29 April 2008

Antonio Lopez Garcia...Rare Rizzoli Art Book.

Michael Brenson & Francisco Calvo Serraller, Edward J. Sullivan. ANTONIO LOPEZ GARCIA.Rizzoli, NY 1990.

Current Prices
$1400-$2000 / £700-£1000
ISBN: 0847812499.

Antonio López García, born 1936. Painter, sculptor, photorealist.'Post surreal apparition paintings' - highly regarded but not prolific artist much admired by difficult to please Aussie art bloke Robert Hughes. A seriously sought after art book, no copies on web and presumably every copy that comes up sells, some possibly at effoff prices. Who knows its real value, your guess is as good as mine etc., possibly that of a roadworthy used car, can't speculate much more than that. Sizeable art book. Rizzoli don't do flimsy.

VALUE? Rizzoli also published another unfindable book on the artist in 1986. Also of some significant value. Weberbooks.com speculate a value for Brenson's book of $177.50 and note there are 8 buyers waiting at Amazon, the most I have ever heard of. As Manuel might say 'I know nothing...' but suspect this might be worth quite a lot more. The only caveat is that all the wants could come from the same guy or the same petit coterie. It happens. One man or a couple can go round everywhere and ask for a book time and time again and eventually dealers get the false idea that the book is seriously wanted. It's called the Pat and Gerry factor. That's another story and I'll tell it one day...

STOP PRESS. Above was written in January 2007. This is a book that can now be found albeit at a price. There are now 3 copies on the web at $1750- $2100. Apparently the book is massive in size ( 13.5 x 12.5 x 1.5 inches) almost a doorstop.One dealer quotes from the d/w blurb-- "...forerunner of the realist movement centered in Madrid, Antonio Lopez Garcia"s work is among the most personal and intense to have appeared in post-war Spain. This book is the first to present all of his known work, and offers the most complete examination of his achievement to date..." I am not sure how long these copies have been there but I suspect that the book would sell fairly readily at $1300 and that $2000 is the 'stopper' price.

Pat and Gerry? They were a couple of collectors/ runners/ flaneurs who hunted down books and occasionally ran them. The writer/ dealer Iain Sinclair wrote about them and befriended them. At one point they decided to find all the books of Maclaren Ross, the Fitrovian writer. The fearless duo asked for his books in every shop in London and the outskirts. At the time they were the only known punters for his work (about 1980). After a while they found they couldn't buy his books because they had created what appeared to be a demand for his works. In fact by the late 1980s there was a considerable collecting cult around him, so Pat and Gerry were as ever ahead of their time. The same thing happened with the novelist John Lodwick and the poet ASJ Tessimond, except that in their cases the demand did not significantly materialise or spread. Below is a photo of the cover of this much wanted art book.

27 April 2008

Kay Nielsen. East of the Sun and West of the Moon, 1914.

Kay Nielsen. EAST OF THE SUN AND WEST OF THE MOON. Old Tales from the North. Hodder & Stoughton, London 1914.

Current Selling Prices
$2500-$20000 /£1200-£10000

One of the great works from what is now known as 'the golden age of book illustration.' This was from about 1905 to 1930. It is sometimes said that the rising costs of producing these elaborate illustrated books finished them off, certainly by the 1930s there was less money about and these books were always expensive. They started to become expensive again in the 1960s and by the 1970s they were seriously collected. Ancient auction records reveal the venerable Charing Cross bookseller Joseph's paying £4 for a copy of the signed limited edition (500 numbered copies) in October 1950. By 1960 they were paying about £6 - but in 1974 we see them paying £85 for a copy of the ordinary edition. By that time the great promoters of these standard Illustrated books were the fabulous Harrington brothers then selling out of an antique arcade on the King's Road. All early auction results show Joseph's as almost the only buyers of Nielsen (and all the other "Golden Age' illustrators.) Joseph's expert David Brass eventually segued to Heritage in Los Angeles which, for a time, became the epicentre of illustrated book collecting.

