04 January 2010

Enemies of Books

William Blades. THE ENEMIES OF BOOKS. Trubner & Co., London, 1880.

Current Selling Prices
$100-$700 /£60-£450

A curiosity and a classic from the great age of 'books about books.' In the late nineteenth century book collecting was one of those subjects (like cookery now) where an author could expect an assured, if sometimes modest, sale. This went on until about 1930 when Holbrook Jackson's fat tome 'The Anatomy of Bibliomania' was published. Titles like Books in Chains (Blades again) Book Hunter in Paris, Art of Extra Illustrating, 33 Years Adventures in Bookland, Bibliophobia (Dibdin) Eugene Field's Love Affairs of a Bibliomaniac, Autolycus of the Book-Stalls, Shadows of the Old Booksellers, The Souls of Books, Book Song, Behind my Library Door, The Romance of Book Collecting and one of still current interest The Lost Art of Reading.

Blades identifies the enemies of books thus:

-Gas and heat
-Dust and neglect
-Ingorance and bigotry
-Servants and children
-The bookworm
-Other vermin
Jackson adds kittens to the list and I can add noxious cleaning liquids that often ruin the books on the shelves nearest the floor. Blades himself advised that a book should never be dusted and had a particular horror of 'careless servants and housewives.' One might now add careless scanners of books who break their spines, day glo hi-lighters, a variety of fiendish librarians (the ones who go for labels, stamps and perforations all at the same time) internet entrepreneurs who abandon millions of neglected books in cavernous warehouses and, of course, Nintendo and maybe Kindle (but at least that is about reading.)

Blades writes of a collector with an album full of title pages, something repugnant to modern tastes -as are those misguided collectors who clipped signatures from autograph letters. He also writes of 'bibliotaphs' - miserly collectors who bury their books by keeping them under lock and key in darkened and obscure rooms and never see what they have bought. He even identifies one such book that I have dreamed of finding 'The Recuyell of the Histories of Troye' the first book printed in English -hidden away by the unhinged bibliotaph Sir Thomas Phiilips of Middle Hill. This type is by no means extinct, I am glad to report. Blades reserves his greatest scorn for incompetent bookbinders ( 'biblioclastic bookbinders') who cut the margins of books and envisages that, in the spirit of Dante's Inferno (where the tortures are based on the past crimes of the lost souls) the errant bookbinder will be roasted in hell with the all the paper shavings he had so ruthlessly shorn off in his life.

VALUE? You can buy a decent first for about $100. The 'books on books' thing probably isn't quite as hot as it was say a decade back. A lot of reference material is now available on the web. There are bibliographies of books on books and somewhere there are bibliographies of bibliographies of books on books. I think I saw one once and it wasn't slim. High prices for 'Enemies of Books' are reserved for quirky bindings, something that seems to happen to the work. People tend to overprice fine bindings on the web, often they are catalogued by dealers who haven't seen very many and are thus overawed when they confront an exquisite binding and price it with the foolishly rich collector in mind, a very scarce breed. The most reasonable at £500 is described thus:
'in full light brown mediaeval morocco by the Guild of Women-Binders (signed on front-free endpaper), marbled endpapers, green edges, on the upper cover an embossed design of seven rats and title within a double border, and on lower cover a humorous vignette of two rats, designed by Miss Pocock, worked by Miss Gaskell...
Never quite sure about the value of Guild of Women-Binders books but they seem to be desired so this price may be fair. Another in old full polished calf with gilt panelled spine by Sangorski & Sutcliffe may be a little toppish at £800. At $2400 a copy bound by Loren Schwartz (known for later bindings for the Roycrofter's group) may be destined to sell at some magic time in the far future. However it is lavishly bound in full blue leather with doublures and silk endpapers with extensive gold tooling including a large art deco representation of a book worm on the front and back. Blades waxes eloquent on the worm--'...quiet neglect is necessary to his existence; dirty books, damp books, dusty books, and books that the owner never opens, are most exposed to the enemy...'


mecki said...

You can see the book here.

Post Mortem Books said...

My favourite collector (and reader) was one "S.Myles" (the fact that I can recall his name after all these years does at least signify some kind of posterity) who was an avid reader of crime fiction. I would love to have seen this man at work after buying the latest Crofts or Freeman. Coming home and unwrapping the pristine, dustwrapperd book, marvelling at the design and newness of the item - and then setting to with scissors and paste.
Front cover of the dustwrapper cut and pasted in between half-title and title, rear cover tucked into the blank pages at the end. Spine neatly snipped at pasted to front endpaper. Had he finished? No! Signature to front endpaper, signature to title page, signature on last page.
Then, when he had finished reading it he would put a date AND time (10.54 p.m. for example) followed by a pithy comment on the plot. And then do the same every time he re-read the story which could be up to three times.
His collection must have been large as the books surfaced in various quarters for years. Whenever the odd volume surfaces these days I view it with affection and fond remembrance (even though S.Myles must have been one of the most anally retentive collectors of books. I wonder if there was a Mrs Myles? Somehow I doubt it).

BOB said...

Dare we add customers to the list ? Take one nice looking book,add ten hands per day picking it up and failing to put back on the shelf,times 5 days and times again by 2 years equals one very tatty book.
Like Post Mortem books,we used to have a punter who would buy books just to wrap the cover round a vhs case.

Edwin Moore said...

For more conscious enemies, read Lucien Polastron's horrific Books on Fire - the deliberate destruction continues to this day.

Love the children picture. I know someone who as a child spent a happy quiet afternoon illustrating his dad's beloved and till then immaculate Jungle Books firsts.

Ray Girvan said...

BOB: customers

Oh yes. Ones who take a book from the shelves by pulling with a fingertip on the upper edge of the spine, which rapidly becomes torn.