28 January 2008

Kenneth Grahame. The Wind in the Willows, 1908.

Kenneth Grahame. THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS. Methuen, London, 1908.

Current Selling Prices
$4000-$80,000 /£2000-£40,000

Kenneth Grahame belongs to a distinguished group of authors who had to work in banks while writing. One thinks also of P.G. Wodehouse and T.S. Eliot (whose smart Bloomsbury friends had a whip-round so that he could leave.) The modernist poet Wallace Stevens was effectively a banker (investment and insurance) and Charles Sprague worked for 45 years for the State and Globe Banks and was often referred to as the "Banker Poet of Boston." Samuel Rogers (1763-1855), was both poet, banker and connoisseur. Grahame was shot during an unsuccessful bank robbery, which may have precipitated his retirement in 1907. It is possible that without this bungling bank robber we would not have Toad of Toad Hall, let alone Rat, Mole and Badger.

He was part of the 1890s generation of writers, though hardly a decadent, and his work was published in 'The Yellow Book.' Grahame wrote parts of "The Wind in the Willows" originally in a letter form to entertain his young son. After an American publisher rejected his manuscript, "The Wind in the Willows" was first published in England, 1908. The story of its birth is best told at SOUTH COAST REPERTORY PLAYGOER’S GUIDE site
'...the masterpiece began innocently enough as bedtime stories told to his young son, Alastair, nicknamed Mouse. These nightly creations so captivated the child that he flatly refused to go away on holiday unless his father promised to write down future installments and mail them to him, chapter by chapter. Mouse’s governess, who read the father’s letters aloud to him, evidently saw something unusual there for she saved them and returned them to the boy’s mother for safe-keeping. Mouse and his nurse might have remained the only people in the world to have ever heard the adventures of Toad and Company had not an agent for a large American publisher visited the Grahame household one day in hopes of convincing Kenneth ...to write something for them “on any subject at any price.” Grahame had nothing ready and was about to send the publisher away empty-handed, until his wife remembered the collection of bedtime stories. Although Grahame apparently didn’t relish “the sheer physical torture” of writing, he added new chapters to the letters and handed them over. The publisher grabbed them up greedily and returned to America, but was disappointed to discover that the realistic human characters in the author’s previous works had been replaced by animals—and wild animals at that!

The stories were rejected and returned to Grahame, who published them in England in 1908 under the title The Wind in the Willows. The book met with an initially mild reception but after finding an unlikely champion in President Theodore Roosevelt*, Grahame’s fanciful novel soon began winning the hearts of readers both young and old. The American publisher saw the error of his ways and followed suit, making The Wind in the Willows a solid hit on both sides of the Atlantic...'
* This is not the only time a US president has made a book into a bestseller. President Reagan's favourite book was John Hackett's 'The Third World War' which sold boatloads of copies on the back of his recommendation. Would be president Milt Romney has just got into trouble for saying that his favorite novel is Battlefield Earth by L. Ron Hubbard, the science-fiction writer and Scientology founder. At least he is assured of Tom Cruise's vote. Famously John F. Kennedy is said to have helped Ian Fleming's fortunes in America by proclaiming that the Bond novels were his preferred reading. For a witty examination of these matters check out a SLATE article from May 2007.

VALUE? The following amazing auction result occured in the late 1990s:-

Grahame, Kenneth, 1859-1932 - The Wind in the Willows. L, 1908 - 1st Ed - Orig cloth, in d/j with fraying to corners - Sotheby's, Nov 10, 1998, lot 88, £39,000 ($64,740) - BM

With the buyer's commission and inflation this is the equivalent now of over £50K or $100,000 +. Another record refers to the d/w being in the first state and indeed a 'second issue with 7/6 price' can be found on ABE in reasonable shape at $15000. Usually 7/6 indicates you have a first state but that is on, say, 1920s Christies--with 100 year old jackets you have to be very careful (in many ways.) The correct price on the jacket, counter intuitively, is 6 shillings. The right jacket is rather rare--only three have been seen in the last 30 years.

