31 May 2008

King Kong (1932)

Delos Wheeler; Edgar Wallace & Merian C. Cooper. KING KONG. Grosset & Dunlap, New York. [1932]

Current Selling Prices
$4000-$9000 /£2000-£4500

The great Grosset & Dunlap title. Normally books from G & D are worthless reprints but this time they published a true first. It is a photoplay edition based on the screen play by James Creelman and Ruth Rose; originally it was conceived from an idea by Edgar Wallace and Merian C Cooper. There are stills from the classic monster movie on the endpapers. The book itself has lime green boards. The rarest of all photoplay editions - better than Dracula, Rue Morgue, Metropolis etc.,

It is quite uncommon in the jacket which often shows up professionally restored due to its value. Copies on the web at present from $4000 to $9000 dollars, the latter for a decent but slightly frayed and slightly chipped example entirely unrestored. A fine copy would easily top $10,000. In auction a copy ('in d/j with minor wear & scratches') made $9500 in 2005 with commissions probably taking it towards $11K. It was at the Drapkin sale and was in folding case by the Dragonfly Bindery. These boxes are now generally considered slightly naff but at the time added value - in some cases a lot. One for the Edgar Wallace completist and probably worth 5 times more than any other Wallace item. Unlikely to show up in a library sale or thrift shop as King Kong is a big name known high and low and the book screams mega dollars. One dreams of a fine copy with a brown paper wrap protecting its fine jacket put there because the cover might frighten the nippers...one dreams on.

Outlook? Upwards and onwards. More movies will be made and books with visual impact are holding their own. It's the age we live in.

26 May 2008

House Calls 4

Buying 100,000 books is a very risky business. Unless the books are joke cheap or studded with rare and expensive items it will take a long while to get the money back. Even if the books are purchased very reasonably much time and money can be expended removing them, transporting and storing them etc., In the case of the Chicken Farm we spent well over £1000 just on boxes and several times that on labour and lorries. Packing was done by a merry crowd of afternoon persons from nearby Cambridge. Not so merry were the heirs who felt that their life had been tainted by old books - the parents had been so absorbed in them that they had little time for family life or anything much else. Certainly they knew how to overprice the books. Even though many had been priced at least a decade earlier prices needed halving just to have a chance of selling.

They had done bookfairs but sold very little; at one fair they sold a comparatively large lot of books and were so dismayed by this they never did another bookfair. The stock had been sitting there a long while - this was evidenced by the accumulation of dust on top of the boxes spotted by a canny local dealer friend who I had sent along to check whether such a vast collection was worth a punt. It was a good and useful collection. Best thing in there? A decent Doyle rarity 'Dreamland and Ghostland' a Cranach press Duineser Elegien (signed as always by Vita and her brother) a near fine true first 'Black Beauty' and a small box of 18th century bookseller's catalogues -then much prized.

Celebrities? Usually you don't meet the great person but deal with an aide or a gopher. Here are a few droppable names- Lord Annan, Lord Longford, Jimmy Page (offer refused but a fantastic house) Simon Callow, Anthony Quayle, David Puttnam, Charles Saatchi (actually putting books in rather than taking them out) Joanna Lumley (her Booker books, that's her above -she even helped pack the boxes) Jonathan Miller and V.S. Naipaul. Jonathan Ross sent a bunch of books down to the shop in a taxi and myself and Martin Stone visited the mountain fastness of Oscar winning star Luise Rainer in Switzerland to buy books from her fascinating collection. Although pushing ninety she was a fast and rather careless driver on the perilous mountain roads and also struck a pretty hard deal.

