28 April 2010

Andre Simon - Soliloquy of a Bibulous Bibliophile 1

 All hail André Simon (1877-1970)  bibliophile, gourmet, wine connoisseur, historian, writer and trader in wine (especially champagne.)  Born in Paris, he came to London in 1902 as the English agent for the champagne house of Pommery and Greno.  Although he lived in England from then onwards, he always remained a French citizen. He wrote over 100 books and pamphlets on wine and food and collected wine books all his life -his personal collection was one of the finest ever assembled. His love of books is described by Hugh Johnson in the foreword to the Holland House facsimile reproduction of his definitive wine bibliography Bibliotheca Vinaria:  "His senses of sight and touch were as well developed as his famous sense of taste.  Books to him were objects of physical attraction.  I remember many occasions when he took book after book from his shelves for me to admire their print, their woodcuts or their bindings."  Simon believed that "a man dies too young if he leaves any wine in his cellar," - only two magnums of claret remained in his personal cellar when he died at the age of ninety-three. There was another stash however, for on what would have been his 100th birthday, 28 February 1977, 400 guests at the Savoy Hotel in London drank to his memory in claret he had left for the occasion: Chateau Latour 1945.

I found this article by him in Wine & Food of Winter 1966 - a magazine he had founded with the great Corvine A.J.A Symons in 1932. It does not appear anywhere on the web but I have not produced it quite in its entirety for copyright reasons- cutting out a few longueurs, deviations etc., I will add some footnotes later. For the moment it is worth noting that this is a book collector so involved with wine that he bought the Gutenberg Bible (current value surely $20,000, 000 or more) because it contains a description in Isaiah of the planting of a vineyard. This is a bit like a collector of tennis books buying a Shakespeare First Folio because the bard mentions the game in Hamlet, Much Ado about Nothing and Heny the Fifth ('When we have match'd our rackets to these balls./We will, in France, by God's grace, play a set ...) His library would have been the kind of collection a dealer could retire on and follow the good life -as defined by Andre Simon.

Andre Simon - Soliloquy of a Bibulous Bibliophile 2

The Soliloquy of a Bibulous Bibliophile.
By André L. Simon ('Wine & Food' No 132, Winter 1966)

Is there anyone anywhere today, I sometimes wonder, who had the opportunities which were mine, during three score and ten years of my adult life, to enjoy wonderful wines, the likes of which the post-wars generations will never know, and the privilege to enjoy them with such wonderful friends? I doubt it.

One of my oldest friends- he was born in 1847- was Sir James Agg-Gardner, a little man and a great lover of wine…he was one of a few friends who lunched with me at my old Mark Lane headquarters, in 1918, to celebrate my return to civilian life.* There were still, on that day, four magnums of Cockburns 1847 in the cellar; we had one of them and it really was magnificent! We were on the eve of a General Election and we all drank good luck to Sir James in the wine of his own vintage. I promised him, somewhat rashly, another magnum of 1847 Cockburn, should he be re-elected. He was re-elected of course, not only that year, but twice again during the next twelve months: it took three elections in two years to get a working majority, and this was why and how my last three magnums of Cockburn 1847 went in two years! No regrets: they were at their best and could not possibly have been any better had they been kept any longer.

... I had the good fortune to hear of a small parcel of Chateau Lafite 1870, in 1935, tasted the wine and found it still very good, old as it was: it was not château bottled, but bottled at Leith, in Scotch bottles, with first-class corks. So I bought it for the Saintsbury Club, of which I was Cellarer then and during the first thirty years of the Club’s existence. I put aside a dozen bottles in the hope that the Lafite and Ian (Campbell) would celebrate their eightieth birthday together, which they did, in 1950, at the Vintners’ Hall.

A much younger friend of mine, Eustace Hoare- he was born in 1899, a great claret year!- was the most charming host imaginable. He was also a great claret lover, and his old Eton mentor, C. M. Wells, Charles Walter Berry, Vyvyan Holland, myself and other claret lovers, met at Eustace’s hospitable board on many happy occasions; we greatly enjoyed fine fare and the finest clarets of 1899 and 1900, as well as each other’s company, of course, but we always failed to agree which was the better of those two great claret years, reserving our final judgement until we had had another ‘sitting’!...

