30 October 2010

Stamboul Train. Graham Greene. 1932

Graham Greene. STAMBOUL TRAIN. Heinemann, London 1932.

Current Selling Prices
$4500-$7500 /£3000-£4500

The first of a series of 'entertainments' by Graham Greene, the prominent writer of modern first editions. Not a scarce book even in a dust jacket but seldom seen in sharp condition. A very nice copy turned up last week at Gorringe's auction rooms in leafy Lewes, Sussex and made £4500 + their 22% (a somewhat greedy commission for a provincial auctioneer.) A thriller set on the Orient Express from Ostend to Stamboul, fraught with Greene's trademark style of unease and sleaze it deftly handles issues of racism, anti-semitism, lesbianism, communism , fidelity and faith. GG wrote of it in his introduction to the 1974 edition :
"In Stamboul Train for the first and last time in my life I deliberately set out to write a book to please, one which with luck might be made into a film. The devil looks after his own and I succeeded in both aims."
The movie Orient Express was probably not a roaring success, I can find no stills from it, no poster and no contemporary reviews.

There is a 'point' on the book that is seldom invoked. J.B. Priestley, at the time a much bigger fish than Greene, alleged that one of the characters, a writer called Q. C. Savory, was a defamatory representation of himself. On pages 77, 78, 82, 98, and 131 the name is changed to Quin Savory and for some reason 'Dickens' was changed to 'Chaucer.' This occurs at line 2, page 82 and is a quick way of determining precedence--if you have one that says 'Dickens' it's drinks all round. 13,000 copies had already been printed and bound, and altered pages had to be substituted. Priestley had seen a review copy when he demanded the changes, and so it is possible that a few copies without the alterations escaped. The only copy I can find is a proof copy on the web right now at $7500 (which includes an unjacketed modest copy of the 1932 first.) There have been over 50 copies in auction in the last 30 years and none have been the first state. Several have been presentation copies including one from 2000 that belies the idea that this was GG's first entertaiment-- the (later) inscription reads ''For Martin, from Graham Greene. Not yet an entertainment!''. A manuscript showed up in 1964 at Sotheby's and was bought by the legendary dealer El Dieff (Lew David Feldman) for $1820. It is decribed thus:
"The Autograph Manuscript, with revisions and deletions, c. 135 pp., written on loose sheets of ruled foolscap, contained in a cloth box, folio. The title-page carries two "possible titles" besides the one actually adopted, viz. The Orient Express (the title used for the American edition) and Snow on the Line. The title-page also bears a proposed but cancelled epigraph from George Eliot (the published book has an epigraph from George Santayana), and the note "Begun Jan 2. 1932". Before publication (at proof stage) the name of one of the characters in the book was modified and some other changes were introduced to avoid a threatened action for libel."
A fabulous investment by now probably worth 50 times the sum that Lew paid. The description tends to indicate that the name changes were made before the book was published so it is possible Priestley saw a proof copy.

OUTLOOK? The Lewes result was a sort of world record for the book even allowing for inflation and would indicate that Greene is on the move. Certainly there were lesser Greene's at the auction making much higher sums than they are currently available for on the web; ironically A Sense of Reality made £122, but can be bought at ABE for £45 fine in fine jacket. Results such as this could just be down to auction fever. The early books in illustrated jackets are likely to increase in value. Movies, TV series etc., could also push them up. Greene is unlikely to do a Galsworthy, but bear in mind there is a lot of it about and some early titles (eg The Man Within) are quite common even in super condition. A painfully optimistic Canadian dealer wants $11500 for his 'fresh' copy but another Man Within described as fine with a signed laid in card is available with a major dealer at $2500. The trouble with the book is that the jacket is not illustrated and it is surprisingly common for a book that was only printed in 2000 copies as a first. The seller does however point out that the title comes from Sir Thomas Browne - "There's another man within me that's angry with me."