Sans jacket its highest record is £7200 for an 'exceptional copy' in 2006, this is possibly the one that currently resides on ABE at circa £13000. There were many limited editions including the lovely 1932 issue signed by Grahame and the illustrator E.H. Shepard (coloured image below). It was 200 copies only and can cost $5000+, a worn copy signed to A.A. Milne made $14000 in 2005. The one to have bought (with hindsight) would be the Bradley Martin copy of the 1908 first in "pristine" d/j - with a signed letter from Grahame to a family member loosely inserted. It probably seemed expensive at the time at $20,000 (Sotheby's New York, Jan 30, 1990, lot 2363.)

TOADAL TRIVIA. Contemporary reviews were lacklustre- The Times wrote 'For ourselves we lay The Wind in the Willows reverently aside and again, for the hundredth time, take up The Golden Age.' Arthur Ransome gave the book a studied review in The Bookman in which he claims the book 'is an attempt to write for children instead of about them. But Mr. Grahame's past has been too strong for him. Instead of writing about children for grown-up people, he has written about animals for children.' He went on to claim that the book, written for the nursery, is full of wistfulness and that it is a failure - for children will not understand the dual nature of the animals. Richard Middleton took a Jungian view in a 'Vanity Fair' review seeing the different layers in the book - he saw that the characters 'are neither animals nor men, but are types of that deeper humanity which sways us all. To be wise, an allegory must admit of a wide application ... and if I may venture to describe as an allegory a work which, critics who ought to have known better, have dismissed as a fairy-story, it is certain that The Wind in the Willows is a wise book.'

25 January 2008

Sitwell and Blunt. Great Flower Books, 1956.

Sacheverell Sitwell and Wilfrid Blunt. GREAT FLOWER BOOKS 1700-1900. A bibliographical record of two centuries of finely-illustrated flower books. Collins, London 1956.

Current Selling Prices
$300-$1400 /£150-£700

Sometimes described as 'Atlas Folio.' 19 1/2 x 13 3/4. x,94 p/pages incl index.36 full page plates, 20 colour, 16 plain. A sumptuous reference work reproducing examples by Thornton, Curtis, Redouté, and others. It has remained a primary reference in the field and is sometimes cited by booksellers attempting to sell books and plates that are described in it. The reproductions are finely done and it is not unknown for the book to be broken for its plates, the originals of which are mostly in the $1000+ range. Not uncommon, despite this, as there were 1750 copies done and a special signed and numbered edition of 295 in green half morocco with a slipcase. There are usually one or two copies to be found at bookfairs. As a distinguished and posh literary figure Sacheverell Sitwell was often wheeled in to write a piece for unwieldy coffee table books of the time (Fine Bird Books, Great Houses, Old Garden Roses etc.,)

VALUE? Auction records reveal an extaordinary, anomalous price achieved in 1999--you can spot it below:-
Great Flower Books. L, 1956 - One of 295 - Folio, - orig half mor - rubbed - With 20 colored plates - Bloomsbury, Nov 27, 2003, lot 262, £220 ($374) - BM

Great Flower Books. L, 1956 - One of 295 - Folio, - orig half cloth, in d/j - bdg with light wear at extremities - Swann, June 19, 2003, lot 348, $225 - BM

Great Flower Books. L, 1956 - One of 295 - Folio, - orig half mor - rubbed - Bloomsbury, Mar 7, 2002, lot 229, £260 ($369.20), Daniels - BM

Great Flower Books.... L, 1956 - One of 295 - Folio, - orig half mor by the Wigmore Bindery - Christie's, Mar 17, 1999, lot 95, £1,000 ($1,620) - BM

Great Flower Books.... L, 1956 - One of 295 - Folio, - orig half mor - Swann, Apr 15, 1999, lot 182, $550 - BM

Great Flower Books.... L, 1956 - One of 295 - Folio, - half mor - extremities worn - Swann, Mar 25, 1999, lot 37, $375 - BM

Great Flower Books.... L, 1956 - One of 295 - Folio, - half mor - With 20 colored plates & 16 other full-page illusts - Sotheby's, May 14, 1999, lot 695, £220 ($354.20) - BM

