longer afford to buy. Gavarni has him say (my translation) 'I would have done better buying books!'

Booksellers have been grumbling since Gutenberg and they don't appear to have upped their grumbling much since the great Crunch began in September 2008. Internet sales, especially of high ticket items, are slightly slow but this is offset (if you are a Brit) by the fall in the pound-- effectively books bought from the UK are over 20% cheaper than a few months ago. Ebay seems to have slowed down, it has always been full of cheapskates, hagglers and bottom feeders but even some of these guys have zipped their wallets tight for the duration. A genuine signed 'Audacity of Hope' would perk them up but not much else.

There is a theory (hinted at by Gavarni above) that books are a good place to put your money in a recession. This may have some validity if you are buying the right stuff at favourable, not to say cheap, prices and there are a few cool customers doing just that. The trouble is that no one really knows what will sell years down the line. Some concentrate on classics (Hound of the Baskervilles, Wind in the Willows etc.,) some on landmark books in great condition, some on quirky stuff--erotica, books written by madmen, quack medicine, transport, education, conspiracy theory, illustrated rarities unknown to World Cat etc., Good luck to all of them. Ordinary books have become slower to sell, a pity because they are mostly what you find. It takes a very deep recession to stop beautiful and rare books from selling.

Auctions have held their own but there are occasional reports here of good books going for low prices or not selling at all. A sale bombed at the Drouot in early October and it is known that French dealers are complaining more volubly than ever. At the Howard Colvin sale of architectual books (Bloomsbury 27/9/08) some healthy prices were achieved with very little unsold. This is a collection that had been formed over 30 years ago with impressive books bought in 'book sweeps' at what his friend John Harris says now seem 'ridiculously low prices.'

At another recent Bloomsbury Sale (30/10/08) there were slightly more buy-ins than usual (3 collections in a row at one point --Whitbread, Orange and Booker Prize books, possibly with immodest reserves.) Many books, especially literature, sold near their low estimates. However many books did well, including a world record price for Fleming's 'Octopussy' -- some unfortunate end user paid £360. The copy was mint with the 10/6 price but equally mint copies could be had at the same time on Ebay at circa £100. There are however copies on ABE (Books Tell You Why again!) at over £400, a certifiable price. This is a book still in good supply in first edition and excellent condition. It was sold by the cartload at 20p when Margaret Thatcher was on the throne. I still have a few somewhere.

Who knows? I'm slightly foxed. My suspicion is that it will get a little worse. One guy I know selling art books talks of the recession becoming a slump, meanwhile on Bloomberg earnest pundits say that we have hit bottom and further lows are unlikely. Second hand paperback sales are entirely unaffected, Folio Society books still sell well at a tenner each, Bond still has plenty of punters with platinum cards...a quantum of solace there.

04 November 2008

Arthur Rackham - Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens.

J.M. Barrie / Arthur Rackham. PETER PAN IN KENSINGTON GARDENS. Hodder & Stoughton, London 1906.

Current Selling Prices
$1000-$2500 /£500-£1200

Handsome russet quarto lettered gilt and with 50 colour plates - illustrations that made Arthur Rackham famous and turned his Illustrated books into a publishing phenomenon. Tens of thousands of his books were sold over the next 30 years from Poe to Swinburne, Hans Andersen to Shakespeare. It used to be said that a dealer with a big enough check book could fill a pantechnicon full of Rackham just going round the shops of Southern England. The essential thing about Rackham is that you can sell him for big bucks to people who, up to that moment, had never heard of him --often the most they had ever spent on a book. Several venerable businesses are based on sales of Rackham (+ Dulac, Nielsen, Heath Robinson and Jessie M King). Country houses used to have shelves of Rackhams (often in the billiard room) piled up with the Punches and Badminton Library for guests to browse on rainy afternoons.

There are even experts on Rackham, although now the whole thing can be learnt in about an hour. The biggest collector in the UK is Michael Winner- the man they love to hate, and a man not possessed of the taste of, say, Bernard Berenson. Rackham is 'eye candy' - it is hard to deny his charm and skill but the whole thing has been done to death. Ebay is full of the stuff making good prices but often less than he was making 3 years ago. He is hard to buy from the public--with deceased estates the family often keep the Rackhams and nothing else and even to a person who hardly knows a book from a chicken brick they look valuable. The vellum limited editions are much prized--the one of 500 signed from 1906 in unsoiled vellum can command £4000 and more.

