29 September 2009

Jokes Cracked by Lord Aberdeen

This book has honourable mention in 'Bizarre Books' by the wacky duo Lake and Ash. It is in the section 'Against all odds / Titles to make the heart sink.' I just bought a decent variant copy of the 1929 first edition for £15 from an Oxfam shop (via Amazon) and the cheapest now available is £30 with one chancer asking £125. Len of the Chines, normally angrily overpriced, wants £45 for his decentish copy with the gilt thistle on the cover. Other titles in this section of 'Bizarre Books' include 'The Wit of Prince Philip' 'Songs of a Chartered Accountant' 'Not Worth Reading' 'The Bright Side of Prison Life' 'A Holiday with a Hegelian' 'Along Wit's Trail: The Humor and Wisdom of Ronald Reagan' and 'Cameos of Vegetarian Literature'. This might just be a growth area in collecting...

Here for the moment is one of Lord Aberdeen's jokes entitled 'Another Irish one':
An Irish Census recorder on enquiring - 'How many males in this house?' received the reply - 'Three of course; breakfast, lunch and tea!'

As the foreword notes ' In the realm of wit and humour, Lord Aberdeen is a name to conjure with... the publishers have great pleasure in introducing to the public a few of his gems.' There is a ribtickling short ghost joke where a man shoots off his foot thinking it is a ghostly hand, a girl from Aberdeen who kept quiet about where she was from because her 'mither' told her 'Noo Annie be sure and dinna boast.' There's even a good book joke that would probably have them speechless on the Edinbugh fringe:
'A certain man had built and furnished a new house and was showing it to Cardinal Cullen who was accompanied by Father Healy. In one of the rooms, on a shelf above the writing table, there stood a neat row of books. Pointing to them the owner said "These, your Eminence, are my friends." But Father Healy chimed in (wait for it) "Yes, and he has treated them like friends; he has never cut them.'
ROTFL as they used to say. Et tu Healy etc.,

28 September 2009

Lytton Strachey / Dora Carrington and Bloomsbury


Current Selling Prices
$130-$320 /£75-£200

A miniature piece of Bloomsbury history - this small bookplate by Dora Carrington measures 1 3/8 inches high by 1 3/4 inches wide in it's largest version. The large version is rarer than the smaller but both have now become quite elusive. The tiny postage stamp size one measures only 1" by 3/4 ". Both have the words Lytton Strachey in a plaque or cartouche with folded edges surrounded by net-like cross hatching in a dark sepia tone.

A relic of the artist and Bloomsbury goddess. Carrington wrote of this bookplate in her diary (March 20 1931) rather prophetically:- 'As I stuck the book plates in with Lytton I suddenly thought of Sothebys and the book plates in some books I had looked at, when Lytton was bidding for a book and I thought: These books will one day be looked at by those gloomy faced booksellers and buyers. And suddenly a premonition of a day when these labels will no longer (be) in this library came over me. I longed to ask Lytton not to stick in any more.' He died 10 months later. Carrington shot herself a few months after.

VALUE? Bloomsbury specialists tend to charge £150+. They can occasionally be found at less than £100. I once had a supplier for the plate who had one in every volume of Strachey's OED. Bloomsbury collectors tend to be fervent in their pursuit of material so they seem to have all sold. It is so small that I lost a couple. Strachey was a keen collector of antiquarian books so it can turn up - usually in valuable items. An early work associated with Strachey is 'Euphrosyne.' We catalogued one a while back thus:

Anonymous. [Lytton Strachey, Saxon Sydney - Turner, Clive Bell, Walter Lamb and Leonard Woolf & others.] EUPHROSYNE. A COLLECTION OF VERSE. Elijah Johnson, Cambridge 1905.

Large 8vo. 90 pages. Ur Bloomsbury. Poetry in a ninetyish style with an interesting long poem ‘At the Other Bar’ about a a disappointed drunk and other poems on 'Dreamland', 'Water Spirits' 'The Trinity Ball' 'Andromeda' etc., The poem 'The Cat' is known to be by Strachey as are a few others, the poem 'Song' by Lamb is addressed to a Duchess. A collection of verse and translations from French published in the summer of 1905 - as Quentin Bell says in his biography of Virginia Woolf '...they seldom alluded (to it) in later life so that the book would have been forgotten if Virginia had not managed to keep its memory green...Virginia laughed at it and began a scathing essay upon it and its contributors...' Indeed she used the name 'Euphrosyne' for a ship in her first novel "The Voyage Out.' In her unfinished May 1906 essay on the book and the Cambridge set behind it she wrote '...some few songs and sonnets were graciously issued to the public some little time ago, carelessly, as though the Beast could hardly appreciate such fare, even when simplified and purified to suit his coarse but innocent palate...it was melodious ...but when taxed with their melancholy the poets confessed that such sadness had never been known & marked the last and lowest tide of decadence.'

