29 September 2008

Barred (Jean Rhys)

Edward de Neve. BARRED. Desmond Harmsworth, London 1932.

Current Selling Prices
$1000 +/£600+

Something of a sleeper and undeniably rare, so hard to find that I am not especially concerned about awakening it. It is so rare that it has no real currency. The kind of sleeper you don't want to be blabbing about is one that can be fairly easily found and quickly and quietly converted into real money. Our copy, at the somewhat 'greedy bastard' price of £750 is the only one on the web and is described thus:
8vo. pp 255. Said to be mostly written by Jean Rhys from her husband's (Jean Lenglet, sometime Langlet) Dutch language manuscript. A noted rarity. Original publisher's black cloth lettered red at the spine, covers slightly rubbed, slightly scuffed at spine ends else very good sound copy. From the library of Norman Douglas with a note in pencil by him on the front endpaper 'Belongs to N.D.'
The price, which I shall eventually reduce, is taken out of the air and owes some of its weight to the connection with 'Uncle Norman.' In a jacket it should be worth well into four figures.

Posted on Face Book (or 'My Face' as my aunt calls it) is this game offer: " I will marry anyone who can tell me what these books have in common. Quartet by Jean Rhys...The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford...Barred by Edward de Neve...Drawn From Life by Stella Bowen." This posted by a not unattractive twentysomething party houndette--well dearie marry me 'cos I know. 'Good Soldier' is by FMF who was a lover of Jean Rhys while he was also living with Stella Bowen who wrote about it in 'Drawn from Life' and Jean Rhys distraught but empowered turned out 'Quartet' (NY 1929, published in UK as 'Postures' in 1928.) 'Barred' also covers this triangulation, not to say quadrangulation. (Pic of JL and JR to the left.)

Jean Rhys translated 'Barred' from the French edition Sous les Verrous which literally translates as 'Under the Locks.' The book is dedicated to her and seems almost a plea for her return. Rhys cut over 6000 words and it is said there is hardly a paragraph where she hasn't changed something, she was after all il miglior fabbro. Ford, unaccountably attractive to women, also wrote about the affair in 'When the Wicked Man' (said to be 'virtually unreadable') also it is covered with some resentment by Stella Bowen in 'Drawn from Life' (1941) - she describes the members of the boho Paris crowd around FMF when he was editing 'Transatlatic Review as either 'dirty, drunk, a pervert or a thief or a whore...'

The book also might be sold as a prison novel, a genre for which there is a lively bunch of punters. In late 1924 Lenglet (aka Edward de Neve) was arrested for embezzling money from the travel firm he was working for. He said that he had borrowed the money to do a deal, but the deal had failed and he was unable to replace the money before its absence was noted. A classic excuse, but it did not save him from a prison sentence in the inaptly named Santé prison. This left his wife destitute - when Bowen and Ford took her in she was down to 3 Francs and as SB notes '...(she) possessed nothing but a cardboard suitcase and the astonishing manuscript (of)...an unpublishably sordid novel of great sensitiveness and persuasiveness...'

OUTLOOK? I have a feeling that Jean Rhys will at some point go up in value due to her Caribbean origins, the drama of her life and loves, her sheer talent and power and the fact she seems to still have some resonance even with the callow web3 generation. Another translation of hers, Carco's 'Perversity' (NY: Pacal Covici, 1928) is listed at $2500 for a decent copy in jacket. Well over twice what it should be (imnsho), but an interesting book as the translator is given as Ford Madox Ford but it is now known to have been entirely JR's work. Ford had involved himself in the translation project to such an extent that both Carco and the American publisher, Pascal Covici, thought Ford himself was the translator. The seller says: 'Rhys in this century is beginning to look like one of the truly great 20th Century novelists...' If he is right then prospects are good, but bear in mind that apart from the very rare 'Barred' and possibly her first book 'Postures', her books are not at present especially scarce.

