25 July 2010

Sherlock Holmes / State of the Market/ Literary Swindlers 2

I have been thinking about Conan Doyle this week and the failure at auction of a fine first signed presentation of A Study in Scarlet. It was bought in at £250,000. Possibly the Sangorski rebind was a good excuse not to buy it, a limpid wraps copy inscribed would surely sell. Possibly a warmer inscription or a presentation to a fellow explorer of the spiritual realms-someone like Madam Blavatsky or the boy avatar Krishnamurti would have carried it over the finishing line. The inscription read - "This is the very first | independent book of | mine which ever was | published | Arthur Conan Doyle. | Jan 9 / 14".

There must be several thousand Sherlockian punters worldwide but sadly (for the seller) not one of them with a few hundred grand to spare for the great 1887 Beeton's Christmas Annual. One dealer I met took it as a portent--he also cited a lacklustre Churchill sale and major botanical books that were making less now than in the early 1990s without even building in inflation. 'Prices are dropping like stones' he mused. All is not lost, price changes can often be explained by shifts in taste and one can see new auction records being broken almost weekly in the field of fine modern first editions in fine jackets or with great inscriptions. Follow the money --as the swindler might say.

My favourite Sherlock story is Charles Augustus Milverton. Holmes, master of disguise, in pitted against the evil and resourceful Milverton - a pitiless blackmailer of noble women. Holmes disguises himself as a plumber and heads to Hampstead, where he courts Milverton's housemaid, even managing to become her fiancé. The character of Charles Augustus Milverton was based on a real blackmailer, Charles Augustus Howell, an art dealer who preyed upon an unknown number of people, including the poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Not quite a literary swindler, although he may have trousered some of Ruskin's money. His biographer Helen Rossetti Angeli, could find no evidence to support accusations of blackmail. There is a fine Beerbohm watercolour of him eavesdropping at a door while his lover while Rosa Corder forges Rossetti drawings. He is said to have been involved in his friend Felice Orsini's attempt to assassinate Napoleon III in 1858 and to have persuaded Dante Gabriel Rossetti to dig up the poems he buried with his wife Elizabeth Siddal. His death was equally macabre -he was found close to a Chelsea public house with his throat slit, and a ten-shilling coin in his mouth. There is a suggestion he may have died elsewhere. The ten bob bid treatment was apparently reserved for those guilty of slander.

Ruskin, rich in his time, employed him as a secretary between 1865 and 1868. He trusted Howell with "affairs needing delicate handling and a wise discretion..." - mostly to manage his discreet charitable donations. Howell sought increasingly to obtain complete control of Ruskin's finances and Edward Burne-Jones persuaded him to sever his connection with Howell. Whistler thought he was a fine fellow, however, a "wonderful man...genius...splendidly flamboyant." [To be continued.] Pics from Chinese 1980s Sherlockian graphic novels including 'Charles Augustus Milverton.'

18 July 2010

Literary Swindlers

I was intrigued by a chapter in Memoirs of Harriot, Duchess of St. Albans (Colburn 1839) headed 'Literary Swindlers.' In 1822 the former actress Harriot Mellon (1777 - 1837) had inherited over a billion pounds in today's money from her husband Thomas Coutts, the banker. She went on to marry the 9th Duke of St. Albans a man 20 years her junior. She left her vast fortune to Coutts's grand daughter the philanthropist Angela Burdett-Coutts to whom she was very close. Harriot's fortune made her a target for a species of literary swindler who probably still exists today in some form. Harriot had lead a colourful life and there were many rumours about her origins and her career so writers were able to concoct 'a shameless mass of falsehoods' about her. As Mrs Baron-Wilson, author of these memoirs, puts it 'Mrs. Coutts being regarded as a female Croesus...was assailed by the lowest order of literati.'

The first chancer, one Mitford, demanded a £100 for the copyright of his manuscript. On being refused he found a publisher but 'the source was too polluted to prove injurious to any but the parties who brought it to light...soon after this Mitford died in abject poverty in St. Giles's workhouse.' This was a world much lower than Grub Street and largely unrecorded, it is likely that many of these writers met equally ignominious ends. There were many attempts, one by a Church of England clergymen and in one case Harriot grabbed the manuscript off a 'well dressed' blackmailer and threw it in the fire. She was from the 'publish and be damned' school and several lewd and spurious accounts of her life actually made it into print including A tale of the last century. The Secret Memoirs of Harriet Pumpkin, a celebrated actress ... By the Ghost of old Ralph. An exceedingly rare book, probably now worth much in excess of the money the swindling author received...

The modern equivalent would have the material on his Iphone and threaten to press the send button to his blog unless paid for his hack work. [To be continued with consideration of the real Charles Augustus Milverton, blackmailer to the PRB, a recent £700 8 volume work Whore's Biographies, Irish literary blackmailler Thomas Ashe and of course the grandest of grandes horizontales the courtesan Harriette Wilson...]