In our last copy a pencilled note by a bookseller stated the book came from the collection of Raymond Mortimer and Francis Birrell - the only other time I have seen this book was in the collection of Dadie Rylands. Although VW mocked the writers for their 'overweening seriousness' this is a fascinating piece showing the very earliest manifestation of the Bloomsbury set as a coherent group. It is a book unlikely to surface outside of Bloomsbury writers collections and is decidedly scarce.

I heard of a third copy going through CSK at the sale of the library of Lytton Strachey’s sometime lover Roger Senhouse (1899-1970) who was a translator of Colette and a partner in the publishing business Secker and Warburg. Interestingly that was a famously botched sale from the 'chinless' of Christies-- almost all the books were in tea chests and contained incredible Bloomsbury rariana, signed Virginias, Hogarth & Omega Press, scarce Continental presses and a batch of presentation George Orwells. A lot of the books went for very little and ended up with the celebrated and unlettered bookseller George Jefferys, who knocked them out on the pavement at Farringdon Road - pretty much as you see in our signature photo top corner of this web page. A friend who got a few chests was surprised when Cyril Connolly turned up at his premises (with entourage) wanting to buy from the collection. 35 years later you still see Senhouse books with his small neat pencilled ownership signature. He had the admirable habit of compiling indexes in books where the dastardly publisher had been too lazy to include one.

The photo above shows the beautiful Emma Thompson and Jonathan Pryce in 'Carrington' the best of Bloomsbury movies (most are poorish vide 'The Hours' and 'Mrs Dalloway') - Pryce was an exceptional Strachey and Rufus Sewell a fiery Mark Gertler. Sample from the script - Gertler is very pissed off that Carrington is in love with Strachey:

Mark Gertler: Haven't you any self-respect?
Dora Carrington: Not much.
Mark Gertler: But he's a disgusting pervert!
Dora Carrington: You always have to put up with something.

The above dialogue brings to mind the lines at the end of 'Some Like it Hot':
Jerry: But you don't understand, Osgood!
[Pulls of wig]
Jerry: I'm a man!
Osgood: Well, nobody's perfect!

VALUE? I have had 2 copies in 30 years both from old Bloomsbury types. This generation have now almost all died. In a list of Leonard and Virginia Woolf's own library (4000 books at Washington State) it is noted they had 2 copies, seemingly both bound up by Virginia. The book is preceded in the Lytton Strachey canon by Prolusiones Academicae (1902?) which is hideously scarce and probably slight. 'Euphrosyne' is a true sleeper and I feel bad about awakening it, my excuse is that it is too uncommon to have any real currency, also there are other Bloomsbury sleepers of greater value that can remain, forever, sound asleep. Think £1500 and above. (pic below Virginia Woolf and Angelica Garnett - her sister Vanessa Bell's daughter by Duncan Grant.)

COLLECTING BLOOMSBURIANA. There are some of the opinion that the entire coterie did not produce one masterpiece, some point to Virginia Woolf as a proven writer of world class books. Some talk of Maynard Keynes as a genius, certainly his name has been invoked enough in the current slump. Huge claims can be made for E.M. Forster. A fellow dealer opines that Bloomsbury collectors are the maddest of the lot. Most would not have been welcome at Charleston or Monks House.

OUTLOOK? The Bloomsbury industry is mostly about gossip, drama and romance --Vita and Virgina, Vita and Harold, Vita and Violet, Dora and Lytton, Vanessa and Clive, Vanessa and Duncan and then there's bad boy Bunny Garnett...tangled relationships, posh backgrounds, country estates, the pursuit of sexual freedom, the desire to shock the bourgeois, high intellectual ideals - they will be collected until the Kingdom comes, prices already high, will probably rise...