Great Flower Books. L, 1956 - One of 295 - Folio, - half mor - Sotheby's, Nov 18, 1999, lot 500, £200 ($330) - BM

Great Flower Books.... L, 1956 - One of 295 - Folio, - half mor - Stanley Smith copy - Sotheby's, Oct 22, 1998, lot 295, £17,000 ($28,730) - BM

Great Flower Books.... L, 1956 - One of 295 - Folio, - half mor - Stanley Smith copy - Sotheby's, Oct 22, 1998, lot 211, £400 ($676) - BM
1999 was a sort of annus mirabilis for this book. Recent copies of the signed limited edition between 2003-2008 have stayed in the £200 to £400 range but 6 copies appeared in 1999 with one making the profoundly silly price of £17K. The fact that it was Stanley Smith's copy hardly explains it. Stanley Smith was a jolly collector of interesting books (he had alot of Andre Raffalovich for example) but he was not the Duke of Omnium. A bidding competition broke out between 2 collectors (said to be from the Gulf states)--several other lots were affected but this was noticeable because most dealers knew it as a £200 book and were impressed to see it reach eighty times its normal price. A classic 'pissing competition' - if you ever get involved in one be sure to be the underbidder. The most mysterious thing is that there was another copy in the sale, an earlier lot, that made £400. The moral of the story is not to trust freak auction results.

Below is the beautiful 'Night Blowing Cereus' featured in the book and taken from Thornton's 'Temple of Flora.' Note that the church clock is at midnight - the hour when the Cereus likes to show its full glory. To be horticulturally accurate it should be noted that it is not likely to flourish in an English churchyard. A.k.a. the Moon Cactus, it is mostly found in Jamaica and Cuba--visitors to botanic gardens never see the plant in full bloom unless they climb over the wall at midnight. The original 1802 Thornton plate which exists in 2 states can sometimes be found selling for circa £3000 to £4000.

20 January 2008

Gertrude Lintz. Animals are my Hobby.1942

At the end of this I mention an ebay item. I was struck by the name of the dealer selling the above book. He had about 5000 feedbacks to his or her name which was something along the lines of 'luckystoragefind.' There is a whole mythology around storage/ warehouse/ lock-up finds and some great lots and collections, even the foundations of businesses, have come from these secret places. Someone dies or goes broke and their goods are held in storage, sometimes for years. Their goods are sometimes unclaimed and eventually they get sold off. We were called to one where the storer had failed to pay the rent and after many notices the books were sold. As I recall we paid a deal more than was owed. The attraction of these collections is they are often like a time capsule. One we bought consisted of books on fashion with nothing after 1979 so the world of taste ended with punks and neo romantics but stretched back as far as Beau Brummell. There was also a box of books all with textile samples laid in. Kind of thing you don't see much any more-- just like this book of Ms Lintz:-

Gertrude Lintz. ANIMALS ARE MY HOBBY. Robert M. McBride Co, NY 1942.

Current Selling Prices
$180-$550 /£100-£280

True tale of upstate NY socialite who in the late 1920s transformed her mansion onto a menagerie and was especially keen on Chimpanzees. She kept several animals in her Brooklyn home, including several St. Bernards and the famous gorillas Gargantua (called Buddy at that time) and Massa. She was known to drive around Brooklyn with a fully clothed gorilla or chimpanzee sitting in the passenger seat. She believed that apes would only thrive if they received proper mothering and thus treated them as her children - dressing them, teaching them to eat at the table with cutlery and so forth. Something that was picked up in the early PG tips TV ads. The book has become rather desirable since the story of Gargantua was filmed ('Buddy' 1998) with Rene Russo as Ms Lintz, apparently portraying her as 'daffy.'

The book is listed along with other desirable gorilla books at the excellent Gargantua website ('a hairy handful of GARGANTUANLY rare gorilla books.') There is even a photo of a woman suckling a small ape--as Ricky Gervais might say 'CHIMPANZEE THAT!'