13 July 2010

Collecting antique cookery books

Reading that Sotheby’s are to sell a wonderful private cookery library on 15 July reminded me of the time I interviewed the brilliant Swiss chef Anton Mossiman (below) at his plush Belgravia restaurant. I wanted to know more about his huge collection of cookery books and had asked him to bring to the interview some of his favourite volumes. I was not prepared for the treasures that he lay before me on the table. These included an edition dated 1507 of Der Kuchenmeister, the earliest cookery book ever printed, which was partly in Latin, partly in German.. He also showed me a first edition dated 1570 of one of the most attractive cookery books ever published--- the work of Bartolomeo Scappi, chef to Pope Pius V, which contains fascinating plates of cooking utensils. In all, Mosimann’s gastronomic library came to around 6,000 volumes, most of which he has placed at the service of the students on his training centre in Battersea.

Mosimann had been a dedicated collector since his training on the continent—where he had picked up early texts for a few francs--hence the European slant to his collection, and I suspect that the continent is still the place to look for very early cookery and medical texts. However, even on the continent, treasures like Scappi and Der Kuchenmeister are rarely to be found outside libraries, and in the unlikely event of copies turning up for sale, would fetch five figure sums. Most 16th century and seventeenth century cookery books in English are also expensive, with Robert May’s The Accomplisht Cook (1660), which won praise from Elizabeth David and Frances Bissel, making more that £4,000 at auction a few years ago. Doubtless the demand from well heeled celebrity chefs has pushed up prices. For a collector with a more modest pocket the place to start is the early eighteenth century-- a time of peace and plenty when a burgeoning middle class loved to stage elaborate dinner parties.

But generally you should forget manuscript books of recipes. Mosimann found original material in them, but many recipes were copied from printed books and most manuscripts are dominated by home remedies for the bite of a dog or the bloody flux. It’s all a bit folk-lorist . I’ve looked at a lot of these cookery manuscripts and most are no better than that most boring of documents, the common-place book of some bored cleric or unmarried daughter of a Georgian landowner. Instead look out for the big names of the Georgian and Victorian period—Hannah Glasse, Sarah Harrison, Eliza Smith , Mrs Rundell, Eliza Acton, William Kitchener, Francatelli, Mrs Beeton.

To Mosimann and many others Hannah Glasse is a classic. Fifty editions of her Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy (1746) were published in the 18th century alone and early editions are always pricey at £700 upwards. And although Glasse’s predecessor, Eliza Smith, bulks up her Compleat Housewife (1739) with 190 pages of home remedies and suchlike, a first will still set you back around £600, while the Kegan Paul reprint of 2005 is listed on the Net at a dyspeptic $200. Another early Georgian, Sarah Harrison, is worth seeking out for her tips on preserves and sauces. I was lucky enough to be given my copy of the sixth edition (1755) by a friend, but much as I appreciate the gift I cannot understand why Dombey & Son are charging £1,040 for a book of such modest length. Mrs Rundell, a much more voluminous writer, whose Modern Domestic Cookery by a ‘Lady’ (1806) reached 65 editions in 35 years, isn’t anything like expensive. I bought my early Victorian edition for just £3.50 in the nineties, and at present Roe and Moore have a second edition for a piffling £28.

Most cookery writers of the 18th and 19th centuries are female, but there are some outstanding male writers too. Charles Carter was a contemporary of Glasse’s, but his Complete Practical Cook (1730) is now, according to one Suffolk dealer, who wants a tasty £3,800 for his copy, ‘ very scarce ‘. Then there is William Kitchener, a doctor, with a doctor’s no-nonsense attitude. He was primarily interested in the working of the digestive system and his scientific take on cookery made his Cook’s Oracle(1817) an instant hit ( eight editions before 1830) . In some ways, he was the Heston Blumenthal of Regency England. He was also unusual it that he named particular grocers in London as sources for ingredients. I paid £6 for my copy, but today expect to shell out at least £100 for an edition from the 1820s onwards. Eliza Acton probably deserves to be called the greatest English cook and the prices match her status. Jonkers have a first of her Modern Cookery for Private Families (1845) at £955, but later editions ( five within one year ) are much cheaper. Acton offered homely fare, something Charles Francatelli, chef to Queen Victoria and author of The Modern Cook (1846) would have disdained. My copy is almost mint---not a single gravy stain-- which suggests that for some readers Francatelli was more suited to fantasy bed-time reading, than practical use Of the equally voluminous Mrs Beeton, who lived under a racecourse pavilion and died at 29—not a lot needs to be said here, except that a first of her Household Management (1861) can be had for a surprisingly modest £500, though those countless late editions that crowd the cookery sections of second hand booksellers should cost no more than a few quid . [ R.M.Healey]