Five types of Book Dealer

The indigent bookseller. A low key bookscout of no fixed abode. Sleeps in the back of his car or in flyblown motels or occasionally on fellow dealers floors or in lockups. His car is a disgrace but just passes legal tests. Keeps his books in a storage unit (U Storage) where he is perpetually in danger of missing his rent. There is always a character like this in John Dunning's excellent bibliomysteries and he normally comes to a sticky end. Occasionally he finds a sleeper which he runs at a quarter of its value or persuades a fellow dealer to put in on Ebay and go halves. Invariably male, mostly American where the climate is more conducive to being a bum. He has, as Groucho would say, 'worked his way up from nothing to a state of extreme poverty.'

The grandiose bookseller. Has a fine mansion downtown or a showoff country estate (seldom both, booksellers are not hedge fund managers.) He may have horses, pools, tennis courts, a taste for antiques, vintage wines, brand new luxury cars and exotic travel. Because bookselling does not generally support this lifestyle he quite often goes broke and all his books are sold off in auction at sobering prices.

The humble bookseller. Sometimes known as the 'mere man' (at one time we had bought a rather prestigious collection full of fine bindings, literary first editions and scholarly works and a dealer seeing these asked 'Do you have anything for the mere man.') He does small provincial fairs has an eye for a good military, naval or transport books--he will sometimes plump for Noddy, Ladybirds or Observer books or New Nats. He tends to sell his good books to specialists but has now discovered the internet and is perplexed as to pricing--if he puts the book too low it will go like a bullet but if he charges what everybody else is charging the book never sells. He knows books that will sell well at £10 on Ebay, has a roof over his head, a car that is properly insured and taxed and generally enjoys the chase. He is not to be confused with his close relation see 'the teabag bookseller.'

The pompous bookseller. Has a broad knowledge of the ancient world, can quote Shakespeare and even Dante (in Italian). Sometimes went to Oxford or Harvard and will remind you every four minutes. When classical music is playing he immediately names the piece and may even start to conduct it. His books are priced within an inch of their lives but he will give deep discounts to anyone half interested; such is his bravado, chutzpah and charisma he can usually buy well from estates, fellow dealers and widows. Usually somewhere along the line he has had an amazing buy that made him take himself pretty seriously or he may have inherited a large sum from a doting aunt. He seldom goes broke and as Oscar put it -'he has no enemies, but is intensely disliked by his friends.'

The raffish hustler. Another almost exclusively male type. A bookdealer with a colourful, sometimes dark past. Born in a mansion or from a semi in Barnet, he may have been in rock music or owned a night club, sometimes there is a spell in rehab or an over acquaintaince with the bottle. Broken marriages, bankruptcy and banishment are not unknown. Possessed of fiendish intuition, deep and recondite knowledge he wades through the world of of old books finding great treasures but tends to squander the money on pleasure or occasionally takes a big loss on books that turned out wrong. He is optimistic by nature. Keith Richard is sometimes mentioned but this guy tends to be wirier and possible a little wiser but never as wealthy. When on the skids fellow dealers or wealthy collectors bail him out and he is never down for long. He can sometimes hustle himself to near the top of the trade, relies heavily on luck and serendipity and is much admired by other dealers who lack his bravura. He is closer to the indigent type and never pompous...

20 September 2009

Isaac Rosenberg. Night and Day (1912)

Isaac Rosenberg. NIGHT AND DAY. (Privately printed, London 1912 )

Current Selling Prices
$8000+ /£5000+

Now that Brick Lane, hitherto best known for its curry houses and Indian grocers, is becoming, with new boutiques and ethnic food stalls, an annexe of Camden Market, perhaps the twenty-somethings who flock there every Sunday to chomp their Thai noodles will notice as they emerge from Aldgate East station the blue plaque high on the wall of the adjoining Whitechapel library that commemorates its association with perhaps the most original of the First World War poets, who died at just 28. Isaac Rosenberg, born into a Yiddish-speaking family, soaked himself in English poetry in this library and the fruit of his desultory reading was his debut collection Night and Day, of which only fifty copies were printed.