How grateful I am to have still with me, on my shelves, so many old friends, the books which I have been collecting all my life. There are, I know, many bibliophiles who have a far greater number of books that I have, some of them rarer and more valuable than any I have, but I cannot imagine anybody having assembled a more representative collection of books of wine interest*, not only books dealing exclusively with viticulture and wine-making, but others in which wine is considered from the moral, social, economic, and medical angles. This, although the Bible cannot be called a ‘wine book’, I did not hesitate to buy, when I had the chance to do so, a beautiful Folio of Gutenberg’s Bible, printed at Mainz, between 1450 and 1455, with Isaiah’s description of the planting of a vineyard.

The two oldest friends on my shelves have been with me for over sixty years, through two world wars and many vicissitudes: I only paid a guinea for each of them and each is worth at least £50 today. One is a little book of eight leaves in full calf binding, but there were only seven leaves in a blue paper dust cover when I bought it from Pickering and Chatto, in 1904: I had the missing first leaf added in facsimile from the British Museum copy. It is the earliest of all books ever printed that deals exclusively with wine: its title is De vino et eius proprietate; its author is unknown, but I am as sure as one can be without documentary evidence that it was written by Jerome Emser: it was first published, in 1478, in German, before being translated in Latin. My other old friend is a perfect copy of Andreas Bacci’s De Naturali Vinorum Historia, printed in Rome in 1596, a full hundred years later than his little brother; I bought it from Smith, an odd antiquarian bookseller of Brighton, one of those rare bargains that gladden the heart of a bibliophile.

One of the earlier post-War I books which I treasure, as I do the memory of Hugh Cecil Lea, who gave it to me in 1920 as a Christmas present, is William Turner’s A new Boke of the nature and properties of all Wines that are commonlye used here in England. My copy is a perfect copy; it came from the Huth Library and is one of five known copies.

There were comparatively few books written and published before the seventeenth century that dealt exclusively with wine, but there were many books on agriculture in general in which an important place was given to viticulture and wine-making, and many of them are on my shelves. The finest and oldest of them is the first edition of Peter Crescenz’s Opus Ruralium Commodorum, printed in Ausbourg, in 1471, which I bought from Maggs Brothers, forty years ago, for £280; a beautiful copy in its original pigskin binding, with seven embossed brass pieces at seven of the corners, and one in the centre of the front cover…

Arnaldus de Villanova’s Tractatus de Vinis, and similar books written by the doctors of the School of Salernes, deal with wine in a pseudo-scientific fashion, and are interesting as such: one German doctor, for instance, in his Regimen Sanitatis printed at Strasbourg, in 1513, recommends a draught of wine when having a bath, adding that the Queen of England, Elizabeth, always had one, and there is a woodcut on the title page showing the queen, with her crown on her head, sitting in a great wooden tub and her doctor handing a draught of wine to her!

Fathers of the Church and moralists of old have also written a great deal about the use, more especially the abuse, of wine, and I have many of their writings, none more consoling than the assurance given in one of those books that you may happen to be drunk and be perfectly blameless, that is if you have been given bad wine: you were drugged, not drunk!

21 April 2010

The Purple Cloud (1901) - the book of the moment

All the recent news about the volcanic ash cloud over Europe and consequent turmoil and disruption were like a science fiction or Doomwatch story--it brought to mind the great post apocalyptic fantasy by M.P. Shiel The Purple Cloud. Published in 1901 and revised in 1929, it has appeared in many editions (a US hardback cover below) including pulp paperbacks. The first edition is the best but rather rare, especially in collectable condition. I am grateful for M.Stone and J.Baxter for sending me an image from Paris of what looks like a very decent example.

