31 August 2010

The A – Z of Celebrity Collections (continued)


Does anyone read, let alone collect, the novels of William Gerhardie ? He was born in St Petersburg in 1895 and his novels are set mainly in Russia. A literary lion in the twenties, Waugh called him a genius and H. G. Wells championed his work. But his star waned. He published nothing after 1939 and died in 1977, an almost forgotten figure. Prize-winning biographer Michael Holroyd, however, has always been a great fan. He tried with others to jump start a Gerhardie (left) revival by providing forewords to reprints of his work, but seems to have failed. He owns a number of his firsts, including Of Mortal Love and The Romanovs. The grateful Gerhardie signed the latter ‘ To Michael Holroyd, the English Gogol, from William Gerhardie, the English Chekhov. He is still appreciated by a few cognoscenti , if the prices in ABE are any indication, although there are very few first editions for sale, and even a signed limited edition of this once feted novelist can be had for under £100.


Passionate gardener Germaine Greer, who as a child wanted to be a librarian, combines her interest in women’s writing with a love of herbals. One of her favourites is Elizabeth Blackwell’s Curious Herbal (1737 - 39 ), which was published to repay her waster of a husband’s debts. After the redoubtable Blackwell was given access to the Chelsea Physic Garden she drew 400 of the plants there, provided the accompanying text, then etched the plates (comfrey, left) and coloured the prints made from them. The book, which appeared in parts priced at a shilling plain and 1/6 coloured, was an instant success with the public, though some professional botanists were a bit sniffy. It went through several editions and as late as 1806 the large paper edition was still selling for its original price of 10 guineas. Today, the book is highly sought after and you’d have to shell out a $55,000 on ABE for a copy of the first edition, though later ones are a little cheaper. Incidentally, Elizabeth’s wifely devotion cut no ice with her ne’er do well husband, who ended up being beheaded in 1747.
Tree–lover Felix Dennis is also keen on ancient herbals and owns several, including Fuch’s celebrated De Historia Stirpium of 1542. Rather bizarrely, the billionaire feels that these early herbals are ‘ too expensive ‘.


Art connoisseur, actor and director Edward G. Robinson, who lost most of his picture collection when he divorced, also had a wonderful library, including, I believe, incunabula. Jerome Kern had a priceless collection of American and British firsts and manuscripts, which he sold in the nineteen twenties. In contrast, the director George Cukor owned a ‘ worthless ‘ library, according to Book Dealer to the Stars, Elliot Katt, whom I interviewed in March 2000. If, for instance, he was entertaining Aldous Huxley for the evening Cukor would send someone out to buy a copy of a book by his guest for him to sign. The book this assistant came back with would inevitably be a crappy copy and when Cukor’s collection was sold after his death every book was found to be worthless, even though most were signed. ‘The best thing you could do with such books, Katt told me , ‘ was to rip out the signed pages, mount them with a photograph and frame them. So that’s what happened ‘.

Michael Jackson was interested in certain people at certain times, according to Katt, who would close his store when Jacko stepped through the door. On one occasion the singer bought the actress Elizabeth Taylor’s biographical epic Nibbles and Me, which was about her pet squirrel. In the mid eighties the King of Pop was seriously into books about child movie stars who became adult stars.
Katt also revealed that Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark was based on an obscure labour of love published in 1975 by Jack Mathis called Valley of the Cliffhangers, a compilation of the cliffhanging serials brought out by the Republic Studios between 1935 and 1955. Though originally priced at $66, this limited edition, now fetches between one and two thousand dollars.


Even big name celebs baulk at the prices that pre-1500 books fetch. Many, including Felix Dennis, who is fascinated by ancient typefaces, covet incunabula, but perhaps even multi-millionaires have better things to do with £20,000+ ( although I suspect that Dennis has one or two select items secreted away somewhere ).The library of the late Sir Paul Getty, an eminent cricket-loving Anglophile, contained several volumes of incunabula, but after all, the man was a scholar as well as a gentleman .Perhaps it’s the fact that most pieces of very early printing are in Latin that deters modern celebrities, including Madonna. Certainly, books in Latin or Greek ( of whatever date ) feature very little in the libraries of the forty or more celebs I have interviewed.