VALUE? One of those books it would be nice to find at a car boot sale for nada or less. It is obviously quite scarce and hard to buy for less than a £100 note - Ebay is recommended for the patient Gorilla punter on a budget. Early last year a copy of the US 1942 first in a chipped jacket failed to attract interest at $349 as a Buy-it-Now (or Bin-it -Now as one wag called it.) At the time I thought this indicated that the book in a genteel decline but a recent look at Addall shows the Museum Press 1945 paperback at over $350, one stray good+ McBride first at a similar price and 3 dealers holding out for $750 + (one signed). Meanwhile it is likely that copies are quickly sold at more modest prices and the above copies stick around like hardy perennials. Our photo is not from the first edition, the McBride first is red with an orange jacket with an ape--looks like a hard to sell nature book of the kind done later by Armand Denis etc., Below is a German poster for them movie which as well as the russet Rene also featured 'Cracker' himself - Robbie Coltrane.

16 January 2008

Sumo. Helmut Newton, 1999.

Helmut Newton. SUMO. Taschen, Cologne, 1999. ISBN: 3822863947

Current Selling Prices
$7000-$12000 /£3500-£6000

Last time we sold a copy this was our description:
'Elephant Folio. 480 pages, photos throughout in colour and b/w. 50 x 70 cm (20 x 27.5 inches) and weighing approx. 30 kg (66 lb.) Monumental, staggeringly big and heavy limited edition signed on the title page by Helmut Newton & edited by his wife June Newton (aka Alice Springs) Nudes, fashion photographs, celebrity portraits and erotica. The result of a Benedikt Taschen project at one time said to have circa fifty people working on it, with a cost of over 3 miliion dollars. The book is in fine condition in fine d/w in its original packing box complete with special nickel plated table/ stand designed by hip interior designer Philippe Starck and commisioned by Newton's friend publisher Benedikt Taschen. Nota Bene--this book weighs over 30 kilos and therefore additional shipping costs will have to apply. Literally the ultimate coffee table book.'
Somebody bought it in 2004/5 from Switzerland, we were glad it wasn't America - postage could have been up to $800. It needs 2 people to lift the package with its coffee table enclosed and it is of enormous dimensions 'putting the elephant back into elephant folio' as one wit observed. The post office won't touch it.

2 things to note about the book - it is not especially scarce as there were 10,000 produced and at one time it was remaindered as low as $500. Secondly the Starck table doesn't really work and often collapses with its sharp edges seriously affecting the books condition. There are usually a few nasty copies online at lesser prices that have been in a Starck collapse. Nice idea though and a sort of visual pun - the book as coffee table.

Newton's work is portentous rather than pretentious and in the trend driven world of photo collecting no one so far has blown the whistle on him, so his status is good. Talking of pretentious - the fashionista Karl Lagerfeld said of him "Cool for him is the exact opposite of Romantic and Sentimental two words that don't belong in his vocabulary.---- The secret of its potency (his art) lies in a mixture, which is hard to define, of distance and availability.."

His photographs were described by JG Ballard, as ’stills from an elegant and erotic movie, perhaps entitled ‘Midnight at the Villa d’Este’ or ‘Afternoons in Super-Cannes’, a virtual film that has never played at any theatre, but has screened itself inside our heads for the last 40 years’. …Ballard puts him in the in formal Surrealist tradition of Delvaux or Magritte rather than photo heros such as August Sander or Cartier-Bresson - 'certainly his models constantly seem lost, surprised, or entranced, his exotic backdrops oddly incongruous, as if we are suddenly being afforded a glimpse of a bigger narrative whose contours we can only guess at.'

Taschen, something of a blagueur claims that it is the biggest and most costly book ever produced. Can't dispute that at the moment but I have a feeling the big Audubon Birds is bigger and surely in the history of books someone spent more on producing a book?

VALUE? Hard to find one anywhere for less than £3K at present and it would be best to find one nearby where it can be picked up in a car or van. One with 'severe damage' (see reason above) can be found at a stroppy $3500. A few chancers (mostly relisters) want $10,000 to $12000 for one but are best avoided utterly. Amazon USA has several at $6500 with no provision as far as I can see for charging more than nominal postage, in fact postage is free if bought in the next 28 hours!.

Ours made £3000 on ebay, it can make a little less there but it appears to be still an object of desire. With 10,000 out there it is going to be traded until Armageddon comes.

