30 August 2009

Hocus Pocus 1

Anonymous. HOCUS POCUS JUNIOR: The Anatomie of Legerdemain. Printed by T. H[arper] for R. M[ab],London 1634

Current Selling Prices
$25,000+ /£18000+

The object of great desire by collectors of conjuring books-- it is the first devoted exclusively to magic as a performing art. It was based on Reginald Scot's 1584 work on witchcraft, of which more anon. Subtitled '... the art of iugling set forth in his proper colours, fully, plainely, and exactly, so that an ignorant person may thereby learne the full perfection of the same, after a little practise. Vnto each tricke is added the figure, where it is needfull for instruction.' The very rare first edition has 52 pages with woodcut illustrations, subsequent editions were somewhat expanded. There were many editions, even into the 19th century --all are valuable and surprisingly hard to find. Most copies are said to be in instititions. Various modern facsimiles have appeared, mostly now pricey.

I was alerted to this book by reading a report by the admirable saleroom correspondent Ian McKay. There aren't many people in this field, possibly the most noted apart from the fluting Godfrey Barker was Geraldine Norman (wife of Frank 'Sir, You Bastard' Norman.) Ian reported in 'Antique Trade Gazette' that a copy of this slim book appeared in an auction in July bound with 20 other items. It was a later edition from 1654 but still rare as hen's teeth. The other books and pamphlets were of some interest but the general consensus is that it was 'Hocus Pocus' that bought the £37, 500 bid. (£30K + £7.5K to Sotheby's for their pains.)

This brilliant result brings home the lesson that it is always worth examining bound collections of pamphlets. Many are sermons but even there treasure can be found. Uber runner Martin Stone found the great Churchill rarity 'Mr Broderick's Army (1903) in a bound collection of otherwise unremarkable pamphlets. If Joyce's 'Et Tu Healy' (possibly entitled 'Parnell') ever shows up it will probably be bound in with some Irish political tracts of the late nineteenth century. To be continued with inter alia an examination of what else was bound into this fat volume that might explain the fat price...

26 August 2009

Rare Cricket books

Now that England have regained the Ashes, dealers in cricketiana will doubtless be rubbing their hands in anticipation of the expected surge of interest in cricket-related material . The football season has begun too, but although someone paid £19,000 in 2006 for an FA Cup Final programme of 1889 ( a record for any footballiana ), collectors of cricket books have always had the reputation of being more discerning than their soccer-mad counterparts, and also more willing to shell out big bucks . Most club chairmen would rather put their money into buying a new centre half than building up a collection of late Victorian programmes. Collectors, wealthy or otherwise, of cricket books seem to be more obsessive. In October 2005, for instance, the private library of the fanatical collector Desmond Eager brought some of the most ardent cricket fans to Christies’. Even those who expected strong bidding were astounded at the prices fetched. Celebs in the arts and entertainment figure strongly among the ranks of collectors and I suspect that agents for some (like Tim Rice and Charlie Watts ) may have been responsible for many of the inflated prices on this occasion.

The biggest money was reserved for early documents . Two modest looking and frayed pamphlets, one disbound, smashed records. These were the incredibly rare score-sheets of matches played in late Georgian England, when the bowling attack consisted of fast underarm deliveries. William Epps’ Collection of all the Grand Matches of Cricket in England (Rochester 1799) and Samuel Britcher’s Complete List of the Grand Matches of Cricket that have been played in the year 1795 ( London 1795) both made £90,000, which in the case of the Britcher works out at a cool £3,000 per page ! Not bad for ephemera that once cost a few old pence a pop. However, if you believe that the chance of finding any of these rarities in a job lot of pamphlets at your local saleroom are as likely as Ireland winning the next cricket World Cup, you should think again. Although the print run of each pamphlet was ‘probably small ‘, no-one knows exactly how many copies were issued, and it mustn’t be assumed that most ended up as charred paper on a Georgian fire grate.

If very early football programmes can turn up occasionally, there is no logical reason why one or more of these early records can’t be found either bound together in one volume or bound in with other related matter. Rare ephemera does survive and dealers make most of their money from such material. At present well known cricket book specialist Christopher Saunders has nothing so early ( though he does stock facsimile reprints of Britcher et al ), but he is selling for a jaw dropping £400 a Hampshire Cricket Club Guide for 1894 that once retailed for six old pennies.