27 September 2008

The Strange Mystery of the $1000 Duffy

As the Hippies used to say 'I can't get my head round this, man". Why are 4 booksellers on the web all charging over £500 for a paperback that can be obtained for less than £2 in the same edition and for £5 signed by the great writer? The book is Carol Ann Duffy's 'Selected Poems' (Penguin 2004) All list the book with the slightly obscene misprint 'Cuntry' in the abbreviated list of contents. It is believable that a poet might use it as a punnish new word, but in this case in all published copies it's "country." I have heard of relisting but this OTT.

It is hard to imagine the circumstances in which someone would buy the book; even the ridiculously rich do not want to pay 200 times the going rate. Two scenarios occur to me.
1. An immodestly wealthy Frenchman has a mistress who has expressed an interest in the works of Ms Duffy and says to his slightly dim witted butler 'Buy me the most expensive Carol Ann Duffy book in the world and have it brought by courier to my mistress in Paris and make it snappy...'

2. A conceptual artist realising that the book has an unfathomably nonsensical price buys it and exhibits the book and the purchasing paperwork (possibly slightly treated and arted up) and exhibits in a thick perspex box. If Richard Prince had a mind to do this it might fetch $100,000, possibly to be bought by the wealthy Frenchman for his demanding mistress.

22 September 2008

Sir Hugh Ripley. Whisky for Tea. The Major in Fawlty Towers, Johnnie Walker, Rowley Birkin or Terry Thomas?

Sir Hugh Ripley. WHISKY FOR TEA. Book Guild, Guildford 1991. ISBN 0863326374

Current Prices
£70 - £480 / $125 - $800?

Published by Book Guild in 1991 and now difficult to find and wanted by quite a few people. Some of them think whisky is spelled 'Whiskey' and will never find it. I am indebted to a site called 'This is Ludlow' for much of this info about the great man. Hugh George Harley Ripley (1916 - 2003) was the third son of Sir Henry Ripley, 3rd Bt, a sporting squire seated at Bedstone in Shropshire, and his wife, Dorothy, who came from the neighbouring squire-archical dynasty of Harley of Brampton Bryan, Herefordshire. He had a bucolic upbringing in the Welsh Marches and became a skilled horseman, fisherman and shot. He went to Eton, natch. At Eton he would attend local race meetings disguised with a false moustache. He then entered a firm of East Indian merchants in Glasgow before being sent out to Ceylon as a tea planter. The Ludlow site takes up the story:
"...Ripley's recollections of his life as a sini dori (small master) in Ceylon in the late 1930s had a flavour of Somerset Maugham. In Whisky for Tea he gives a fruity account of how he learnt Sinhalese through the traditional method of "the sleeping dictionary", apparently a three-volume work in his case, comprising two girls and their mother ("herself by no means unattractive").

[After a good war]...his commanding officer gave him the following testimonial: "Major Ripley was a gallant soldier. He is a good boxer and a good shot, and he has a happy knack of achieving maximum results with a minimum amount of effort."

This "happy knack" stood Ripley in good stead during his 34 years with John Walker & Sons, Scotch whisky distillers. After learning the craft of distilling in Scotland, he spent some riotous years "on the road" with a dipsomaniac New Zealander before finding a comfortable berth in Johnnie Walker's plush headquarters in St James's Street, across the road from his club, Boodle's.

In 1956 he succeeded his father in the baronetcy and the Bedstone estate, and promptly demanded a seat on the board of Johnnie Walker. As "Sir Hugh", his status among barmen and publicans soon reached mythic proportions... At the Licensed Victuallers' Golfing Society "stag party", it was typical of Ripley to make off with the clothes of the stripper.

"The Old Rip", as he was known, was a familiar figure in countless watering holes around the world, as well as in such haunts as Annabel's nightclub, the Long Room at Lord's and on the Burma Road course at Wentworth, not to mention the Turf. At one stage he part-owned a singularly unsuccessful racehorse called The Hughstan.

Ripley was a foxy personality of roguish charm, who reminded some observers of the Major in Fawlty Towers (pic right) and whose appearance came increasingly to resemble the caricature of Johnnie Walker in the advertisement ( "Still Going Strong"). He relished the relaxed morals of the Swinging Sixties but never lost his shrewd Shropshire lad's cunning or his passion for country sports."