M.P. Shiel (1865-1947) was a British writer of Irish mulatto parentage. His fantasy and supernatural fiction has a dedicated cult following but he is also known for his 'radium age' SF and his strange and alluring detective and mystery fiction. Bookride will deal with him in greater depth later but his Purple Cloud seems especialy prescient right now. It concerns the first man to reach the North Pole - he returns to find all life on earth has been destroyed by a poisonous gas realised from volcanoes and explores the world like the traditional 'accursed wanderer'. He does not take it well and turns to total decadence and drugs, burning entire cities down for his own amusement…until at last he discovers another human… slightly more apocalyptic than holiday makers stuck on the Costa del Sol admittedly. His prose style is well regarded - some however say that Shiel's writing was as purple as his cloud-here is a flavour of it from this work:
“For oftentimes, both waking and in nightmare, I did not know on which orb I was, nor in which age, but felt my being adrift in the great gulf of space and eternity and circumstance, with no bottom for my consciousness to stand upon, the world all mirage and a strange show to me, and the frontiers of dream and waking lost.”

He was much admired by fellow writers such as Wells, Machen, E.F. Benson, Rebecca West, Carl Van Vechten, Dashiell Hammett ('a magician...') Ellery Queen, August Derleth, J.B. Priestley etc., Hugh Walpole said of him "A flaming genius! At his best he is not to be touched, because there is no one else like him." His values are high. An indifferent rather worn example is offered at $1200, a fairly decent presentation copy at an adventurous £2500 but a thousand pound note would not be out of the question for an uninscribed sharp and fresh looking example.

19 April 2010

Fashion in book collecting

Fashion’s a funny thing. Turn up at Gekoski with an armful of signed firsts of Barrie, Galsworthy, Coppard, Shaw, and Walpole, and you’d be politely shown the door. Waddle in with a battered copy of Ulysses complete with an authorial inscription to Wyndham Lewis and suddenly he’s fishing out his cheque book. Eliot, Pound, Lawrence, Joyce and Lewis were all of the golden 1880s generation who came good in the 1920s, but it would seem that in the era of their greatest fame as modernist icons, book collectors actually preferred Galsworthy , Barrie, Coppard , Shaw and Walpole. Indeed, in magazines like the Bookman, whole articles were devoted to collecting their firsts and limited editions-complete with ‘ points ‘ in this developing market for modern firsts.

Fashion never bothered the average reader. Shaw hasn’t been’ in ‘since God knows when, but no-one told me that when St Joan was chosen as a text for my O level syllabus. As far as my teacher was concerned, Shaw was as relevant in 1968 as he had been in the twenties. And the importance of Galsworthy was recognised by producers of that sixties adaptation, The Forsyte Saga, while Coppard was surely still in vogue in the late sixties if a series of his dramatised short stories on TV was any indication. It followed ( I assumed ) that collecting their books was a good investment move. I clearly remember as a teenager in 1969 being shocked to discover that the first of Shaw’s Apple Cart that I had recently plucked out of a jumble sale for sixpence was only worth about 2 shillings. Today you can get one for £1—even less in real terms-- on the Net.

The Bookman of the early thirties is a good source of material on the market for modern firsts. The expert, usually Gilbert H. Fabes, who wrote long
bibliographies based on these contributions, doesn’t focus entirely on the moderns, but is clearly intrigued by the trends he discovers in the market. According to William Foyle, Fabes’ knowledge of the modern first edition market was ‘ unique ‘, though other collectors and dealers felt unhappy that he had given away too many trade secrets in his first bibliography. Today, as a bibliographer Fabes can be seen as a trailblazer, despite the fact that his critical judgements would not now bear scrutiny—he classed Priestley with Dickens and A. A. Milne with Lewis Carroll. Masefield too was reckoned among ‘ the first rank ‘.

This price movement upward appears to have began in the prosperous years of the twenties, at about the time when the rage for collecting modern etchings took fire. In a magazine interview in 1927 a young actress called Barbara Hoffe, along with confessing rather bizarrely that her favourite meal was a mushroom omelette, also revealed that her favourite hobby was collecting ‘first editions cheaply’. Not long afterwards W. H. Smith launched a new quarterly, The Book Window, which was devoted to reviews of the best books and ‘ to those limited and deluxe editions likely to appeal to collectors ‘. But though the etching market collapsed dramatically with Wall Street in 1929, leaving artists like Graham Sutherland without customers, the Bookman pieces would suggest that the market for modern firsts was more resilient. The timing of the Bookman articles may even suggest that modern firsts were, post 1929, being promoted as alternative investments to etchings.