Unlucky in many respects—especially in his background and early education—Rosenberg was very lucky in his patrons, who ensured that his writing got an audience. Reuben Cohen, a radical in an era of anarchist plots and nascent Socialism, was one supporter, while his boss, Israel Narodiczky, who from his works in 48, Mile End Road, became the leading Yiddish printer in London, was another. For an auto-didact like Rosenberg the publication of Night and Day was an act of bravado by a tyro in the English language who was just struggling to express himself in verse. Though his collection hinted at an emerging talent, echoes of Rosenberg’s favourites among the Romantics and Victorians are more obvious still, which may partly explain the failure of the book to make any impression on the literary editors who were sent copies. Even the attempt by Rosenberg’s friend Joseph Leftwich to sell the book outside Toynbee Hall failed to produced a single sale. So, in the end, like many another first-time, self-published writer, Rosenberg gave away the entire edition to editors, friends and relations. But those who inherited copies from the original recipients should have cause to feel grateful. This modest looking pamphlet of twenty-four pages will today fetch over £5,000. That’s if you can find a copy.

Rosenberg’s printer Narodiczky was an interesting character too. His bread and butter work was producing largely uncontroversial texts in both Yiddish and Hebrew, that are avidly collected today, but he also had radical sympathies and his home in Mile End Road, just around the corner from where radicals in 1910 were involved in the Sydney Street Siege, was the meeting place of anarchists and other political rebels, and he narrowly escaped prosecution himself for printing a large edition of a seditious newspaper in Italian, pleading ignorance of the language as defence against complicity in sedition. His anti-establishment credentials were such that in late 1915 D.H.Lawrence and John Middleton Murry persuaded this ‘ little Jew’ to print 250 copies of their pacifist magazine The Signature for £5. Only 3 issues actually appeared before lack of interest and suppression by the authorities caused it to fold. Today, Simon Finch will sell you copies of these three issues for a mere £700.

At about the same time Narodiczky also printed Rosenberg’s second collection, an eighteen-page pamphlet entitled Youth, in an edition of around 100 copies in paper covers, for the sum of fifty shillings. This time, it had become immediately obvious that the War had hurt Rosenberg into becoming a poet of real power and originality and he immediately sold 10 copies at half a crown each.

Narodiczky must have been sufficiently impressed by the relative critical and commercial success of Youth to allow Cohen, under the imprint of The Paragon Printing Works, to use his own machines to produce Rosenberg’s play Moses for nothing in 1916. Patron and poet hoped to recoup the costs by selling some hardback copies for 4s 6d. In the event, most of the sheets were bound between bright yellow card covers and sold for a shilling, although, as with Night and Day , many were given away by Rosenberg.

Today, of all the First World Poets Rosenberg is regarded as having the most arresting voice, and poems such as ‘Break of Day in the Trenches’ and ‘Dead Man’s Dump’ from Youth frequently feature in printed anthologies and on WW1 poetry sites. Accordingly, a demand for the two excessively rare collections is perhaps stronger now than it has ever been. At present, there are no copies of Night and Day on ABE , but four copies of Youth can be found, at prices ranging from $500 to $750, which is a reflection of the fact that there are twice as many copies of this title than there are of Night and Day, although Youth is many times a better book. Ludicrously, three of the American dealers have Rosenberg die at the age of 18, which makes him a rival in precociousness to Daisy Ashford. Do the maths !! One of these innumerate dealers does manage to correct the poet’s age at death while offering a lovely presentation copy of the slightly rarer Moses, complete with publisher’s corrections, for $3,000. [R.M.Healey]

Thanks Robin. A few added notes: I have admired Rosenberg's poetry since buying a copy of 'Night and Day' with an original poem written by him on the title page. It was also a signed presentation to Laurence Binyon (himself no mean war poet.) As I recall it went to a dealer in California for a fattish sum 20 years back. Israel Zangwill's copy with 'holograph corrections' made £2000 in 1981 at Sothebys - this was the last copy to go through the rooms.

His paintings and drawings are also very desirable and highly skilled, he studied at the Slade with a distinguished peer group that included David Bomberg and Mark Gertler, as well as Stanley Spencer, Paul Nash, Edward Wadsworth and Dora Carrington. His self portrait above reminds me oddly of the late film- maker Derek Jarman. Am I mad? Rosenberg's art is very seldom offered for sale. At some point in the 1980s we bought some books from the estate of Rosenberg's friend and biographer Joseph Leftwich--there were no drawings but several copies of 'Poems' (1922) in the blue jacket. This still not a scarce book and $1000 copies are to be strongly avoided. A few lines from that magisterial work:
A man's brains splattered on
A stretcher-bearer's face;
His shook shoulders slipped their load,
But when they bent to look again
The drowning soul was sunk too deep
For human tenderness.

