27 May 2010

Collecting HD (Hilda Doolittle)

Current Selling Prices
$30 to $600+ / £20 to £400+

Geoffrey Grigson, who didn’t much like female poets, was less hard on HD (Hilda Doolittle ) in his review of Peter Jones’ Penguin anthology of Imagism than he was on some of the male contributors, particularly F. S. Flint. Was it because she was a a looker, albeit a lesbian, or was it ( more likely ) because—despite despising Imagism as a minor movement in poetry , he rather admired her work—or at least her very early work.

Most people now regard Doolittle as the best of the Imagists, or least as the poet who was most committed to the principles of the movement ( economy and precision in poetic diction ) as promulgated by Pound and others. Richard Aldington, to whom Doolittle was unhappily married for a short time also began as a devotee, but like the other early adherents, soon strayed off the narrow path and ended up rather prosy. Doolittle, in contrast, took her role very seriously and continued as a strict imagist for several decades of her long writing life, publishing several slim volumes long after Imagism had gone out of fashion, before at last turning to more conventional verse and to commentaries on wider literary issues. To many today, she remains a feminist icon.

People seem more interested in her sexual life—her failed marriage to Aldington and subsequent relationship with Bryher, than her Imagist poetry, which is a pity. Her verse is genuinely cutting edge. At a time in England when the bucolic meanderings of Georgian poetry was holding sway her stunning debut Sea Garden (1916) must have come as a refreshing douche of plain talking:
The light beats upon me
I am startled
A split leaf crackles on the paved floor---
I am anguished---defeated.

A slight wind shakes the seed- pods---
my thoughts are spent
as the black seeds.
My thoughts tear me,
I dread their fever,
I am scattered in its whirl,
I am scattered like the hot shrivelled seeds…
[From Mid-day.]

The five most important Imagists—Pound, HD, Aldington, Flint and Amy Lowell—are all worth collecting, but Doolittle, Pound and Lowell, are more in demand than the others. But look for her very earliest poems. Some appeared in Des Imagistes (1914) and Some Imagist Poets (1915), which are both pricey. A copy of the former is listed at $420 on ABE. She also contributed to Coterie (1919), copies of which can change hands at between $30 and $140, and The Egoist, which because of its other big names, sells easily for more than $100. Doolittle’s rare first book, Choruses from Iphigeneia in Aulis (1916), is a translation, and as such is naturally in less demand. In Ahearne’s Book Collecting (2000) it comes in at $450. Ahearne has the issue of Sea Garden in crimson paper covered boards at $500, but copies on ABE hover around £200, with the rarer green variant at around $850. However, I recently bought a crimson copy on ABE with slight damp damage to its boards for a ridiculously cheap £20, which is only slightly more than a modern reprint. Doolittle’s second collection, Hymen (1921), is described as ‘ very scarce ‘ by one dealer on ABE, who wants $200 for his copy, and Heliodora (1924), the third collection, attracts a price of $280 from one dealer, although other copies come in at very reasonable $46 and $86. These are all fragile items and are often offered with minor damage. The remaining volumes of original verse are less collected, though one dealer demands $100 for a copy of Red Roses for Bronze (1929 ), which seems steep.

HD lived right into the 1960s and was turning out books into her old age. Her later writings are highly regarded, and some can fetch respectable prices. However, most would agree that it is her early role as the leading Imagist after Pound that made her one of the most significant figures in early modernist literature. [R.M.Healey]

Many thanks Robin. I have had some great HD rarities like 'Kora and Ka' and 'The Usual Star' both impenetrable modernist prose and privately printed in 100 copies. They came from the library of the sapphic writer Katherine Burdekin whose 'Swastika Nights' is still much praised, also later the same 2 books came from the library of Kenneth (E.) Macpherson** and are still somewhere in the warehouse. It would be fun to sink money into the Imagists especially if you had a lot of it. It is just possible they may become hot in the future--maybe a movie with Day Lewis as Pound, Kate Winslet as Amy Lowell and Hilary Swank as HD--guest appearance by Johnny Depp as F.S. Flint and Steve Buscemi as Skipwith Cannell (the imagist who disappeared.) As for Imagist poetry it is hard to better Pound's poem 'In a Station of the Metro' , a haiku written in 1913--'The apparition of these faces in the crowd ; / Petals on a wet, black bough.'

