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...


Callum said...

I've loved reading this article, this is exactly the kind of thing that makes this blog so consistently interesting and enjoyable.

Can I be picky and point out that E E Bradford's first book 'Sonnets, Songs and Ballads' is always in blue cloth, the others are in red.

Also, since you mention Corvo don't forget there are at least two were-they/weren't-they ever written or published books. There's his 'Sebastian Archer' mentioned in 'Desire and Pursuit of the Whole' which, it transpires had a plot based on the life of Rolfe's brother... there's also a book on St William of Norwich advertised as upcoming by Elkin Matthews in 1890 but never been seen. It was advertised directly above another 'missing' book ironically called, 'Oblivion's Poppy: Studies of the Forgotten' by Richard Le Gallienne.

Anonymous said...


Those interested in the polymathic Edward Heron-Allen might like to know that there is a thriving Heron-Allen Society. Details can be found at http://www.nhm.ac.uk/hosted_sites/heronallen/

Tim McCann