Today, on the whole, modern firsts are still better investments than etchings, though the Web’s print dealers would tell you otherwise. The sad truth remains that had your bookish granddad taken Fabes’ advice and bought firsts of Shaw et al sixty odd years ago they’d be worth a fraction in real terms of what he’d paid for them. Consider the table below and take into account the enormous inflation since the thirties -here stated at a modest 20 times factor:

George Bernard Shaw
John Bull’s other island (1907) £2 (£40) now £20 .

James Barrie
Better Dead (1887) £35 (£700) now £85
Auld Licht Idylls (1888) £25 (£500) now £35
My Lady Nicotine (1890) £25 (£500) now £150

John Galsworthy
From the Four Winds (first book, 1897) £50 (£1000) now £150
A Man of Devon (1901) £40 (£800) now £180
The Man of Property £35 (£700) now £60

Adam and Eve and Pinch Me 1921 £10 (£200) now £50
(signed, Golden Cockerel)
The Black Dog (1923) £15 (£300) now £16

Bet you wish your granddad had instead backed a young etcher called G. Sutherland when the crash came. His crepuscular pastoral scenes inspired by Samuel Palmer now retail at a cool £4,000 each. [R.M. Healey]

Thanks Robin, wise and timely words. Caveat emptor etc., As a dealer I have to differ with you slightly on Shaw values; last time I checked there were still good punters for signed Shaws especially with incisive and amusing inscriptions, and you would probably find the Oracle of Bloomsbury Square ponying up for a signed copy of Barrie's play 'Peter Pan'. I still get excited when I find a Galsworthy writing as John Sinjohn (they are far from common) but cool down when I check the price on ABE. His 1897 novel 'From the Four Winds' would be a good title for a prog rock concept album.

Who are the Coppards, Walpoles and Barries de nos jours? I suggest Louis de Bernieres and Ian McEwan --the first is already in decline and some very silly prices are now being asked for early McEwans-- a bad (or good) lead indicator... you might add Cormac McCarthy who had quite a showing in American Book Review's recent 40 Bad American Books. Turning up on Oprah may not have helped. Price, of course, does not reflect quality, good or bad. Values are determined by serious buyers, generally well off, confident, not to say self important. This is why Fleming still makes serious money but also Joyce, Orwell, Biggles and Greene.

As for Galsworthy you can find incredible variants in his prices. Some of his books are hard to sell for 1 cent. The world's most expensive web seller, whom I shall call 'Attic Books,' (because their prices go through the ceiling) have the signed limited edition of his collected plays at a mind blowing $2500 (it can be bought easily for $45 and his signed collected works in 30 exquisite vols can be had for considerably less). Oddly enough they have recently halved the price of this from $5000, a thing uncommon amongst gross over-chargers. Most absurdly priced books stay at the same level year after year-- a seller in the Midlands, who could be said to have put the peak in Peak District, has his entire stock at almost exactly three times normal retail and never reduces the prices. Because nothing much sells he has a very large web stock and his prices have become useful to many more sober sellers as they can generally get about a third to a quarter of his prices -and also appear to be eminently reasonable against his price. It's a mad world, my masters.

17 April 2010

The Dreadnought Hoax Part 2

One of the easier Hogarth Press books to find, despite the fact that of the 2530 copies all but a 1000 were pulped. It does not appear to be rising in value-- It used to be worth about £200 for a clean copy and still is. It can show in a glassine wrap and some sad colllectors get excited about this--especially Hogarth completists dedicated to continually upgrading their collection. One wonders if Bloomsbury collecting has peaked, all the principals have died, some reached a 100 or so. Collections will still surface from children and heirs and also collecctors dead, fed up or in debt. The whole thing started in the mid 1970s with the formidable Holroyd Lytton Strachey biography and Quentin Bell's Virginia Woolf volumes. These punters are now collecting their bus passes and their books will surface in bookshops, online and in auction over the next 30 years. Are new, younger Bloomsbury collectors piling in? I haven't noticed many - it is still a steady market but probably not one to go long on. Some are of the opinion they did not produce any great books- however this has seldom been relevant to collectors or values. Values tend to come from scarcity and desire...