** Kora and Ka was catalogued as 'Signed presentation copy: ' H. D. to K.E.X.' Limited to 100 copies - 'Privately printed for the authors friends, no copies were for sale.' With the modernist bookplate of the recipient Kenneth (E.) Macpherson who was married to Bryher, H.D.'s lover and also the lover of Macpherson - a noted literary triangulation. Together the three formed the the film magazine Close Up, and the POOL cinema group and publishing press.'

19 May 2010

Finding the unfindable book

What about books that simply cannot be found on the net? If you are searching for the book, where can it be found? If you have the book, how do you price it?

1. Check whether you have the correct spelling--and use the author and a short title only. It is worth checking WorldCat or other library databases (found through ViaLibri) to see if the book exists. Even if they don't show a copy it doesn't mean it was never published -just that it is howling rare. It may be a ghost, a book that was announced but that never appeared or a book mentioned in a movie or another book that is merely fictitious. See our posting on Lost in the Wilds by D.Croyle. A priceless book--until someone actually writes it.

2. If you are trying to find the book, post it as a 'want' at ABE and any other web book mall that allows this facility - Ebay is especially good because generally you then have a chance to bid on the book. With ABE I find that by the time I get notified of a want hit and respond it has gone to a faster finger, unless woefully overpriced. Recently I was notified of the breakthrough art catalogue This is Tomorrow, a very clean copy at £30. It went within minutes. I was notified again a week later --it was the same copy with a French seller asking a not unthinkable £1200. This time it was available but I passed.

3. Get in touch with a specialist. This is becoming less of an option as the specialist is likely to have his or her books online these days. Most booksellers don't have the time to put all their books up so there is still a chance. In the USA find a specialist through the ABAA, in UK through ABA or PBFA. .

4. Look for the book in bookshops and book sales.. Nowadays a desperate option but you may find some interesting stuff on the way. You can also get in touch with bookfinding services but they mainly use the net anyway. You can see if the book is vailable at Google Books, apply for it through your library or apply to the British Museum for a copy. Our posting on the unfindable Beach of Atonement details this method (it's expensive.) The Upfield estate has not relented--this is a book that if you find it you can buy a new car - and not a slow one.

To be continued with some tentative suggestions about pricing the unfindable book. While doing some checking on all this I came across the rather naff 'ghost' of 2007 Love Letters from Great Men featured in the Sex and the City movie. A ton of silly billies wanted this non existent book and Kessinger reprinted the nearest thing to it Love Letters from Great Men and Women: From The Eighteenth Century To The Present Day.In the news article I found Kessinger were referred to as 'a publishing house dedicated to breathing life into great books that should never have gone out-of-print.' That's a very positive way of putting it. Most booksellers curse their very name--especially if you have a want for the rare first edition of a book and keep getting offered these artless yellow paperback digitalised re-issues.

[Illustration above by Andrew Davidson from 'The Pleasure of Reading' edited by Antonia Fraser Bloomsbury, 1992 ISBN 0747508135. Many thanks.]

14 May 2010

10 Web Book Searching Tips

We recently posted a rather controversial list of 20 book sites - getting one site disastrously wrong (unless you are somewhat to the right of Genghis Khan.) It lead to a great rejoinder list from the esteemed Lux Mentis with some seriously useful sites. Superior stuff, it pains me to admit. However I am not Prince Hamlet nor was meant to be…

One thing that emerged from this was a need for some search tips and ways of ploughing through all the execrable ex-library stuff and worse the P.O.D's-- we're talking Kessinger and all his cohorts. I am usually searching for a book in order to ascertain its value, rather than buy it. Occasionally, if tempted, I buy a book because someone has left a wide margin of profit in it (but then you have two copies.)

