28 February 2011

Geoffrey Household. Rogue Male, 1939

Geoffrey Household. ROGUE MALE. Chatto & Windus, London 1939.
Current Selling Prices
$3200-$6500 /£2000-£4000

A rare book as a first edition in jacket-- that is, the British edition. Even the US edition is quite hard to find. I have never handled a jacketed copy of the 1939 Chatto first. I had a copy sans jacket in the halcyon pre-internet days when jacketless copies of post 1930 novels were deemed worthless. In 30 years of dealing, 10,000 days of looking at books I have never seen a copy, except possibly as a lot in auction. Much have I travelled in the realms of gold etc.,...talking of gold it is likely that a fine, faultless copy could top $10000. A decentish copy (see photo) made $6420 in the Otto Penzler sale last year. I may be wrong, the book could now be vieux chapeau. Harrington describe their leatherbound first thus '...an increasingly forgotten tale of adventure in which a sporting tourist indulges in a spot of ill-advised envelope pushing.' However an examination of the 9 copies in auction since 1975 shows it ineluctably on the rise--from less than £500 in the 1980s to £4000+ in this century.

The plot is pure John Buchan although almost nothing in Buchan actually surpasses it, and it is more passionate than the dyspeptic Lord Tweedsmuir could manage and somewhat darker and more sinister. The plot goes thus:
The protagonist, an un-named British sportsman, sets out to see whether he can stalk and prepare to shoot a European dictator - obviously modelled on Adolf Hitler. Supposedly interested only in the hunt for its own sake, he convinces himself that he does not intend to pull the trigger.
He is caught by the dictator's goons and tortured. Left to fall from a cliff to an apparently accidentally death he cheats fate by landing in a bog. After making his way covertly back to England, he realizes that he is still being hunted and eventually he is forced literally to go underground. During the time he spends holed up in his "hide" he ponders on his predicament and confesses to himself that he would have "pulled the trigger" as punishment for the earlier execution of the love of his life by the fascist regime. He has to use all his wit and guile to turn the tables on his pursuers and escape from their clutches. The book (and movie) was an international sensation and many actually believed a British big game hunter was loose in Europe stalking the German dictator. It was no longer a novel or a film, it had become an urban legend.
The last part of this (culled from the net) about the Rogue Male legend may be fanciful. There is an unforgettable scene involving a friendly cat that would be criminal to divulge... It was filmed as Man Hunt starring Walter Pidgeon and George Sanders in 1941 and later for TV with Peter O'Toole, John Standing and Alistair Sim in 1976. It has been on radio several times and last year there was a great reading of it on BBC7 by Michael Jayston. Household wrote a lot of other stuff, some pretty good and several reprises of Rogue Male itself including a sequel Rogue Justice 43 years later. The big money is always going to be in Rogue Male (or Rouge Male as one ABE dealer calls it conjuring up a less macho hero...)

The handbook 100 Favorite Mysteries of the Century called it: "The best manhunt book in history, expertly paced, tightly plotted and far surpassing John Buchan's more famous 'The Thirty-Nine Steps'." It may surpass The Thirty - Nine Steps but Buchan's The Power House is its equal and may show greater imagination and vision. I am a fan. Rogue Male, for its sins, is said to have inspired David Morrell's creation Rambo and also more promisingly the great US TV series The Fugitive. It's influence on the excellent William Boyd novel Ordinary Thunderstorms has also been cited, although the manhunt there is in lowlife London of 2010. The author is not a household name (you're fired) but some of his other books are valued in the low hundreds including The Salvation of Pisco Gabar (1938) short stories with fantasy elements and his first adult novel The Third Hour (1937).

23 February 2011

Burroughs / Writers on Heroin

"Junk is the ideal product...the ultimate merchandize. No sales talk necessary. The client will crawl through a sewer and beg to buy... The junk merchant does not sell his product to the consumer, he sells the consumer to his product." [William Burroughs intro to Naked Lunch]

“Apparently the main problem with heroin is…. it’s very moreish…” (Harry Hill)

We received a very fine catalogue from Sclanders/ Beatbooks devoted mostly to William Burroughs. Prices seem to be holding steady with £75 being the lowest price for anything signed by him. For £5500 there is an intriguing archive of letters and manuscripts detailing his involvement with L.Ron Hubbard and Scientology and taking issue with Hubbard's predisposition towards the rich, his homophobia and the secrecy surrounding the movement ('Why don't you open the sluice gates and flood the world with Scientology?') Of course it's now airhead celebs that they are interested in but WSB was ahead of his time there.

WSB's D.O.C. was of course heroin. This lead me to thinking of other opiate friendly writers. There are not that many distinguished candidates, alcoholic writers, on the other hand, are ten a penny. There are probably a greater number of alcoholic Nobel prize winning writers. Here is a partial list - Will Self, Roberto Bolano, Anna Kavan, Aleister Crowley, Jim Carroll, Mary Butts**, Elizabeth Strong, Irvine Welsh. Some observers are not sure Bolano was much of a user.