STOP PRESS. Jan/08. 'Sumo' has risen in value and the cheapest copy I can find is at $8500 (Ebay shop) with all other copies $12000 or more with one crazy guy looking for $30000. One interesting copy at $14000 claims to be 'one of 200.' This is a book to buy on Ebay or in a shop, for the moment only economic meltdown is going to soften prices to the price level where I did the entry above (March 2007). Last word with Benedikt Taschen, no stranger to hubris, hyperbole and hype:-
"...Binding the book was another major challenge. Never before has a book of this size and weight been printed. SUMO is a vision become paper, full of so much labour and so many memories. An adventure. A project that has resulted not only in a book that makes us proud and happy, but also a new friendship. I used to admire Helmut Newton for his work. Today he is a friend. Helmut Newton's SUMO is destined to be the most successful book of the 21st century. It's my favourite book already."

I have seen books bigger than this--L.A. dealer Eric Chaim Kline hauled a book three times this size to last years ABAA fair in San Francisco. Some Audubons are bigger and I swear I saw a book the size of a door in a botanical dealer's stock in Manhattan. That being said this SUMO is probably the biggest book to have been sold in regular bookshops for many a year.

15 January 2008

Philip K. Dick. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? 1968

"World War Terminus had left the Earth devastated. Through its ruins, bounty hunter Rick Deckard stalked, in search of the renegade replicants who were his prey. When he wasn't 'retiring' them with his laser weapon, he dreamed of owning a live animal - the ultimate status symbol in a world all but bereft of animal life. Then Rick got his chance: the assignment to kill six Nexus-6 targets, for a huge reward." Blurb for the 25th Anniversary edition.

Philip K. Dick. DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP? Doubleday & Company, Inc, Garden City, New York, 1968.

Current Selling Prices
$5000+ /£2500+

Dick's SF classic - an exploration of what it will mean to be a human being set in the Android future and the book on which the ultimate cult film Blade Runner is based. Being a Doubleday book it must say 'First Edition' on the back of the title page--also as Doubleday books are not made very sturdily (and the d/ws are fragile) bright, sound, clean copies will be prized. Opening line- 'A merry little surge of electricity piped by automatic alarm from the mood organ beside his bed awakened Rick Deckard.' The book makes much of the media character Mercer whose sufferings for the sins of humanity are broadcast several times a day. Prefiguring the religious obsessions of Dick's last novels, the book asks dark questions about identity and altruism -also touching on persecution and ethnic cleansing (Androids in San Francisco in 1992 or 2021 in later versions.)

The character Mercer is echoed in a messianic broadcaster in Ballard's recent 'Kingdom Come.' The meditative aspect of the book is somewhat lost in the thunder of Ridley Scott's movie adaptation 'Blade Runner' (the book has been issued in paperback under this title.) The movie is of couse set in Los Angeles and Deckard is a retired bounty hunter, there is no Mercerism and no one wears cod pieces to prevent infertility from nuclear fallout-- there are many other differences painstakingly listed in an exhaustive article at Wikipedia.

VALUE? The Wiki article shows how much the book has penetrated popular culture - computer and video games, rock music, films and animation, other novels, even poetry. It could be argued that it is the most important SF book of the century, certainly Dick is the Tolstoy of the genre and the book has sold for a greater sum than any other SF book, albeit privately. An article in a recent Vanity Fair about the foolishly rich and modish artist Richard Prince* reveals:-
'...Upstairs, locked behind thick metal doors designed to withstand a 14-hour fire, is the heart of Prince’s collection, ceiling-high shelves filled with ultra-rare inscribed editions of works by 20th-century literary icons such as Dashiell Hammett, William S. Burroughs, and Jack Kerouac, among countless others. (Prince has 65 versions of Lolita, including Vladimir Nabokov’s hand-corrected desk copy.)
Prince is quite happy to discuss the prices of his exotic acquisitions, revealing that he recently paid “a little bit over $100 grand” for the only known first edition of Hammett’s The Glass Key in a dust jacket. Then there was the copy of Philip K. Dick’s 1968 novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, inscribed to Dick’s fellow science-fiction writer Tim Powers. “I paid $150,000 for that,” says Prince. “I was more than happy to pony up—it’s an important book for me.” '
Association items such as this are hard to price but when the book was at ABE at $75000 it seemed a stroppy and somewhat daft price. By comparison the seller who had it wanted (and still wants) $7000 for a signed presentation copy (to the deathless Stephen Spender) of Colin Wilson's 'The Outsider' - surely an 'away with the fairies on Hamsptead Heath' price. If Prince suddenly starts collecting Angry Young Men and 'ponies up', this dealer will be laughing, but only then.