23 October 2010

Book Collections we would like to buy... 1. Karl Lagerfeld

It is variously reported that the fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld has between 60,000 and 230,000 books--- mostly art books. At one point they were housed at his Paris studio but  the report below indicates that they have been boxed and moved to the West of France: 
 "Karl Lagerfeld is going underground — to find creative storage space for his sprawling 230,000 volume book collection. "It’s a big problem, no?" asks the passionate bibliophile, ever the master of understatement. His solution: a storage facility at his house in Biarritz — underneath the tennis court. The 20,000-square-foot, climate-controlled subterranean complex will also include a photo studio, but the centerpiece of the project is a 10,000-square-foot, 20-foot high space where he plans to erect a library. What’s next, the return of the sexy librarian at Chanel?"
Last week a report on him from The Observer  turned up in Private Eye's witty Pseud's Corner column ('When his desk gets a bit messy, he buys a new one. He matches his gloves to the colour of the French daily sky...').

The interesting revelation in the Eye piece was that when Karl reads a paperback, he rips out the pages as he goes. Possibly he read the last page of A La Recheche de Temps Perdu as a single sheet before binning it with the other two thousand pages. Gianni Versace appears to have made his way through Proust without ripping a single page out. One could conclude from this that Karl's library will be mostly hardbacks. He has 350,000 followers on Twitter but follows no-one. In an industry not noted for selflessness he is the supreme solipsist. His observations on Twitter are not without merit, mostly sub-Wildean apercus - 'Throwing money out the window brings money back in through the front door…Don't look to the approval of others for your mental stability…My greatest problem in life is my indifference to the outside world...the most important piece of furniture in a house is the garbage can."

We have bought very large collections of art books -we cleared the Highgate mansion of Thames and Hudson founder Eva Neurath and the Earls Court flat of the art critic Mario Amaya but have had nothing on the scale of the Lagerfeld library. Few things sell as well as art books if you get the price right. Art books are often very heavy and many of these are of surprisingly low value, but quite frequently an unexceptional looking tome proves valuable. In a modest art book collection bought at auction last month we found the difficult T & H art monograph Francis Bacon by Ronald Alley and De Faucigny-Lucinge's fabulous coffee table book Legendary Parties (Vendome Press 1987) - together they will give little change from a $1000 bill. Several of Lagerfeld's own books are in the $100 class including his two Steidl photobook titles from the late 90s Casa Malaparte and The House in the Trees. He also produced issue 23 for the de luxe fashion victim magazine Visionaire (NY 1997) The Emperor's New Clothes. This appeared in a wooden box in 5000 only copies and is a portfolio of celebrity nudes shot by him of Rupert Everett, Demi Moore, Julie Delpy, Minnie Driver, Lisa Marie Presley, Amber Valetta, Linda Evangelista, Alex Lundqvist, Karen Elson etc.,. This can go for £300+ unless the box is damaged (it often is.)

He shelves his books sideways (as shown) which mimics the piles of art books one sees on tables in interior design magazines. It is a flashier way of showing books but hell when you want to get one out from the bottom of the stack. Last word on books from Karl “I’m mad for books…It is a disease I won’t recover from. They are the tragedy of my life. I want to learn about everything. I want to know everything, but I’m not an intellectual, and I don’t like their company. I’m the most superficial man on Earth.” Karl -when you tire of them utterly email us and we will show up with a dozen strong men and women in a Volvo semi truck and trailer, with 10,000 flat boxes and at least a 100 rolls of tape.

20 October 2010

A - Z of Celebrity Collections


It is estimated that there are 50,000 collectors of Black history in the US, and Bill Cosby, once the highest paid entertainer in the US, is one of them. He is a keen collector of African Americana, and it is likely that he has a copy of the only book to be published by Phillis Wheatley, the first black poet to appear in print. Her Poems on Various Subjects (1773 ) is one of the most sought after books by collectors of African Americana and its appearance in sales always arouses enormous interest. In 2006 a copy sold for $34,000 at Swann in NYC. But it is unlikely that Oprah Winfrey, who has taken over Cosby’s title, would want to spend any of her many millions of dollars on a book of eighteenth century poetry. She is more interested in collecting black angel dolls and other less elevated Black Memorabilia, such as Aunt Jemima cookie jars and images of black children eating water melon----all generally ignored by serious collectors. Chanteuse Anita Pointer of the Pointer sisters collects the same sort of stuff. Film-maker Spike Lee and Whoopi Goldberg are also collectors—though exactly what they collect is uncertain.


