29 December 2008

Edwin Abbott. Flatland, 1884 (revisited)

'I call our world Flatland, not because we call it so, but to make its nature clearer to you, my happy readers, who are privileged to live in Space.

Imagine a vast sheet of paper on which straight Lines, Triangles, Squares, Pentagons, Hexagons, and other figures, instead of remaining fixed in their places, move freely about, on or in the surface, but without the power of rising above or sinking below it, very much like shadows — only hard and with luminous edges — and you will then have a pretty correct notion of my country and countrymen...'

[Edwin Abbott.] FLATLAND: A ROMANCE OF MANY DIMENSIONS.(With illustrations by the author, A Square.) Seeley & Co, London 1884.

Current Selling Prices £600+/ $1000+

Our image shows the cover of the Blackwell's later edition but it is substantially the same as the 1884 first from Seely and Co., 'Flatland' is a science and mathematics fantasy that satirises class consciousness in Britain through the depiction of a society where geometrical characteristics are the basis for class distinctions and protocol: circles are the elite, with squares, triangles and lines subordinate in that order. Three dimensional objects are encountered only in the dreams of the populace, and anyone who claims the reality of a third dimension is considered mad. I can be seen as an attack on the staid and heartless Victorian society, with its bigotry and stultifying prejudice. "Irregulars" (cripples) are put to death, women have no rights at all, and when the protagonist in the story Mr. A. Square tries to teach his fellows about the third dimension, he is imprisoned. There is a good discussion of the work and 'Dimensionality' in general at the University of Winnipeg Cosmology site.

A very popular and much wanted book although with 700 copies on the web it is not hard to find if you merely want to read it. Occasionally when you tell people you sell books they immediately ask for a copy of 'Flatland.' I saw a copy somewhere for $0.09, a hard price to beat. Interesting claims are made by purveyors of firsts of the book include:-
'... Prior to Einstein's general theory of relativity, it aimed at redefining the frame of reference of our perceptions of the world, and opening up the possibility of the kind of self-awareness that came to characterize the modernist, and post-modernist, perspective...."

The precursor game is fun - I saw someone on TV recently claim that Saki was the forerunner of Monty Python and even The Mighty Boosh. John Betjeman once claimed Theodore Wratislaw was the first punk. Suvin in Victorian Science Fiction in the UK calls the book "A pioneer of SF as cognitive parable, and the culmination of UK SF up to that time." The 1884 first is cream-colored parchment over stiff wrappers. The US first a year later is a hardback. Much desired is the Arion Press 1980 edition in 275 copies, each signed by Ray Bradbury who provides the introduction, it comes with aluminum covers & aluminum case. There is a 1983 reprint with foreword by Isaac Asimov and in 2002 'The Annotated Flatland' appeared. The book is used in classrooms as a teaching aid and has been translated into many languages, it is especially liked in Spanish. There have been references to it in the Simpsons and people talk about it over at My Space, so it is still au courant.

VALUE? (Written May 2007) The first can go for £600 and more and because it is a fragile production it very seldom shows up in fresh condition, the 1885 US edition about half that and the 1980 Arion Press metal edition £500. In auction a compromised copy at Pacific Book Auctions made $600 in 2003 ('covers wrinkled & darkened, some loss, front hinge cracked - large spot on page 8...') and an Arion Press edition made $900 in 1998. There is a fine one for sale at the moment for $1350. Currey has a chipped but else fairly decent 1884 first at $1500. I guess a superior copy could top $2000 and a signed copy , so far unseen in auction at least, might go through the roof.[ W/Q ** ]

Edwin Abbott (1838 - 1926) was a London headmaster, a clergyman and author who wrote several theological works and a biography (1885) of Francis Bacon but is best known for his standard Shakespearian Grammar (1870) and of course this pseudonymous work. Dionys Burger has written 'Sphereland' (1965) a sequel to Flatland, that depicts the adventures of A Square's grandson, A Hexagon, who investigates the shape of flatland as it sits in three-space.