A copy of 'Androids' (in d/j with creasing to spine ends) made $5000 + commission in 2006 and that's about the limit for now. 2 copies at slightly more than this can be found at ABE both decent but not fine. His 1964 work 'The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch' is priced at $6500 for an excellent condition copy and his rare 1967 Cape (London) book 'Penultimate Truth' also scales $6000 for a sharp copy. One to look out for on this rainswept island. Meanwhile below is a pic of the Japanese edition of 'Androids.'

* See our entry on Prince at Celebrity Book Collectors.

11 January 2008

The Seven Deadly Sins, 1962.

Edith Sitwell, Cyril Connolly, Patrick Leigh Fermor, Evelyn Waugh, Christopher Sykes, Angus Wilson and W.H.Auden. THE SEVEN DEADLY SINS. Sunday Times Publications, London, 1962.

Current Selling Prices
$25-$50 /£12-£25

A book that looks exciting at first glance with some heavy hitters like Waugh and Auden on board, also the cultish travel writer Paddy Leigh Fermor and even a late contribution by the poet Edith Sitwell. Why is this book worth so little? The first clue is the publisher -the Sunday Times- all the contributrions had originally appeared there and presumably they printed a big run of the book for the potential punters. Secondly these collections of authors seldom do well unless there is someone like Joyce or Beckett in there. Even the tripartite SF

anthology 'Sometime, Never' by William Golding, John Wyndham, & Mervyn Peake (Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1956) can now be found at £50 in super condition although some dealers cheerfully hold out for £250 or more. The 1948 'Why Do I Write? An Exchange of Views Between Elizabeth Bowen, Graham Greene and V.S. Pritchett' a slim volume that looks vaguely valuable is also only a £50 note to buy. Lastly the Seven Deadly Sins is intended to be humorous and with few exceptions humour doesn't sell well.

The idea for the book came from Ian Fleming who asked 7 top writers to comment on their favourite deadly sin. The result was this witty book that includes Angus Wilson on Envy, Edith Sitwell on Pride, Cyril Connolly on Covetousness, Patrick Leigh Fermor on Gluttony, Evelyn Waugh on Sloth, Christopher Sykes on Lust, and W. H. Auden on Anger. It is illustrated with 15th century woodcuts.

The star piece is by Connolly, who alone chose to write his piece as a short story. For once he outshines Waugh (who called him 'Smarty Boots.') His protagonist Jonathan Edax is a miserly book collector who comes across a legendary rarity by the nineties poet Alberic Chute ('...that exquisite talent, silenced it was said by some evil tentacle of the Wilde scandal after his third and most remarkable book of poems!'). It is a slim volume - 'The Bourbon Rose,' one of three known copies published in Newport Pagnell in 1886. Edax finds out that the poet, now a very old man, is alive and rushes to his house to get the book signed...

Many readers thought it was some sort of roman a clef but an inscribed copy to the great collector Anthony Hobson puts the record straight. CC wrote:-
To Anthony Hobson and others BE IT KNOWN THAT -Everyone at first tried to make C.C. do 'Sloth' which he refused. 'Edax' is not meant to be a self-portrait...Edax is a tall spare big-nosed man suggested by A.J.A. Symons, Jack Kahane, Robert Briffault etc., His habit of despising everyone (comes) from Wise and many traits from a mutual friend. He was in fact the illegitimate son of Alberic Chute without knowing it. The Bourbon Rose' was suggested by 'The Mickle Drede' (Gordon Bottomley) - see Hayward's catalogue...'
A very fine inscription, the best kind - giving background, inspirations and secret knowlege and undoubtedly transforming a £20 book into a £500+ book.