He is also reminiscent of the Fast Show character Rowley Birkin and the great British actor Terry Thomas. He may just have been a tiresome English hooray of course...but you have to admire his courage and insouciance. An incident in the book gives a flavour of his devil-may-care style not to say his sang froid. Ripley is wounded in an attack:
"an appalling noise and a shattering blow to my head and face. I evidently passed out for a short time. When I came round I found blood oozing out of the left side of my face. I couldn't see out of one eye and my mouth seemed to be full of stuff. I spat and a mass of blood, teeth and metal came out. A piece of shell had gone through my cheek, broken the sinus bone, and ripped out a lot of teeth."At the field dressing station Ripley was approached by the padre. "Cheer up," he said. "Have a cigarette." Ripley puffed at the lit gasper and noticed the padre looking at him in rather a curious way. "You know, you will remember this. I expect it will be the first and last time that smoke comes out of your cheek when you smoke a cigarette."

This incident won him a citation for bravery and the Silver Star for "thorough and aggressive reconnaissance... inspiring leadership and complete disregard of his own life and safety." Stiff upper lip or what?! Ripley was a character completely out of place in the prig Blair's Britain but his approach to life was worthy of a Zen master - 'achieving maximum results with a minimum amount of effort.' There's a self help book there - 'The Ripley Way' or 'Ripley's Game.'

VALUE? When first listed 2 years ago there were no copies on the web. The Book Guild is mainly a Vanity Press and printings are small. On Amazon an unpleasant but readable library copy sits at $120 with another guy at a sadistic $800 for a newish copy. On Abe the egregious Bookbarn have a nasty copy (ex lib again) at $550 which appears to be the same copy as on Amazon USA at $120. Given an ex library copy should be a fraction of a new copy (let's say a minimum of a quarter) this represents about $2000. I suspect that if the $120 copy is bought the $550 copy will not be available. Talk about "The Old Rip".

20 September 2008

Where do you get these books? 7

The most recent crazy place that I have bought books was at a Llama farm in Suffolk, England. Mostly they have herds of llamas there and alpaca demonstrations and some very nice clothes that are not cheap. On the rainy summer afternoon that I went there they had a long table full of decent books at 50p each - raising money for charity. Not sure which one --as one who probably buys about £1500 worth of books a year from charity, with very little motive but profit, they all merge into one, I am ashamed to admit. I spent £4 for my haul and put the money in an honesty box. I think one of the books ended up on ABE, a dull but desirable textbook of building practice.

Also in Suffolk nearby is a rubbish dump with a small shop in a large metal container, mostly full of VHR videos, rusting golf clubs and the occasional book--I spend about £3 a month there--mostly in an attempt to keep it going in case something great shows up. In California I came across a very low key web dealer who got almost his entire stock (paperbacks, periodicals and ephemera) from diving into the paper recycling containers at the local site. He carried his finds away on the back of his bicycle in a specially constructed trailer. No one at this eco friendly site seems to object --after all to resell something is to recycle it--that's why secondhand booksellers are such blessed folk. One caveat, however -at many sites the people who work there have first pick and do not look kindly on unannounced dumpster divers.

In the matter of of charity shops it is a sad fact of life that better books (and better clothes) are to be found in the more affluent areas. This has been slightly obviated by charity sellers looking books up on the web and rendering much stock prohibitive to reader and dealer alike. However in an area like West Sussex where there are over 200 charity shops (in an equivalent area in France there would be three at a pinch) you can still find good, if modest, books. We are talking Shelter, Oxfam, Arthritis Research Campaign, Emmaus, Spinal Bifida, Sense, Cat's Protection, RSPCA, PDSA (pets again) Age Concern, Salvation Army, Cancer Research, Marie Curie Cancer Care (an especially worthy cause), Link Romania, MENCAP, Red Cross, St Johns Hospice, British Heart Foundation, Scope, Sue Ryder Care, Alzheimers Society, St Vincent De Paul Society, Mind, Save The Children etc., [below, inside an Oxfam Shop at Didsbury, Oxon)

Some dealers gain good karma by advising shops on what prices to put on books--whether out of decency or a desire for first dibs on the good stuff I am never sure--maybe both. Great finds? I did hear of someone finding Durrell's ridiculously rare first book 'Quaint Fragment' (Cecil Press, 1931 - red boards) in a charity shop in Bournemouth or one of those seaside towns where such shops are particularly thick on the ground. I have a feeling it was not a dealer but the shop itself that found it and put it in the rooms where it made £10,000 +. One wonders what other books came in with it...