STOP PRESS A copy of the Arion Press 1980 edition (signed by Bradbury and Hoyem) sits at ABE at a punchy $3000--however the seller notes '....the text pages and illustration units measure 7 x 14 inches and are joined accordion-style to a length of 33 feet printed on each side, making a 66-foot long book.' A copy signed only by Hoyem, the illustrator, can be had for $1500. We bought a decent 1884 first in early 2008, put it on Ebay hoping (as always) for a spectacular result but it failed to meet its reserve of $1200 and subsequently sold for $1100 to a private punter. It was described thus:
Large octavo. 9 inches by 7. [2 blank], viii, [1]-100, [2 blank] pp. Original publisher's off white printed and illustrated parchment over stiff card plain covers. Diagrams and figures in text by the author. Some small chips at spine and hinges and edges. Printed covers slight browned and slightly soiled - overall a sound about vg above average example of a vulnerable book. Contemporary neat inscription with some relevant quotes from Samuel Johnson on f.e.p dated 4 December 1884, initialled by one 'E.L.' As Lilly writes ". . . the most influential fantasy tale to explore mathematical theory. Satirically cast in autobiographical form, the narrator--- one A. Square---is an inhabitant of a two-dimensional universe who tries to conceive of what it would be like to live in three dimensions."
OUTLOOK? A book that will always be good for a $1000 in decent condition. The trouble is that the kind of people who lusted after this book (geeks, boffins, technocrats) are no longer making silly money; however their time will come again so the book is one to hold on to through recession, slump and financial Armageddon.

Also worth looking out for is the related 1907 fantasy novel by EA's fellow fourth dimensionalist C.H. Hinton - 'An Episode of Flatland; of How a Plane Folk Discovered the Third Dimension to Which is Added an Outline of the History of Unaea.' Currey has 3 copies in varying condition from $300 to $650. Stableford says of it -'....a very strange story (it) describes a two-dimensional world rather more complicated than Abbott's, and features a startling plot in which the inhabitants of a two- dimensional planet avoid collision with another by diverting their 'world' in[to] the third dimension, taking advantage of the fact that... their souls have access to more dimensions than their bodies."

26 December 2008

Tales of the Uncollected...3

continued... Another book that he is convinced does exist appeared under the pseudonym of Gaffer Peeslake.'

'We know it as Bromo Bombasts by Laurence Durrell. There's a copy in the BM, another in the Library of Congress; the collector of Durrell had one and I vaguely heard that Martin Stone had found another. Someone offered me a copy in appalling condition- it looked as if it had been draggedup from the sea or something. I said, well, I'll give you a £100, because you could just about read the thing- to which the bloke announced, "I've been offered a grand." So I told him to take it!"
Then there's The Girls of Radcliff Hall, by 'Adela Quebec'- in real life a great book and a rare one by Lord Berners, who obviously took the title from the name of the notorious lesbian novelist. 'It will cost you £2,000 and if you want one Maggs have got a copy,' Burwood says. 'It never shows up in great condition. It's another roman a clef. Everyone in it is a real person disguised and the reason it is rare is that those portrayed in it bought up copies and destroyed them because they felt Berners had shown them up in bad light. Cecil Beaton was especially incensed, but there's no doubt that he deserved his treatment by Berners.'

A famous pseudonym sleeper is No Decency Left by Barbara Rich, a novel of 1932 written mainly by Laura Riding, but containing contributions by her partner Robert Graves and a chapter by TE Lawrence. 'When Laura Riding was up there with Sylvia Plath it used to be a two thousand quidder, but nowadays most people find Riding very hard going. However, it's still a good find. You can find expensive copies on the net today, whereas years ago the book could be picked up for a couple of quid.'

One of the most famous sleepers is Henry Music, a work put together by Nancy Cunard and published by the Hours Press. 'This not only contains Samuel Beckett's first appearance in a book,' Burwood points out,' but features a cover by Man Ray. It's a simply fabulous book and usually goes for $10,000. However, I know someone who needed a copy of the book... He went online to the usual specialist booksites. No luck. He then went on eBay and struck lucky. However, the vendor hadn't mentioned anything about Beckett or anyone else. All he said was that "I think it's from the 1930s." This person bought it for nine and a half euros! Nine and a half!'