VALUE? Can be had in limpid shape for about £20, a copy of the US edition from Morrow was spotted at $20, however it was bedevilled by micronicks. This was a new word to me- presumably meaning very, very short or small nicks. Might use it myself.

Meanwhile I would like to find Gordon Bottomley's 'The Mickle Drede' a great nineties rarity. Bottomley (sometimes pronounced Bumley) published his first collection of poetry, The Mickle Drede and Other Verses, in Kendal in 1896 but later attempted to destroy all copies of this book, which he considered to be immature. There are 5 copies at COPAC so he missed a few. Always a steady but unsensational seller this is obviously the black tulip of Bottomley's oeuvre and Connolly probably refers to it as an example of a notorious nineties rarity. Value? Being from Kendal it may be worth a mint. It has to be three figures but certainly not four--Bottomley is a determinedly minor writer. However there are some very well heeled collectors of nineties verse who may not have the book.

08 January 2008

B.S. Johnson. The Unfortunates. 1969.

B.S. Johnson. THE UNFORTUNATES. Panther Books in Association with Secker and Warburg, London, 1969.

Current Selling Prices
$250-$450 /£120-£220

A book in a box, the pages loose and intended to be shuffled randomly by the reader. The author B.S, Johnson had started out fairly conventionally with his popular novel 'Travelling People' but even this had avant-garde elements and showed the influence of Joyce and Sterne. However 'The Unfortunates' was something of a departure--it is in fact in 27 pamphlets each designed to run on from one another even if shuffled. These parts are encased by a removable wrapper, all cased in a stiff laminated box illustrated with an abstract work, mostly purple. The rear interior of the box has a printed notice, intended to look like a newpaper clipping "Sub inspires City triumph from B. S. Johnson."

Bryan Stanley Johnson (1933 - 1973) had been a football hack and 'The Unfortunates' is a lament for a friend and mentor who had died of cancer. It has much pre Nick Hornby football content including a remarkable section where the writer is watching a soccer match that he is being paid to report on. The football commentary is in italics, but his interlaced thoughts are in in roman. The book was much admired with plaudits by Burgess and Beckett and is still read although several copies I have seen appear completely untouched--mint and unshuffled in the box. I have heard of one copy seen in a library bound up- presumably the crazed librarian disposed of the box.

VALUE? It does not appear to be rising in value. Johnson has been championed recently by Jonathan Coe who wrote a fat biography of him ('Like a Fiery Elephant') and that has helped his prices but there is an over supply of most of his works. Coe's early books are probably worth more that anything Johnson wrote. Fine copy can be had for £200 and possibly less on a good day.

03 January 2008

Ian Fleming, Octopussy 1966.

Ian Fleming. Octopussy and The Living Daylights. Jonathan Cape, London 1966.

Current Selling Prices
$100-$300 /£50-£150

The above photo is of our own copy of 'Octopussy' which sold on Ebay just before Christmas (the happy holidays) at a stonking $740. Over the last few years we have sold about 200 fine/fine copies on ebay with a starting price of $9.99. None made less than $50, a few got over $200 and one over $300. I have a few left and haven't put a copy up for 6 months so this recent result came as a shock.

The reason one is always surprised that 'Octopussy' makes any money at all is that I can vividly remember it being sold in great bulk at 50p or less. A Cecil Court bookseller, one John Adrian of 'The Clearing House' (a Buchanite name) bought 32,000 copies of the first edition in the mid 1980s. The first edition print run was 50,000-- a Bondite website states '...contrary to popular opinion it was not actually remaindered' - but a bulk of new duplicate books bought from the publisher being sold off cheap adds up to remaindering by any other name (in my book.) The site also adds 'copies with unclipped jackets and no signs of a price sticker are preferred' and the Cecil Court bulk had the price in about 3 states. I can actual recall it selling as low as 5p (10 cents) and many customer bought twenty or more at a time. Around 2000 we bought a cupboardful in Chiswick. Our Ebay description, a model of suave brevity, read: -
First state of the first impression of the first edition. (The price on the corner of the dustwrapper's inner flap has not been overlaid with a publisher's revised price sticker.)
Fleming's final published Bond book, with the attractive Richard Chopping-designed dustwrapper
Exceptional condition: both book and dustwrapper are entirely without defect.