Ashes material of a similar type and vintage is also as rare, though not as pricey as Georgian scorebooks Saunders wants £250 for a complete record of the 1884 tour and £350 for one dealing with that of 1909. But if you just want a contemporary magazine account of the Australian Tour of England in 1899 or 1902 he will sell you two disbound articles for a modest £10 each. As for Ireland winning the World Cup, the rarest item featuring an Irish team abroad went for £3,000 at Bonham’s in December 2005 . The Irish Cricketers in the United States by ‘One of Them’ was published at one shilling in 1879. Early biographies and autobiographies of famous players ( even W.G.Grace )can often be reasonably priced, though tipped in signed photos and association copies obviously add to the price of all such material.

It goes without saying that, with a few exceptions, post First World War items are easier to find and very much cheaper, although volumes of Wisden (especially the 1916 issue ) that listed the short careers of those who perished in the trenches command very high prices. Cricket books can be found in the most unlikely places, but generally, I found abebooks a disappointing source, especially of the more obscure material This is possibly because the site is dominated by American dealers and few dealers or collectors across the pond are interested in the game. They don’t know what they are missing. We are the Barmy Army ! [R.M.Healey]

OWZAT! Thanks Robin. I have made some good rewards from Wisden's over the years and even at one point had an early Cricket poem. I sold it to the churlish old bookseller of Richmond the late Eric Barton. Whenever I visited his shop he always asked if I had any eighteenth century Cricket books, so when I actually turned up with one he was knocked for six. I can't remember what he gave me for it but I recall it paid for a trip to Milan and beyond...

23 August 2009

British Beatniks

I have been thinking about the Beatnik movement in Britain that flourished at the end of the 1950s and into the early 1960s. It produced very little literature, a bit of music, some art and a few headlines. Beatniks were harassed in St. Ives Cornwall for their unwashed appearance and could not get served in pubs or even tearooms. A search on YouTube will reveal Alan Whicker asking Beatniks questions like 'When did you last have a bath?" They turn up in movies and novels and can be seen in episodes of early 60s TV dramas like 'The Avengers' and 'Knight Errant.'

The very earliest Donovan songs 'Catch the Wind' and 'Josie' have a tangible Beatnik vibe--in 1963 he had taken a trip to St Ives with Gypsy Dave. We are talking duffle coats, existentialism and anarchy, the desire to be 'free', travel, hitch-hike, girls in pale make up, polo necks, berets, scraggy beards, longish hair and frothy coffee. Hancock's 1960 film 'The Rebel' satirises them and the contemporary art world and some of his shows have Beatnik poets and coffee bars. This is after the mid 1950s Angry Young Men - Colin Wilson's 'The Outsider' (1956) is a key influence but by the time the Beatniks came in Colin was enjoying fine wines and buyting property in Cornwall.

The wonderful Adam Faith movie 'Beat Girl' (1960) has parties in Soho and Chelsea and raves in church crypts. The very young Oliver Reed can be seen in many scenes but at the time was so little known that he is billed in the casting list as 'plaid shirt.' In one scene Faith upbraids a bunch of crypt ravers who are swigging from a bottle of gin: "Booze is for squares, Daddy-O." This was before drugs became ubiquitous and Beatniks appear to have been a reasonably temperate bunch--their kicks came from snubbing authority, freedom, free love, coffee, ciggies and jiving...Pic of the deathless Oliver below in his famous shirt.

Bookish collectables associated with this wiggy crowd are few. There is a good, somewhat spurious paperback with a glossary of their language 'Through Beatnik Eyeballs' (Pedigree Books, London, 1961). This can sell for between £40 and £50 and turns up now and then. John Peel had a copy and quoted the following scarcely credible lines from it-' I've driven in from birdland in my chariot after a dark four and I'm here in the frolic pad to lay some gut bucket on you loose gooses before I shake my reins and head for dreamsville.' Royston Ellis wrote a series of poems around this time that have a distinctly Beatnik flavour including the attractive looking booklet 'Rave' (1960.) This can go for as much as £50 in the signed limited edition and a little less than £20 in the trade version. There is slight evidence of a revival of interest in our Beatnik heritage, more on this in a day or two daddy-o...

16 August 2009

Checking prices of French books on the net

In general it is best to stick to prices charged by French dealers, outside of France dealers tend to overrate these books and fail to understand condition standards and all the different states of the limited editions. Some have limitations as low as 2 or 3 copies, on vellum thick as Mother's Pride. Most book sites will not recognise signed books in French even if you tick the signed box so use words such as 'envoi' or 'envoi de l'auteur' in the keywords section.

