24 November 2008

George Bernard Shaw-- "signed by the great man..." Part 2

There was an interesting comment on the last post asking'... Is The Apple Cart Shaw's most common book? I'd have thought the Collected plays and Collected prefaces given away free as newspaper circulation boosts in the 1920s and 1930s were more common.' Commonness is slightly subjective (or even regional) but the web allows us to run some fairly conclusive tests. If you check 'The Apple Cart ' at ABE looking for editions published in 1930 (i.e. the UK first) you get 169, put 'Complete Plays' in as a first for 1931 you get 29 and 'Prefaces' firsts for 1934 you get 59.

All 3 are desperately common and none should exceed £10 in price unless in staggeringly fine condition - which is why it is peeving to find copies of 'The Apple Cart' at £340 sans jacket (however it is described as 'text block pristine, pages tight to spine.') This is from a firm that has always been in the top ten of most expensive book listers on the web, ahead even of players in Ventura, born again relisters in Texas and madmen in shacks on the Tamiami trail etc . They list a signed Galsworthy 'Plays' one of 1250 at £6200. You can buy a 30 volume full leather set of the great man's work for a lot less than this and should have to pay no more that £50 for his signed plays. He was not Harold Pinter.

Last word on 'The Apple Cart' -- a chap in Ireland misnamed 'Bookbargains' has a copy at £240 described thus '...this is a rare copy of the George Bernard Shaw play...It is excellent condition and the dustcover is in good condition with a small tear at the bottom of the spine.' True value £5 so he is out by 50 times, but the Galsworthy people have priced their book at 120 times value so they win. End of rant.

Addendum. Have been reading James Charlton's anthology 'Fighting Words; Writers Lambast Other Writers from Aristotle to Anne Rice.' Naturally there is a lot of GBS--here he is on the bard~: 'With the single exception of Homer, there is no eminent writer, note even Sir Walter Scott, whom I despise so entirely as I despise Shakespeare.' One suspect this may have been envy-- J.B. Priestley recalls running in to him at the Grand Canyon and finding him peevish '...refusing to admire it or even looking it at properly. He was jealous.' We are back on the matter of the boundless (and necessary) egos of writers. It reminds me of something Simon Raven said about E.M. Forster; he reported that Forster was inconsolable when World War 2 broke out - because people had stopped talking about him.

On the subject of autographs, my favourite Shaw item was a vegetarian menu that was found in a copy of his 'Complete Plays'--it had been sent to him for his approval and was annotated with his preferences--all I can remember was his crossing out of a suggested omelette and the comment 'fed up with eggs.' We sold it for a meaty sum (over £1000.)

Last word on GBS from Oscar; 'An excellent man: he has no enemies; and none of his friends like him.'

18 November 2008

George Bernard Shaw-- "signed by the great man..."

That's Shaw's signature (well his initials) on the 'autograph tree' in Coole Park, Ireland. Something the autograph and art collector can never own - like a Banksy on a motorway bridge. More taunting were the drawings in the sand that Picasso was wont to do near his villa in South of France as the sea came in. Shaw was fairly generous with his signature and it is often worth looking in his books to see if they are signed. His handwriting is, I imagine, hard to forge --very clear and looped and deliberate. One of his japes was to reply to a request for an autograph with an handwritten card reading something like 'I'm sorry I never give autographs. G. Bernard Shaw.'

Here are 3 anecdotes about Shaw letters and signatures. The first is rather odd, if not foolhardy:-

A country clergyman, hearing that Shaw was an expert in the brewing of coffee, wrote to ask him for the recipe. Shaw obliged, adding as an afterthought that he hoped the request was not an underhanded way of obtaining his autograph. The clergyman cut Shaw's signature from the letter, returned it with a note thanking him for the coffee recipe, and concluded: "I wrote in good faith, so allow me to return what it is obvious you infinitely prize, but which is of no value to me, your autograph."