As an example I will use a book I was just researching to establish price and rarity. A second edition (1871) of a sweet and once well known Victorian instructive work by Annie Carey Autobiographies of A Lump of Coal; A Grain of Salt; A Drop of Water; A Bit of Old Iron; A Piece of Flint.

1. Less is more. It is best not to put in the full title - 'Lump of Coal' will do. Likewise use just the surname (unless it is something very common like Smith, Brown, Jones etc.,). In Ms Carey's case she was also known as Ann or Anne - further potential confusion.

2. On ViaLibri (in my opinion the supreme search site, although often best used in tandem with AbeBooks) have it set for year ascending. This is a fallible method, and price descending can also be used, but both tend to put the first and early editions at the top.

3. There are are 26 matches on ViaLibri (several the same book with a dealer listing on several sites.) This can be reduced to 9 by filtering out Kessinger reprints. Simply put the word [Kessinger] in square brackets in the keywords field. The square brackets can be used for 'ex-library' but it is a less reliable word (as is POD.)

4. Mentally filter out the quietly mad overchargers and the generic booksellers who can say nothing about the condition of the book except 'may show some wear', and nothing whatever about the edition or content. These latter sellers may not even possess the book. At this point I worked out I might get £45 for my decent second edition, £6 cheaper than an Amazon scholar with a similar edition proudly described as 'VERY WORN - VERY FRAGILE!'. Ours might sell in a day, or possibly 1000 days later and somewhat reduced in price.

5. In the case of a book that cannot be found do not assume that it is valuable, it may not even be that rare - it is just that nobody has listed it. It may be irredeemably minor, so obscure that no one knows about it and therefore there will be few or no takers (even if it is painstakingly well catalogued.) Of course it might be extremely desirable and therefore valuable. There are ways of telling this but they are fallible and erratic.

6. In the case where there are too many results narrow it down with a few keywords like the publisher and the date. Filter it down further by choosing only UK booksellers (Or 'USA only' if stateside.)

7. In most case you can immediately tell the book has no significant value because there are perfectly decent copies available for way less than the price of a latte.

8. In AbeBooks do not trust the publisher field or the first edition, signed or dust wrapper buttons. They only bring up items from booksellers who have put their books in the correct fields. Trust only keywords.

9. Do not totally trust search engines at all. They have many glitches and were not designed by Alan Turing. Sometimes they will not find a perfectly common book which they will then find easily the next day. If flummoxed try several megasites such as Addall and Bookfinder (both extremely useful by the way.)

10. Use Babylon or Babel to translate foreign descriptions, often the book is in unexpected condition (fine or foul.) You could learn a few phrases like envoi de l'auteur ( signed presentation from the author) and rousseurs (foxing) and broché (paper bound, paperback.)

There are many methods - suggestions, challenges and tips are very welcome. However putting in full title , full name of author, full publisher (('Sweet, Maxwell, Kirby and Gusher') is a no-no, unless you are trying to convince someone that the book is rare. This devious method is not unknown in commerce... no names, no pack drill.

09 May 2010

David Cameron's Adventures

Pricing a large pile of boy's books including Henty, Westerman and Harry Collingwood I came across this rather topically titled adventure published by Blackie in 1950. It concerns a Scottish boy kidnapped and sold to the planters of Virginia. A slightly unlikely tale ending with the young Cameron returning to Aberdeen determined 'to end the traffic in human beings...'

The author George Frederick Clarke was an archaeologist and expert on Indian lore. The buckskinned young lad on the cover is a good likeness for our potential leader in his teen years. The book is worth about £10 and I will put in the shop window…I might need to put a slightly higher price on it to stop it selling too fast.