16 September 2009

That was a bad typo...

It is hard to imagine a worse place to make a typo (typographic error) than on the title page. Copies of the book with the correct title page are fairly abundant--the British Libray has one and there are several in US libraries. One can only speculate how this one came about--possibly the book was a cheap pirate of the original local best seller and the title was shouted across a busy print room with the 'how' pronounced in the Italian style. When the error was pointed out the printers may have just kept printing them as a hilarious curiosity like the riverside sign 'Omlets' in 'The History of Mr Polly". *

I can see the book being touted about 1950s Venice by bent gondoliers and a bunch of shady crooks (as played, say, by Italianate versions of the young George Cole). I only have the title page which someone left folded into a Baedeker 'Italy from the Alps to Naples' and I subsequently stuck it on the wall of my book pricing room along with other mildly amusing bookish tat -like a headline clipped from a 1960s UK tabloid 'The Man with a Mountain of Books'. That's another story...

12 September 2009

Backpacker Classics

I am not sure which books backpackers carry with them these days so this list may be a little out of date. The concept of backpacker books goes back to the days of the hippy trail when travellers would carry such classics as the I Ching, the Tibetan Book of the Dead or anything by Herman Hesse. A backpacker classic should have an element of profundity, preferably mystical -if not it should have cult status or be a statement about who you really are. There is an element of self discovery in setting off - the path to enlightenment, the journey inwards...A backpacker book is not a 'beach read'--the book must be worth the weight and space it takes up and should be reverentially handed on to other travellers or left in a hotel or bus station for another seeker to chance upon. I have garnered this list from my own experience of buying books from travellers, various lists on the web (one at Amazon) and an enormous thread about which books people would leave on a bus. In no particular order here goes:

Jack Kerouac. On the Road
Peter Mathiessen. Snow Leopard (essential reading in the high deserts of Nepal)
Joseph Heller. Catch 22
Herman Hesse. Siddhartha (also Glass Bead Game, Magister Ludi, and Steppenwolf)
Yann Martel. Life of Pi
Pirsig- Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

J. D. Salinger. Catcher in the Rye
Thomas Pynchon. Gravity's Rainbow
Zafon. The Shadow of the Wind. ('full of cheesy splendour' Stephen King)
Ken Kesey. One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest
John Fowles. The Magus.
Vikram Seth- A Suitable Boy (for a very long journey)
Milton. Paradise Lost
The Holy Bible (King James version)
Paulo Coelho. The Alchemist
Alex Garland. The Beach (backpacker's novel about backpacking-- a great read)

Thomas Mann. The Magic Mountain (for the backpacker of the past, the wandervogel with his rucksack on his back...)
Gabrial Garcia Marquez. One Hundred Years of Solitude
George Eliot. Middlemarch (panorama of history category -still popular)
James Joyce. Ulysses (Odyssey thin paper version)
Joseph Conrad. Heart of Darkness (a short story so add 'Lord Jim')
Tolstoy. War & Peace
Gunter Grass. The Tin Drum
Kahlil Gibran- The Prophet (“Keep me away from the wisdom which does not cry, the philosophy which does not laugh and the greatness which does not bow before children.”) NB there is a spoof by 'Kellog Allbran'
Jules Verne. Around the World in Eighty Days (why not?)
Patrick Suskind. Perfume
Umberto Eco. Name of the Rose( also Foucault's Pendulum)
Virginia Woolf. To the Lighthouse
Irvine Welsh. Trainspotting.
Borges. Fictions
Tolkien. The Hobbit (sometimes seen read until it has fallen apart)
Bolano. The Savage Detectives (heavy)
Dan Brown. The Da Vinci Code (light)
Maldoror & A Rebours (for the decadent traveller)
Shakespeare. King Lear ( a teacher at my school read it every morning or so he said)
The Duke of Pirajno. A Cure for Serpents (for the traveller in Libya)
Di Lampedusa's deathless 'The Leopard' - another book by an Italian duke. Why can't any of our dukes write a decent book?
Tao te Ching
Popol Vuh: A Sacred Book of the Maya
Cormac McCarthy. All The Pretty Horses
Perec. Life - A User's Manual
Melville. Moby Dick.
Richard Bach. Jonathan LIvingstone Seagull
Emily Bronte. Wuthering Heights (probably has added resonance read on a coral strand in Tahiti)
Aldous Huxley. Brave New World
Wiliam Golding. Lord of the Flies (file under 'dystopian travel')
Louis de la Berniere. Captain Coreli's Mandolin (if you insist)
Bulgakov. Master and Margarita (Mick Jagger's favourite book)
The Story of O (for the erotic traveller)
Donleavy. The Ginger Man.
Robert Anton Wilson. The Illuminatus Trilogy
Baghavad Gita
B.S. Johnson. Travelling People