An interesting new selling technique emerged in my researches -the negative sell. You knock the book and its authors but still charge the going rate. It is more amusing than the relentless 'greatest book ever written' cataloguing style. A respected dealer wanting £125 for an average copy has this to say about it:
'... two of (the photos) underline the fact that Mrs. Woolf and her mates needed a clip round the ear...An interesting if slightly nauseating account of a bit of undergraduate tomfoolery on the part of Virginia Woolf and a gang of her posh mates dressing up as exotic royalty in order to gain access to HMS Dreadnought because it would be so frightfully funny and they were slightly bored. Useful from the point of view that it underlines the universal truth that just because you're a literary genius doesn't mean that you can't also be a weapons grade prat...'
Perhaps this technique could catch on with One Hundred Years of Solitude being catalogued thus -
'pretentious unreadable twaddle of interest only to dim-witted backpackers, by the Nobel prize winiing Garcia Marquez, leader of the now totally discredited Magic Realist school. Roberto Bolano (praise his name) denounced Marquez as a kind of cultivated sellout who was “thrilled to know so many presidents and archbishops" and added that most Nobel Prize winners were 'jerks'. Fine in first state dust jacket. $3000.'

When dealers start knocking books they are selling it could mean that they are so easy to sell you don't need to puff them anymore, or they are so ubiquitous and slow to sell that they are moved to put the boot in. In my opinion this will always be a good book because of the involvement of the great prankster Horace de Vere Cole. He is unlikely to be forgotten; his friend Augustus John attended his funeral and said that, as he watched Cole’s coffin being lowered into the ground, 'In dreadful tension I waited for the moment for the lid to be lifted and a well-known figure to leap out with an ear-splitting yell. But my old friend disappointed me this time.' Cole and Augustus John were both in involved with the society beauty and bohemian goddess Mavis de Vere Cole Wheeler.

Horace married her, also later the archaeologist Mortimer Wheeler. Wheeler (a handsome early TV star) was first attracted by her 'skipping walk', she was muse, model and mistress to Augustus John and was involved in a scandal where she shot her lover Lord Vivian and was jailed. None of the photos on the web do her justice but John's drawing on the cover of her son's biography Beautiful and Beloved captures her look. Horace called her 'Bungaloosie,' which echoes the immortal words 'Bunga, Bunga' spoken on board the Dreadnought. Her ashes are scattered in Cadogan Gardens---an area where we once bought a killer library. But that is another story...

10 April 2010

The Dreadnought Hoax Part 1

Adrian Stephen. THE "DREADNOUGHT" HOAX. Hogarth Press, London 1936.

Current Selling Prices
$150-$450 /£100-£300

Adrian Stephen's account of supreme prankster Horace de Vere Cole's elaborate hoax, in which he, Virginia Stephen (later Woolf), Guy Ridley, Anthony Buxton and Duncan Grant masqueraded as Abyssinian royals, with Adrian Stephen as their interpreter, and were treated to a tour of the Royal Navy's flagship HMS Dreadnought. Also known as the 'Bunga, Bunga' affair, it was de Vere Cole's finest and most successful prank. He had done a dry run in Cambridge as an undergraduate when he had posed as the Sultan of Zanzibar — who was visiting London at the time — to make an official visit to his own college accompanied by his friend Adrian Stephen (brother of Virginia Woolf). There had been a few hairy moments--at one point an elderly woman academic tried to talk to the Sultan in his native language. The resourceful Stephen informed her that in order to talk to him she would first have to join his harem. Language also proved a problem on board the Dreadnought. This is from Wallechinsky & Wallace's Hoaxes in History:
"Taken by launch from the harbor to the Dreadnought, Cole and his cohorts were received by Home Fleet Adm. Sir William May. After inspecting a marine guard, the party was taken on a tour of the ship, during which Herr Kauffmann explained the various sights to the wide-eyed Ethiopians. Unsure of what sort of dialect to use, Adrian Stephen suddenly began spouting passages of Vergil's Aeneid, mispronouncing it sufficiently to make it unrecognizable as Latin. Later, when he could remember no more Vergil, he switched to Homer, mispronouncing the Greek in the same manner he had altered the Latin.