According to Denis Healey, who owns a signed first edition of it, complete with wraparound, Beckett’s four page poem of 1930, ‘ isn’t terribly good ‘.Today, ABE has two similar copies at $12,5000 and $15,000.Unfortunately, Healey no longer has a copy of his favourite book by Beckett--- Murphy, which he bought when it appeared in 1938. He lent it and it was never returned.


Popular wit and entertainer Stephen Fry is a notable collector of books by P. G. Wodehouse, but I gave up trying to arrange an interview with him after three written attempts. It might be best to ‘tweet ‘him should you wish to know more about his collection. Another Wodehouse fan is actor Richard Briers, who is President of the Wodehouse Society. He has admitted to collecting first editions (presumably of Wodehouse), but didn’t elaborate .


Sci-fi guru Brian Aldiss, who began book-dealing while at public school, houses part of his impressive sci-fi library in his Oxford home, but envisages that the remainder will end up in some library archive, possibly the Bodleian. Dallas Public Library already holds 5,000 items.
Oddly, Aldiss was born in the same street in East Dereham, Norfolk as motorcycling martial arts expert, sci-fi writer and TV presenter Lionel Fanthorpe, who is said to be the most prolific living writer in the world. It’s hard to believe that this genial bearded cleric from Cardiff was once the king of sci-fi pulp, with an impressive back catalogue of 168 titles ( including Barrier 346, Space Fury, Crimson Planet, Alien to the Stars) published in the fifties and early sixties by Badger Books. Making his debut at the age of 19, and writing under a number of aliases, including Bron Fane, Pel Toro and Lionel Robert, Fanthorpe was averaging one book every twelve days. He eventually gave it all up to pursue another career as a writer on psychic phenomena, but occasionally meets fans of his pulp fiction at conferences. One enthusiast asked him to sign a whole pile of his books. Indeed early Fanthorpe pulps, with their lurid covers, are avidly collected, though prices are generally low---inevitably due to Fanthorpe’s over-production—at $3 for the seventies reprints and around $10 for the really early first editions.

Yellow Book

Barry Humphries, Aussie alter ego of Dame Edna Everage and cultural attaché Dr Sir Les Patterson, has admitted in Who’s Who that one of his recreations is reading bookseller’s catalogues in bed. He also ( or used to ) collect kitsch objects, which I suppose may include books; but he is certainly a serious collector of fin de siècle publications, notably The Yellow Book, one of whose contributors was Theodore Wratislaw (1871 – 1933), a poet with a colourful ancestry. A trained solicitor and apparently a Count of the Holy Roman Empire, Wratislaw self-published two slim volumes in 1892 and another the following year. Maggs has a copy of his Orchids (1896) at $682, while another dealer wants $894. All these titles appeared in small editions and later titles ( such as his translations from Villon ) were even smaller.

Israel Zangwill

It’s unlikely that this chronicler of Jewish working class life in London’s East End at the fag end of Victoria’s reign will ever regain his former popularity, though the efforts of London chroniclers Peter Ackroyd, and in particular Iain Sinclair, who has a large collection of his works, may help. Whitechapel and Spitalfields are now chic, thanks to denizens Tracey Emin, Gilbert and George and Dan ‘ House Detectives ‘ Cruikshank, but in Zangwill’s time this was one of the poorest parts of London and very much a Jewish ghetto. Firsts of Zangwill’s scandalous debut novel, Children of the Ghetto (1892) are not cheap. Jarndyce have a harlequin copy of the three volumes at $235, but firsts of his later novels are dirt cheap—sometimes under $10.


Words of wisdom from rock legend Leo Sayer.

" I’ve been collecting books for years They never let you down and you can pick them up in years to come. "


Thanks Robin, the end of a great series. I have seen Whoopi Goldberg at bookfairs and I think she collects classic black literature but she might also collect Art Deco and Wiener Werkstatte. As for Stephen Fry I had heard he collects Wilde, Georgette Heyer and possibly Corvo. He seems currently to be annoying punters by his ridiculous ubiquity but it is hard to feel any animosity to the creator of the Bishop of Uttoxeter (or Control and Tony) and other outrageously funny sketches. A word of warning with Israel Zangwill--he signed a lot of his books, do not increase your house insurance if you find one.