08 May 2010

Top 20 Sites for Book Collectors

Many thanks to Melissa Tamura from Zen College (USA) for this invaluable guest posting. There is info here that is new to me. Craigslist has not taken off over here in the UK in the same way.The mighty Google is always useful for finding books listed by those determined individualists who put their books on their own sites and do not use virtual book malls. By the way, books can still also be found at bookshops -using the older style of browsing...

Book collecting, thanks to the internet has become a growing pastime open to all, even collectors without a great deal of money (or time.) The Internet has made searching for used or rare books more convenient than ever, and collectors now only have to look to the nearest computer to browse large selections of antique and out-of-print titles. Below are the Top 20 'Must-Use' websites for book collectors, designed to make searching and scoring rare books simple and easy.

1. BookFinder.com An aggregate search engine that searches over 150 million titles to help sort out new, used, old, and rare copies.

2. AbeBooks.comThis authoritative site features rare and collectible additions, many signed by the author themselves.

3. AddAll.com Add All offers a price comparison agent that allows users not only to search for and purchase books, but to compare prices among other rare-books sites.

4. Powells.com The largest new and used independent bookstore in the world, Powells offers a massive selection of both antique and collectible copies.

5. FadedGiant.net - This site, while not transactional itself, offers information and pricing on over 50,000 used and rare titles. Perfect for comparison shopping among different sites.

6. Amazon.com One of the largest online retailers, Amazon features an unparalleled selection of books of all sorts new, used, antique, and even dealer exclusives offered only to specific customers. [Pic at top is of an Amazon UK warehouse.]

7. Ebay.com This is a great site to check if the book you are looking for is truly un-findable. Users post their wares in an auction format, so check here to see if someone has recently cleaned out their attic and is selling a treasure trove of rare books.

8.Craigslist.com Similar to Ebay, Craigslist allows local users to post for-sale items along with descriptions and pictures. Users contact the seller directly to arrange a transaction.

9. ViaLibri A highly recommended mega-site with further facilities to get to WorldCat, COPAC, infinity and beyond...

10. Alibris.com Offering over 100 million titles, Alirbis pulls inventory from over 800 independent bookstores nationwide, allowing for supreme deep-shelf selection.

11. Biblio.com This site collaborates with literally thousands of independent booksellers online to bring over a million rare titles to the table.

12. ILAB.com Run by ILAB - International League of Antiquarian Booksellers, this site is an invaluable resource for antique book collectors.

13. Barnes and Noble.com Some collectors don't realize the large book chains often offer hard-to-find books, and Barnes and Noble leads the pack in customer experience and number of copies.

14. StrandBooks.com A New York City Icon, Strand has over 18 miles of books, new, used, and rare.

15. OldBooks.net Specializing in children's books, this site puts together a large offering of antiquarian and used titles.

16. BetterWorldBooks.com Over 2 million titles offered here, as well as free shipping. Some proceeds also go to world charities.

17. BookSpot.com More of an information site than a retailer, Book Spot has data about books, reading lists, and publisher information.

18. TomFolio.com A great collection of independent international dealers.

19. AntiqBook.com Popular in Europe, Antiq Book is a great place to search for editions just not found anywhere in the USA.

20. RareBooks.info Start here for information on print runs, edition locations, and popular searches concerning your favourite rare books.

Melissa Tamura is Editor of the Zen College Life directory of online degrees. She most recently ranked the top 10 psychology colleges in the USA.

06 May 2010

Collecting James Lees - Milne

Current Selling Prices

It is hardly surprisingly that this novelist, architectural historian, and diarist, who was a friend of Betjeman’s and two years younger, with similar interests and a similar educational background --lonely, hypersensitive child, product of prep, public school, Magdalene College Oxford , and similar adult interests—poetry, architecture, the picturesque movement --- should have devoted admirers and now, thanks to his biographer, Michael Bloch, a website devoted to him.