In the early 1970s I was selling books from a barrow on the Portobello Road and every other punter wanted 'Dulac, Rackham, Nielsen' possibly in the mistaken idea we had never heard of them and would knock them out for a fiver each. Also in the great canon of desired illustrators was Heath Robinson, Charles Robinson, the Detmolds, Jessie M King (my favourite) Willy Pogany, Harry Clarke and bringing up the rear Rene Bull, Warwick Goble and dog man Cecil Aldin. They also wanted 'The Ship that Sailed to Mars' by William Timlin and, from an earlier age, Beardsley and Beerbohm.

Kay Nielsen 1886 - 1957 (his name is pronounced Kye as in Rye) was a Danish born artist who studied art in Paris. His artistic influences must include John Bauer, the great Swedish fairy tale artist. Echoes of his forests and trees lurk in the backgrounds of many of Nielsen's paintings. He was also a follower of Art Nouveau and The Birmingham School, as exemplified by Jessie M. King. Other inputs include Hiroshige and Beardsley. Houfe in his magisterial 'Dictionary of British Book Illustrators' adds:
'...he was a brilliant colourist and a highly decorative illustrator, his works formed into frieze-like patterns, are closest to Middle Eastern designs and therefore akin to Leon Bakst or Edmund Dulac. He uses stippling effects and elaborate rococo motifs which are reminiscent of Beardsley, but also the swirling lines of Vernon Hill and the more sculptural lines of incipient art deco...'

Good to see Vernon Hill mentioned - his astonishing work is hardly known today. Houfe lists many 100s of interesting illustrators but the majority of collectors are only interested in about a dozen bankable names. Other collectable illustrators include this random Britcentric selection-- Austin Spare, Frank Pape, Beresford Egan, Horton, Alasdair, Bosschere, Jack B Yeats, Rex Whistler, Marie Laurencin, Frans Masereel, W.T. Horton, William Strang, Robert Gibbings, Balthus, Edward Wadsworth, William Nicholson, Edward Burra, Eric Gill, McKnight Kauffer, Lucian Freud, John Minton, Keith Vaughann, Glyn Philpot, Gwen Raverat, Eric Ravilious, Fougasse, Fish, Bawden, Phil May, Ronald Searle, H.M. Bateman, David Jones, etc., etc.,

VALUE? A 'very fine copy' made $27,000 + commission in 2000, in the same year a soiled copy made $13000 with commission. One imagine the silk ties were present in the former copy. Three copies of the limited are currently for sale between $20,000 and $30,000, none fine. Vellum tends to soil or brown with age, so fine copies are things of wonder. The ordinary trade edition (blue) is much prized - it is undated but known to be 1914 and it is hard to find a bright copy for less than £1000. A copy in a modern cloth facsimile binding is a 'Buy it Now' at Ebay at £1450. This kind of binding renewal is unpromising and forces the collector to always have to admit its presence because of its unnatural newness. Nielsen illustrations, presumably broken from his books are said to go for 'hundreds of dollars' - also on Ebay.

Outlook? Auction results indicate a slight softening of his prices, Heritage with its meretricious shop on Melrose stuffed with Rackhams is no more, but the vogue for collecting standard Golden Age illustrated books shows no real sign of abating. However some cash rich book collectors, a fickle bunch, may have now moved on to modern first editions, classic literature, fine bindings and photography.

22 April 2008

The Antique Bowie Knife Book

Bill Adams. THE ANTIQUE BOWIE KNIFE BOOK. Museum Publishing Company, Conyers, GA, U.S.A., 1990. ISBN: 0962604402

Current Selling Prices
$600-$1200 /£300-£600

552 page knife book that was issued in 1100 copies and apparently sold out on publication. Definitive and darn scarce. Fancy knives- some have highly-decorated hilts, silver and jeweled decoration, and ivory, fine wood, horn or mother-of-pearl grips. Some had memorable labels engraved on them like "Texas Ranger Knife," "Arkansas Toothpick," "Patriot's Self Defender," "Death to Abolition," "Death to Traitors," "Americans Never Surrender," "Rio Grande Camp Knife," and "I'm A Real Ripper." 90% of Bowie knives were made in Sheffield (not a lot of people know that.). A bloody good business until the rise of the Colt revolver. Idle question:Did David Bowie take his name from the knife?