The Peter Pan chapters of Barrie's The Little White Bird (1902) were re-issued in 1906 as Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens. The story has resonated so much that there is a beautiful and much visited bronze statue of Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens. For some London visitors it is their first port of call and it is close by where the four foot deep fields of tribute flowers to Diana were laid in the sad September of 97. A contemporary review of this book published in "The World" reads "Mr Barrie has done what no one else has done since the inventor of "Alice", he has invented a new legend, a modern folk story which comprehends all the innermost secrets of the modern child, be he four or forty. Mr Rackham, for his part, has been bewitched in his cradle: he does not dream of fairies or hobgoblins, he knows them."

VALUE? If you are lucky you can find an unproblematic copy of the work for about £500, if you are Rackham crazy you can fork out £10,000 + for the unwieldy Peter Pan Portfolio, where in the edition of 20 copies every plate is signed and sometimes for a few dollars more you get a drawing. I am told that Rackham prices have peaked and certainly they are not the assured fast seller they used to be unless you underprice them. This is either due to a shift in taste or the plethora of his books going through Ebay.

TRIVIA. The lovely Rackham plate below is entitled 'There is almost nothing that has such a keen sense of fun as a fallen leaf' --he was especially good with trees and fairies- also gnarled roots, goblins and witches. The English have a special love of leaves--I'm thinking of Hopkins poem 'Margaret are you grieving/ Over Goldengrove unleaving' and Vita Sackville West who identified those minor pleasures in life that everyone experiences from time to time as 'through leaves', after the small but intense pleasure of walking through dry leaves and kicking them up as you go. A little Bloomsbury Press, not at all precious, calls itself 'The Through Leaves Press.'

OUTLOOK? First posted this 9 months back--all the high end copies are still for sale, including our own nicer and cheaper than all the others and fine, signed limited in spotless original vellum. I blame the collapse of Lehman Bros. Ours has a rather good association (OK it's based on a bookplate but it's been there for a century.) It was the crowns that alerted me. It has entwined ornate 'L's' bound by a marquess's coronet, Royal coronet above - this is the bookplate of Her Royal Highness Princess Louise Caroline Alberta, Marchioness of Lorne who lived at Kensington Palace - the 4th daughter of Queen Victoria (1848 - 1939.) Said to have been 'beautiful and intelligent' and also artistically gifted. A fine sculptress--her best known work is the statue of Queen Victoria in Kensington Gardens (below). She is also known to have entertained many artists at her home at Kensington Palace when she was the Duchess of Argyll. It doesn't get any better.

01 November 2008

Literary Rock Band Names

I have received a very long list from the writer Tim D'Arch Smith (The Books of the Beast, Alembic, Love in Earnest, The Times Deceas'd, R.A. Caton and the Fortune Press etc.,) which I add in its entirety with a few amplifications and notes. Many, many thanks Tim. In the comments on our recent cursory list (Velvet Underground) someone added 'The Fall' who took their name from Camus and a metal band called 'As I Lay Dying' from Faulkner's masterpiece. Tim's list is about as definitive as you can get, but if you know some more please add them in COMMENTS. Rave on -it's a crazy feeling...