Junk and antique shops

Most antique and junk shop owners only have a rudimentary knowledge of rare books, which even in today’s world of the Internet makes such shops good hunting grounds. Only the other day I bought a Geneva Bible of 1611 for a mere £20 in a junk shop. Back in the sixties, when David Battie began to collect, the opportunities to nab bargains were much greater. As a young amateur dealer Battie paid two shillings (10p) for a manuscript by William Sowerby, the famous botanist. Ignorant of its worth, he was overjoyed to sell it for £20. Today, as he ruefully admitted to me, that manuscript might fetch twenty or thirty thousand pounds. [Robin Healey]

Many thanks Robin, wise and timely words. I had not heard of this Hollywood sleeper 'Valley of the Cliffhangers' and copies are unlikely to show up in profusion on these shores. There are copies in its meretricious padded leather binding on ABE at around $900. Some unfortunate punter paid $3696 for a copy in 2005 at Hake's Americana Auctions. It was described thus:
2.5”x18” with 448 pages. Beautifully designed book features several pages of photos, text and cast listings of dozens of Republic serials of the 1930’s and 1940’s. Some of the great serials include: “Dick Tracy, SOS Coast Guards” starring Bela Lugosi, “Zorro Rides Again” starring John Carroll, “The Lone Ranger” starring Lee Powell and Chief Thunder Cloud, “The Lone Ranger Rides Again” starring Robert Livingston and Chief Thunder Cloud, “Drums of Fu Manchu, Adventures of Red Rider” starring Donald Barry, “Zane Grey’s King Of The Royal Mounted, Adventures Of Captain Marvel” starring Tom Tyler, “Spy Smasher, G-Men VS. The Black Dragon, Secret Service In Darkest Africa, Captain America” starring Dick Purcell and “The Crimson Ghost” among many, many others. Book has gold embossed title and art showing Republic Studios. Pages are NM and cover is Exc. An amazing and beautiful record of serial motion pictures.
Interestingly the real selling point (Lost Ark inspiration) was not used to sell it. I calculate that with interest etc., the buyer dropped $3000 when he put his hand up to bid. So much for sleepers. As for the deathless Gerhardie he has become quite desirable and is asked for in the shop. Graham Greene, a great fan who also knew him, once said that he (Gerhardie) was amazed that his genius was not immediately recognised by all, a feeling not uncommon among writers.

26 August 2010

A – Z of Celebrity Collections


Amiable Antiques Roadshow veteran Paul Atterbury (left), who lives in a railway carriage, collects books on modern design and has harsh words for the Blessed William Morris, the medievalist, proto-socialist printer, wallpaper, fabric designer and alleged poet . To Atterbury Morris was ‘ an awful typographer and an awful book designer who set back book design fifty years ‘. Atterbury found the Kelmscott Chaucer impossible to read and many bookmen, who prefer Roman to Gothic type, would agree with him. However, there are enough Arts and Craft worshippers around to keep the prices of the small number of remaining Chaucers ( 425 copies were printed )sky-high. In 2007 a copy sold for £88,000 at auction.


At an interview in 1998 Iain Sinclair confessed to me that he’d once bought an ‘immaculate ‘first of Bram Stoker’s Dracula in the original yellow cloth for fifty pence in an Oxfam bookshop. Alongside on the shelf, apparently, was a paperback film tie-in, which was priced at £1.50. Sinclair eventually sold his first for a blood-curdling £1,000, but wishes now that he’d kept it. 'It would have been nice to own a copy in such wonderful condition.’ The recent craze for vampire literature has pushed up prices for early editions of Dracula and a first issue in good condition would currently fetch around £7,000.

Engineering .

Caricaturist Ralph Steadman, a Gillray de nos jours, has a garden of rusty machine parts made into sculptures and was once an apprentice in an aircraft company. His working book collection includes a Catalogue of Surgical Instruments and Appliances with appendix (1892), which he cherishes for its illustrations of urinals, bowel clamps and enema syringes. It is unlikely that he ever paid much for this huge book, with its thousands of illustrations, but at present there is only one copy on ABE, and this is the edition of 1914, which is priced at ( $240 ). But Steadman’s fascination for mechanical engineering is most strikingly reflected in his ownership of Steam Pipe Installation, an American handbook from the 1930s, which appeared in an edition of 2208 copies.‘ Its illustrations remind me of the paintings of Francis Picabia ‘, he told me, when I interviewed him in 2003.’ They’re wonderful of their kind ‘. A copy dated 1938 is reasonably priced at $24.50 on ABE.
The market for really early books on both mechanical and civil engineering has always been buoyant, mainly because there are so few really attractive titles around and so many well-heeled buyers willing to cough up. A visit to the wonderful library of the Institute of Civil Engineers near Trafalgar Square will give you an idea of the range of printed matter available, from an edition of Vitruvius dated 1491 to Switzer’s famous Introduction to a System of Hydrostaticks and Hydraulics of 1729.