A lady notorious for courting celebrities sent Shaw an invitation reading: "Lady--
will be at home on Tuesday between four and six o' clock." Shaw returned the card annotated, "Mr. Bernard Shaw likewise."

Shaw once came across a copy of one of his works in a secondhand bookshop. Opening the volume, he found the name of a friend inscribed in his own hand on the flyleaf: "To ---with esteem, George Bernard Shaw." He promptly bought the book and returned it to his friend, adding the inscription: "With renewed esteem, George Bernard Shaw."

to be continued with a short rant about upsetting prices for Shaw's most common book 'The Apple Cart' worth £5 as a first ed but sometimes seen at 50 times this price...why oh why oh why etc.,?

15 November 2008

Vera Caspary. Laura. 1943. Noir of Noirs

Laura is the face in the misty night
footsteps that you hear down the hall
the laugh that floats on a summer night
which you can never quite recall. And you see
Laura, on a train that is passing through
Those eyes, how familiar they seem
She gave her very first kiss to you
That was Laura
But she's only a dream.

Vera Caspary. LAURA. Houghton, Mifflin, Boston, 1943.

Current Selling Prices
$6000-$10000 / £4000-£6000

A 'psychothriller', the darkest of noirs. A curiously elusive and much sought after book, a sleeper... A big sleeper, although several high profile prices have alerted punters to its real price. Highly uncommon novel (as a first) on which the one of the greatest of Hollywood's 1940s films was based. This film noir mystery directed by Otto Preminger in 1944 was awarded two Oscars and starred Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews and a young Vincent Price. There is a scene in the bibliomystery 'The Sign of the Book' (John Dunning) where his detective /dealer sees a copy at a Burbank book fair change hands between dealers 6 times before the fair opens, moving from $600 to $7000 in a few minutes, possibly based on a real event. The psycho element in Caspary's novel comes from the way the book is written --from the five different viewpoints of the chief characters.

VALUE? A review copy in a decent but not fine jacket made $12000 in 2005 at the Cosmatos sale (Sotheby's NY), a lesser copy lotted with 3 other nothing books made $2000 a few months later at Bloomsbury. Between the Covers appear to have sold their copy,at an undisclosed price, probably high as their prices are invariably breathtaking. There are currently no copies of the first on the web and they are distinctly thin on the ground. The Eyre and Spottiswoode UK 1944 first is worth about a tenth of US editions but is a decent substitute (pic below).

The decent copy in a chipped and slightly used jacket seen at the San Francisco Book Fair in February 2008 at $10,000 has sold, possibly discounted. An exlibrary copy inscribed sits on the web at $3500 with a decent but consequently oversize first edition jacket (library rebinds often come out smaller), another inscribed copy sans jacket commands $3000. Fine copies trump inscribed copies but fine copies are quite unlikely to surface - the book has a fragile and vulnerable jacket and would have to have been kept under wraps, so to speak, from the day of publication. The witchy lyrics above are from a 1940s song, perhaps related it to the movie OUTLOOK? Patchy like many modern firsts, the movie is not talked about much more--however noir never goes away and younger collectors may get a taste for this genre as they weary of the occult and supernatural...

The Real Cost of a Library...

While another great orator* from Illinois heads for the White House and the retiring president (not known to be bookish) gets his Presidential Library it is worth recalling this anecdote about the great 19th century agnostic and freethinking politician Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899). At one point he was offered the governorship of Illinois by the Republicans if he would keep quiet about his religious views --he refused saying - "I would not smother one sentiment of my heart to be the Emperor of the round world." Echoes of William Blake.

He possessed an extensive library reflecting his views and interests. A reporter once asked him how much his library had cost him. Ingersoll looked over the shelves filled with fine books and said - "These books cost me the governorship of Illinois and the presidency of the United States as well."

*Robert Ingersoll, like Barack Obama, was a great speaker. Such was the power of his oratory that at the height of his fame, audiences would pay $1 or more to hear him speak, a giant sum for his day. Tony Blair gets the equivalent of about 5 cents. That's Ingersolls statue above in Peoria.