... it was time for one of Burwood's favourite sleepers. A Gent from Bear Creek was the first book by Robert E. Howard, who went on to write Conan the Barbarian. It appeared in 1937 from Jenkins, who specialised in adventure stories, but who also published Wodehouse. Most copies were destroyed for some reason and Howard himself died young. But since his death, he has become a cult figure with whole books and comics being written in his style. 'I got £3,000 for a not very nice copy with no jacket,' he says,' but a good one would set you back over double that sum today.'

'Black literature is also collectable and there's a slim volume of poetry by Claude Mckay called Spring in New Hampshire which appeared in 1920 and which now fetches a thousand quid. I recall going into this bookshop in Virginia Waters run by a British nationalist Party member. There was a bloke sitting behind the counter reading some Nazi newspaper called Stormstrooper, or something. I found this particular book on a shelf and in it he had written "thirty pence". I left the shop with it and sold it on the blower for £200... to be continued with further tall tales, boasts and blagues...

20 December 2008

Tales of the Uncollected...2

Interview by the redoubtable R M Healey continued... We return to the subject of bizarre book titles. 'I remember putting out at an American fair books by HA Manhood with titles like Gay Agony. I sold them to a dealer because he thought they were a laugh. Today, Manhood is vaguely collected, but in a minor way, like Wilfred Roland Childe. But genuine gay verse- Uranian was the term then used- is certainly collected. Books by the Reverend E E Bradford- the books on "boy love" that were sniggered at by John Betjeman and his friends in the 20s-are very sought after now. Titles like Songs and Ballads, Passing the Love of Women- now there's a clue- Lays of Love and Life, The Romance of Youth, The True Aristocracy, Boyhood. They're always in red cloth and when you find them it's an instant hundred pound note.'

It was time to talk about 'sleepers'. Burwood regularly puts out a list of books that are always wanted by collectors of various genres- debut books, horror, fantasy, cult, the occult, experimental fiction, detective fiction. He starts going through the list, summing up their genres like a litany, occasionally expanding on those that interest him.
'Charles Birkin, Devil's Spawn... Jocelyn Brooke, Six Poems, his first book and Uranian... rather boring, but worth a few grand. Baron Corvo- well, that's cult. Aleister Crowley- occult. A book by Georges Darien called Gottlieb Krumm, Made in England, which Martin Stone told me to look out for, but which I've never found. Robertson's Davies's first book published in England, called Shakespeare's Boy Actors. That's a great find.
'I used to buy copies of this particular book from a guy in Stratford who specialized in Shakespeare. He'd always have a copy and you'd always get it for £30, but you'd have to pay £100 for it elsewhere. George Gissing, Workers in the Dawn- his first book and a fabulous rarity. By the way, Paul Theroux's Murder at Mount Holly is worth looking for. It's not his first book, but it was remaindered. I remember actually seeing it marked at 20 pence. Talking of valuable remainders, someone I know recalls seeing The Negro Anthology- a 5,000 quidder- remaindered in the 50s! This was a big book that appeared in the 30s. why it suddenly reappeared in the 1950s I have no idea, but such things can happen. Years ago you could find Fortune Press titles remaindered. I remember seeing them.'
We've only reached the letter 'H' on his list. 'Oh yes, Heron-Allen* is very collected,' he continues. 'He was in the Sette of Odd Volumes and wrote on a number of different subjects- on Thanet, topography and fantasy.' (picture left)
Then a jump to W and HR Wakefield. 'They Return at Evening- horror. Yeat's first book, Mosada, is a sleeper. If you ever find a copy, it's worth 50,000 quid.'
Another market hot spot, he advises, is sleepers written by people using pseudonyms.
'Helen Ferguson, who also used the name Anna Kavan and Helen Woods, is deeply collected,' he says. 'Something to do with being a pioneering woman writer, a drug addict and a general bohemian. A sort of Nina Hamnett figure. Spirits in Bondage, which was published in 1919 under the name of Clive Hamilton, is actually the first book by CS Lewis. A great find! It's not worth as much as Narnia, but it's still useful. Incidentally, he wrote another book under the same pseudonym. But the most valuable of all is the legendary Questions at the Well by 'Fenil Haig", a book of poems by a very young Ford Madox Ford. I've never seen a copy. The British Museum copy is missing, which is always a sign of a great rarity. It's still listed in the catalogue, but if you try to order it, you come up with nothing. But the book does exist. You can look it up in the Library of Congress catalogue. Incidentally, another literary debut stolen from a national library, this time in Australia, is the House of Cain, by that great Antipodean writer Arthur William Upfield, who created a detective called Napoleon Bonaparte.'
Another book that Burwood is convinced does exist appeared under the pseudonym of Gaffer Peeslake.' to be continued...