False books

Not much reading matter here, but possibly a rewarding subject to collect. A better bet than tiresome contemporary crime fiction, anyway. Dickens had false books in his library with witty labels on their spines. For instance, the multi-volume Wisdom of Our Ancestors consisted of volumes dedicated to Superstition, Ignorance, Disease and Instruments of Torture; whereas The Virtues of Our Ancestors was a volume so narrow that its title had to be printed vertically. You can still buy naff wallpaper unconvincingly printed with book spines one of which spells the surname of the author of Pride and Prejudice as ‘Jane Austin’. I don’t know if Dickens’ ‘ books ‘ could be taken off the shelf, but The Internal Lubrication of Tubes, which detective story writer Simon Brett proudly showed me, certainly can. It’s a well disguised box holding a spirit flask (geddit ?). Incidentally, I was totally fooled by a whole wall of false spines that hid a door in billionaire Felix Dennis’ Soho bolt-hole. Perhaps he got them custom made from the Manor Bindery, which claims to be the leading supplier of dummy books. Incidentally, I’ve often wondered what becomes of the singularly unexciting lots comprising Victorian gift books, odd volumes, books of sermons and editions of Walter Scott that are catalogued in auctions as ‘ Bindings ‘. Do they inevitably end their lives chopped up in places like the Manor Bindery---or do they find a role decorating the shelves of some interior design shop in the Pimlico Road along with the painted French furniture and chandeliers ?


Botanical books may not fetch as much as they did in the nineties, but this does not deter well-heeled celebs, among them Arthur Mullard soundalike, David Bellamy, the TV botanist, from collecting them. He claims to be descended from John Evelyn, author of Sylva (1714), so perhaps botany runs in his blood, though as a boy all he wanted to be was a ballet dancer (he still writes ballets). Bellamy has a number of New Naturalist titles, which appeared in small editions and have always been collected ( some rare volumes go for many hundreds of pounds ); but his more prized treasures include Culpepper’s own copy of his Pharmacopia Londoniensis (1675), which he bought with the fee that the shampoo manufacturers Badedas paid him for a consultation, and Liber Rustica (1529), which had all its pages uncut when he bought it for a bargain £275. Today, expect to shell out a four figure sum for this exceptionally interesting Latin text on gardening. [Robin Healey]

Many thanks Robin. Had no idea that Bellamy was descended from John Evelyn, the family must have gone through some serious changes. As for 'Dracula' the Cosmatos copy made £8000 + the juice 5 years back and it was not at all fine. Uber-dealer Peter Stern has a bright copy from Pickford Waller's library at £30,000 delicately described thus: '..insofar as this modestly produced book allows, it is, if only to a bibliomaniac, a thing of beauty.' In re Felix Dennis - it is gratifying to see a hippie make a billion, especially one who is a serious book-collector.

22 August 2010

Death in the Dark...

Stacey Bishop. DEATH IN THE DARK. London : Faber & Faber, [1930] 

Current Selling Prices
$1500 /£1000


Sleeper awake! One of the great sleepers of modern literature but so rarely encountered that I have no real qualms about rousing it from slumber. The last copy I heard of was three years ago on a Maggs catalogue of the library of the much missed gentleman publisher (and runner) Alan Clodd. £1200 was being asked and appears to have been achieved. The book is by the New Jersey born composer George Antheil (1900-1959) under the pseudonym Stacey Bishop. Self proclaimed 'Bad Boy of Music', championed by Ezra Pound, composer of over 30 Hollywood film scores, including the much rated Dementia (1955) and practicing “endocrine criminologist” he also wrote this scarce detective novel published by Faber (under the auspices of T.S. Eliot) in 1930.

The story behind the writing of the book goes something like this: from 1927 to 1933 Antheil lived variously in Vienna, Tunis, and Cagnes-sur-Mer, writing opera and stage works for productions in Vienna and Frankfurt; in 1929 he was summering in Rapallo, Italy something of an ex-pat artists colony. That year T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound and W. B. Yeats came through and also the German writers Gerhart Hauptmann and Franz Werfel. All of these writers are said to have had a hand in the work, with some final editing done by Eliot for the London Faber edition. Antheil had been surprised to see that off-duty these highbrow writers tended to read detective writers such as Dorothy L. Sayers. Antheil had an interest in criminology through theories he had developed about the thymus gland and endocrinology in crime detection. So serious was Antheil’s belief in endocrinology that it is said the Parisian police made him an honorary lifetime member. Antheil assured the assembled authors that he could write a detective story as good as anything they were reading and Death in the Dark was the result. Theoretically it should be a C item in the bibliographies of Pound, Eliot, Yeats, Hauptmann and Werfel as they are all said to have helped with its writing. The book's hero Stephen Bayard was based on Pound. Despite the involvement of 2 Nobel Prize winners and Il miglior fabbro himself the book is generally considered almost unreadable. I have always associated Rapallo with Max Beerbohm and would like to think he also dropped by to add a whimsical chapter.