For their parts, the four in blackface could not have responded more enthusiastically to all that they were shown. Although Virginia-fearful of being discovered a woman-limited her commentary to an occasional "chuck-a-choi, chuck-a-choi," the others let go with loud exclamations of "bunga, bunga" at everything from an electric light bulb to the ship's heaviest armaments. "
It was, for its time, a media sensation and small children would taunt sailors with cries of 'Bunga, Bunga.' De Vere Cole pulled off many other pranks, some violent, even criminal. One excellent wheeze was to hire four bald men to attend a particularly pretentious play with the letters S H I T written on their pates so that when they removed their hats the word could be clearly seen from the dress circle. Less pleasant hoaxes included wrestling the lifelike dummy of a naked woman on the pavement , banging her head and shouting 'ungrateful hussy' and standing in front of a moving train and lighting his cigar off the engine after it screeched to a halt. Dom Joly could only dream of such japes. He sold the throne of Croatia to a gullible 'mark' and is also said to have slept in a bed in the shop window of Maples. These and other hoaxes are recounted in an excellent recent biography by Martyn Downer - 'The Sultan of Zanzibar.' Continuing soon with book values, speculations on the Bloomsbury market (are the knockers moving in?) , a picture of the beautiful and beloved Mavis de Vere Cole Wheeler (if I can find one) and an olla podrida of trivia, gossip and whimsy... by the way that's Virginia Woolf with beard top left, Horace is said have attempted to 'ingratiate' himself with her but she regarded him as 'an intolerable bore...very rich and very vulgar...'

06 April 2010

Collecting Eric Ravilious

Current selling prices £2 - £3000

Arguably the most fashionable twentieth century English artist of the present day—more trendy than either Bacon or Freud, but appealing to a very different audience. Ravilious’ ascent to star status possibly began with the publication of Freda Constable’s The England of Eric Ravilious in 1982. Since then, a number of studies focussing on various aspects of his work have appeared, most notably Alan Powers Imagined Realities. The appeal for his admirers lies in his peculiar vision of England in peace and war, captured in intense wood engravings that take their inspiration from Blake and Bewick, in spirited lithographs that owe something to continental surrealism and English folk art, but more brilliantly still in pallid watercolours informed by the artist’s early training as a wood engraver, but taking their palette from the English tradition in watercolour and the decorative motifs of, among other things, late eighteenth century Wedgwood creamware. In this world planes and tanks are reduced to toy-like dimensions and people, where they are present at all, become mere dolls --part of a play world of empty landscapes and interiors that exude a sense of dream-like menace. Ravilious, like his friend Edward Bawden, is the archetypal artist as designer- and- decorator and his work chimes in with the modern liking for irony and playfulness, and for interior design. His vision is the classical counterpoint to the sturm und drang romanticism of his exact contemporary, John Piper.

But unlike both Bawden and Piper, Ravilious died before he could fulfil his true potential. An aviator lost at sea at just 39 in 1942 —he left behind designs that were used years later, and now anything with a Ravilious motif on it is sought after —from the posthumous fifties meat plate, lemonade or milk jug by Wedgwood, the 1953 Coronation mug, to his four hundred plus wood engravings scattered around various publications. He it was who designed the logos of The Cornhill Magazine in 1929 and of Wisden, and a set of wood engravings for the Kynoch Press Notebook and Diary for 1933 that deserve comparison with those of William Blake. His most famous book is High Street, which the Curwen Press printed for Country Life in 1938. This collection of 24 brilliant and quirky lithographs of shop fronts and interiors mainly in London (including furrier, second-hand dealer, undertaker and oyster bar ) which accompanies a text by architectural historian J. M. Richards, has now become, without question, the most sought after English illustrated book of the twentieth century. Only two thousand copies were issued, but many of these have been broken up for their plates and thus copies in good condition are rare.