* Edward Heron-Allen (1861 - 1943) British scientist, polymath and writer of fantasy fiction. Some of his weird fiction was written under the pseudonym Christopher Blayre including the rara avis/ black tulip 'The Cheetah Girl' 1923. Oddly enough I have a customer for this book if you chance upon one. He wrote poetry, including 'Ballades of a Blasé Man' and novels ('Bella Demonia.') He also wrote on palmistry, the violin, fossils, barnacles, Irish and Dorset topography and was Brother Necromancer Wednesday nights at the Sette of Odd Volumes...

15 December 2008

Tales of the Uncollected...

Recently I was honoured to be interview by book maven R.M. Healey from Rare Book Review...here are some highlights and a few notes. Some of the stuff has already been covered in Bookride but what the hell...It took place in our shop shown below; forgive the shameless self promotion!


When it comes to rumours of ghosts, unicorns and sleepers in the bookworld, only one man can provide the answers. R M Healey speaks to Nigel Burwood about the ones that got away- and the ones that never existed at all.

His Bookride website is already required reading... and his Any Amount of Books shop on Charing Cross Road has one of the few genuine bargain basements known to me. Nigel Burwood, therefore, seemed the ideal person to chat about the elusive, ultra-rare, and possibly non-existent titles that continue to evade dealers and fascinate collectors alike.
I was delighted to be invited down to his cubbyhole of an office, where the rumblings of trains on the Northern Line a few metres below can be heard quite distinctly. Appropriately enough, given these strange sounds and the darkness that lay beneath us, we began talking about ghosts. Apparently these are books that possibly don't exist, despite being announced in magazines or catalogues, or mentioned on the jackets of other books by the same author, and my host had obviously prepared mentally for the interview because he mentions my name.
'Et Tu Healy, supposedly by James Joyce, is one of the most notorious,' he declares. 'No one has ever seen a copy, which suggests it never existed in any form, or was destroyed or lost.'
A more modern example then springs to mind. 'I was at a Salman Rushdie signing in the States recently, and he revealed that when he was young his father had printed several copies of an early work of his- a piece of juvenilia- and he had boasted that he owned several examples of his son's earliest printed work. But he had never actually dug them out to show Salman, and when he died no one looking through his possessions could find them.'