The book was issued without a jacket (possibly a glassine wrap may have existed) with very attractive pictorial boards - one of only two books issued in this way by Faber, the other being Bruce Hamilton's To Be Hanged - A Story of Murder, a rather scarce thriller dedicated to Patrick Hamilton, the author's brother, and worth about £200, possibly more if very sharp. Faber illustrate the Antheil book on their Flickr page , can find no image of To Be Hanged. As for content the British Museum have the book under these categories 'Private investigators — New York (State) — New York — Fiction -- Murder — Investigation — Fiction.' It has not been reprinted. The fascinating story around it more than outweighs its supposed unreadability and it may be a good investment, although a deep academic analysis of its genesis could affect prices -up or down. It has to be admitted some of the information about the book comes from Antheil himself and book-dealers whose enthusiasm may outweigh their scholarship. A much cheaper book is his Bad Boy of Music (Doubleday, Doran, Garden City, 1945) nice jacketed copies of which can be had for less than $100.

There are many oddball stories about Antheil. This from Wikipedia takes the biscuit:
He considered himself an expert on female endocrinology, and wrote a series of articles about how to determine the availability of women based on glandular effects on their appearance, with titles such as The Glandbook for the Questing Male. Antheil's interest in this area brought him into contact with the actress Hedy Lamarr, who sought his advice about how she might enhance her upper torso. He suggested glandular extracts, but their conversation then moved on to torpedoes. Lamarr (right) had fled her Austrian munitions-making husband, and coming to the US had become fiercely pro-American. Together they conceived and patented a frequency-hopping torpedo guidance system: Lamarr contributed the knowledge of torpedo control gained from her husband and Antheil a method of controlling the spread spectrum sequences using a player-piano mechanism similar to those used in the Ballet Méchanique. Despite the initial enthusiasm of the U.S. Navy, the invention received little attention at first; and the importance of Antheil and Lamarr's discovery was only acknowledged in the 1990s.

17 August 2010

Eddie Gathorne-Hardy

I seem to have ended up with books from the library of the bookseller,botanist, publisher and Bloomsbury minor character Eddie Gathorne- Hardy (1901 - 1978). Not the good stuff but mostly detective paperbacks in regrettable condition and a few fascinating pamphlets from his (and his brother's) Mill House Press (discussed in last weeks posting.) We bought the 'last knockings' of Alan Ansen's Athens library and he obviously knew Eddie well and appears to have inherited some of his books. Ansen was an American poet and writer, compadre of William Burroughs and the dedicatee of The Naked Lunch. He and Eddie seemed to have shared a taste for 'cosies' (Golden Age British detective fiction) and indeed there is a photo (below) of Eddie from the Bloomsbury power spot Ham Spray in 1932 showing him reading 'Twenty Five Sanitary Inspectors' a now much wanted thriller by Roger East.

One of the books was by Eddie's sister Anne Hill ( of Heywood Hill and once affianced to James Lees-Milne) Trelawny's Strange Relations (Mill House Press, Stanford Dingley 1956) presented by her to Alan Ansen. Loosely inserted was a xerox of an obituary article on EGH from The Times by Patrick Leigh Fermor with inked notes by Anne Hill. It appears not to have been published (not on Google and not on The Times website which I joined for a day after giving £1 to Murdoch.) It is pretty fancy stuff, very affectionate and worth sharing with bookinistas, connoisseurs of literary eccentrics and lovers of minor, forgotten characters.