Bubbling under are a few names like Eckhart Tolle, Carlos Castaneda, Meister Eckhart, Dickens's Bleak House (to remind one of damp old England) William Gass, John Barth, Haruki Murakami, Edith Wharton, The Chalice and the Blade, Rudyard Kipling, The Celestine Prophecy, Atomised, Black Elk Speaks, Divine Comedy, White Goddess, Das Energi, Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, Margaret Atwood, Alice Sebold, WG Sebald, Durrell's Alexandria Quartet, Man without Qualities, Goethe, Proust, Ballard (Terminal Beach) Leaves of Grass, Vonnegut, Dick, Gatsby and for a bit of a laugh P.G. Wodehouse, Flann O Brien or Waugh's 'Vile Bodies.

I remember seeing a guy at Milan's cathedral like central station sitting on the steps half way through John Livingston Lowes' 'The Road to Xanadu' - a weighty study of how Coleridge came to write his greatest poems. It seemed a good choice for a book to read on a journey -- as Toby Litt says "...its argument, that Coleridge had one of the most extraordinary minds the world has ever seen, is there on every page." He seemed oblivious to the rest of the teeming world lost in Lowes' deep investigation into the creative process. Wherever he was heading from Stacchini's gargantuan stazione ('bombastic splendor') he had good company for a 1000 miles or so. Bon Voyage or 'Latcho Drom' as the gypsies say.

07 September 2009

Wyndham Lewis - Anglosaxony 1941

Wyndham Lewis. ANGLOSAXONY - A LEAGUE THAT WORKS. Ryerson Press, Toronto 1941.

Current Selling Prices
$1200-$1500 /£750-£1000

The pages of Viz magazine are the last place one would expect to come across that famous photograph of the enfant terrible Wyndham Lewis smoking a cigarette, but there he, in a recent issue, in a mock ad for fags, unidentified by name and described ludicrously as a ‘fop ‘.Viz has always had a sophisticated readership ( the late Tory MP Alan Clark was one subscriber ) and so I expect that quite a few Viz readers would have recognised the photo of the thirty-something artist-writer, if not the description of him.

I feel the mocking, rather surreal, often puerile, and always mischievous, humour of Viz would have appealed to the author of the 'Apes of God' and 'Tarr', who was always good for a well-aimed swipe at the pretensions of pseudo-intellectuals and the inanities of pop culture. And now, it seems, after decades of comparative neglect, Lewis is in danger of becoming cool. The revival seems to have started in 2000, with the publication of Paul Edwards’ magisterial critical work and Paul O’Keeffe’s equally brilliant biography ( which features the famous fag photo on its cover ); a well received exhibition at Olympia was followed in 2007 by another at his old school of Rugby, and last year an acclaimed exhibition of his portraits at the NPG attracted a record 38,000 punters. Now the Net seems suddenly teeming with Lewis posts covering not only his art, which has always been admired ( Brian Ferry and David Bowie are collectors ) but also reassessing his hitherto neglected writings, which although condemned by Martian poet and Bill Oddie lookalike Craig Raine as ‘ unreadable ‘ are perhaps ( if some of the postings are to be believed ) finding a new, young audience.