I believe that like Rushdie, a number of authors have these Et Tu Healy skeletons in their closet- tantalising objects of desire that may exist in a modest form, perhaps as a pamphlet or even a 'unicorn', in other words, a book of which only one copy was ever printed. Not only does Burwood agree, but he proves extremely knowledgeable on the subject.
'Take the poet George Barker and the erotic writer Anais Nin,' he says. 'These and a whole lot of other people were co-opted by a millionaire collector and erotologist to write rude books for him, which he then published in a handful of copies. Barker told me about "his rarest book" which he'd never actually seen, but which he was sure existed somewhere.'
The rarest work of Aleister Crowley, Aceldama among them, are now the province of rich collectors, like Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page.
'If you find them it's retirement money,' Burwood says, 'but no bookseller could base a career on tracking down these books because they only turn up once in a few years, if you're very lucky. In fact the way you make money in this game is to sell a lot of books that you see all the time.
'Snowdrops from a Curate's Garden is one of the rarest Crowleys. This is shocking porn written to amuse his wife on their honeymoon, or something like that. It's way over the top erotica and it's rare, very rare. According to the title page it's by the Reverend Deary*, or some such name. White Stains is another in the same vein, but not so rare.'
A book's scarceness can be more important than its author's name.
'I remember having a book of skiffle poetry which proclaimed it was "one of only five copies"- you see such pronouncements all over the internet,' Burwood says. 'I catalogued it for £45. It was by nobody, but I managed to sell it because t was from the Age of Skiffle. The subject matter and rarity was what sold it, not the author. Conversely, some of those little 'butterfly' books supposedly by Auden and others, but actually forged by the American poet and critic Dr Frederic Prokosch, were issued in editions of five or so, but now fetch a few grand each.'
Incredible rarity- even uniqueness- by itself is not enough, however. 'I'm offering on the web an example of a unicorn*,' Burwood admits. 'It's by Roy Notley, who was probably some sort of wag from the 50s who wore a beatnik jersey down to his knees and recited his own poetry in the local milk bar. Someone straight out of Tony Hancock. He probably produced this one copy to impress a girl he fancied. I only want £40 for this unique, slim, hardback but there's no interest. If you could tie it into the beatnik era it would be saleable, but I don't think it has even that virtue. It might take a hundred years to sell.'
Occasionally books that don't exist can be in greater demand than books that do. A common haunt of the unicorn is the film industry, where a book is mocked up by the prop department for a particular scene. Burwood, of course, has examples at his fingertips.
'In a movie called The Edge, Anthony Hopkins is shown reading How to Survive in the Woods, and I've been deluged with requests for it.' he says. 'Some have even claimed that they've read it! But it doesn't exist. In ...Sex and the City, a character is shown reading a book,' he says. 'Obviously, the book doesn't actually exist and yet people email me begging me to find a copy.' Burwood wasn't the only person deluged with requests. In fact, demand was so great for the book Love Letters of Great Men that several mainstream publishers rushed to release titles under that name.


Technically, the one-off film creations are both unicorns and ghosts- advertised but never printed. On the subject of the latter, I'm delighted to learn that some of the titles in Bizarre Books...one of the funniest books ever published- are ghosts too. 'There's a guy in San Francisco who swears he found a book called The Romance of Proctology, but I don't believe this exists,' Burwood says.
Books by madmen or cranks, however, is a growth area and well served by Bizarre Books.
'Martin Stone once reckoned he found a book which contended that some pub in Berkshire called The Old Bull and Bush, or something, was the Centre of The Universe,' Burwood laughs. 'This wasn't a joke. The bloke was convinced about it.'
Then there is Crook Frightfulness. This was published in Birmingham under the pseudonym 'A Victim' in 1932. 'The author's account of hearing imaginary voices of "crooks" that meant him harm sounds ludicrous to us, but the writer was a bit of a sad case- undoubtedly a paranoiac,' Burwood says. 'Today he'd be given a pill and told to go away. A jacketed copy is on the web for £400. I got £100 for mine. It's part of a literature of abnormal mental states, which is quite collectible today. Even big players, like Maggs have asked me if I've got any books by madmen. It's very sexy, you might say.'

*NOTES. 'Unicorn' is a charming mistake that crept in--the word should be UNICUM. It is hardly ever used because you seldom see them (just like unicorns!). The actual pseudonym used by the Great Beast was Reverend C. Verey. It's a slim book of verse and I need it for a customer if you spot one. More to follow...

09 December 2008

Fuzz Acid and Flowers Revisited...

Vernon Joynson. FUZZ ACID AND FLOWERS REVISITED: a Comprehensive Guide to American Garage Psychedelic and Hippie Rock (1964-1975). Borderline Productions, 2004.

Current Selling Prices
$150+ /£100 +

A hefty large format paperback with an exhaustive list of American 60s bands most of whom are completely forgotten. Anyone who was in any of these bands (25000+ persons) is a potential punter for the book. Something of a 'sleeper' - it looks like a £20 book but worth five times that. Almost all books by Vernon Joynson are much sought after - Tapestry of Delights, Up Yours! (punk history)The Acid Trip: A Complete Guide to Psychedelic Music and Dreams, Fantasies and Nightmares from Far Away Lands. The man must have a serious record collection.

