17 September 2010

Teach Yourself Books

I have never met a collector of Teach Yourself books. There are collectors for almost all book series, types and genres so they must exist - there are even collectors of Reader's Digest omnibuses, but they don't want to pay very much. The ultra-whimscal proprietor of my local shop in old East Anglia  became a  temporary collector recently and in a few months amassed enough to fill a window (96). They make a wonderful sight, like an art installation gradually diminishing in size as they sell. He tells me they are shifting at a rate of about three or four a day at between £3 and £5 each. For £5 I bought M. Stuart's immortal Teach Yourself House Repairs (English Universities Press, London 1959) the only T.Y. book with a red d/w (they are invariably black and yellow or dark green and yellow.)

My favourite title on sale was Teach Yourself to Fly, possibly used by TM in their 'yogic flying' levitation attempts but also useful for owners of light planes. It would have been good if it was local hero Benjamin Britten's copy. At one point he had a plane parked in a Suffolk field to fly to gigs in Europe, i know this because I cleared the library of his pilot's widow. It did not go on for long because, although  he could be back home at the Red House in time for supper after a busy day in Amsterdam, the insurance was prohibitive.

The Teach Yourself books were published from 1938 until 1973 by the English Universities Press. After that they were published by Hodder mostly in paperback and they are still going, but seem to have lost out to hipper guides like the 'For Dummies' and 'Complete Idiot' series. There is even a parody The Complete Idiot's Guide for Dummies: The Fun and Easy Way to Achieve Total Stupidity and also Sex for Dummies. The latter one is curious because early sex manuals actually used pictures of dummies to demonstrate sexual positions etc., (and then there is Hans Bellmer whose Die Puppe is one of the great art book sleepers.)

The most expensive T.Y. title on the net is Teach Yourself Welsh at £400 but the seller is 'with the fairies' as it can be had in better condition for 37 pence. The most consistently expensive title is by the great needlework expert Mary Thomas Teach Yourself Embroidery, one of the earliest titles. An old respected modern first dealer wants £100 for a 1938 decent copy in a 'very slightly frayed' jacket. Sans jacket the 1938 can be had for £3 and there is even a copy for a fiver in an embroidered jacket, presumably done from the book. I suspect the £100 copy will be there for many years, unless collecting such books become a craze. Outlook? Patchy and uncertain, but as penny shares they are unlikely to tie up much money; go only for smart copies in decent jackets.
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