15 September 2008

Where do you get these books? 6

Answer--almost anywhere. As our photo shows they can be bought with onions by the side if the road or from an itinerant Chinese bookseller. I once found some decent books that were for sale in a smoke filled minicab office while waiting for a taxi. Churches have them with an honesty box, tea rooms, cafes that serve lattes and country houses open to the public sell books at the gatehouse or in sheds....will carry on looking.

09 September 2008

Young England. The worst play ever?

Walter Reynolds. YOUNG ENGLAND. Gollancz, London 1935

Current Selling Prices
$160-$250 / £80-£125

I was reminded of this appalling play recently when hearing Edwina Currie review the musical 'Kismet' in London as 'dire,dire,dire...' Without having seen it I am sure she is right because as far as I am concerned all musicals are dire. The medium is the message. Martin Cropper, a brilliant and acerbic critic at 'The Times' got the elbow about 20 years for voicing similar opinions. Edwina said that the revival of Kismet was so lousy it might attract audiences in the way that the fictional 'Springtime for Hitler' did. There is a real life precursor--the unforgettable 1934 hit 'Young England.'

'Young England' is a now uncommon book especially in a jacket and of interest to theatre collectors and connoisseurs of the odd and the zany. Reynolds appears to have been a sort of Amanda Ros of the theatre--so very bad that he is good. Our last copy was described thus:
'8vo. pp 288. Frontis portrait, 5 plates. A play in two periods. This play had an unlikely success in the 1930s rather similar to the fictitious 'Springtime for Hitler.' It was so appallingly bad that audiences came along in their droves for over 300 nights to shout amusing remarks and generally revel in its ghastliness. The frontis portrait of the Reverend Walter Reynolds shows a stern Scottish type who apparently would walk up and down the aisles of the theatre during performances telling people to be quiet. Quite scarce.'
The critics voted it the worst show that had opened in London in 20 years: nobody gave it three nights. It ran, to packed houses, for nearly a year. Over a quarter of a million people saw it. Wikipedia has an entry on it and the Time magazine archives have this article from December 1939 :
'...London's bright boys just had to see what the worst show in 20 years looked like. They screamed with laughter at its superpatriotic goings-on, involving gallant officers, dastardly villains, prostitutes, Boy Scouts, Girl Guides, taints of illegitimacy, stolen papers, stolen cash, the Union Jack. They went back for more, and their friends went with them. .Soon it became quite as chic to go (preferably halfcocked) to Young England as to the opera. At first the audience merely ad-libbed, then (as they came to know the play virtually by heart) they started beating the actors to their lines. The famed British reserve took its worst pummeling in centuries, and Young England became a rough-&-tumble free-for-all.
Shortly after World War II began, it was decided to revive the play. There were some fears that it might have ad-libbed its usefulness, that jesting at patriotism might not go down in wartime. The fears were groundless. With tension in the air, people have been gladder than ever to relax, and with soldiers in the audience, the wisecracks are even rawer than they used to be.
¶ One set shows a Salvation Army "citadel" with doors marked MEN and WOMEN. Every time an actor starts for one, the crowd shouts: "Wrong door, wrong door."
¶ When Boy Scouts or Girl Guides are assigned to "water detail," voices pipe up: "Stay out of those bushes"; "Be careful of the side of the barn."
¶ One night, when the hero was proved not to be illegitimate, someone yelled: "Consider yourself unbawstardized."
¶ The actors (who otherwise play their roles straight) have made a game of altering their lines if the crowd beats them to the draw. Thus the villain, when led away by the police, pauses to say "Foiled!" He was almost licked one night when the crowd shouted not only "Foiled!" but "Baffled!" "Beaten!" "Frustrated!" "Outwitted!" "Trapped!" "Flummoxed!" He waited until the wits were through, then hissed: "Stymied!"
Walter Reynolds, Young England's 88-year-old author, still takes his dead-serious play seriously. He went to the opening of the revival, a sad, reedy figure in a great black cape, doddered up the stairs to his box holding on to both handrails, sat tense through the uproar, at the end bowed to the audience, thanked them. Asked in a BBC interview whether he wasn't angry at the way audiences treated Young England, he answered: "No. They're a little noisy . . . but they pay as much as 10 and 6 for seats, so they must like it."