Perusing the book one notes the zany names -Tonto's Expanding Headband, Starvation Army Band ('...of which little is known...') Roamin' Togas, Pugsley Munion, Children of the Mushroom, The Bean Denturies, Byron and the Mortals etc., There are bands with identical names identifiable only by the state they came from and some with very similar names- e.g. 'The Boss Tweeds and The Boss Tweads--the former's song 'Faster Pussy Cat, Kill! Kill! inspired a Russ Meyer movie and provided the name for a 1980s sleaze rock band. There were rumours in the summer of 2008 that the great Tarantino was going to reshoot this movie. The time has come.

Other great rock reference books are Julian Cope's Krautrock Sampler and Asbjornsen's Scented Gardens of the Mind (also from Borderline) - "A guide to the modern era of progressive rock (1968-1980) in more than 20 European countries." A copy on ABE is priced at £275, the kind of price it takes to stop it selling entirely. However it is now a three figure books as is Cope's Sampler. Dave Rimmer's 'The Rare Soul Bible: A Northern Soul A-Z' is highly elusive and probably worth £100, our last copy went like a bullet at £60. Joynson's book, by the way, values some of the records it lists with some worth $1500 or more (a category described as 'only a handful exist and they are very sought after...') However most records, even the highly obscure, are of very modest value indeed. Just like books.

02 December 2008

The Hobbit. Or There and Back Again.

J.R.R. Tolkien. THE HOBBIT. Allen & Unwin, London 1937.

Current Selling Prices
$25000+ /£16000+

The most loved and wanted fantasy classic of all (apart from Alice.) The ultimate backpacker book - admired by Auden, Isherwood, C.S. Lewis and J.K. Rowling and many others from nine to ninety .It started life in the 1920s as a story that JRR told to his children to get them off to sleep. 1500 printed off the first. 60 million sold so far. Often top of polls for best ever book in the history of the world etc.,

VALUE? Not especially scarce even as a first edition but seldom cheap unless in despicable condition. There were rumours of a nice unsigned copy in jacket having changed hands at over $100K back in 2003 at a US bookfair and a signed copy on line in a very nice unrestored d/w at $150,000 appears to have sold--possibly with a deep discount. Ebay has brought a lot of firsts out and there is a voracious market in reprints esp the second edition which is the first with colour illustrations ($10K + for sweet copies). The true first almost always has an ink correction on the rear of the jacket (Dodgeson has been changed to Dodgson.) This was done by the publisher although it is sometimes claimed it was done by Tolkien himself. Jacketed and incsribed copies have twice made about $75K in the last 3 years at Sotheby/ Christie auctions and in 2002 a signed copy with a 4 line caligraphic note by JRR in Elvish made nigh on $90K. Healthy market in fancy leather bound first eds sometimes with elaborate tooling and even illustrated characters Frodo, Strider, Bilbo etc., Restored jackets are around , almost always declared as such. Caveat emptor.

Postcript. In June this year, before the deluge as it were, a copy described thus - 'In d/j with restoration to folds & spine ends' made $40K + premium at Bloomsbury, New York. World class dealer Peter Harrington has a restored copy currently at £12,500. Meanwhile our own copy of the first in an exquisite full leather binding languishes at £4500, a price that is becoming quite affordable for American buyers.

OUTLOOK? Book seems to be passably buoyant in murky financial waters. A copy sold recently at £60000 inscribed to Elaine Griffiths who suggested that Tolkien take the typescript to Susan Dagnall at George Allen & Unwin. This was bought by a dealer who now describes it as 'THE MOST IMPORTANT COPY IN THE WORLD.' Hyperbole or what? Price on application but one assumes that it will be about the price of a new full size Bentley. Interestingly a copy is listed at ABE asking for offers over £75000 - 'This copy is linked far more closely with JRR Tolkien (than the Griffiths copy). Serious enquiries only. Offers over £75000 will be put to the owner.' Odd to see offers for books sought on ABE who will presumably receive nothing when it sells. Who can this presentee be? C.S. Lewis? Neville Coghill? Auden? Possibly a very young J.K. Rowling or someone unlikely like Aleister Crowley, Mark Bolan or his fellow inkling Dorothy Sayers. Intriguing.