At ABE you can find perfect or near perfect ones at up to £3, 250. The book’s rarity is compounded by the fact that the original lithographic stones were destroyed during the blitz. But with demand for High Street so great, it was only a matter of time before some sort of reprint appeared and in 2008 Alan Powers ( who used to execute exquisite watercolours of shop fronts himself ) brought out a history of the book ,The Story of High Street . which attempts, among other things, to identify the shops featured. This limited edition itself has now become a collector’s item for those who cannot afford the original book. Copies now trade at $238 or more.

For Ravilious fans with lower horizons, issues of Wisden and the post-1929 Cornhill Magazine can easily be obtained for a pound or two. However, anyone wanting a copy of the very scarce Kynoch Press Notebook and Diary for 1933 will probably have to be content with the reprint published in 2003 by the Incline Press, copies of which can be had for £48, though the ‘deluxe ‘ issue is quoted at £280. [R.M.Healey]

Many thanks Robin. More trendy than Freud and Bacon, cooler than Koons and Emin - I hadn't realised. I used to see High Street round the bookfairs in the 1980s priced in the low hundreds and often a bit shaken. When it became a four figure book it disappeared and I had the odd email offering me a copy at over a £1000. Because of my curious need to make a profit I did not buy, but sadly I have never found a copy asleep. The highest auction record for the book is £1200 + premium for a copy at Winter in 2008, slightly chipped at spine. £3250 is what you have to put on it to stop it selling. Also desirable is his 1929 Almanack for Lanston Monotype Corporation (12 wood engravings) -a copy made £400 4 years ago. His Writings of Gilbert White of Selborne from Nonesuch in 1938 (44 woodcuts) can command £600 or more. Sellers sometimes claim it was his finest work; certainly It was his final great work before he met his death off Iceland in 1942.

05 April 2010

Express to Hollywood

Victor McLaglen. EXPRESS TO HOLLYWOOD. Jarrolds, London, 1934.

Current Selling Prices
$600-$800 /£350-£450

This is a return visit to a resolutely unfindable book. Actually, Peter M a reader of these postings found a copy and mailed me these images. Many thanks. There are no copies on the web and I have only heard of one going through Ebay; there is also the copy mentioned by Prize Fighter in the old comments field. Family members, boxing fans, Brits in Hollywood scholars and movie fans want it.

It is the autobiography of a Hollywood hard man and ex boxer, recalling his wildly adventurous career prior to entering the movies. McLaglen was born in turbulent Tunbridge Wells, Kent, England. His father, a bishop, moved the family to South Africa when McLaglen was a child. He left home at fourteen to join the army with the intention of fighting in the Second Boer War. However much to his chagrin, he was stationed at Windsor Castle and was later forced to leave the army when his true age was discovered. From 1904 - 1920 he was a boxer and in 1918 McLaglen won the Heavyweight Championship of the British Army. The Wikiman says of this elusive book:
"His tale of the road, his odyssey from his native England through Canada and the western United States, details his long-held desire to be a professional prizefighter, climaxing in a no-decision fight with world heavyweight champion Jack Johnson. McLaglen supplements his story with vignettes of life as a farmer, gold and silver prospector, wrestler, policeman, soldier, vaudeville performer, miner, pearl fisher, big-game hunter, and sign-painter. In all likelihood the only Academy Award-winning actor ever, past or future, also to be Assistant Provost Marshal of the city of Baghdad, McLaglen writes a story that reads as though Jack London had written it. He writes with candor and humility, and with style. It is am immensely enjoyable book, and the fact that McLaglen was at the time of its writing only beginning to achieve the fame and popularity that would maintain his career nearly another three decades is both astonishing and a bit disappointing: it would have been wonderful to read his accounts of the next quarter century...."
Of course he went on to make "The Informer," "The Quiet Man," and "What Price Glory?". I have trod on his name on Hollywood Boulevard where, as Ray Davies has it, his name "is written in concrete."