08 November 2008

Booksellers Come to the Crunch

This is the recent cover of a catalogue from the waggish Parisian dealer Bruno Sepulchre. He has cleverly dug up a mid 19th century cartoon from Gavarni (Paul Gavarni -the nom de plume of Sulpice Guillaume Chevalier born 1801 or 1804 in Paris – November 23, 1866). It shows a mournful looking speculator in stocks ('boursicoteur') obviously reduced in circumstances, looking at rare books he can (presumably) no longer afford to buy. Gavarni has him say (my translation) 'I would have done better buying books!'

Booksellers have been grumbling since Gutenberg and they don't appear to have upped their grumbling much since the great Crunch began in September 2008. Internet sales, especially of high ticket items, are slightly slow but this is offset (if you are a Brit) by the fall in the pound-- effectively books bought from the UK are over 20% cheaper than a few months ago. Ebay seems to have slowed down, it has always been full of cheapskates, hagglers and bottom feeders but even some of these guys have zipped their wallets tight for the duration. A genuine signed 'Audacity of Hope' would perk them up but not much else.

There is a theory (hinted at by Gavarni above) that books are a good place to put your money in a recession. This may have some validity if you are buying the right stuff at favourable, not to say cheap, prices and there are a few cool customers doing just that. The trouble is that no one really knows what will sell years down the line. Some concentrate on classics (Hound of the Baskervilles, Wind in the Willows etc.,) some on landmark books in great condition, some on quirky stuff--erotica, books written by madmen, quack medicine, transport, education, conspiracy theory, illustrated rarities unknown to World Cat etc., Good luck to all of them. Ordinary books have become slower to sell, a pity because they are mostly what you find. It takes a very deep recession to stop beautiful and rare books from selling.

Auctions have held their own but there are occasional reports here of good books going for low prices or not selling at all. A sale bombed at the Drouot in early October and it is known that French dealers are complaining more volubly than ever. At the Howard Colvin sale of architectual books (Bloomsbury 27/9/08) some healthy prices were achieved with very little unsold. This is a collection that had been formed over 30 years ago with impressive books bought in 'book sweeps' at what his friend John Harris says now seem 'ridiculously low prices.'

At another recent Bloomsbury Sale (30/10/08) there were slightly more buy-ins than usual (3 collections in a row at one point --Whitbread, Orange and Booker Prize books, possibly with immodest reserves.) Many books, especially literature, sold near their low estimates. However many books did well, including a world record price for Fleming's 'Octopussy' -- some unfortunate end user paid £360. The copy was mint with the 10/6 price but equally mint copies could be had at the same time on Ebay at circa £100. There are however copies on ABE (Books Tell You Why again!) at over £400, a certifiable price. This is a book still in good supply in first edition and excellent condition. It was sold by the cartload at 20p when Margaret Thatcher was on the throne. I still have a few somewhere.

Who knows? I'm slightly foxed. My suspicion is that it will get a little worse. One guy I know selling art books talks of the recession becoming a slump, meanwhile on Bloomberg earnest pundits say that we have hit bottom and further lows are unlikely. Second hand paperback sales are entirely unaffected, Folio Society books still sell well at a tenner each, Bond still has plenty of punters with platinum cards...a quantum of solace there.

04 November 2008

Arthur Rackham - Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens.

J.M. Barrie / Arthur Rackham. PETER PAN IN KENSINGTON GARDENS. Hodder & Stoughton, London 1906.

Current Selling Prices
$1000-$2500 /£500-£1200

Handsome russet quarto lettered gilt and with 50 colour plates - illustrations that made Arthur Rackham famous and turned his Illustrated books into a publishing phenomenon. Tens of thousands of his books were sold over the next 30 years from Poe to Swinburne, Hans Andersen to Shakespeare. It used to be said that a dealer with a big enough check book could fill a pantechnicon full of Rackham just going round the shops of Southern England. The essential thing about Rackham is that you can sell him for big bucks to people who, up to that moment, had never heard of him --often the most they had ever spent on a book. Several venerable businesses are based on sales of Rackham (+ Dulac, Nielsen, Heath Robinson and Jessie M King). Country houses used to have shelves of Rackhams (often in the billiard room) piled up with the Punches and Badminton Library for guests to browse on rainy afternoons.