Thanks Robin, wise and timely words as always. I mentioned earlier the story of the great cookery book library that I didn't get...Sometime in the 1980s I was called to a house in the Belgravia /Chelsea area to offer on a a load of books. They belonged to a pleasant person called Felicité Gwynne who was then manager of the exclusive Chelsea bookshop Sandoes. I remember walking along the hall past rows of fabulous cookbooks including what seemed hundreds of 18th century and earlier tomes in limpid contemporary bindings. I mentally punched the air as there are few things that sell faster or more easily. I was whisked up to her quarters in the attic and asked 'What about those cookery books?' - Felicité politely informed me 'Oh those are my sisters and are not for sale--she's Elizabeth David you know...'

Meanwhile here is a recipe for a Yorkshire Pudding from The Art of Cookery made Plain and Easy, by Hannah Glasse, 1747. Serious calories. It is from the excellent Jane Austen Centre site and even has a video demonstration of how to make this gastronomic delight.

Take a quart of milk, four eggs, and a little salt, make it up into a thick batter. You must have a good piece of meat at the fire; take a stew-pan and put some dripping in, set it on the firel when it boils, pour in your pudding; let it back on the fire till you think it is nigh enough, then turn a plate upside down in the dripping pan, that the drippings may not be blacked; set your stew-pan on it under your meat and let the dripping dorp on the pudding, and the heat of the fire come to it to make itself a fine brown. When your meat is done and sent to table, drain all the fat from your pudding, and set it on the fire again to dry a little; then slide it as dray as you can into a dish; melt some butter, and pour it into a cup and set it in the middle of the pudding. It is an excellent pudding; the grave of the meat eats well with it.

06 July 2010

Teenage Testament

I found this typed statement among some papers that I had bought from the late John Rolph, a marvellous man, publisher with the Scorpion Press and latterly a 'tea bag' bookseller in his rambling shop at Pakefield, Lowestoft. He had published several Royston Ellis poetry pamphlets including the great-looking 'Rave' (1960). Ellis's statement, written when he was 18 is cri de coeur from teenland--the teenager at the time had only just been invented, before that in what is now known as 'the age of deference' you went uncomplainingly from boy to man, from girl to woman, wore sensible clothes and behaved yourself. A historic document, not quite on a par with the Dada Manifesto (at the Cabaret Voltaire in July 1916) but of some significance-- it is a carbon copy with a note by JR 'given to me by Royston 1960.' It appears to be unpublished. Photo above - Eel Pie Island 1960, below Johnny Vincent rocking on the IOW. Take it away Royston:

Teenage Testament

With the on-coming Spring the teenage has burst into bud once again. But this year there is no getting rid of it with weed killer. Teenagers look like being the prize blooms featured in every newspaper, magazine, television programme and family discussion.

Throughout the country youngsters are being interviewed for their views on life, love, manners, religion....In fact, everything that will give the outsider an idea of what makes teenagers tick. A so-called typical teenager romps into the public eye and is immediately condemned and criticised by earnest religious bodies as being 'not a fair representative'. A learned youngster states his views and straightaway teenagers accuse him of being out of touch.

One thing that all these probes have proved is that there is no such thing as the typical teenager....We, and I speak now as a teenager, have healthy defiance for conventionally-held beliefs. We will not take "no' or "you mustn't" for an answer. We aim to keep hypocrisy from our outlook. The world of the tut-tut brigade is swiftly crumbling. In two generations time the tut-tuts will be dead.

This is suddenly a teenage world, and we're sick of the state it is in. We teenagers have never had inhibitions, smug delusions. That is why we are going all out for life in away that we feel is right. The current state of the world is no glorious testimony for accepted traditions.

We are rebels with a cause, the cause of thinking teenagers who can see nothing to be learnt from the limp achievements of adults; only that adults can learn something from us, from out untainted outlook.

I am not a spokesman for teenagers. I am merely echoing the views of modern-thinking youngsters and adults everywhere. And it so happens that the non-thinking types, the types that couldn't care less, anyway, are now doing and believing the same things by instinct rather than by deduction.

But this outlook is not new. For generations there have been young rebels kicking against conventions. Many writers, painters, musicians, scientists have felt this way. It's just that the current cult of teenagery is giving every youngster a chance to sort things out for himself. The surge of teenage feeling is acting as virile impetus.

This is not the struggle of misunderstood teenagers battling against pedantic parents, but the struggle of free-thinking honest individuals campaigning against the hypocrisy and power-bloated minds of the dear old tut-tut squad.

Myself, I believe that this straightforward and sincere attitude will help teenagers to become worthwhile and voluble citizens, cherishing a close bond between themselves and their children, and a realistic understanding of the problems of living.

Royston Ellis
March, 1960