VALUE? Some chaps hold out for $1600 but it can show up at less than half that, with nasty exlib copies a little less. At present there is a fine copy at $400 om ABE that will probably sell unless the knife market is in shambles. The market in this book is indeed a little 'soft' as all copies except this have been sitting there since Summer '06. The $400 may be listed by one of those odd dealers who is actually trying to sell the book. $400 can come in handy especially if the book came in unremarked.

STOP PRESS. The above was written in January 2007. The book seems to be still very much desired with the cheapest an ex lib copy at $550 ('usual library markings, otherwise clean and in very good shape...') and the most expensive at $2000 a copy with no real description -('may have price sticker on cover and very minor shelfwear...). These catchall descriptions save time and on $20 academic books are just about acceptable but for $2000 one expects a little desk work. Maybe the seller was a lawyer when he had a real job.

A decent copy is now at least $800, possibly less for an eagle-eyed Ebayer. A guy with a copy at $1000 which appears to be one of a 100 (from the edition of 1100 copies) states '...with a history steeped in legend, the Bowie is the most famous of American knives. This book shows some of the finest Bowies extant, ranging from the knives of the backwoodsmen to showpieces made for the 19th century expositions and presented by royalty.' I assume from this that the knives were either given to royalty or given by them...anyway the book is alive and well and the $400 fine one at ABE has gone.

18 April 2008

Cormac McCarthy. Blood Meridian; Or, The Evening Redness in the West, 1985

Cormac McCarthy. BLOOD MERIDIAN. OR, THE EVENING REDNESS IN THE WEST. Random House., New York, 1985.

Current Selling Prices
$2000-$3000 /£1000-£1500

Regarded as McCarthy's finest book and apparently about to be filmed by Ridley Scott. He has been collectable for over a decade and with movies being made from his books (including this year's Coen Brothers Oscar success 'No Country for Old Men') his star is in the ascendant. Being selected as an Oprah author may have dramatically widened his fanbase. Mostly his books can be found in first edition and a very decent completist collection could probably still be put together for $10K which would include a signed book or two. An assiduous ebayer, sniping and searching could do it for $5000. He or she probably wouldn't get the luxury one of 50 signed 'Cities of the Plain' or a limpid example of 'Suttree'. Ebay has, actually been the home of some spectacular results for CM with a copy of 'Meridian' signed to a family member (his father?) reaching over $12000 2 years back before it was withdrawn, possibly in order for the buyer to accept an unrefusable sum, possibly because it was found wanting in some aspect.

The highest terrestrial auction result was $8000 for a copy of 'Meridian' signed to one 'Corin' in the Maurice Neville sale at Sotheby's New York, Nov 16, 2004, it was a review copy and included a letter to travel writter Larry Millman. A signed copy came up last year and made $4400 at Swann and at the same sale a slightly used signed 'Suttree' signed by McCarthy (with a letter from the publisher presenting the copy to Robert Penn Warren) made $3500. His 1965 novel 'The Orchard Keeper' made $2000 as long ago as 2001 in 'in rubbed & soiled d/j.'

The worthy official site of the Cormac McCarthy Society has this to say of the book:-
Critics have compared Cormac McCarthy's nightmarish yet beautifully written adventure masterpiece, Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West, with the best works of Dante, Poe, De Sade, Melville, Faulkner, Flannery O'Connor and William Styron. The critic Harold Bloom, among others, has declared it one of the greatest novels of the Twentieth Century, and perhaps the greatest by a living American writer. Critics cite its magnificent language, its uncompromising representation of a crucial period of American history, and its unapologetic, bleak vision of the inevitability of suffering and violence.

The novel recounts the adventures of a young runaway, the kid, who stumbles into the company of the Glanton Gang, outlaws and scalp-hunters who cleared Indians from the Texas-Mexico borderlands during the late 1840's under contract to territorial governors. Reinvisioning the ideology of manifest destiny upon which the American dream was founded, Blood Meridian depicts the borderland between knowledge and power, between progress and dehumanization, between history and myth and, most importantly, between physical violence and the violence of language...
Value? Fine copies can be found online at between $2000 and $3000. Watch out for a remainder mark on the top edge, sometimes faint--this can take about a $1000+ off the price. An almost fine copy awaits a buyer at Ebay right now at $2500.