In the case of Naipaul he sold us several signed presentation Paul Theroux novels--'Sunrise with Sea Monsters' (1985) was inscribed thus -‘For Vidia. To mark twenty years of friendship—if you only knew how your good influence has kept me on the straight and narrow. With love, Paul.’ These caused a significant literary rift and even occasioned a book by the prolific Theroux ('Sir Vidia's Shadow'.) The two are seen above in happier times. As I recall selling them was not a problem for Naipaul - VSN or his wife said something along the lines of 'Paul will send us some more if we need them...' Naipaul, who arranged the deal by fax, was a charming man with that glowing self confidence often found in acclaimed writers. He showed me some treasures that he wasn't selling like a signed 'Caledonia' by his friend Anthony Powell--the Burra illustrated squib bound in tartan and worth a few grand. He also showed me a room full of duplicates of his books in many languages which for some reason I didn't buy. He also told me he had signed 20,000 copies of 'A Turn in the South' for Franklin Mint for £1 each. He did them, signing the sheets, over 2 weeks sitting at the dining room table every morning listening to classical music. Good money in 1988. At present 30 copies sit on the net priced from £18 to £120 (the much respected 'Flatsigned' dealer as always with the greediest price.) Many of the books from his library I have catalogued as 'from the library of V. S. Naipaul with his characteristic signed monogram.' I have forgotten what this looked like and can only hope that I laid down a few. The faxes faded away...

We were brought into Page's magnificent Burges mansion off High Street Kensington by an Art Nouveau restorer - a friend of the great guitarist. A very desirable bunch of myth and legend books with a good admixture of occult and esoteric books. Some of it was stock left over from his occult bookshop 'Phoenix' which had flourished 10 years earlier off Kensington Church Street. It was a basement lumber room full of old guitars , presents from fans and LPs. Our offer was phoned to Jimmy at Muscle Shoals, Alabama where he was 'laying down some tracks.' It was, as I had expected, roundly rejected as were a couple more dealers offers and the books were later catalogued by an ex employee of the magick bookshop. A wise old dealer once told me that if one in 3 of your offers weren't being turned down you were paying too much...

21 May 2008

House Calls 3

Strangest call? A pal of mine, now ennobled, was called to a house full of books in North London. When he arrived he realised there was a noisy afternoon party going on that had developed into an orgy and he swears he had to tread on the odd buttock as he made his way to the desirable book collection. The call had come through his ad in 'Time Out' and he noted many of the participants were not young. Being a dealer he did not make an excuse and leave but made a good offer and returned to clear the books after the last raver had left. Martin Stone swears he bought a great collection of modern firsts from an adult bookshop in Liverpool after the owner was shot one lunchtime by a crazed gunman. There were a dozen copies of 'Clockwork Orange' - first eds, fine in fine, trouble was most were splashed with the late owner's blood.

At a house call performed by myself and my brother the owner of the books, a Rachman type landlord, refused to part with them after accepting the money in cash. To be fair we had taken half of them to the waiting Volvo when he cried 'you've had enough.' During an argument he struck my brother, never a wise move as he has a fiery Irish temper. The altercation became heated, further blows were exchanged and the police were called by one of his tenants. None of his rather cowed tenants would witness against their landlord and we never got the other half of the books that we had paid for. One of the police remarked 'I thought bookselling was a quiet sort of job.'

At one point we were called to look at 100,000 books on a chicken farm in Fenland. The nonagerian owner, a retired dealer had been found dead in a ditch and the books needed clearing because the farm was to be sold. Normally dealer's stocks are unexciting because they have sold off the good stuff but in this case the books had been so grossly overpriced that hardly anything had sold... to be continued...

18 May 2008

House Calls 2

There are many legends surrounding house calls. The classic story is the small provincial bookseller called to a substantial mansion on the edge of town, full of valuable books. The new owner has inherited the collection and is selling the house and trying to sell all the contents, including the books. The bookseller is overwhelmed by the sight of rows of pristine signed Rackhams, rare bound books of 18th century travel, 19th century literature fine in the original cloth, even the odd 20th century classic like a first signed Ulysses and a wrappered Gatsby. And then are the rows of exquisitely bound sets...He decides the collection is too rich for his blood and and, as they now say, 'above his pay grade' - so he puts the collection on to a prestigious West End shop for a 10% finder's fee.

Later that week the London dealer swings by his local side street shop in a bloody great long wheel base Merc van full of boxes of books and hands him a £1000. Somewhat put out, the local bookseller asks what happened. 'I asked the chap if he had a figure in mind and he said he wanted £10,000,' replies the suave metropolian bookseller. A very sad and morally dubious story. However the 'level of expectation' (LOE) of the buyer is an important factor in any house call and if it is too high the buyer can be wasting his time. In many instances only a part of the collection has value and the buyer will only sell if you take the lot - 'no cherry picking.' In the case of a collection of 30,000 books in a country house in Essex we took the lot but were able to arrange for half the books (nasty ex library dogs) to go to the local dump. Even that was costly. In the case of some collections it can take a week to remove the books and one can end up spending hundreds of pounds just on boxes. Some booksellers have bought collections so vast and valuable they have sold their houses, if not their souls, to pay for them... to be continued..