The Artful Dodger ( in Fagin's gang in 'Oliver Twist')
Arts Bears: from a phrase in Jane Harrison, Art and Ritual, ‘art bears traces of its collective, social origin’
Boomtown Rats, possibly in Kerouac or in Woody Guthrie’s Bound For Glory, the name of Geldof’s first band.
The Birthday Party (Pinter)
Bronski Beat: Bronski is the hero in The Tin Drum
Battered Ornaments: a phrase used by Fowler in his Dictionary of Modern English Usage.
Bubble Puppy, a reference to ‘bumple-puppy’ (unskilled) in Brave New World.
The Bell Jar (Sylvia Plath)
Bhagavad Guitars
Bitter Lemons (Durrell)
The Boy Hairdressers: The Boy Hairdresser was the original title of Joe Orton’s first play, broadcast under the title of The Ruffian on the Stairs.
Book of (Holy) Lies
Benny Profane, a character in Thomas Pynchon’s V.
Brave New World (Huxley)
The Blue Nile (non fiction work by Alan Moorhead - a very common book)
Comsat Angels, an abbreviation of Communications Satellite, from a story by J. G. Ballard
Cape Diem, from Horace, carpe diem.
The Chrysalids, title of a novel by John Wyndham
Colour Me Badd, title of an unpublished poem by Sylvia Plath?
A Confederacy of Dunces, novel by John Kennedy Toole
Dead Fingers Talk, novel by William Burroughs
Desperate Bicycles, from a passage in J. B. Priestley’s Angel Pavement (1930), ‘Turning into Angel Pavement from that crazy jumble of buses, lorries, drays, private cars, and desperate bicycles…’
The Doors, ‘If the doors of perception were cleansed,|All things would appear … infinite’– Blake then a book-title by Aldous Huxley. There was also a band called Doors of Perception
Durutti Column, André Bertrand, Le retour de la colonne Durutti (Strasbourg, 1966), a comic paper
Dorian Gray (Oscar Wilde)
Drive Like Jehu: ‘Jehu the son of Nimshi … he driveth furiously’ – 2 Kings ix, 20
Dzyan, reference to Tibetan book, possibly fictional, mentioned by Madam Blavatsky
Damnation of Adam Blessing, book-title by Vin Packer (pseud. for Marijane Meaker). Adam Blessing was the name of a member of the band.
Eyeless in Gaza, novel by Aldous Huxley
Ejwuusl Wessahqqan: novel by Clark Ashton Smith
Flock of Seagulls, after the novel by Richard Bach, Jonathan Livingstone Seagull
Fra Lippo Lippi, poem-title by Robert Browning
Fear and Loathing (from Hunter Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas)
Fear of Flying
The Five Just Men (from Edgar Wallace's The Four Just Men)
Five Lose Timmy (an Enid Blyton reference)
Frumious Bandersnatch (the Bandersnatch is a fictional creature mentioned in Lewis Carroll's poems Jabberwocky and The Hunting of the Snark)
Forty Nine Hudson, the name of a car in Kerouac’s On the Road
Fiver, a rabbit in Watership Down
The Grateful Dead, book-title by Gordon Hall Geroud (Folk-Lore Society, 1908) or a ballad found in Childs or ‘the outcome of a night of stoned lexicology,’ (in the band’s words)
Guadalcanal Diary, book-title
Grace Pool, character in Jane Eyre
Gleaming Spires, perhaps a reworking of Matthew Arnold’s ‘Dreaming spires’
Green Carnation (worn by Oscar and also the title of a 90s book)
Generation X, title of a 1960s paperback about British youth by Charles Hamblett and Jane Deverson
Harpers Bizarre
House of Love, from Anais Nin’s Spy in the House of Love
Icicle Works, from a short-story by Frederik Pohl, ‘The Day the Icicle Works Closed’
Jethro Tull, writer on agriculture (1674–1741)
Justified Ancients of Mu, a name from the Illuminatus! trilogy of Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson (1975)
JPS Experience: JPS= Jean Paul Sartre
JJ72, a Camus reference
Kinsey report
Look Back in Anger (play by John Osborne)
Love and Squalor (from Salinger)
Matching Mole = machine molle French for Soft Machine
Ministry of Love, from 1984
Mr Curt (from Conrad's Heart of Darkness via the movie Apocalypse Now)
Manhattan Transfer, title of a novel by John Dos Passos
McCavity’s Cat (Eliot - 'Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats)
Mugwumps, feature in The Naked Lunch
Mogo’s Flute, title of a children’s book
New Riders of the Purple Sage, from the Zane Grey novel, Riders of the Purple Sage
Nova Express (William Burroughs)
Oberon (a character in William Shakespeare's play, A Midsummer Night's Dream)
101ers, the torture room in 1984 (denied by the semi literate Joe Strummer)
Other Voices (from a Truman Capote novel)
Popol Vuh (The Sacred Book of the Ancient Quiche Maya)
Pooh Sticks (from A.A. Milne)
Pylon, after the Faulkner novel
Question Men, perhaps out of Kafka
The Quiet Room, short story by Poe
Soft Machine (Burroughs again)
Sad Café (from Carson Mccullers book)
Steely Dan
Spring in Fialta, short story by Nabokov
S–Z, Barthes’s book on semiotics
Sot-Weed Factor (John Barth's fat novel)
Smersh (from Ian Fleming)
Swan’s Way
Separate Tables (a play by Rattigan)
Shub-Niggorath, one of Lovecraft’s Old Ones
The Soft Boys, a conflation of Burroughs’s Soft Machine and The Wild Boys
The Saints, after Charteris’s detective
Stryper, ‘and with his stripes we are healed’ – Isaiah, 53, 5
Sabres of Paradise, book-title by Lesley Blanche
Silver Apples, a phrase from Yeats’s ‘Song of Wandering Ængus’
Samian, an American children’s book by Dr Seuss
Sixpence None the Richer, phrase from C. S. Lewis’s, Mere Christianity
The Teardrop Explodes, an occurrence in a Prince Namor story in the comic Daredevil, June 1971
Tears for Fears, book by Arthur Janov
Thin Lizzy, from the Beano (British children's comic and annual)
Thompson twins, characters in Hergé’s Tin Tin books