Although, despite being amazingly prolific, Lewis never made much money from his writings, mainly because his books were printed in small editions. Consequently, all titles are hard to find, at least in the UK. It didn’t help that some titles were suppressed before publication or, in the case of 'The Doom of Youth', burned by order of the court as libellous. Around 350 copies managed to escape the flames, but the title remains a rarish, if not particularly sought after Lewis item. More worth looking out for is the booklet Lewis wrote while reluctantly exiled in Canada during the Second World War. Copies of 'Anglosaxony—a League that Works', which the small Ryerson Press in Toronto published in 1941, are as scarce as female readers of Lewis—which is a pity, because it is one of the writer’s most interesting publications. In it he condemns the Fascism he had flirted with a few years earlier and set outs in orderly fashion all the points in favour of British democracy, including its electoral system, the tolerance of Britons and the political advantage the UK has as a sea power. The ‘ pamphlet ‘ ( as Lewis called it ) was pretty well ignored by the newspaper press in Canada, despite the efforts of Lorne Pierce, the literary editor at the Ryerson Press. A follow-up book was submitted by Lewis to another publisher, but never published.

I’ve only ever seen one copy of 'Anglosaxony', and that was in the collection of the Canadian journalist and Lewis uberfan C. J. Fox , who had been smitten by the writer’s work as a teenager in the early fifties. Back in 1993 I had interviewed him about Grigson and Lewis in his tiny flat in Sydenham, where he proudly conducted me around his marvellous collection, which also included original artwork and letters. Only now has this resource found a permanent home -- at the University of Victoria, British Columbia ( which also has the Betjeman papers ).

It is not certain exactly how many copies of Anglosaxony were published, though the print run would probably have been small. Lewis was not well-known in Canada and it is likely that all those newspaper editors who were sent copies regarded the book as mere propaganda and therefore not worth keeping. Their descendants may be regretting this now. There is no copy on ABE at present , though a recent reference work on Modern Firsts values the book at £750. Lewis himself asked for an advance of $50 ! [R.M.Healey.]

Thanks Robin--from a purely commercial point of view Lewis is (imnsho) risky--he goes in and out of fashion, some of his 20s and 30s works are common even in jackets (he was a greatly collected author in the days when Rota, Bell Book and Radmall and Serendipity ruled the roost.) Good to hear he is coming back however -- as one reader says at Amazon 'Make no mistake, the guy was a fascist and a raging misogynist' but he was most certainly not a fuckwit like so many collected authors sold by the newer modern first gang.

As for fascism, as Robin notes, he changed his mind by 1941. His Paris based novel 'Tarr' is a good start if you are minded to dip into him - a book high in the modernist canon for its attack on English individualism, its jagged Vorticist style, its punctuation--another Amazon reader recommends it as a 'beach read' warning however that it will 'somehow manage to kick sand in your face.' Lewis revised the book twice but the 1918 original is the goods. He was a great and prolific painter and his pictures used to occasionally turn up underpriced. As for his puce monster BLAST (1914) I have a customer for both issues in good shape. Ship and bill.

05 September 2009

Hocus Pocus 2

In July 2009 at Sotheby's a lot described as 'TRACTS ON MAGIC, FOLK LORE AND SOCIAL HISTORY' (20 works in one volume, contemporary calf, cropped, very occasionally affecting a few words, upper cover becoming detached...) made £30,000. Sotheby's (sometimes known to raffish dealers as 'Dotheboys' - a Dickensian reference) wanted 25% on top of this (£7500) for commission and may have collected another 5 to 10% from the owner, although they sometimes waive this if the estate is very grand or is consigning boatloads of desirable stuff. With books they tend to become motivated if a five figure sum can be achieved. If you spend over £500K on one item buyer's commission drops to a paltry 10%.