There are even experts on Rackham, although now the whole thing can be learnt in about an hour. The biggest collector in the UK is Michael Winner- the man they love to hate, and a man not possessed of the taste of, say, Bernard Berenson. Rackham is 'eye candy' - it is hard to deny his charm and skill but the whole thing has been done to death. Ebay is full of the stuff making good prices but often less than he was making 3 years ago. He is hard to buy from the public--with deceased estates the family often keep the Rackhams and nothing else and even to a person who hardly knows a book from a chicken brick they look valuable. The vellum limited editions are much prized--the one of 500 signed from 1906 in unsoiled vellum can command £4000 and more.

The Peter Pan chapters of Barrie's The Little White Bird (1902) were re-issued in 1906 as Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens. The story has resonated so much that there is a beautiful and much visited bronze statue of Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens. For some London visitors it is their first port of call and it is close by where the four foot deep fields of tribute flowers to Diana were laid in the sad September of 97. A contemporary review of this book published in "The World" reads "Mr Barrie has done what no one else has done since the inventor of "Alice", he has invented a new legend, a modern folk story which comprehends all the innermost secrets of the modern child, be he four or forty. Mr Rackham, for his part, has been bewitched in his cradle: he does not dream of fairies or hobgoblins, he knows them."

VALUE? If you are lucky you can find an unproblematic copy of the work for about £500, if you are Rackham crazy you can fork out £10,000 + for the unwieldy Peter Pan Portfolio, where in the edition of 20 copies every plate is signed and sometimes for a few dollars more you get a drawing. I am told that Rackham prices have peaked and certainly they are not the assured fast seller they used to be unless you underprice them. This is either due to a shift in taste or the plethora of his books going through Ebay.

TRIVIA. The lovely Rackham plate below is entitled 'There is almost nothing that has such a keen sense of fun as a fallen leaf' --he was especially good with trees and fairies- also gnarled roots, goblins and witches. The English have a special love of leaves--I'm thinking of Hopkins poem 'Margaret are you grieving/ Over Goldengrove unleaving' and Vita Sackville West who identified those minor pleasures in life that everyone experiences from time to time as 'through leaves', after the small but intense pleasure of walking through dry leaves and kicking them up as you go. A little Bloomsbury Press, not at all precious, calls itself 'The Through Leaves Press.'

OUTLOOK? First posted this 9 months back--all the high end copies are still for sale, including our own nicer and cheaper than all the others and fine, signed limited in spotless original vellum. I blame the collapse of Lehman Bros. Ours has a rather good association (OK it's based on a bookplate but it's been there for a century.) It was the crowns that alerted me. It has entwined ornate 'L's' bound by a marquess's coronet, Royal coronet above - this is the bookplate of Her Royal Highness Princess Louise Caroline Alberta, Marchioness of Lorne who lived at Kensington Palace - the 4th daughter of Queen Victoria (1848 - 1939.) Said to have been 'beautiful and intelligent' and also artistically gifted. A fine sculptress--her best known work is the statue of Queen Victoria in Kensington Gardens (below). She is also known to have entertained many artists at her home at Kensington Palace when she was the Duchess of Argyll. It doesn't get any better.

01 November 2008

Literary Rock Band Names

I have received a very long list from the writer Tim D'Arch Smith (The Books of the Beast, Alembic, Love in Earnest, The Times Deceas'd, R.A. Caton and the Fortune Press etc.,) which I add in its entirety with a few amplifications and notes. Many, many thanks Tim. In the comments on our recent cursory list (Velvet Underground) someone added 'The Fall' who took their name from Camus and a metal band called 'As I Lay Dying' from Faulkner's masterpiece. Tim's list is about as definitive as you can get, but if you know some more please add them in COMMENTS. Rave on -it's a crazy feeling...