Do not start booking holidays or ordering cars if you find a signed French book-- they are thick on the ground and values can be surprisingly low even with relatively major names. World class names such as Proust, Baudelaire, Rimbaud (mega), Lautreamont are cause for celebration if you come across books signed by them but you can occasionally find books signed by, say, Camus or Huysmans or Cocteau for low three figure sums. The ubiquity of signed literary books was once explained to me as being part of their salon system where writer and their readers enjoyed lively liaisons and literary intercourse...

The other thing to look for with French books, apart from colourful erotica and tomes with illustrations by modern masters such as Picasso, Rouault, Foujita, Man Ray or Braque, is exquisite bindings. Leather bindings that we might regard as very fine and elaborate are, by comparison with French efforts, ordinaire and at best worthy or merely competent. Left is a superb Bonet binding for Cirque an unpublished 1939 work by André Suares with illustrations by Ambroise Vollard. Livres d'Artistes in their elaborate boxes, chemises and slip-cases are another story to be dealt with at another time... The trouble with all this is that these books scream high values--they are very unlikely to show up undervalued. But not impossible. Never forget the wise and stirring words of Cadillac Jack --'anything can be anywhere.' Courage Fuyons!

14 August 2009

Buying and selling French books

Many English language used bookshops won't buy French books because they feel they will not be able to sell them. Unless they are daft however they will buy valuable antiquarian and Illustrated books in French, but sadly most of these often go to auction. When was the last time you heard of a copy of Jazz (Matisse's supreme livre d'artiste--no change from 200000 euros) being bought over the counter? The reluctance to buy French books is not because dealers are thick and don't understand them but because unless you get the right stuff they are harder to sell than George Bush biographies. It was not always thus - in a New York magazine article about the town's book trade circa 1900 booksellers said that their best selling books were in French; certainly it is the French who emphasised the production of books produced exclusively for bibliophiles. Also the French were the kings of erotic book publishing, to the extent that in the 19th century mention of a 'French novel' implied something salacious and 'curious.' Erotic books, of course, always sell unless you price them prohibitively. The ruder the better when it comes to value...

Condition is paramount. The French have higher condition standards than their grubby roastbeef counterparts across the manche and will throw books that we might call "very good indeed" into the channel. They like limited editions on vellum or on complicated paper, sometimes so strange as to be almost unshelvable. We are talking editions du tete which if also signed can make megabucks (Jarry's Ubu Roi one of 15 copies signed 'Monsieur Ubu glorifie Laurent Tailhade / Bien amicalement / A. Jarry' made 200,000 euros in 2004 in a Bonet binding.) They take the internet pretty seriously and tend to overprice English language books. They do not seem to have the same respect as us for minor, unknown or obscure authors and tend to price them low even if theirs is the only copy. They had the internet in primitive form ('Minitel--see below') as early as 1982 so naturally progressed to the web with almost all dealers on it from 2000 onwards. There is a scene in Polanski's 'Bitter Moon' showing Peter Coyote searching for filles de joie on his minitel. Plus ca change etc.,

The photo above of French books in a window is actually a dress shop on the Rue de Rennes with books being used as a fashion prop. Fashion and books seem to go together in Paris -watches inspired by St Exupery, a shop selling decadent looking clothes called Dorian and another named after Colette. Jane Birkin's second daughter Lou Doillon is opening a shop bringing literature and fashion together in the bohemian 11th arrondissement in the fall of 2009--" We’ll have a mix of fashion, literature, modern and old, and it won’t be conventional,.." says Lou. If invited to the vernissage I'll get on Eurostar and report back... Is this the way forward?

09 August 2009

Ian Nairn, Outrage, 1955

Ian Nairn. OUTRAGE. The Architectural Press, Westminster, (1955)

Current Selling Prices
$50-$1500 /£30-£100

When Ian Nairn died of cirrhosis of the liver in 1983 aged just 52 he was a largely forgotten figure whose best work lay many years behind him. Some may have remembered his column in the Sunday Times and his TV shows that saw him pootering around the UK in a Morris Minor. Many may have bought his brilliantly idiosyncratic book on London, or perhaps his similar guide to Paris. But all this, together with his work with Pevsner on guides to Surrey and Sussex, was part of his creative period. For nearly a decade afterwards he had done nothing but drink himself into an early grave.

But, the great, the pioneering Ian Nairn, has always had a small, devoted following, and thanks to people like Jonathan Meades and other devoted fans through the world he can be seen as one of the great prophets of environmentalism. As such, there has always been a demand for his books, and particularly for his debut polemic, Outrage (1955). In this astonishing indictment of post-war planning Nairn sought to name and shame all those ‘ agents ‘responsible for the shocking ‘creeping mildew ‘ that occasionally individuals, but usually local authorities, had visited on both town and countryside over the years. He called it ‘ death by slow decay ‘ and he coined the word ‘Subtopia … a compound word formed from suburb and utopia, i.e, making an ideal of suburbia ‘, to describe what this malaise produced.

