03 December 2009

Books as investment / an old G.F. Sims catalogue 2

A further word on George F. Sims. He should not be confused with George R. Sims (1847 - 1922) English journalist, poet, dramatist, novelist, social reformer, bon vivant and criminologist. George R is still mildly collectable with a couple of Bleiler titles under his belt. George F is also collectable and may even be a 'penny shares' investment himself. You could probably pick up his entire oeuvre for about £400 (about 20 books and pamphlets) including his first effort 'The Swallow Lovers' - a collection of poems privately printed at his father's expense on the occasion of his 18th birthday. Signed presentation copies should be fairly uncommon, as he did not believe in signing books (probably saw too many as a dealer) and had a small label for pasting in copies of his own books sent to him for signing: 'Mr George Sims regrets that his signature spoils book.' The label depicts a branch and a noose.

The book label hints at a slightly difficult type of person confirmed to some extent by his obituary in 'The Independent' : 'He did not suffer fools gladly: indeed it has been said of him that he refused to suffer them at all.' Not suffering fools gladly tends to be obit-speak for an insufferable rageaholic yet GFS appears to have had many admirers and could be generous to other dealers and collectors. It was not so much fools as bores that he could not abide. I remember a completist collector who used to be seen round the book fairs and could bore for Britain (and America) on his chosen subject. He told me that he thought Sims was very rude- he had cornered him on some minor issue point and had launched into a lengthy disquisition when he noticed that Sims had wandered off to the other side of the room while he was still talking. A wise and audacious move, not available to the tethered stall holder. James Joyce once said 'I never met a bore' - but he had probably never been to a provincial book fair.

I only have one Sims catalogue with me and I know there were many better than this, but even chucking in a few duff buys the selected books are looking like a sound investment. To outperform the stock market you need a return of 20 times original investment from 1971 and to show a compounded annual 10% return you need to get about 35 times original investment over the 37/ 38 years. Even Madoff was only offering this. Let's start with a cracker:

Vladimir Nabokov. LOLITA. First ed, Paris 1955. 'Original wrappers, fine.' £25 / £300/ £3000 (possibly more if still fine.)

John Le Carre. THE NAIVE AND SENTIMENTAL LOVER. Typescript /manuscript with many changes in Le Carre's hand and additional passages including 'two attempts at a different ending, both being deleted.' £65 / £800 / £6000
Hard to value this. In 1990 at Sotheby's Horowitz paid £1800 for Le Carre's The Good Soldier, with corrected typescripts, comprising 16 revised versions, & page proofs; 1990. Over 400 pp, 4to.' This was possibly 'The Secret Pilgrim' and was also likely to have been an espionage novel which is better than 'Naive and Sentimental' - JLC's attempt at a non-spy novel. Still it's hard to imagine the Sims MS would make less than £6000 and could conceivably make many times that.

Charles Morgan. SPARKENBROKE. (1936) One of 200 signed. £15 / £180/ £40. Bad buy! Morgan is hard to sell and copies are thick on the ground. An old customer once explained the demise of Morgan (actually an interesting writer) 'no-one has the time to read him any more.'

George Moore. PERONNIK THE FOOL. (1932) One of 525 Signed copies. Fine in slip-case. £20 / £240 / £60. Bad buy! George Moore despite being Irish and a close friend of Nancy Cunard has become slow to shift, especially these large run limited eds.

Lord Alfred Douglas. SIGNED HOLOGRAPH LETTER TO C. S. MILLARD. A deeply unpleasant 4 page letter basically threatening the openly gay Millard with the police ( 'I have had a long discussion with Inspector Macantire about you') and calling his ideas 'lunatic'. Talking about Oscar's friend Robert Ross's 'unspeakable filthiness and vileness' and saying of his former lover " ...I still pray for OW hoping that there is a bare chance that he may have escaped going to hell...' With envelope with the Douglas seal. £25 / £300 / £650 [that's him left looking uncannily like Jude Law]

George Darley. THE LABOURS OF IDLENESS. (1826) Used but vg. Sims was fond of this now highly rated poet (aka 'Guy Penseval') and was comfortable cataloguing older books. There are some great Dickens rarities in here but useless for our purposes as they are marked [SOLD] -a depressing but honest practice that you see less of these days (that is if you still get book catalogues.) £65 / £780 / £1000

WOOLF, Virginia. BOOK OF CHEQUE-STUBS. (1930) Includes 2 cancelled signed cheques made out to husband Leonard. Sims has fun with this speculating on what VW meant by some of her stub entries and predicts they will puzzle literary detectives--one simply says 'Panto' and she spent £9 on a writing desk and £2.17 shillings at Fortnums. £10 / £120 / £1200 (surely more)
In the hands of one of the many Bloomsbury fanatics one could now imagine a $10,000 price tag but in 1971 Virginia was in the doldrums. Huge price surges (and declines) are all a matter off shifting tastes and predicting them needs the literary equivalent of a Warren Buffet! [VW's desk below--was this the 9 quidder?]

Hilaire Belloc. A COLLECTION OF POLITICAL POEMS. ( Oswestry 1924) A fantastically rare Belloc item printed for private distribution on handmade paper and inscribed to Lord Howard de Walden. George's price is equally fantastic, a stonking £175, equivalent to £2050 in today's terms. Bad buy! It is possible he had a punter in mind. I was a young shaver then but I don't recall Belloc being that hot. The most any Belloc has ever made in auction is another privately printed rarity from 1931 'The Praise of Wine. An Heroic Poem by H. Belloc to Duff Cooper.' Inscribed to Andre Simon it made £1000 in 2005 at Sotheby's. Some highish prices were also recorded back in 1990 at the Bradley Martin sale, but surely the most you could get for this 1924 pamphlet would be £1200. Have put it at £900 to be cautious. £175 / £2050 / £900

Will conclude in the next posting and add up figures to see what kind of return our fantasy investor might have got....


Anonymous said...

I have 95 of the 107 catalogues Sims issued. Nothing nicer than to sit in a favourite chair with a large single malt laughing out loud at the marvellous items he catalogued; an exercise in masochism where no one gets hurt. £1500 for a fine first of corvo's "Don Renato", signed John Gray pamphlets for £2.50! It was'nt so much the prices but the sheer uniqueness of the books listed - which will never been seen again. I found him fine to deal with though, possibly, my young, eager enthusiasm may have amused him.

Anonymous said...

A young shaver!

Unknown said...

re: George Moore. Slow as molasses for the most part one would have thought, though the one listed here along with his Nonesuch 'Ulick' press are interesting for the Stephen Gooden engravings. The engravings in Peronnik are superb.. [and 50-60UKP for a copy today in fine/fine with slipcase seems about bang on]