Outlook? Despite one dealer trying to offload a maimed ex library copy for a king's ransom with the words 'almost impossible to find' the book is relatively thick on the ground at present, but may not always be so. As the winner of the National Book Award, National Book Critics Award, Pulitzer Prize and Academy Awards + the thumbs up from Oprah, Harold Bloom and Brad Pitt (who reads 'Cities of the Plain' on CD) he is, seemingly, on his way to canonization as one of the greats and his prices are likely to remain firm and may drift up, especially if more movies are made.

10 April 2008

Great Book Finds. Aurel Stein and the Diamond Sutra ( Dunhuang 1907) Part 2

In 1907, during his second expedition to Chinese Central Asia, Sir Aurel Stein, a Hungarian-born British archaeologist, encountered a monk who showed him a hoard of manuscripts preserved in a cave near Dunhuang. Dunhuang was close by the historic junction of the Northern and Southern Silk Roads and the town had been a major point of interchange between China and the outside world during the Han and Tang dynasties. According to the British Museum 'very little money was paid' and 40,000 books and manuscripts were brought back to the Library and now form part of their collection of 100,000 such items.

Among the books (actually a 16 foot printed scroll) was Gautama Buddha's Diamond Sutra ("The Sutra of the Perfection of Wisdom of the Diamond that Cuts Through Illusion") the earliest known dated book in the world and of inestimable value. The BM site explains '...It’s dated in a colophon – a note printed at the end of the scroll. The note reads “Reverently made for universal distribution by Wang Jie on behalf of his two parents” followed by the Chinese calendar date for 11 May 868. Wang Jie did not make the book himself, but enabled its making – a pious act by which he would have gained much merit...The printed scroll was one of 40,000 other books and manuscripts. This secret library was sealed up around 1,000 AD, a time when this desert outpost of China was threatened by the ambitions of the Hsi-Hsia kingdom to the north. The cave is part of a holy site known as the ‘Caves of a Thousand Buddhas’ – a cliff wall honeycombed with 492 grottoes cut from the rock from the 4th century onwards and decorated with religious carvings and paintings. A monk discovered the sealed entrance to the hidden cave in 1900. Inside, the scrolls of paper and silk had been perfectly preserved by the dry desert air."

Aurel Stein (seen above with native guide and dog) produced many works himself that are valuable--the net reveals items at as much as £14K. Many have poetic, evocative titles such as 'Ruins of Desert Cathay' 'Sand-Buried Ruins of Khotan' 'On Ancient Central-Asian Tracks.' This last title from 1933 can turn up in a jacket and make as much as £3K if sharp. On his first great Central Asian expedition Stein followed in the footsteps of Sven Hedin, who in 1893 had found unexplored ruins at the oasis of Khotan, along the southern edge of the great Taklamakan desert in Chinese Turkestan. Hedin was unable to undertake any systematic examination of the site, but Stein convinced the Indian Government under Lord Curzon to supply and fund his archaeological and geographical expedition in 1900-01. Stein's excavations became the first scientific survey of the spread of Buddhism out of India and into greater Asia. It was thus fitting he should bear the Diamond Sutra back to the West. Quite how he did this I am unsure, one imagines a combination of horse and cart, train and steam ship. Even rolled up and compressed 40,000 items would have presented a serious problem in logistics. Something of the excitement of this find is conveyed in Peter Hopkirk's 'Foreign Devils on the Silk Road' and in this lecture by Ray Greenblatt in 2000.
'...Stein was astonished to see that there were more than 500 cubic feet of them. There were manuscripts in Chinese, Sanskrit, Sogdian, Tibetan, Runic- Turki and other languages. Without objection from Wang, Stein and Chiang removed some of the manuscripts to Stein's tent each night for further review. Eventually Wang agreed to allow manuscripts in certain categories to be taken to England in exchange for a "substantial" donation to his temple. The amount donated was 130 English pounds.'
As with many of these deals you would probably find that £130 is all Stein had on him at the time. A second buy of this treasure was made in 1908 by the French archaeologist Paul Pelliot. Unlike Stein, Pelliot was fluent in Chinese; so he was able to be more selective in the manuscripts he chose for purchase. The moral of this from a dealer's point of view is not to assume that the first person on the scene gets every single treasure. Until someone finds a cache of Shakespeare manuscripts in darkest Warwickshire these finds are unlikely to be topped.