An Independent obituary on Anne Hill who died in 2006 has this background info- "…born Lady Anne Gathorne-Hardy in 1911, only daughter of the third Earl of Cranbrook. The Gathorne-Hardys - ennobled in the 1870s after Anne's great-grandfather served in Disraeli's cabinet - were a rather intellectual and distinctly unconventional family, with a characteristic rapid, affected speaking style. Anne had four older brothers, whom she adored - Jock (who succeeded in 1915 as fourth Earl), Eddie, Bob and Anthony. Eddie and Bob were experts in the rare book world, though best known to their contemporaries for their flagrant and rackety homosexuality. (The outrageous Miles Malpractice, in Evelyn Waugh's Vile Bodies, is based on Eddie.)" Miles is certainly not the only character based on Eddie and I would be grateful to hear of others. In a movie I can see him being played by the late, great Richard Wattis. Take it away Paddy (notes by Anne Hill in square brackets.) :
It would be said of no-one but Eddie Gathorne-Hardy that he belonged with equal fitness to the pages of White's Natural History of Selborne and the Satyricon of Petronius. Further analogies, with correct instinct but a few decades too early, could be sought in Valmouth and South Wind, but found to a split second in date, mood and intention in Vile Bodies, and though the brief intemperance of his Oxford days and the scrapes and festivals of the young and the bright in the 'twenties London gave him an aura which never quite faded, it was a figure of strong intellectual substance and authority that vanished from the scene on June 18th.

Originality and independence of mind stamped his background. Born in 1901, second son of the Earl of Cranbrook and Lady Dorothy Boyle, he was sent to Eton and Christchurch, but while the passion for the natural sciences which he shared with his father and brothers was turnng him into a widely travelled and accomplished botanist, his years with Elkin Matthews and a bent for scholarly research made him the best known authority  on the 18th Century among the antiquarian book dealers of his time. Less professionally, his pursuit of recondite lore found entertaining scope in Cornishiana- a collection of the eccentric dicta of Mrs, Warre Cornish - and in the slender but hair-raising confines of Inadvertencies where those passages of English literature which are open to comic or scabrous misconstruction are hilariously set forth.

Mediterranean hedonism and botanic and archaeological curiosity drew him to the Levant and war-time [services at] the Embassy in Cairo landed him, very aptly, and for most of the emergency, in a crumbling Mameluke palace under the old minaret of Ibn Tulun. He often returned to his native Suffolk, but his Athens flat, later on, with his books and specimens and his many lares was his chief base.His commanding figure was a familiar sight at tables under the island plane-trees, the formidable brow and [the high-bridged nose] will be sorely missed, and the [severe] horn-rims: these had long replaced the monocle which [improbably] flashed there for a year or two in the 'thirties. [He was surrounded by writers all his life.] His range of reading was wide and abstruse; deaf to music, his poetical ear was classically faultless; but it was the idiosyncrasy of his character, the mixture of formality and the reverse, the humour and the strong touch of the outrageous, which captivated all [and made it impossible for authors to keep him out of their books.]

Time gradually changed him into a Peacockian figure - [for bookish] analogies are unavoidable - a sitter for the Dilettanti portraits with a dash of the great Whiggery, a sceptic Voltairian aristocrat but not a stoic for tedium, humbug, bad scholarship, and, indeed, the recent handicaps of ill-health, could set the air crackling all around him with oaths and groans. He demanded much of his friends and got it, cutting through their quandaries by never doing anything he didn't want but repaying the trouble many times over by the charms and surprises of his company. The intonation of his voice was bandied about by all who heard it and of all his traits, it is the perhaps the extraordinary gift of witty and lapidary or cumulative phrase which his friends will remember with the most lasting amusement, affection and delight.
(Pics show EGH in specs to left with his brother Robert + Eardley Knollys and A.N. Other and then in specs to right of Lytton Strachey with brother Robert, Peter Ralli and Lady Julia Morrell--shots by Lady Ottoline Morrell. As for the Mill House Press the book you want is their 1927 production Wailing Well by M.R. James, £400 for nice copies and knocking on a £1000 for the signed one of seven.)

14 August 2010

The Blair signing project

Serious protests are expected outside Waterstone's in Piccadilly when Tony Blair signs his memoir A Journey on 8 September. A £30,000 bounty has been offered by the Stop the War Coalition to anyone who manages to arrest Blair. The Coalition's Andrew Burkin said: "We are appalled that Waterstone's are prepared to have him on their premises. It is a disgrace that he is swanning around with police protection at our expense ­ he should be in The Hague on trial for war crimes." Cost of protection is estimated at £250,000. Tony has received a £4.6 million advance. For the signing itself, the rules imposed by Blair's publishers on the Waterstone's event include no photos, no personal dedications and all bags, backpacks and briefcases must be checked in, along with cameras and mobile phones... Blair will sign a maximum of two books per customer.