Outrage would have been an astonishing debut for anyone in his forties with two decades of architectural training behind him, but Nairn was just twenty-five year old, an ex-RAF pilot with a degree in maths from Birmingham University and with no architectural qualifications whatsoever. Like Betjeman before him, Nairn’s lack of professional qualifications did not prevent him contributing brilliantly perceptive pieces to the Architectural Review in the early fifties and I have a theory that it was Betch’s famous diatribe on post-war England in First and Last Loves (1952) that was mainly responsible for Nairn’s excursion into polemics. Around 1954/ 1955, in the spirit of Priestley (1936) and Cobbett (1823), he decided to take a rain check on the visual state of England by taking his camera with him on a journey from Southampton to Carlisle and beyond. The result was a damning indictment of planning blunders and architectural solecisms and it duly appeared as a special number of the Architectural Review in June 1955 and was published as a separate book soon afterwards.

Looking at Outrage now, its tiny photographs and architectural graphics, it can read like a period piece; it is when one examines the tone of voice that Nairn’s prescience seems astonishing. His is the voice that was scarcely heard at that time—indignant, disrespectful, and yet so very rational and sane. And the book evidently made its mark, because a reprint was called for immediately. Less immediate was the response from planners ( who, let’s face it, are not the brightest ). Over the years, however, the influence has been greater among those with similar agendas to Nairn’s. Without Outrage and its follow up, Counter Attack and such works as Your England Revisited, there probably wouldn’t have been Private Eyes’s ‘Nooks and Corners’. The trendy psychogeography of Ian Sinclair and his imitators owes much to Nairn too, as does the more recent Crap Towns. Things have improved a little in the past forty years. We don’t allow a perfectly good Georgian country house to rot ; we would never allow a fine Georgian terrace to be bulldozed to make way for a shopping parade and we wouldn’t let the National Grid string a line of pylons across a scenic river valley; we are more aware of the creeping effect of ribbon development and the ugliness of concrete lamp standards. However, some of the general lessons that Nairn taught—particularly the value of keeping suburban sights out of the country and gentility away from town centres-- which to anyone of any aesthetic sensitivity whatsoever are no-brainers-- are still being ignored by planners, and visual blunders involving street advertising, road signs, mobile-phone masts, fencing, etc are being committed every minute of the day around the UK.,

Although Outrage remains the Nairn title that everyone wants, prices aren’t exorbitantly high for something so worth having. A friend recently (on my recommendation ) went in search of a copy in her local bookshop and found a reprint of 1956 in good condition for a mere £25.One copy of the first was recently s priced on the Net at around £100, but this has now gone and in the past year or so a number of copies have quickly been and gone, such is the steady demand. Counter Attack is much easier to find at around £20 -£30, though it is unlikely that a great many were printed. Other titles by Nairn are more common still. [R.M. Healey]

03 August 2009

Paris in the Spring...

At the end of June I was in Paris and have just unpacked some books that I bought there. I may just get my money back after expenses. Breaking even is not good business and is basically the same as going broke. Sacré Bleu. Will have to regard my sojourn in Paris as a holiday rather a buying trip. Blame the Euro. Paris, which used to be so reasonable, was now ruinously expensive and French dealers seemed to charge as if we were in the middle of a Porsche and red braces boom. Recession (probably much referenced when buying) seems to mean nothing to them and books that we can get £10 for are routinely priced at 35 Euros (about £30). English books are always looked up on every database and then priced with a heavy hand, if not an iron fist. That being said there were a few chinks in their armour.

I bought a very nice limited edition set of Jane Austen, that had been in the library of Arnold Bennett, for about 750 Euros and hope to get £1300 for them - practically a double up. French dealers are more cautious buyers and tend not to touch anything they can't sextuple - they then price their books so magnanimously that they could take a couple of decades to sell. However I bought a small album of vintage "feelthy postcards" for a euro each (actually 85 of them for 50 Euros)- something of a snip. Picture below of a jolly nude in a library.

One of the great pleasures of going to Paris was visiting the book fair at San Sulpice (see above.) Few things are more enjoyable than looking for books in the open air even if bargains are rare. Bright sun all day, the gentle sound of the fountain, the shade of trees, good cafés nearby. There used to be a partly open air bookshop in Ojai California ( the guru infested town where they shot 'Lost Horizon') and several open air book markets in South of France. Info on any other open air book shops, markets and fairs is welcome.