Tolkien names such as Nazxul, Shadowfax, Cirith Ungol, Galadriel, Gandalf, Gollum,
Aragorn, Burzum (Orcish for ‘darkness’), Cirith Gorgor, Fatty Lumpkin, Isengard, Lorien, Marillion, Mordor,
True West, a play by Sam Shepherd
Tygers of Pan Tang, phrase from a Michael Moorcock novel
23 Skidoo, the title of chapter 23 of Crowley’s Book of Lies
Those Without (band with Syd Barrett), after a book-title by Françoise Sagan
A Testament of Youth (novel by Vera Brittain)
This Mortal Coil, Hamlet, III, 1.
Tommyknockers, a Stephen King novel
Tripmaster Monkey, book-title by Maxine Hong Kingston
Three Fish, a poem by Rumi
Thin White Rope, Burroughs’s description of the male ejaculate
Uriah Heep
Ubik, novel by Philip K. Dick
Ungl’unl’rrlh’chchch, phrase in Lovecraft’s’ Rays in the Walls’
Veruca Salt, from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory?
Whizz for Atoms, the third in the Molesworth series by Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle
The Wasp Factory (thanks to Iain Banks)
White Stains (from an obscene rare book by Crowley)
Weena Morloch, from Wells’s Time Machine
Wreck of the Hesperus (a doom metal band from Ireland, name from Longfellow's poem)
X-Ray Spex, from an advertisement in a True Detective magazine

30 October 2008

This is not a library...

'Bookselling is easy', someone said 'you buy a book for a dollar and sell it for two.' That's pretty much it --although it is a better idea to sell it for three dollars. In my experience books are very easy to buy but money is usually scarce, so it is difficult to understand why booksellers make it so hard for customers to buy books from them. Money is what we want, money to buy more books. However when a bookseller is not shooting himself in the foot, he is usually punching himself in the face.

In the comments on the last post several people mentioned the much hated bookshop on Love Street in San Francisco, where customers are routinely demeaned by petulant staff - a typical scene being a young woman who found about a dozen books she wanted to buy and as she made her way through the shelves to find a few more, she was informed by an assistant - 'this is not a library'. She put the books down and left the shop forever (after.)

Dylan Moran said of his great curmudgeonly creation, the bookseller of 'Black Books'- "There is a guy in a Dublin bookshop who provided the image of Bernard Black. He looks like he’s swallowed a cup of sour milk and peed himself at the same time. He has this green bilious expression, years of displeasure have shaped his face. In fact he looks like every other second hand bookshop owner I’ve seen. It seems to go with the job - being miserable....He’s still there now seething in his ash-smudged cockpit, daring somebody to buy a book".