No customer can actually guarantee to have their book signed. Tony probably has an urgent appointment afterwards to make one of his £2000 a minute speeches, so time is limited. It is hard for those outside Britain to understand the depth of loathing people here have for Blair. We also hate to see a guy making serious money unless he is kicking a football or in a boy band. To be fair other stars have imposed similar restrictions at signings, fans had to go through all sorts of hoops a few years ago to get their book signed by Paul McCartney. It was all worthwhile when later that week they made £300 on Ebay for a few hours of bollocks at Harrods. Dylan did a signing where one of the provisos was that none of the bookshop staff looked him in the eye, but strange behaviour is now expected from rock stars.

I had an earlier signed Blair book last year and it sold with alacrity at £200. Now there are no signed books for less than £400, with signed photos at £100. Being a very important person he has little time for signing and probably regards autograph hunters as losers. Churchill had no such problem and even Margaret Thatcher was, in her day, a willing signer. As for Ted Heath…

Salman Rushdie is an Olympic standard signer and will sign up to 8 books per person including old editions, consequently signed values are low. It will be interesting to see the fate of copies of Blair's A Journey on Ebay hours after the signing.

I went to a signing by Colin Wilson in the early 1990's and was surprised to see several Wilson clones. Young guys in black polo neck jerseys and black National Health specs with thatches of unruly hair, like the angry young man Wilson had been in 1960. The idea of a Blair clone is slightly distasteful but one wonders if people's dogs will be banned from the Waterstone's signing-- especially poodles.

[Pic below of Pamela Anderson in the famous book signing scene in Borat.]

09 August 2010


I have found a curious pamphlet from the rather neglected Mill House Press which was run by Edward Gathorne- Hardy. Printed on mould made paper in 1963 It is one of 200 copies only and called Inadvertencies collected from the works of several eminent authors.

Basically a collection of inadvertently obscene passages from mostly 19th century classics. The double entendres game. This passage from Charles Dickens gives the flavour -- 'She touched his organ; and from that bright epoch, even it, the old companion of his happiest hours, incapable, as he had thought, of elevation, began a new and deified existence.' My favourites are from Henry James. There is always a faint air of embarrassment with the Master anyway and Gathorne- Hardy has found some corkers. The slim pamphlet seems to go for a £100 so I am taking the rest of the day off. Take it away Eddie (and Henry):

"'Oh, I can't explain,' cried Roderick impatiently, returning to his work. 'I've only one way of expressing my deepest feelings - it's this.' And he swung his tool." (Roderick Hudson)

 "You think me a queer fellow already. It's not easy to tell you how I feel, not easy for so queer a fellow as I to tell you in how many ways he's queer." (Passionate Pilgrim)

'What an intimacy, what an intensity of relation, I said to myself, so successful a process implied! It was of course familiar enough that when people were so deeply in love they rubbed off on each other....' (The Sacred Fount)

"It 's just like Longueville, you know," Gordon Wright went on;
"he always comes at you from behind; he 's so awfully fond of surprises." (Confidence)

"Then she had had her equal consciousness that within five minutes something between them had--well, she couldn't call it anything but come."  (The Wings of the Dove)

"This time therefore I left excuses to his more practised patience, only relieving myself in response to a direct appeal from a young lady next whom, in the hall, I had found myself sitting.' (The Coxon Fund)

08 August 2010



Right wing anti-semites are probably not much in vogue just now, and most firsts without wrappers by this controversial French novelist are very reasonably priced at under £30. Iain Sinclair is a keen collector. Having already acquired Journey to the End of the Night and Death on the Instalment Plan, he was delighted to find a rare pink jacketed edition of Celine's Guignol’s Band (1954) ‘on the floor’ of a Tunbridge Wells bookshop. Sinclair’s friend and colleague, Chris Petit, a film-maker (Radio On, An Unsuitable Job for a Woman) and thriller writer, is another great admirer. (Pic of Celine Left.)


When was G. K. Chesterton last in fashion ? Perhaps as long ago as 1932 , when his firsts fetched serious money. Tory ex Education Secretary Kenneth Baker and ‘ Tory anarchist ‘ Richard Ingrams aren’t bothered by such considerations. To them the man Wyndham Lewis memorably called ‘a foaming Toby jug’, is still an attractive figure. Baker loved his ‘ marvellously romantic language ‘ and in the fifties was able to acquire firsts for ‘ half a crown ‘ ( 12.5p ) in Foyles’s. But though most of Chesterton’s poems, novels and short stories are never likely to rise in value, the first two Father Brown titles and three of his earliest novels remain expensive. For instance, Peter Harrington has a superb copy of The Innocence of Father Brown (1911) for $2,000, while the rarer Wisdom of Father Brown can go for up to $750, though the cheapest copies of The Credulity of Father Brown and The Secret of Father Brown are listed on ABE at a mere $12 each. Multiply these prices by ten for copies in jackets, though these would be pictorially dull and parcel-paper brown in colour. Expect to pay up to $400 for a decent copy of the fantasy classic The Man Who Was Thursday ( 1908), though a Cecil Court bouquiniste is asking $940 for his copy.