03 April 2008

F. Kingdon-Ward. The Riddle of the Tsangpo Gorges, 1926.

F. Kingdon-Ward. THE RIDDLE OF THE TSANGPO GORGES. Edward Arnold, London, 1926.

Current Selling Prices
$1200-$3000 /£600-£1500

One of those books you occasionally glimpse at book fairs but rarely anywhere else. Early in 1924 Frank Kingdon-Ward went on an expedition to try to discover the falls on the Tsangpo river which were enshrined in Tibetan folklore. With the world's attention on China and its brutal treatment of its own Tibetan people one wonders how parties of explorers would now be received there. Kingdon Ward had heard the legend of a waterfall, over a hundred feet high, in a land which was a virtual shangri-la. Tibetans apparently believed that this was a kind of magical promised land. No westerner had ever seen it. An attempt had been made by a contemporary explorer who made the journey from the Brahmaputra through treacherous country, escaping death narrowly, and then from Tibet he started from Pemako and worked his way along the gorge but was unable to penetrate far enough to see the falls. When Kingdon-Ward began his attempt he was accompanied by Lord Cawdor who found K-W a trying companion and the pace slow "...It drives me clean daft to walk behind him... if ever I travel again, I'll make damned sure it's not with a botanist. They are always stopping to gape at weeds." Cawdor also complained about the food, despite this being the best stocked of Frank's sorties. (They had bought provisions at Fortnum and Mason) Frank was, seemingly, unaware of any problem and barely had a bad word to say about Cawdor.

K-W and Cawdor went further along the gorge than any other explorer and discovered several falls. One they named Rainbow falls which was about forty feet high,however they did not find the magical area that had given birth to the legend. 74 years later a new expedition with Ken Storm, Kenneth Cox, Ian Baker and Hamid Sadar finally discovered the falls (just about a quarter of a mile from where Frank and Cawdor turned back). They combine with the Rainbow falls to complete a compound drop of well over 120 feet. The area around is bathed in constant spray and as a result is a micro rain forest habitat. Certainly a Shangri-la, but not enough room, sadly, for the whole Tibetan race. This lead to a handsome reprint of his book "The Riddle of the Tsangpo Gorges" published by Antique Collectors Club. (I am indebeted to the Tooley Watkins blog at Geocities for much of this info.)

Kingdon Ward was primarily a plant hunter and botanist and most of his books are on these subjects. The star find of this expedition was the Meconopsis Betonicifolia. It caused a stir when shown back in England. It is also known as the Himalayan Blue Poppy or the Tibetan Poppy (see above) and is referred to in the title of one of Kingdon Ward's rarest and most prized books 'The Land of the Blue Poppy' (Cambridge, 1913.) A copy inscribed by him but not in great condition made £1700 at last year at Bloomsbury.

VALUE? 'Blue Poppy' is probably the most valuable of his books followed by 'The Mystery Rivers of Tibet' (London 1923) which made £1500 (in frayed d/w) in the same sale and then 'Tsangpo Gorges' which has made about £1300 in auction. The Antique Club reprint has not helped the book's fortunes--it is a handsome production and can be had for about £120 to £200 -with one lunatic asking £500, possibly confusing it with the Edward Arnold first. There are several copies of the first on the web right now in various states of repair with a nice copy at £2200 and another almost as nice at £920. A used but acceptable copy signed by fellower explorer George Forrest that sold at Bloomsbury last year still sits on the web at £1950 - a less than 50% mark up forom the sale price. Condition has always been vital in cloth travel books, almost more important than in literature and modern firsts, and only very sharp copies can get over £1000 with auction results being an unreliable guide to what can actually be achieved in real life--another riddle.