Booksellers are always looking for the right way of getting it wrong -to 'fail better.' Here are some useful guidelines.

1. Price your books so high that they will not sell.
2. Make sure the price is high enough that the customer will not only not buy the book but also never come back to your shop.
3. Make sure your shop looks as if is closed so that no one comes in. Poor or sparse lighting can help.
4. Make sure the door is hard to open.
5. Post a lot of imperious notices around the shop 'No Mobile Phones' 'Thieves will be prosecuted' 'No returns' 'All sales Final' etc.,
6. Greet the customer with a glower, a scowl or a look of deep mistrust. If you are feeling generous a frosty 'Good Morning! will suffice.
7. Ask them exactly what they want and if you do not have it be sure they leave before they can look round.
8. If they don't buy anything follow them with your eyes to the door and plant an imaginary dagger between their shoulder blades and bid them a joyless and sneering goodbye.
9. Refuse all offers on books with utter contempt and only give a discount (10% absolute maximum) when explicitly requested by long established booksellers who are listed in every guide book and who are spending at least £100.
10. Calculate the discount to the nearest penny even if the amount is many hundred of pounds. Thus £112 becomes £100. 80.
11. If you take credit cards charge an extra 5% to cover expenses.
12. Always close exactly on time no matter how many customers are in the shop or how much they are buying.
13. If a customer puts a book aside give them 24 hours to decide but put the book out 24 hours later to the minute.
14. If another dealer buys an expensive book have a searching enquiry as to what went wrong; if it was priced by a member of staff fire them immediately.
14. If someone dares to phone you offering you a collection of rare books treat them with great suspicion, if any titles are mentioned dismiss them as common and undesirable. If they insist ask them to bring the books to the shop. If they intimate that the books are of very high quality, but they want nothing or very little for them, pick them up in your shooting brake on your way home.

23 October 2008

Yet more Bastards with Bookshops

One must not forget the Birmingham dealer, who on being asked for a discount for books would tear them in half in front of the customer. What particularly irked him was the phrase 'What can you do on this?' A red mist would descend and he would reply 'I'll show you what I can do on this...' and tore up the book. One imagines that this was selective, possibly only books under £20. Not a wise business stratagem but probably quite satisfying...

Then there was the dealer who suddenly put up his stock from an average of £10 a book to £200 a book. Sales slowed down, customers got annoyed, fights broke out but business did not totally come to a halt. Every time a customer bought a book his fiendish plan was justified. Before long he was totally and utterly broke. In this business greed is the enemy of profit. This was 20 years ago. Now in the great 200 million strong bookshop in the sky (ABE) £10 books are routinely priced at £200 and if they are ex library or in unacceptable condition, quite a bit more.

Also unforgotten is the great Eric Barton and his shop in Richmond, a sort of bookselling John Fothergill who would chuck people out of his shop if he didn't like the cut of their gib. A bastard's bastard; his speciality was 18th century cricket books. When, some time in the 1970s, the writer and bookseller Iain Sinclair walked from Islington to Richmond with a rucksack on his back for his book buys, the destination of his pilgrimage was this shop. At the end of his great walk, when he entered the hallowed shop, Barton, spying the bulging rucksack, shouted at him - 'Not another bloody tourist!'

There was also the very posh shop run by well connected chinless wonders who got great books from their chum's in country houses--they would ban people who bought too many books, especially those who boasted about it and also dealers who had not been to the right schools. Lastly the bookshop in Metroland run by a British Nazi who sat with his jackboots up on the desk reading the 'Daily Sport' or 'Stormtrooper' and discouraged any punter who wasn't a bald or booted skinhead. B'stards all of them...

21 October 2008

Velvet Underground / Band Names from Books

Michael Leigh. THE VELVET UNDERGROUND. Macfadden Books, New York, 1963.