The Artful Dodger ( in Fagin's gang in 'Oliver Twist')
Arts Bears: from a phrase in Jane Harrison, Art and Ritual, ‘art bears traces of its collective, social origin’
Boomtown Rats, possibly in Kerouac or in Woody Guthrie’s Bound For Glory, the name of Geldof’s first band.
The Birthday Party (Pinter)
Bronski Beat: Bronski is the hero in The Tin Drum
Battered Ornaments: a phrase used by Fowler in his Dictionary of Modern English Usage.
Bubble Puppy, a reference to ‘bumple-puppy’ (unskilled) in Brave New World.
The Bell Jar (Sylvia Plath)
Bhagavad Guitars
Bitter Lemons (Durrell)
The Boy Hairdressers: The Boy Hairdresser was the original title of Joe Orton’s first play, broadcast under the title of The Ruffian on the Stairs.
Book of (Holy) Lies
Benny Profane, a character in Thomas Pynchon’s V.
Brave New World (Huxley)
The Blue Nile (non fiction work by Alan Moorhead - a very common book)
Comsat Angels, an abbreviation of Communications Satellite, from a story by J. G. Ballard
Cape Diem, from Horace, carpe diem.
The Chrysalids, title of a novel by John Wyndham
Colour Me Badd, title of an unpublished poem by Sylvia Plath?
A Confederacy of Dunces, novel by John Kennedy Toole
Dead Fingers Talk, novel by William Burroughs
Desperate Bicycles, from a passage in J. B. Priestley’s Angel Pavement (1930), ‘Turning into Angel Pavement from that crazy jumble of buses, lorries, drays, private cars, and desperate bicycles…’
The Doors, ‘If the doors of perception were cleansed,|All things would appear … infinite’– Blake then a book-title by Aldous Huxley. There was also a band called Doors of Perception
Durutti Column, André Bertrand, Le retour de la colonne Durutti (Strasbourg, 1966), a comic paper
Dorian Gray (Oscar Wilde)
Drive Like Jehu: ‘Jehu the son of Nimshi … he driveth furiously’ – 2 Kings ix, 20
Dzyan, reference to Tibetan book, possibly fictional, mentioned by Madam Blavatsky
Damnation of Adam Blessing, book-title by Vin Packer (pseud. for Marijane Meaker). Adam Blessing was the name of a member of the band.
Eyeless in Gaza, novel by Aldous Huxley
Ejwuusl Wessahqqan: novel by Clark Ashton Smith
Flock of Seagulls, after the novel by Richard Bach, Jonathan Livingstone Seagull
Fra Lippo Lippi, poem-title by Robert Browning
Fear and Loathing (from Hunter Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas)
Fear of Flying
The Five Just Men (from Edgar Wallace's The Four Just Men)
Five Lose Timmy (an Enid Blyton reference)
Frumious Bandersnatch (the Bandersnatch is a fictional creature mentioned in Lewis Carroll's poems Jabberwocky and The Hunting of the Snark)
Forty Nine Hudson, the name of a car in Kerouac’s On the Road
Fiver, a rabbit in Watership Down
The Grateful Dead, book-title by Gordon Hall Geroud (Folk-Lore Society, 1908) or a ballad found in Childs or ‘the outcome of a night of stoned lexicology,’ (in the band’s words)
Guadalcanal Diary, book-title
Grace Pool, character in Jane Eyre
Gleaming Spires, perhaps a reworking of Matthew Arnold’s ‘Dreaming spires’
Green Carnation (worn by Oscar and also the title of a 90s book)
Generation X, title of a 1960s paperback about British youth by Charles Hamblett and Jane Deverson
Harpers Bizarre
House of Love, from Anais Nin’s Spy in the House of Love
Icicle Works, from a short-story by Frederik Pohl, ‘The Day the Icicle Works Closed’
Jethro Tull, writer on agriculture (1674–1741)
Justified Ancients of Mu, a name from the Illuminatus! trilogy of Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson (1975)
JPS Experience: JPS= Jean Paul Sartre
JJ72, a Camus reference
Kinsey report
Look Back in Anger (play by John Osborne)
Love and Squalor (from Salinger)
Matching Mole = machine molle French for Soft Machine
Ministry of Love, from 1984
Mr Curt (from Conrad's Heart of Darkness via the movie Apocalypse Now)
Manhattan Transfer, title of a novel by John Dos Passos
McCavity’s Cat (Eliot - 'Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats)
Mugwumps, feature in The Naked Lunch
Mogo’s Flute, title of a children’s book
New Riders of the Purple Sage, from the Zane Grey novel, Riders of the Purple Sage
Nova Express (William Burroughs)
Oberon (a character in William Shakespeare's play, A Midsummer Night's Dream)
101ers, the torture room in 1984 (denied by the semi literate Joe Strummer)
Other Voices (from a Truman Capote novel)
Popol Vuh (The Sacred Book of the Ancient Quiche Maya)
Pooh Sticks (from A.A. Milne)
Pylon, after the Faulkner novel
Question Men, perhaps out of Kafka
The Quiet Room, short story by Poe
Soft Machine (Burroughs again)
Sad Café (from Carson Mccullers book)
Steely Dan
Spring in Fialta, short story by Nabokov
S–Z, Barthes’s book on semiotics
Sot-Weed Factor (John Barth's fat novel)
Smersh (from Ian Fleming)
Swan’s Way
Separate Tables (a play by Rattigan)
Shub-Niggorath, one of Lovecraft’s Old Ones
The Soft Boys, a conflation of Burroughs’s Soft Machine and The Wild Boys
The Saints, after Charteris’s detective
Stryper, ‘and with his stripes we are healed’ – Isaiah, 53, 5
Sabres of Paradise, book-title by Lesley Blanche
Silver Apples, a phrase from Yeats’s ‘Song of Wandering Ængus’
Samian, an American children’s book by Dr Seuss
Sixpence None the Richer, phrase from C. S. Lewis’s, Mere Christianity
The Teardrop Explodes, an occurrence in a Prince Namor story in the comic Daredevil, June 1971
Tears for Fears, book by Arthur Janov
Thin Lizzy, from the Beano (British children's comic and annual)
Thompson twins, characters in Hergé’s Tin Tin books