To be fair the cataloguer may have put in a few hours work on his description of the contents of this fabulous book. He certainly consulted Donald Wing's Short-Title Catalogue of Books --an essential book that can mostly be accessed through the splendid ViaLibri. It is hard to speculate what 'Hocus Pocus junior: The anatomy of legerdemain' (1654) would have made on its own. Maybe £18000? This is what we know of the other books from the catalogue:
[Neville, Henry] A new and further discovery of the Islle [sic] of Pines. Allen Bankes and Charles Harper, 1668, [Wing N509], first 2 leaves soiled with small marginal chips--Heath, J[ames] Paradise transplanted and restored. 1661, [1], 7pp., [apparently unrecorded issue, not in Wing]--[Gayton, Edmund] Walk knaves, walk. 1659, [Wing G421]--B., A. Learn to lye warm... reasons, wherefore a young man should marry an old woman. H. Brugis for W. Gilbert, 1672, [Wing B10], The life and death of Ralph Wallis the cobbler of Glocester. E. Okes, for William Whitwood, 1670, [Wing L2008]--Cromwell, Henry. The Lord Henry Cromwels speech in the house. 1659, woodcut illustration on title-page, [Wing L3047A, recording 6 copies]--The tales and jests of Mr. Hugh Peters. for S. D., 1660, engraved frontispiece, [Wing P1721; Sabin 61196]--[Butler, Samuel] A proposal humbly offered for the farming of liberty of conscience. 1663, [Wing P3705aA]--Wild, Robert. A letter from Dr Robert Wild. for T. Parkhurst, J. Starkey, F. Smith, and D. Newman, 1672, [Wing W2140]----Flagellum poeticum: or, a scourge for a wilde poet. Being an answer to Dr. Robert Wild's letter. for J. L., 1672, [Wing F1128]--[Achard, John] Moon-shine: or The restauration of jews-trumps and bagpipes. Being an answer to Dr. R. Wild's letter. for R.C., 1672, [Wing A439]--One and thirty new orders of Parliament, and the Parliaments declaration: published for the satisfaction of the people off [sic] the three nations of England, Scotland, and Ireland... together with the Parliaments ghost: to the tune of Mad Tom. 1659, [Wing O331]--[Stubbe, Henry] Rosemary and Bayes: or, animadversions upon a treatise called, The rehearsall trans-prosed. Jonathan Edwin, 1672, [Wing S6064]--C., J. Peters patern or the perfect path to worldly happiness. 1659, title within woodcut border, [Wing C784], couple of small tears affecting a few words--Dugdale, Sir William. The manner of creating the knights of the antient and honourable Order of the Bath. Phil. Stephens, 1661, [Wing M458], few small holes in final leaf affecting a few words--Langbaine, Gerald. The foundation of the universitie of Oxford. M. S. for Thomas Jenner, 1651, [Wing L370]--Ibid. The foundation of the universitie of Cambridge. M. S. for Thomas Jenner, 1651, [Wing L368]--Jennings, Abraham. Digitus Dei, or an horrid murther strangely detected. Declaring the suspicion, apprehending, arraignment, tryal, confession, and execution of Richard Rogers... for murthering of one Ruth Auton his sweetheart, having first begotten her with child of two children. A. Seile, 1664, [Wing J555A ]--Peacham, Henry. The worth of a peny, or, a caution to keep money. S. Griffin for William Lee, 1667, title with typographic border...

The most interesting and valuable book apart from Hocus Pocus has to be 'The Isle of Pines' (1668) by George Pine (ie Henry Neville) subtitled ' A late Discovery of a fourth Island in Terra Australis, Incognita' it is a much reprinted and much translated 'libertine fantasy' where a shipwreck leaves young George Pine with four women survivors on a mild and fertile island, soon copiously populated by their offspring, whose rapid increase in numbers is charted. Early British erotica, however mild, is much prized and very hard to find, it also has deep interest to collectors of early Australiana. It appears to be a very valuable book--Quaritch paid £300 for a copy ('stained & repaired with loss of text...') in 1980 and an ex library second edition made £600 in 1983. At a special sale in 2005 at Australian Book Auctions, someone coughed up a stonking $24000 Australian dollars ($18,604 US) - well over £10K for the 'Davidson' copy of the 1668 first.

Together with an 'orrible murder, some early economics ('The worth of a peny') another suggestive work ('Learn to lye warm.....') and an early work on bag-pipes this was a book to fight over. There is a theory, often advanced by the much missed book runner Andrew Henderson, that a small quantity of interesting books will often make more than if they were individually lotted. The idea is that dealers wanting one particular item are then forced to value the other books, some of which will be outside their area of expertise. In order to get the book they want they will often over estimate the final value of the other books. Auctioneers know this and make up interesting lots for dealers and collectors to fight over...In this case the lot was made up for them.

The book was said to have gone to a magic punter. One wonders if it is fated to be broken into twenty parts. A while ago David Copperfield was known as a great acquirer of such books - also the amusing and erudite Ricky Jay. Copperfield is appearing in Las Vegas at present and may not be such a punter (or he may have it all.) His Bardotesque ex wife Claudia Schiffer lives up the road from here in a country mansion (East Anglia.) Someone said they had seen her at a 'stately' car boot sale selling off posh tat but I think that was an illusion...