18 October 2010

Stieg Larsson revisited...

Last week Stieg Larsson was the best selling fiction writer at Amazon UK occupying positions 1,2, and 3. He has just been toppled by Howard Jacobson's Booker Prize winner The Finkler Question. This is a clear demonstration of the power of the Booker - normally it is hard to give away Howard's books. The Larsson books also topped the important Travelodge 2010 charts as the most frequently left behind books in their hotels. However are collector's prices for the books still holding up?. With, a similar world bestseller The Da Vinci Code the price collapsed because the first edition was over 100,000 - when sellers substantially outnumber buyers prices fall, somes precipitously. The first printing in hardback of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was said to be 10,000; given the book's popularity this is a small enough run to justify prices at the £400+ level.

A near fine copy made £276 in auction at Key's Norfolk last month and copies on Ebay have surpassed $700. These prices are for the London 2008 first edition, the U.S. edition being surprisingly common. On ABE an Oxfam shop wants £550 for a copy ('…offered at less than usual asking price because the dust jacket has one nick on back edge, otherwise as new and apparently unread…') and the cheapest fine copy is £650. At a punchy £795 a fine copy is touted as '…one for the Pension Fund!…' although his puff '…third and final book is due to be released later this year and movies are set to follow…' lets you know it has been sitting there for a year. Mention of pension funds is, of course, a real noli tangere for the astute book buyer.

The most expensive Stieg on the market is The  Girl with the Dragon Tattoo  signed by the immortal Reg Keeland, the translator. The book has also been there many months, possibly explained by the phantasmagoric price of £8999.  A larcenous price (you might say)  but it is not totally impossible that someone might fall for it. It could go this Christmas fuelled by the round of painfully high bonuses investment bankers are giving themselves. If some of the grateful recipients had seen their CEO ploughing through the Millennium Trilogy in the back of his Bentley they might have a whip round for the Reg Keesland copy at  £8999 + postage.  If the ungrateful tycoon passed it on to his chauffeur who discreetly put it  on Ebay it would probably make  about £1200, a useful sum but a £7779 loss.

The trouble is that a translator's signature just doesn't cut it --unless he was someone in his own right. Sadly Stieg had died before the books appeared so ever optimistic sellers figure this is the next best thing for those who simply must have a signed copy.  OUTLOOK?  Good. They are excellent books, the finest of Scando crime fiction and there is a huge global audience. There have been excellent subtitled Swedish films and Daniel Craig is pegged to play the leftist journalist / sleuth Blomkvist in blockbuster versions. The money is really all in the first book, the second can be had for around £100 --although it appears as a buy it now at Ebay at $750. This eager Ebay seller notes that the first Hollywood film will appear on December 21, 2011 and that Tattoo is the first book to pass the million mark in Kindle downloads….If the movies are lousy (Blomkvist is not Bond) and people get fed up with the book's ubiquity prices may flatten or even fall.

11 October 2010

The Collected Emails of Stieg Larsson

In the next few weeks Maclehose is publishing a four volume boxed set of Stieg Larsson's The Millennium Trilogy. It has the three books and a further slimmer volume entitled Afterword. Stieg Larsson: Four Essays and an Exchange of Emails. It should sell well at £69.99 for the box (Amazon have it at £39.89 with a publishing date of 28/ 10/ 10.) Having seen a review copy of the fourth volume I can report that it is a handsome slim mauve book, issued sans jacket and with a gilt dragon on the cover and with attractive endpapers showing a map of Stockholm. The emails between Stieg and his agent Eva Gedin at his Swedish publisher Norstedt show that the books were very well received by them and there is even an extract from their reader's report on 'Stieg L.3' as the third book was known in vitro--'unputdownable' 'almost unbelievable ability' 'stayed in bed three days reading it…' It is heartening to know that the writer got such encouraging feedback before he died so suddenly, never seeing any of the trilogy published.