12 May 2008

House Calls

Someone wrote asking me to spill the beans on house calls. Sometimes known as 'call outs' or 'book calls' they occur when a second hand bookseller is invited to offer for a collection of books at someone's house. Sometimes it is a warehouse, garage, locker or even office but generally a goodish quantity of books is involved and one has usually found out on the phone beforehand whether it is worth going. Even then it is often not and one is back on the street in five minutes flat. However occasionally wonderful, exciting and rare books can be found - and in the most unexpected places.

It is a general rule that the wealthier the family selling the better books the books will be--which is why school teachers hardly ever have good libraries. Good books were always expensive. A 7/6 novel bought in the 1920s was equivalent to an outlay now of about £30 (and it is always good to see 7/6 on the jacket of a 1920s Bodley Head Christie.) However we once bought a marvellous collection of rare and collectable pre war books in fabulous condition from the estate of a fireman in Surbiton- an unpromising area. I recall he had a fine/ fine 'Road to Oxiana' and hundreds of similar books and even a few three deckers.

It is usually preferable to be buying from a deceased estate, living collectors tend to hold on to the good stuff or want too much for it- one of the sad facts of book life. One morose old Chelsea dealer was known for saying of house calls 'I like to hear of a death.' Someone once categorised the 5 reasons for selling books thus (the 5 D's) Death, Divorce, Debt, Disinterest and Displacement. The last refers to people moving houses, a very common reason. One could add 'Disease'- I was onced called to a house in Battersea where a man was selling every single book he possessed because he had become allergic to the paper in them. Marriage can occasion the turfing out of a lot of books, especially when two great collections are amalgamated. We were privileged to be called to the Notting Hill mansion of Margaret Drabble and Michael Holroyd at one point. Divorce as a reason is comparatively rare and a dodgy area, there have been occasions where one partner in a fit of rage has sold the others collection without permission and the books have to be taken back and lawyers start writing you letters...to be continued with anecdotes, advice and sundry indiscretions

07 May 2008

Billy Childish. The First Creatcher is Jellosey, 1981.

Billy Childish. THE FIRST CREATCHER IS JELLOSEY. Phyroid Press, Chatham, 1981.

Current Selling Prices
$400-$900 /£200-£450

Billy Childish's books, the valuable early ones, mostly look like fanzines - cheaply home printed, stapled with b/w photos and drawings-- some of Childish and his erstwhile consort Tracey Emin. Tracey has gone on to make Rolls Royce money, Billy is still madly productive but more of a cult than a celebrity. However his books are very saleable with a fanbase all over the globe (inc China) and his works sell with alacrity unless you put 'stopper' prices on them. One used to find them in the collections of fellow poets and artists and Childish mailed a certain amout out to critics etc., We got a box full from the collection of the late Jeff Nuttall when he was moving house. All have now sold. The only thing I have left is a broadsheet blutaked to the wall of a room full of book boxes at our warehouse--it lists 24 books of the Phyroid Press 1978 - 1982 with the above title (spelled here as Jellosy) the penultimate. It also lays down some ground rules when dealing with the esteemed publishing house:-
'1. Do not swager yu bollocks when you come in
and dont give us any arty shit
yu will resive a brocken jaw and apendiges pretty qwick
2. If yu bottle out n turn out to be a whimpy one
we will not give you respect
infact we will do you down.
3. Do not talk of CND feminism or any of
that crap or we will bust yu lip

We talk the strong langwige that only children can bear
we drink neat carosean n smoke full strength navi-cut
our noses are smokeing chimny stacks
they fall over and crush yu wife and kids

We feed on boil pork n black cocain...'
This was obviously not Sidgwick and Jackson but Childish (with his cohort Sexton Ming) produced a good body of work from their Chatham / Gravesend residences that is now seriously collected to be continued