Current Selling Prices
$40-$80 /£30-£40

The legend is that Andy Warhol found this lurid paperback on the streets of New York (in the gutter) and named the great rock band after it. It is not especially scarce as the net has now revealed; 10 years ago you could get $100 for a nice first, now you shouldn't have to pay half that. The book is prurient sexploitation trash about the kinky underside of American life--the text on the cover reads 'Here is an incredible book. It will shock and amaze you...as a documentary on the sexual corruption of our age, it is a must for every thinking adult.' There is a follow up book from 1968 'The Velvet Underground Revisited'. It is more scarce than the original but worth no more. The book was also republished in 1967 in the United Kingdom under the confusing title 'Bizarre Sex Underground.' Wikipedia appears to give the definitive story:
'...Lou Reed and Sterling Morrison's friend, filmmaker Tony Conrad, found a copy lying in the street. Morrison has reported the group liked the name, considering it evocative of "underground cinema," and fitting, due to Reed's already having written "Venus In Furs", inspired by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch's book of the same name, dealing with sadomasochism.'

What other bands took their names from books? AEROSMITH is said to come from one of its members having read or possessed Sinclair Lewis's 1925 novel 'Arrowsmith'. The name of Ted Nugent's band AMBOY DUKES is taken from the title of a 1940's book about street gangs by Irving Shulman. THE BLACK CROWES - was originally named after 'Johnny Crow's Garden' by Leslie Brooke a children's book published first in 1903. DIVINE COMEDY comes from Dante's great work (the group STYX's name is also Dante inspired).

THE DOORS comes from Huxley's book 'The Doors of Perception' which comes from William Blake '(If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is...') GENESIS comes from a book in the Bible. It is said there are some kids who think it's the other way round. MOTT THE HOOPLE comes from a 1966 novel of the same name by Willard Manus (about a circus freak--the book was re-issued with an inappropriate rock and roll cover.) THE SOFT MACHINE is from William Burrough's 1961 novel. Burroughs also inspired the name STEELY DAN-- a giant steam-powered dildo in 'Naked Lunch'. STEPPENWOLF took their name from Herman Hesse's backpacker classic. SUPERTRAMP comes from the excellent 'Autobiography of A Supertramp' by W.H. Davies, a writing tramp rescued from obscurity by George Bernard Shaw. The metal group URIAH HEEP comes from the nasty piece of work of that name in 'David Copperfield' by Charles Dickens.

There are a bunch of bands whose names were inspired by Tolkien, the only one that comes to mind right now is MARILLION from his least good book 'THE SILMARILLION' (known in publishing circles as 'The SellaMillion.') A rather forgotten 60s band was called H. P. LOVECRAFT and his non existent book The Necronomicon inspired various metal bands I am told...

16 October 2008

Gilt by Association

Association copies can be very valuable. Our Burgess book mentioned in the last post made a decent but unsensational $220 (I had bought it off a catalogue in 2001 at $55). The kind of association copy that you really want is a book that went through my hands (rather too rapidly) in 1999. It was a copy of a decent late 19th Century Machiavelli's 'The Prince' presented by Churchill to Lord Beaverbrook the newspaper magnate, a sort of Rupert Murdoch of his day. The book had a few annotations and marginal linings by WSC and also possibly later by Lord B. It was interesting that both men found the book of practical value, although the inscription was fairly lighthearted as I recall--along the lines of 'here's how to rule your domain...' I sold it to a dealer for circa £5K. He quickly sold it to a Churchill punter--one of the less bright variety, as he had to have the significance of the association explained to him, having never heard of the great Florentine philosopher.

John Carter in his 'ABC for Book Collectors' talks of bogus association copies--ones where the association is made by loosely inserting a letter--this is to be 'actively resisted' by collectors. Also I feel that a bookplate should not be used (by itself) as an association tool. A few years ago there were Hemingway bookplates on the market and a dastardly dealer could, if he were so minded, stick one in a book on, say, big game hunting or in a 1920s guide book to Paris and claim it as 'Hemingway's copy.' I was shown a very nice association last night by a Suffolk dealer/ friend. A signed presentation from John Betjeman to the cartoonist (Carl) Giles:
'The mighty cartoonist Carl Giles is [Summoned by Bells] by his admiring fellow Islingtonian John Betjeman...'
Like all great associations it links two well known people, but with various resonances--both light humourists, Londoners and much loved British eccentrics. Sadly the book is not for sale but its value must be in many hundreds of pounds.