As the youthful Historic Buildings Secretary of the even more youthful National Trust from 1936 to 1951 his job was basically motoring around the country sizing up properties and their contents and buttering up their owners in an effort to persuade them to hand them over to the nation. It was largely thanks to him that some of the finest country houses now in the care of the Trust were saved. He seems to have approached his often onerous task ( the diary entries for the terrible winter of 1947 are a testament to his stoicism ) with alacrity and determination. The early diaries chronicling his mission were published from the seventies. The later ones cover his life as a biographer, historian and novelist. Of the twelve published diaries five were published posthumously.

The extraordinary appeal of Lees- Milne’s confrontations with raddled ancient nabobs of the county set, their male scions and what Geoffrey Grigson called Art Tarts—– are sometimes moving, sometimes hilarious but always entertaining. Portraits of Great British Eccentrics are always popular, as producers of countless TV shows like Country House Rescue will tell you, and stories featuring their crumbling mansions filled with antique furniture and paintings seldom fail to engage. Lees- Milne should be read alongside Betjeman’s collected letters and John Harris’s classic No Voice from the Hall for a window onto this very English and now fast disappearing world—a world that only someone with Lees Milne’s background and sensibility could interpret. Betjeman’s biographer Bevis Hillier, summed up the diarist’s appeal perfectly:
"...he had in fuller measure than any of his contemporaries the qualities that make a diarist: honesty; a facility for putting down what one observes and feels without too much straining through the muslins of the intellect; concern for other people; the kind of interest in oneself that Gore Vidal has called ‘ objective narcissism ‘; a memory for dialogue; an awareness of setting ; an eye for significant detail; a sense of humour with a condiment dash of malice; a willingness to make a fool of oneself…"

To his literary executor, Michael Bloch, Lees Milne was a bundle of paradoxes: ‘He respected tradition, while hating convention; he admired the aristocracy, yet was contemptuous of aristocrats; he combined faint-heartedness with stoical courage; he was bisexual ‘. Lees- Milne has been compared to Virginia Woolf and Madame de Sevigny. Today as arguably ‘the greatest diarist of the twentieth century‘ he has a cult following.

Oddly, though, there only seems to be a strong demand for these diaries and for his novels. His first book, The Age of Adam (1947) can be had for £10 or less, while The Tudor Renaissance, which followed, is yours for around £4. Even the waspish Shell Guide to Worcestershire, the first draft of which was heavily blue-pencilled by the Shell bigwigs, isn’t expensive at around £10 - £20. The novels are a different matter. Although Hillier didn’t rate him as a novelist, a copy of Heretics in Love on ABE can set you back up to £75, the ‘scarce‘ Round the Clock may cost a little more, while some chancer wants £112 for The Fool of Love.

Then there are the diaries. Copies of the first editions in wrappers range from around $306 to $471, and inscribed examples are pricier still. A copy presented by the author to his friend and Betjeman’s, Lady ‘Billa‘ Harrod can be yours for $778, while the same bookseller offers a copy inscribed to Jane, Countess of Westmorland for £710. Another dealer will sell you all twelve volumes of the diaries for $1337. These are extraordinary prices compared with those that other acclaimed diaries fetch—such as Plomer’s edition of Kilvert’s Diary. They may possibly reflect small print runs, and indeed some editions are described as ‘ scarce ‘, but I would venture to say that firsts of these diaries aren’t as hard to find as the dealers’ prices suggest and bargain spotters ought to find decently priced copies if they look hard enough.[R.M. Healey]

Many thank Robin. Lees-Milne is surely the Dan Brown of architectural writers--endlessly saleable and, in smarter bookshops than ours, continually requested. There is a witty Private Eye Lees-Milne parody written by Craig Brown in the 1990s. JLM has died and gone to heaven where he finds the decor 'garish, garish, garish... oh for a little English restraint.' It is preserved in the matchless Craig Brown Omnibus. Brown's friend the late Hugh Montgomery-Massingberd devised Ancestral Voices, a one-man show from the diaries of James Lees- Milne, which he performed, from 2002, at various small venues. Must check YouTube to see if anyone captured it. As for Lees-Milne prices, they may be levelling off but there are still some very well cushioned punters for complete sets of his diaries (all firsts, all fine) - they make impressive presents, rewards or inducements.