Doubtless there will be books of collected emails of writers in future - The Selected Emails of Ian McEwan etc., . Salman Rushdie's archive at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia has all his old computers and every time he upgrades they come and take the old one away. I remember when faxes were the thing, people wondered whether you would get books of collected faxes. These technologies are hell for the collector of autograph letters. Faxes are ugly, unsigned and they fade. When we bought a load of books from V.S. Naipaul all the arrangements with him were made by fax. I don't believe they have any real value and I can no longer find them anyway. At the time it crossed my mind to ask him to sign them when we met but it seemed slightly tacky and in a book buy you don't want to start on the wrong foot…(to be continued with an update on Stieg Larsson's current values…)

05 October 2010

A – Z of Celebrity Collections


Not entirely surprisingly, shouty politician and preacher , Ian Paisley, is a collector of nonconformist theological tracts dating from the seventeenth century onwards. His political opponent, Gerry Adams, is also a collector, and once confessed that he found it very difficult ‘ to walk past a second hand bookshop’. Can’t imagine him studying Cardinal Newman or Ignatius Loyola, though.

Dylan Thomas

Just after the end of the Second World War TV zoologist Desmond Morris met the inebriated Dylan Thomas at the Aldbourne home of the painter Mervyn Levy. After a spellbinding tour de force in which he substituted the words of the Lord’s Prayer for his own, Thomas turned to Morris and offered to swap a poem in manuscript for one of Morris’s surrealist paintings. Rather bizarrely, Morris declined the invitation. Not a great decision , Des ! In fact Dylan specialist Jeff Towns, who assembled the wonderful archive in Swansea, will gladly tell him just how bad a decision this was. Thomas remains a favourite with Morris, who owns several of his first editions.

Trade catalogues

I suppose there is a collector for almost everything. The lovely and very funny Posy Simmonds, whose film Tamara Drewe is dividing opinion at present, happens to be a fan of trade catalogues. She treasures her copy of Art for Commerce: Illustrations and Designs in stock at E.A. and S. Robinson , printers, Bristol in the 1880s (1973) which she bought new for £8.50. Expect today to pay £22. The market for trade catalogues---from booksellers’ catalogues that can occupy thirty or more pages at the end of a volume, to catalogues from the early days of wireless-- has always been strong. As a satirical cartoonist Simmonds uses her catalogues to get accurate period detail, and novelists do the same.


The library of Ronald ‘ Akenfield’ Blythe is eclectic , as some of it contains the remnant of the books he inherited from artist John Nash, whose home he occupies. But travel enthusiast Blythe actually acquired the extremely rare E. M. Forster item, Alexandria: a history and guide (1922), himself very cheaply a few years ago. As most of the print run was destroyed in a warehouse fire, few copies appear for sale. At present ABE have just four firsts, all in tip top condition, with the cheapest at $894. Gekoski’s signed presentation copy will cost you $3252.


Perhaps guilt at being responsible for the destruction of so many trees is one of the main reasons why Felix Dennis has become a great planter. He hopes to create a ‘Forest of Dennis’ in south Warwickshire where he lives, and his library there holds a number of works on silviculture, including a first of John Evelyn’s Sylva (1664 ), which used to belong to a Scottish laird. At present he is gathering a massive collection of tree books which will go to his personal charity when he’s dead.


Doubtless some dealers will argue that no book is unsaleable. Wrong ! Damp, mouldy and out of date law books from the nineteen sixties, school textbooks on physics and tattered fifth editions of books on electrical wiring are well nigh impossible to shift. In Brian Aldiss’ hilarious debut novel The Brightfount Diaries, which is based on his early career as a junior bookseller in Oxford, Aldiss singles out for scorn the long poem Lalla Rookh ( 1817 ) by the once popular Thomas Moore. The book invariably ended up in the shilling shelf in Aldiss’s shop and even at this price there were no takers. Eventually the unsold copies were sent to Birmingham Waste Paper. The poem’s reputation hasn’t recovered since the fifties and today it is sometimes recommended as a sure-fire cure for insomnia, though at prices from £6 to £50 ( for a first ) it might prove an expensive sedative. Aldiss also borrowed from the shilling shelves the equally soporific Lamia’s Winter Quarters ( 1898 )by the ‘Poet’ Laureate Alfred Austin-- because he liked the title. ‘ It was actually an awful book ‘, he later told me. There is a theory now that poetical no-hopers deliberately invent appealing titles to get people to buy their unreadable books. But perhaps this subject deserves a whole blog of its own.