Pic at top is from a 2002 painting by one W. Horvath which is the cover-image of the book "Niccolo Machiavelli - Der Fürst" from RaBaKa-Publishing.

10 October 2008

The Association Copy

We have a classic 'association copy' up on Ebay right now--Guy Burgess's copy of the immortal Algernon Cecil's 1927 offering 'British Foreign Secretaries.' Guy the Spy was at Eton at the time with the world before him, however in a close reading of his annotations to this book one can dimly discern the future traitor--as the poet (AE) observed 'In the lost boyhood of Judas / Christ was betrayed.' As an association copy it is not quite up there with Crowleys' copy of the I Ching (sold by M.Stone to LZ axeman Jimmy Page) or Lord Lucan's copy of 'Mein Kampf' (sold by us in 2002.) What exactly is an association copy? The unstoppable John Carter offers a perfect defintion in his 'ABC for Book Collectors.'
“This term, often scoffed at by laymen, is applied to a copy which once belonged to, or was annotated by, the author; which once belonged to someone connected with the author or someone of interest in his own right; or again, and perhaps most interestingly, belonged to someone peculiarly associated with its contents.'
Lay persons are no longer scoffing at the term and association copies have become a fascinating and lucrative byway of book collecting. The Burgess book is described as follows by our erudite cataloguer Tom Adair.
Algernon Cecil, British Foreign Secretaries, 1807 – 1916: Studies in Personality and Policy (London: G Bell & Sons, 1927)


This remarkable survival is the copy of Algernon Cecil’s 1927 book about British foreign secretaries owned by the infamous Cambridge spy Guy Burgess. The front free endpaper bears the inscription: ‘Guy Burgess / Eton 1929’. Burgess was seventeen or eighteen and preparing to take up his place at Trinity College, Cambridge.

Inconspicuous enough at first glance – a plain, dark blue hardcover without dustwrapper, a little worn about the edges – the book harbours a wealth of fascinating annotations in the hand of the young intellectual. There are many sentences in the book which Burgess has placed a pencil line under or alongside, such as the observation that Canning, foreign secretary during the Napoleonic Wars, ‘[as] he had a difficulty in understanding the value of a code amongst nations, so he had a difficulty in understanding the obligations of code amongst men’. Elsewhere, Burgess notes well the observation that the Earl of Clarendon (1850s foreign secretary) ‘betray[ed] himself by a kind of fatalism rather than a fund of resourcefulness [so that in the end] he proved somehow unable to take control of the situation, with the inevitable result that it took hold of him’. It is indeed remarkable that the vast bulk of Burgess’s annotations involve criticisms if not outright damnations of character.

There are also, at the bottom of some pages, Burgess’s own thoughts where he is moved to agree or disagree with the author. For example, in response to the claim that, in the lead-up to the First World War, ‘The Russian Government … was quite as inconsiderate of the fate of Europe as the German’, Burgess has written, ‘Not the government, only the war office, for the Tsar was entirely pacific, if weak’. And, annoyed by Lord Grey’s sentiment that ‘Le coeur a ses raisons que la raison ne connait point’, Burgess writes, ‘This seems a very poor reason for going to war!’. Not just acuity of mind is evident in these notes, but so too is the hauteur of the intellectual snob: ‘Anything more absurd than this point of view can hardly be imagined,’ he writes at one point.

Four years or less after making these notes Burgess was introduced to Kim Philby and his subsequent career as a spy is well-known. The popular perception of Burgess as a bloated and aging cynic shut up in a Moscow apartment is pitiably at odds with the fresh and precocious six-former so engaged with British history in this book.'

So far although the book has reached its reserve of $149 it has not gone on and has no watchers. Twice that price would be cheering but with most markets in meltdown one takes what one can get....

04 October 2008

Marie Corelli, Wormwood, 1890

Current Selling Prices
$1100+ /£600+

Marie Corelli. WORMWOOD: A DRAMA OF PARIS. 3 Vols. Richard Bentley & Son, London, 1890.