03 May 2010

Beaver! Writers and Rockers with big beards...

Above are some serious beards - from the top Roy Wood, James A.H. Murray (of the OED, pictured again below in his 'scriptorium') Lytton Strachey, Charles Darwin, John & George, ZZ Top, Viv Stanshall, Michael Moorcock and William Empson (Seven Types of Ambiguity). Beards have been on my mind since reading the obituary of the author Mark Bence-Jones (1930 -2010). As the obituarist notes he was 'an elegant writer on architecture, Roman Catholicism, Ireland and the Raj' and seemed to have been born in the wrong century. The obituary notes that he 'called for a revival of the game Beaver, in which friends competed to shout the word in the street first whenever a hirsute man appeared.' Beards appear to be vaguely trendy at present (led by the Archbishop of Canterbury and Frankie Boyle) and it is time for a revival of the game. According to Robert Graves and Alan Hodges The Long Week End: a Social History of Great Britain, 1918-1939 the game was so popular that beard wearing was seriously affected and many men returned to the razor. I can recall it as a car game suggested by an old uncle on long journeys with extra points for red beards, women with beards or beard and panama hat.

Nowadays you could add extra points for Roy Wood style coloured beards, forked beards etc., But bum fluff beards, boy beards, 'bro patches', goatees or badman stubble do not count and points could be deducted for false identifications. An early poster on the QI website notes a book with instructions and scoring rules:
'In the British Library I read an instruction manual for a game called Beaver. The game involves two players pacing the streets, or staying put in a café/on top of a double decker bus – wherever they fancy – spotting bearded folk. The game is scored like lawn tennis, whenever one contender spots a beard they shout Beaver! 15 / love and so on. A double fault occurs when a competitor thinks he sees a bearded man from behind, but when the two come face to face the competitor finds he is mistaken.

The book is full of pictures of different types of ‘beaver’ such as the ‘half beaver’, the ‘santa beaver’, ‘mandarin beaver’ and the ‘nanny beaver,’ which falls from the middle of the chin and must be 2 inches long. Women sporting beards are Queen beavers, which “should be exclaimed sotto voce, in a whisper. The game may have begun in Oxford, in Malta or a place of unknown origin.'
The book in the British Museum may be of immense value (there are many rich men with beards, even bearded billionaires) although how the game could have started in Malta is a puzzler. I see it as a game that started with young men, possibly undergraduates, in the 1920s. The yelling of 'Beaver' at the sight of a bearded man was a sort of punkish épater le bourgeois gesture, as at the time beards were associated with conservative older gents, reactionaries and pomposity. The game is not unknown in the USA-- Helen Hayes described being appalled by her husband Charles Macarthur and a friend of his, who were both old enough to know better, playing the game once at the expense of Charles Evans Hughes, the heavily bearded Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (left). No one was exempt.

Why Beaver? It is obviously from the animal and now has sexual resonance as slang for vagina and this may hinder Bence- Jones dying wish for the game's revival. It is time for the word to be reclaimed. In Canada the respected fur trade magazine "The Beaver' has had to change its name - readers complained that Internet spam filters were blocking emails and newsletters because of the word 'beaver'. On the subject of sex there are persons who find beards attractive (especially on the faces of billionaires) and a young woman attracted to bearded men has a website Beard a Day devoted to a 'quest for love and my love of beards.' Beards were last trendy in the era of Prog Rock--check out Head Full of Snow for some of the great 'beardy weirdies' of progressive rock.

As for Mark Bence-Jones his most desirable book is Guide to Irish Country Houses worth about £150. I have a copy somewhere. He also wrote All a Nonsense (1957) a light comedy of upper class life and Paradise Escaped (1958). Both are very hard to find, one was reviewed enthusiastically by John Betjeman. Neither are of big value yet, he also wrote Nothing in the City (1965) which can be picked up for £10.