* (Important to stress this, it saves many questions--many an Ebayer has bought a book described as a first edition and received a sixth impression or some such worthless item, so it has to be spelled out unequivocally--often with a photo of the actual edition statement. Even then people will email asking how you know it a first and 'are you sure it isn't a later impression?')
VALUE? A quick troll of the massive ABE webmall reveals that fine/fine copies of copies with a later state price (i.e in metric price on label over the 10/6) can be had for £50 to £80 and first state at around a £100. An outfit with the name 'Books Tell You Why' want $1000 for a 'Fine+' copy and $675 for another. A memorable name for a business- combining excruciating cuteness with smug didacticism. How they arrived at such a stroppy price defies speculation.

Several people have copies signed by (Sir) Roger Moore, and Octopussy actors Maud Adams or Maryam d'Abo --these are offered at prices as high as $4500 and even touted as investments. There is evidence that these occasionally get bought - the guy with the $4500 one says that he sold another one also signed by Adams and D'Abo, but this copy is even better because this time Maryam d'Abo has added a heart symbol beneath her name. Helpfully he adds that it was 'real pleasure to catalogue this beautiful-looking little gem of a book!' For those of us who saw this book at 50p these prices will seem risible for a long time to come.

01 January 2008

Hill. Mercian Hyms, 1971. (R.I.P. Peter Jolliffe)

"King of the perennial holly- groves, the riven sand- stone: overlord of the M5 : architect of the historic rampart and ditch, the citadel at Tamworth, the summer hermitage in Holy Cross : guardian of the Welsh Bridge and the Iron Bridge : contractor to the desirable new estates : saltmaster : money- changer : commisioner for oaths : martyrologist : the friend of Charlemagne.

'I liked that', said Offa, 'sing it again.'"

Geoffrey Hill. MERCIAN HYMNS. Andre Deutsch, London 1971.

Current Selling Prices
$550 - $1000 /£270-£500

I found this book at the bottom of a box this New Year morning. I had read it before in paperback -a collection of 30 prose hymns, the first of which is quoted above. A superb achievement by Hill, possibly his finest work; I had not realised its value until I checked it out and was surprised to find no copy less than $640 and a signed presentation from the author to my old professor at Southampton, the fine Catholic poet F.T. Prince at $2000+. A nice find. The point about the book that most sellers emphasise is that the boards have a tendency to splay and unsplayed copy are prized. Mine was almost completely unsplayed, joy of joys.

Whether people step forward eager to buy at £300 is another matter. I am a believer in the old bookseller's maxim 'the right price is the wrong price' and feel that very clean copies probably sells at between £200 and £300 and higher priced copies sit on the web for long tranches of time. It was a rather sad book to find as formerly I would have quoted it to friend and colleague Peter Jolliffe of Ulysses who died over Christmas.

Peter was a great dealer, a good poet himself and coincidentally a great admirer of Geoffrey Hill. His favourite poet was probably W.S Graham. He was honest, highly intelligent (Oxford) had great integrity and a sweet nature. A little shy and extremely modest - he was not one of those Oxford guys who keeps reminding you that he went there. He was not old and his health had been compromised for a long time but he had soldiered on uncomplainingly in his Museum street shop. A natural stoic (except in the case of a book missed from a catalogue!) I have an abiding memory of him staying the night at a house my wife and I had rented in the Aptos Hills about 1995 - I offered Peter the sofa but in the morning I found him asleep sitting up in an armchair with a sort of beatific look on his face. As I recall we set off on the morning tide to scout Monterey and Pacific Grove (via Moss landing where Peter hit a good shelf of poetry and bought some of them from an old lady bookseller who had never heard of Larkin, Betjeman or Heaney.) Last word to Geoffrey Hill for Peter -- from the 24th Mercian hymn - "'Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum' dust in the eyes, on clawing wings, and lips."

Adios Peter - for the moment the great world of books feels hollow and flat without you.