RARE BOOK GUIDE - THE RUNNERS, THE RIDERS & THE ODDS

23 March 2010

Odd vols / Odd bedfellows



I have finally got round to sorting out a five year accumulation of odd vols. The most common are odd volumes of Churchill's 'magisterial' The Second World War (Cassell 1948 to 1954 6 vols) followed closely by odd volumes of Proust's 'incomparable roman fleuve' the 12 volume Remembrance of Things Past (A La Recherche Du Temps Perdu). Odd bedfellows. Churchill and Proust--the undisputed odd volume kings. Would they have got on? Proust had served in the 76th Regiment of French Infantry (see Powell's 'Proust as Soldier' in Weidenfeld's centenary volume) and was interested in military tactics, so there was some common ground. Somewhere on the web someone claims that WSC never read Proust ('the wrong kind of eloquence') and it is doubtful Marcel ever ploughed through The River War or even Churchill's only novel Savrola. Pic left of Proust in uniform--not exactly Audie Murphy.

Third in line used to be Toynbee's 12 volume Study of History but it is now of so little value that attempts to make a set are futile -odd vols get recycled, tossed or put in the £1 bin. This does not stop the entrepreneurial Bookbarn demanding £99 for an ex-library reprint of the ninth volume. There are a 1000 odd vols on ABE. Across the pond I am told that fellow dealers have to sort out sets of Lincoln and the Papers of John Adams. With Churchills WW2 there is a predictably logical process in their relative rarity. We have 210 odd vols and have made up at least 7 sets from very nice in jacket (£100+) to acceptable and sound sans jacket (£40). Volume one is the most common, closely followed by volume two, volume 6 being the most difficult. Beware- volume two is often a reprint. Churchill signed a lot of sets, sometimes in volume two--signed sets always command a £1000+ even in baleful condition. Fine and fault free sets are something of a rarity, the jackets tend to fade. They are routinely bound up and usually fetch over £400 for handsome examples. American tourists use to buy them almost as a matter of course. For serious money (£2000+) you need Gilbert's 21 volume official biography. Odds of the early Randolph Churchill volumes tend to accumulate but most of the money is in the 'Companion Volumes' (especially the fifth volume- parts 1,2,3.)

As for Marcel, I have 180 odds and made just 4 decent sets. The vast majority are the Philippe Jullian illustrated Chatto edition from 1957 onwards (£60 to £150), then there is the atractive smaller ink blue Phoenix Library edition Traveller's Library (1929 onwards) and the original Chatto / Knopf edition from 1922 onwards, often seen in limited edition. The complete 11 vol set can get into 4 figures (just) but the number punters wishing to pay that sum is unknowable. The newer Kilmartin translation is easily found in 3 fat vols but the 2002 Lydia Davis translation 3200+ pages in six vols is oddly elusive. We sold a copy last year at £150 within seconds of uploading. C.K. Scott Moncrieff's translation still finds favour and other early works by him are also much sought after...
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