I was thinking about Marie Corelli recently because I had a request for stock from someone setting up a bookshop in Nigeria. He wanted biographies of great men -Einstein, Churchill and Bill Gates were mentioned, popular fiction esp Puzo, Dan and Sandra Brown, Sheldon, Nora Roberts, Silhouette books and the great Ludlum. However top of the list and most wanted was Marie Corelli ( ' We would not mind any quantity of books/fiction under Maria Corelli, particularly, “The Sorrows of Satan” '). I wrote back saying I couldn't help much, but advised a buying trip to our shores. Nigeria is a bit of a no-no for the wise entrepreneur.

The interesting thing is that one has always been able to sell Marie Corelli to African readers. I had thought there was something about her writings that appealed to the African soul, but the explanation I heard one day in my shop from a teacher from Lagos is that 100 years ago Ms Corelli's books, bestsellers past their prime in Britain, were dumped on the continent. There is even a fable of a shipwreck full of her books foundering off the Ivory Coast and plundered and distributed very cheaply throughout West Africa and beyond. A sort of 'Whisky Galore' of books. Africans learned to read from her works, it also helped that her message was fundamentally Christian. So it's all about availability; that being said she was popular as an easy and sensational, not to say melodramatic, read - with spiritualist and occult overtones (15 of her books are in Bleiler). In her day she made Rowling size wads of money which she spent on many eccentric causes and whims. Wikipedia has this to say of her:
'Professional critics deplored her books. The Jacqueline Susann of her time, her difficult ego and huge sales inspired some quotable moments of spite. Grant Allen called her, in the pages of The Spectator, "a woman of deplorable talent who imagined that she was a genius, and was accepted as a genius by a public to whose commonplace
sentimentalities and prejudices she gave a glamorous setting;" James Agate represented her as combining "the imagination of a Poe with the style of an Ouida and the mentality of a nursemaid."'
This novel 'Wormwood', possibly her most valuable book, appears first in 3 vols (a 'three decker') and the first state came with red ribbons sewn in at at the sides of the front hinges which have almost always perished or exist only as a remnant. A copy wrapped in brown paper from day one might still have them in pristine condition. The great Victorian fiction collector Robert Lee Wolff wrote "When I was starting out as a collector I once saw for sale a copy of WORMWOOD with the crossed red ribbons on the spines. Most of the copies printed, destined for circulating libraries, were plain. I did not buy it because one of the ribons had been torn. I have never seen one since." Pic of ribboned copy on right.

Although not in Bleiler, and not really her scarcest book 'Wormwood' appears to be her most expensive book. Some of her late books and her ghost stories are more elusive. 'Wormwood' is partly about the absinthe craze, it recounts the degeneration of one Gaston Beauvais, a promising young Parisian man who, betrayed by his fiancée and his best friend, becomes addicted to the pale green liquid. A reader at Amazon opines that the book is ' an important contribution to the literature of fin de siècle decadence' but Marie was not quite in the class of Ducasse, Huysmans or Wilde. On the subject of the divine Oscar, while in Reading Gaol a friendly screw bought him some Corelli to read; having tried to read her he said "Now don't think I have anything against her moral character...but from the way she writes she ought to be in here." Oddly enough the sale of her house contents at Stratford upon Avon in 1943 was rather like the hideous sale of Wilde's belongings in the 1890s at Tite Street - with a jeering auctioneer and prices laughably low.

VALUE? There is one copy on the web at £875 and it has a suggestion of red ribbons. A not unthinkable price. I actually have a customer for this book (a collector of alcohol related material) and would pay £500 at least for a decent 3 vol copy -so please check out attics and steamer trunks etc., The American one volume 1890 edition is worth considerably less, an unpleasant sounding copy of what might be a first (at a mindblowing £425) is described thus 'Good - Collectible/No Jacket - Description: Privately Owned Burgandy Cloth Hardcover, privately owned, no highlighting, no underlining, no extra markings, no written notes and no folded pages. 327 pages, Drop shipping, no problem!...My book sellers group specializes in ACCURATE DESCRIPTIONS.' I guess the guy normally deals in text books. OUTLOOK Pretty good, 3 deckers are always very impressive, usually uncommon and still underpinned with a good body of collectors + absinthe has apparently made something of a comeback with modish young topers.