Tolkien names such as Nazxul, Shadowfax, Cirith Ungol, Galadriel, Gandalf, Gollum,
Aragorn, Burzum (Orcish for ‘darkness’), Cirith Gorgor, Fatty Lumpkin, Isengard, Lorien, Marillion, Mordor,
True West, a play by Sam Shepherd
Tygers of Pan Tang, phrase from a Michael Moorcock novel
23 Skidoo, the title of chapter 23 of Crowley’s Book of Lies
Those Without (band with Syd Barrett), after a book-title by Françoise Sagan
A Testament of Youth (novel by Vera Brittain)
This Mortal Coil, Hamlet, III, 1.
Tommyknockers, a Stephen King novel
Tripmaster Monkey, book-title by Maxine Hong Kingston
Three Fish, a poem by Rumi
Thin White Rope, Burroughs’s description of the male ejaculate
Uriah Heep
Ubik, novel by Philip K. Dick
Ungl’unl’rrlh’chchch, phrase in Lovecraft’s’ Rays in the Walls’
Veruca Salt, from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory?
Whizz for Atoms, the third in the Molesworth series by Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle
The Wasp Factory (thanks to Iain Banks)
White Stains (from an obscene rare book by Crowley)
Weena Morloch, from Wells’s Time Machine
Wreck of the Hesperus (a doom metal band from Ireland, name from Longfellow's poem)
X-Ray Spex, from an advertisement in a True Detective magazine