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...

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