William Cobbett will always be collected for the simple reason that he has never really been in fashion. Richard Ingrams is a great fan, as was the late Paul Foot. In fact the two Private Eye stalwarts used to spend their lunch hour away from Greek Street looking for works by Cobbett and other radicals among the book barrows of nearby Berwick Street, which, alas, are long gone. Among Ingrams’ fine Cobbett collection is a copy of his History of the Reformation inscribed by the author to the Pope, which he bought from Hatchards and which today might go for many hundreds of pounds. Though not actually trendy, Cobbett is now seen as a practitioner of such New Age values as self-sufficiency, environmentalism, libertarianism and plain speaking on politics, religion and the corporate world. His hated ‘ stock-jobbers ‘from the Great Wen building villas in the Home Counties can be compared with modern-day bankers buying huge Georgian rectories in Norfolk with their obscene bonuses .

Colour printing

Don’t let that professorial mien fool you. Bamber Gascoigne, the original University Challenge question intellectual. Actually, he began as an expert on theatrical farce, later becoming an authority on colour printing. One of his prize possessions is Art Treasures of the United Kingdom, which he bought from Robin de Beaumont. Antique Roadshow expert David Battie, whose physician ancestor gave his name to the adjective we use the describe the mentally ill, is also passionate about colour printing and owns a much loved copy of Oliver Byrne’s The Elements of Euclid (1847), arguably the most sought after of all early colour-printed books, which Battie acquired with the compensation money he received after a road accident. Even while he was working as a porter at Sotheby’s earning £8 10 shillings a week, a copy fetched £70 at auction, which gives an idea of its value.


Multi-millionaire face of Sainsbury’s, Jamie ‘ Pukka ‘ Oliver, is known to be keen collector of manuscript cookery books, while other celebrity collectors in this most fashionable of fields include actor Richard Griffiths, and TV cooks Delia Smith and Clarissa-Dickson Wright.


Legendary ex Stone Charlie Watts has a purse long enough to afford the great rarities of cricketiana, which along with other sports memorabilia, will always find wealthy collectors. Wisely Watts uses pal David Frith to bid for him at auctions. Colleague Bill Wyman, Penge’s most famous son, is also a cricket fanatic, though he seems to prefer metal detecting to collecting cricket books. Tim Rice is another well heeled collector who probably uses an agent at sales.


Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page is a well known admirer of Aleister Crowley. In 1971 he bought the Great Beast’s cottage in Scotland and once owned a bookshop which he named The Equinox. He outbid Kenneth Anger in 1973 for a copy of Crowley’s legendary essay in erotica, The Scented Garden of Abdullah (1910), a rarity which can fetch over £2,000 at auction and costs over £100 in modern facsimile form. [R.M.Healey]

Many thanks Robin. I guess celebs are a new aristocracy, a 100 years ago we would be going on about baronets and belted earls. Celebrities are better looking, surely -but are they any brighter? When Jamie Oliver was on Desert Island Discs he told Plomley or whoever that he had never read a book and would not actually be taking one to his island. I suppose manuscript cookery books are an exception. Manuscripts are a rich man's taste--for example they are collected by Bill Gates (early science.) A useful punter. As for Jimmy Page he has just issued a signed book from the redoubtable Genesis publishing house - I expect it to become hotly traded on Ebay. Rock on.

01 August 2010



TV zoologist and popular anthropologist Desmond Morris (Naked Ape, Man Watching ) has a wide-ranging, enquiring mind and a huge library ( 25,000 volumes and growing by the day) that reflects not only his professional concerns as a zoologist, but also his interest in related fields, such as literature, art ( especially surrealism), ethnography and archaeology. Of the works on zoology his favourite is The History of Four-footed Beasts and Serpents by Edward Topsell (1658), which is coveted by zoologists for its extraordinary depictions of animals. He also acquired ‘for a few pounds’ some loose pages from Gessner’s Icones Animalium Quadruped, a much earlier work in Latin on which Topsell partly based his own book. Gessner very rarely appears for sale. Topsell is more common and a copy can go for £3,000 or more, depending on condition.