As someone who in their teens wanted to be a librarian, Germaine Greer, not surprisingly, condemns the destruction of books, even though she has also confessed to throwing a copy of Conrad’s Secret Agent out of a bus window in exasperation. She didn’t say whether or not it was a first. Greer is particularly down on dealers who ‘break’ volumes containing prints and maps. In the 1990s she ‘ infuriated ‘ the ABA by suggesting that a new international law be introduced making it an offence to break any book published before 1800. She also demanded that all dealers in prints and maps show a provenance to prove where they obtained the items in question. ‘Maps and prints belong in books ‘, she averred, ‘ not as part of an interior design scheme, framed and behind glass ‘. [R.M.Healey]

Cheers Robin, delightful gear. One could do a piece just on books thrown out of windows. One incident that comes to mind is Kingsley Amis on the train to London reading his son's latest novel 'Money.' When he came across a character in the book called Martin Amis he threw the book out of the window. Probably a signed presentation copy too. The Reverend Ian has been in my shop more than once and is a serious accumulator of theology--he had more than one bodyguard and, I am told, uses a specially armoured car to transport himself and his books. A good guy and a good punter, as I'm sure is Gerry Adams (not seen so far--it would be interesting to see if he really has 'GBH eyes.') As for Posy there is a scene in one of her comic books where a cult writer is looking up his own books on ABE and is surprised at how much his signed inscribed copies are worth; he then becomes very vexed that the dedicatees (old lovers) have sold the books...

01 October 2010

Moon the Loon, Max Beerbohm and Electric Tibet

I met someone the other day who had never heard of Max Beerbohm. The incomparable Max, the Divine Max, neglected and forgotten. It would not matter much but the person was a bookseller and Max is still perfectly saleable. They were also specialising in the popular field of 'Children's and Illustrated', possibly an area that doesn't attract those overburdened with brains, but it is more likely to do with the chap's age. He was late 20s with a head stuffed with apps, trash knowledge, celebrity trivia etc., Also there is less need now to actually have knowledge in your head when you can download it in seconds on to an Iphone or laptop. A worse case was a young woman (early 20s) in the shop last week looking for books on drumming. I showed her a vintage paperback about the unforgettable Keith Moon - Moon the Loon. She did not want it, not because it was £20 but because she had never heard of him or even his group, 'The Who.' Things are moving on rapidly and it is now difficult to make assumptions of common knowledge. Forget The Western Canon.

More chilling was a report from a fellow dealer in Paris. He was in a used bookshop opposite a busy school for early teens and he asked the proprietor if any of the kids came in the shop. The man told him he had been there over 10 years and none had ever been in. Possibly peer pressure but more likely to be complete indifference. So far it is slightly better in Charing Cross where we still see quite a lot of young readers…

Moon the Loon is one of about a dozen books on The Who (once considered the third biggest group in the world after The Beatles and The Stones). There are at least four books on 'wild man of rock' Keith Moon, the most valuable being Moon the Loon with prices up to $100 for limpid examples. There is also the elusive Dear Boy: The Life of Keith Moon by Tony Fletcher - a hardback from 1998 that can command £40. Of rock paperbacks the Black Tulip is The Guv'Nors of R&B: The Stones. One copy on line from the estimable Between the Buttons (never knowingly underpriced) at £180. Published in Amsterdam 1971 with 60s style cover art, said to be mostly lyrics. Fancy prices are asked for Michael Moorcock's Great Rock n' Roll Swindle (Virgin 1980) but it can still be bought cheaply and might be worth laying down. Punks are now in middle age and some have formidable amounts of money. My favourite is Electric Tibet. The Rise and Fall of the San Francisco Rock Scene (North Hollywood 1969) a glimpse into a vanished world, fine copies can make $100.