VALUE? 20 years ago someone paid $120 for a signed photo at Darvick , there was a BIN for an insubstantial clipped note at ebay for $250. Sanders Autograph Guide (2000) rate his signature at $165 and a signed photo at $335 and spell his name McLaglin. He wasn't John Wayne, who can go very high indeed, but for some reason hard guy's signatures are often pricy. Jarrolds, an East Anglian publisher, tended to have funky colourful jackets so it would look good and modestly priced in the low to mid hundreds it would probably sell to the fastest finger in less than an hour on ABE--there are over 40 buyers waiting. It is a boxing book which, as far as I am aware is still a lively collecting area; there are even boxing book specialists - I used to ask them in vain for Arthur Cravan posters. Do they join the ring? Sans jacket the book still very good, people want to read it. There are no Kessinger reprints. Ugly though they usually are, new printings would lower the price.

01 April 2010

Library Sales

Above is a bookplate of extreme cuteness for a library probably long since dispersed. I like the quote from Kit Marlowe: 'Infinite riches in a little room.' The other quotation you see on bookplates of this period is Shakespeare's ".....find tonques in trees,/books in babbling brooks,/sermons in stone,/ and good in everything....." The background behind the two kids looks like the Cotwolds for some reason. More real than these two sonnenkinder are the four fine persons running a library sale in our pic below.

I try to hit a library sale or two whenever I am in the States. Judging by a recent report from the excellent Americana Exchange they have become quite regimented. It used to be about joining a long boring queue ('line') as early as you could bear it and then on opening time ruthlessly rushing in - every man/woman for themselves. However at a sale at Palo Alto (a rich Silicon Valley town once renowned as the home of America's finest acid/ LSD) they did it thus:
...at 9 a.m. they whet your appetite by having an outside tent book sale with all books priced at $1.00 ..some very nice books, ephemera, prints...At 10 a.m. they send you a half block down the nearby driveway to another classroom full of the next best books at $1 each - shelves and shelves of them on every possible subject. About 10:45 you stagger back, laden with bags and boxes of books, towards the main room and get in line according to number. At 11:00 sharp, the first 150 people, who by now are revved and ready to bolt, get in (we were 146 and 147) and have an hour to shop, with a limit of twelve books each...
Library sale goers in California are apparently a pliant and unquestioning bunch, such marshalling would not work in Europe (with the possible exception of Germany) and in England it would lead to fights and possible hospitalization of some library staff and a handful of dealers.

The thing about library sales is to have a plan. It helps to know what they have in there and info can sometimes be garnered in the line. You have to know where to head first and it is useful to have a mate or two so that you can be omni-present (divide spoils later.) In my experience they tend to make mistakes in the area of funny older novels, slim vols of poetry and funky or kitsch artbooks, photobooks, manuals and trashy paperbacks. They overrate Children's books, leather bound books, Americana etc., Many dealers scoop up anything that looks sellable and then go through it more carefully at leisure, possibly checking prices on Iphone devices or phoning a friend. This is slightly disapproved of but universal; even now libraries are probably working out ways of banning it.

If possible avoid library books at library sales, you will see them priced up on the net but they look and feel unpleasant and with a few exceptions are slow to sell. Most library sales are disposing of unwanted donations so library books are not so common. It is good to arrive with some sort of shopping bag or a capacious and slightly naff trolley bag. You cannot make deals and you cannot take stuff back. You will see 'civilians' (non dealers) buying tons of utter rubbish that they would never look at in a bookstore. Bargains are known-- a dealer in Berkeley who seldom pays more than a buck a book recently found the true 1908 first (it's green) of Anne of Green Gables at a library sale and turned it round for $10K. I found a proof copy of Hemingway's 'Fiesta' - so long ago that I cannot remember what I got for it.

Below is a library sale at Singapore Expo Hall --the ad proclaimed 'Book lovers have much to cheer this August as the National Library Board holds its 10th Library Book Sale. Books and magazines in all four official languages will be on sale from $1-$5, with each customer allowed to buy up to 60 items. Payment can only be made by cash, Nets or CashCard.'

Was there anything in English, any sleepers? Will check it out in 2010 ...It's now 2010 and August is coming up. Must check flights. Meanwhile libraries have started to have book sales online and so far they appear damned dull. You cannot replicate the excitement and the insanity on a paltry website. Check out the library at London Borough of Richmond effort. This is not Oklahoma or Arizona library sale nirvana with 500,000 books in a stadium with 2000 hyped up dealers barely containing their sanity in pursuit of treasure...