No-one collects books by Sir David Attenborough, as far as I know. However, I have been told on good authority that the veteran broadcaster owns a wonderful collection of antiquarian books on travel and animals. Unfortunately, he has twice declined to be interviewed by me, and I have decided to leave him in peace.


Some celebrities avoid auctions for obvious reasons, although a few, such as Rolling Stone Charlie Watts, employ agents to bid for them. Others attend them to lend colour to TV programmes such as Cash in the Attic, which often feature lots sold on behalf of various charities. However, a few celeb collectors are addicted to auctions. Desmond Morris is one of these. Having begun to visit them as a boy his addiction has persisted up to the present, as he explains:

‘ They’re very dangerous places for me. I tend to get carried away. I went to one recently and ended up with over 270 books, which was a very bad day. No-one wanted one particular lot, and so I bought it on spec. Later, I sifted through this lot and found just half a dozen books of value. The rest are still in cardboard boxes.’


Cult psychogeographer and ex book dealer Iain Sinclair once bought for a small sum around the time of the author’s death a copy of Lennon’s In his Own Write ‘ from a sort of gypsy woman ‘ in Portobello Road. It was apparently signed by all the Beatles and their girl friends, and he considered selling it on his stall for £25, but eventually let it go for a cool grand.That was in the days before auctions of Pop Memorabilia . Today, of the big names that attract the most interest, the Beatles and Elvis top the charts with the stars that died young ( Hendrix, Joplin, Bolam, Morrison, Brian Jones, Sid Vicious ) well down the list. But the good stuff is still out there. Just think how many fliers, autograph books, programmes and tickets the Fab Four must have signed in their 8 years of fame.


Sinclair collects the Beats too and has a first of William Burroughs’ Junkie published in pulp thriller format under the pseudonym ‘William Lee’ with Maurice Helbrandt’s Narcotics Agent, which he houses in a specially made slip case. He didn’t tell me where he found this modest looking paperback of 1953, with its sensationalist cover, or how much he paid for it, but I sometimes wonder if copies have ever turned up in some otherwise unpromising UK charity shop ( not Oxfam, obviously ) among the chick lit, modern thrillers and self-help books. My advice, however, is to try thrift shops in the States. But if you can’t wait, expect to shell out a cool £300, or more for a copy, although don’t expect it to be in good condition.

Boer War

I was quite unprepared for the number of volumes assembled by the late maverick actor and film maker Kenneth Griffiths in his four storey Victorian home in Islington. Most were on the Boer War, which Griffiths got into during the fifties via stamp collecting. I sometimes wonder what happened to this collection, which was by far the best in private hands in the UK, possibly in the world. Rare titles in Griffith’s library include the Cape of Good Hope Railway Reports (1900) and South Africa Field Force Casualty Lists, but the most valuable item, according to him, is an empty envelope overprinted ‘Special Post ‘, which he valued at around £10,000.


Denis Healey bought a first of Virginia Woolf’s Kew Gardens in Italy during the war for the equivalent of two shillings (10p), which was a good investment for the future Chancellor, who is a devoted Bloomsburyite, even down to choosing a house a few miles from Charleston Farmhouse. Nowadays all Bloomsbury products are in great demand and copies of this attractive, but physically delicate product of the Hogarth Press, with its Omega Workshop hand coloured
wallpaper wrapper, can go for as much as $36,000 . Peter Harrington has a copy at this price.

Rupert Brooke

A lock of Rupert Brooke’s hair is one of the most prized items in the collection of Grecian 2000 enthusiast and Radio 2 DJ Mike Read. Other books by or on the First World War poet include De la Mare’s Rupert Brooke and the Intellectual Imagination, which is not common and the scarce Poems (1911), a snip at over £400. When I last spoke to him in 1998 Read was still coveting the incredibly rare The Pyramids (1904) and The Bastille (1905), two prize-winning poems that Brooke published while at Rugby School. Today , perhaps, the DJ can afford to buy them, though the royalties from his biography of Brooke won’t help him much . He’d need to set aside at least £12,000 for the two.

Next C - E


Wise words Robin and many thanks. I should explain these morceaux are taken from many years of interviews with well known book collectors, celebs and writers- including at least one billionaire. I can vouch for the delightful Baron 'Blue Planet' David Attenborough as a collector, I have seen him at ABA fairs buying large botanical colour plate books from carriage trade dealers. Not a great investment, prices having generally been higher in the 1980s than now. As for the Beatles I know that Ringo has a serious collection of books about pirates, possibly begun in his days as a shipboard entertainer. He was last seen asking to be called by his real name --Richard Starkey--on Aviva adds. The good old Norwich Union.