I had an aunt who saw the play and still talked about it into her nineties, she recalled people throwing things and a whole lot of shouted audience participation- 'rather like a pantomine.' One old actor recalled being hit by coins ('quite painful.') One wonders if this could ever happen again in the West End; possibly our current theatre goers are not up for a laugh in the same way as the young things of the 1930s. As the 'Time' reporter writes, many of the audience went to the show 'halfcocked' -probably cocktails, given the era.

VALUE? Not vast. Above prices are for nice copies in jacket, for some reason most copies I have seen have been mediocre. You can get more for a good Stoppard first edition - but a nice copy of this play in the jacket, signed by the great man should get well into three figures.

08 September 2008

Cards as Weapons by Ricky Jay

"Put a Deck of Cards in Your Pocket, Put a Feeling of Confidence in Your Life."

Ricky Jay. CARDS AS WEAPONS. Darien House, NY 1977.

ISBN 0446387568 (paperback) 0882010174 (hardback)

Current Prices
$200-$900 /£110-£500

Amusing and useful illustrated book showing how to throw playing cards better - subtitled "A Treatise on the art of throwing, scaling, juggling, boomeranging and manipulating ordinary playing cards with particular emphasis on impressing one's friends and providing a deadly yet inexpensive means of self-defence". The book, a perennial Ebay special and Library sale 'sleeper', is now being seen as a self help book that 'changes lives' - several comments at Amazon, not entirely tongue in cheek, attest to this. Apparently people take up card throwing in the way they used to take up tap dancing or juggling -to get out of a rut. Jay is something of a media star (MTV etc.,) and the book is much wanted. It is not especially elusive although it's hard to find a sharp copy as it is a thin large format paperback. It reveals secrets that some magicians feel should not have been revealed; as a manual it has been used by blokes like Chow Yun-fat, Andy Lau, and Stephen Chow in their Asian gambling films.

VALUE? Copies show up a bit creased at around $200 and twice that for fine copies. Signed should show up as Jay is pretty approachable and was often seen at book fairs etc., being a serious book collector. God bless him. Magicians are often pretty serious book collectors - at one time one heard quite a bit about the highly acquisitive David Copperfield and his awesome collection. It is worth noting that there is also a hardback of the book that is much prized and dealers (who are not mad) sometimes ask $1000 or more for it, although a cautious punter could probably pick one up in the $600 to $800 range - in a jacket.

When the book came out some shops insisted that it was obscene because Ricky's assistant was naked as a Jay bird (okay, okay) and it got sold under the counter or even returned by bible bashers. 30 years later this persists - e.g. this ad on the web right now:
'A humorous and entertaining book. Even has a few pictures of a totally nude gal throwing cards. Due to this, you must be 18, or older, to purchase this book. Should you wish to practice your scaling, this offering comes with a 10 aluminum playing cards - made from a sheet of metal. Softback. $275.00
OUTLOOK. Ricky Jay, for some reason, will not allow the book to be reprinted. Only lousy copies drop beneath $100 (there is one on AMZ at present 'good only, with an "S" shaped bend to it' for $95.) Signed copies are becoming difficult -- only one is available right now, and in paperback, at $480 (signed 'The meagre efforts of a callow youth., Ricky Jay'.) The hardback seems to be showing up more and generally copies are coming home to roost a little. Unless someone finds an abandoned pallet full of them it should hold its value but is unlikely to ascend in price.

05 September 2008

Old Bookshop / New technology

A marvellous shot of a very old bookshop can be found at the Shorpy Old Photo Blog. It shows the "Old Corner Bookstore, the first brick building in Boston." Close inspection reveals a book scout outside talking on his cell phone. In todays fast moving bookselling scene he would be more likely to be consulting the web on an Iphone or sending shots of books to a client via a similar device. To his left are the words 'Toy Books' probably referring to moveable 'pop-up' books like the works of Lothar Meggendorfer --now very valuable and well worth a call to an eager collector. Of course this photo may in fact date from 1900 as the estimable Shorpy claims--in which case see our last entry (Bastards with Bookshops 2 Sept) at the end where we refer to 'those new time machine phones.'

STOP PRESS I have subsequently found that this putative book scout may in fact have been picking his nose; however closer examination reveals a bulky cellphone in his right hand.

01 September 2008

Bastards with Bookshops 2

In the last posting I referred to a store in New Hampshire (now known to be 'The Antiquarian Bookstore') with a proprietor of a somewhat erratic disposition. I have since heard that the bloke is not a bad guy with a soft side to him when he is not belabouring your skull with an iron pipe. Moreover out of the goodness of his heart he takes the $5 browsing fee off your first purchase and that he actually has decent books. The motto of New Hampshire is 'Live Free or Die' and this man is simply following his bliss, dammit. Let him be. 

As for the shop known as "The Worst Bookshop in the Universe' this was identified in January 2001 when it was still extant on a book group called rec.collecting.books. Among other things that were said were:
"...books that have been there a long time are repriced upwards at the checkout, the owner (who apparently owns the whole block--no small money in today's San Jose) has paranoid notices everywhere and will even tell people who have their shirt tails worn loose (as is the fashion) to tuck them in less they conceal a book thither. The atmosphere is oppressive, the stock would disgrace a thrift shop.. Upon entry, I was greeted not by the pleasant scent 
of old paper, glue and cloth that I was expecting but instead 
encountered an aroma consisting of the apparent mixture of smoke, mold, 
and swamp-gas...

The man behind the counter looked at me with a blank hostile 
glance and continued to argue with someone on the phone. I quickly surveyed the cramped aisles and began poking around. I pulled 
the first interesting book I encountered and was disconcerted by the 
fact that the owner had used a red pencil to angrily gouge a price on 
the endpaper - way overpriced. When I looked at some book-club editions 
that had 1st-edition prices gouged in them I felt my anticipation slowly 
leaking away. I got the impression that the owner had no idea as to the 
worth of any particular book, and so priced them all outrageously so as 
to avoid accidentally selling one at a price below it's value (common book bastard ploy) terrible and inconsistent business hours... 
poor lighting, 
filthy floors/shelves ...
misanthropic proprietor... 
way-over-priced books...noxious stinky atmosphere... 
Horrible treatment of books ...
"Don't read the magazines unless you're going to buy" sign ...
Stagnant stock...Stygian...

Two things to note, the guy although he looked like the roady of a fifth rate Metal group was probably worth many millions- the dotcom boom had sent San Jose property prices ballistic. The worst guy to do a deal with is someone who doesn't need the money. As with other really bad shops personned by b'stards (there used to be one in the Tenderloin area of SF) they reprice stock that has been there a long time, often checking the net and ignoring low prices. Surely if a book has been there a long time the price is right or, in most cases, far too much? My own contribution to the debate was this:
"As I recall there was also a virulent phone argument going on as I came in. Old San Jose book scouts tell many a tale about this place, possibly over a pint in the nearby Gordon Birsch brewpub. I have come across many unpleasant overpriced dull shops but this takes the biscuit... in the movie version of 'The Worst Bookshop in the Universe' the part might be played by Michael Keaton reprising his Beetlejuice persona."

The shop went a few years back- probably mostly in dumpsters- but it has a half life on the net with the odd review still up as if it were still there. There is even a site where you can click on a phone and it rings the shop--I didn't try it and it would only get through if it was one of those new time machine phones. Was it not Eliot who said '...If all time is eternally present/All time is unredeemable.'?

to be pursued...