Keith Richard has recently joined the ranks of writers but his book was ghosted by the distinguished and presumably sober author James Fox ('White Mischief') but the hepcat tone is all Keith. Also on the subject of rock stars one might include Lou Reed whose poetry has been published and is well rated. Must not forget Alexander Trocchi a gargantuan drug imbiber and one time book dealer. I can remember going through tea chests of books with him at CSK, he also used the same tandoori as us in Kensington. Happy days. I am probably missing a few...

**Mary Butts, modernist writer(1880 - 1937) friend of Crowley and latterly fond of cocaine and heroin- now almost famous for being 'neglected' but her books are much sort after and some are expensive. An example of her prose -- "A week later the dust film gathered. Under the bed the sloven's fur piled in gray whorls. In the cupboard a dish of crusts turned blue." Sounds familiar.

18 February 2011

Overheard in the bookshop (2)

‘ I’ve stopped reading H. P. Lovecraft, so have you got any Heidegger ?’

‘ Have you anything on sixteenth-century oak coffee-tables? ‘

‘ I’d like to order a brand new copy of this out of print book …’

‘ Where do you keep the books you don’t stock ? ‘

Scruffy man, bearing box of books:
‘ I was just on my way to the tip with these ‘ ere books when I saw your shop. I thought you’d like to buy them ‘
How kind ! Mmm. They’re a bit rough, but I’ll offer you two pounds.
‘ Two quid ! I might as well throw them away for that !’
(And he did ).

Would you take 75p for this post card ? After all, you’re not going to sell it !’

‘We’ve got so many books at home, we’ve no room for any more ! We’ve got one shelf on the landing and another under the stairs !’

‘ How do you make a living out of this lot of old rubbish? ‘

‘ Oh Plates ! These are rather like the ones I tore out of a book in Sheffield University Library ‘

‘ Hey, this is a good book. I’ll buy it in Burnley !’

‘ Can you keep it on order and I’ll try and get it elsewhere !’

Two men looking at the Bible:
‘ The man who wrote that must be fair raking it in ‘

‘ I have a credit for £25 ‘
Yes, that’s right
‘Can you show me where the £25 books are please ?’.

‘Have you got any of the Narnia novels by C.S. Lewis ? My daughter wants one’
Yes, I think I’ve got them all. Which one do you want ?
‘I want Lionel Richie and the Wardrobe…’

‘I don’t what it’s called and I don’t know who wrote it, but the girl on television had long dark hair ‘

‘My son would like to know if you’ve got a copy of The Rubber Yacht of Victor Kiam
‘ Have you a copy of James Joyce is useless?’

‘ Have you got that knitting book by Yasser Arafat ? ‘

‘ Do you have a copy of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the Dormobiles ? ‘

‘ I’m looking for a book ( or maybe books ) written by this chap Ibid…’

‘ Do you sell frozen chickens ? ‘

‘ Look, I know you’re a bookshop, but do you by any chance sell resuscitation dummies for first-aid classes ? ‘

‘ Where can I find teddy bears’ sunglasses ? ‘

‘ Do you have any books ( note plural ) on Florence Nightingale’s walking stick ?’

Hard to believe that, post-Python, some of these customers weren’t having a larf. I recall that hilarious pre-Python bookshop skit by the late lamented Marty Feldman and John Cleese from At Last the 1948 Show (1967)

Customer Good morning. Can you help me ? Do you have a copy of ‘Thirty Days in the Samarkand Desert with a Spoon’ by A.E.J. Elliott ?
Assistant. Um…well, we haven’t got it in stock, sir.
Customer. Never mind. How about ‘ A Hundred and One Ways to Start a Monsoon ?
Assistant ….By….?
Customer. An Indian gentleman whose name eludes me for the moment
Assistant. I’m sorry, I don’t know the book, sir.
Customer. Not to worry, not to worry. Can you help me with ‘David Copperfield ‘ ?
Assistant. Ah, yes. Dickens…
Customer. No
Assistant…I beg you pardon ?
Customer. No, Edmund Wells.
Assistant. …I’ll think you’ll find Charles Dickens wrote David Copperfield, sir.
Customer. No, Charles Dickens wrote David Copperfield with two ‘ p’s’. This is David Coperfield with one ‘ p’ by Edmund Wells.
Assistant (a little sharply). Well in that case we don’t have it.
Customer. Funny, you’ve got a lot of books here.
Assistant. We do have quite a lot of books here, yes, but we don’t have David Coperfield with one ‘p’ by Edmund Wells. We only have David Copperfield with two ‘p’s ‘ by Charles Dickens.…..

Customer. How about ‘Grate Expectations’?
Assistant. Ah, yes, we have that…
Customer. ….That’s G - r-a -t -e Expectations, also by Edmund Wells.
Assistant. I see. In that case we don’t have it. We don’t have anything by Edmund Wells, actually, he’s not very popular.
Customer. Not Knickerless Nickleby ? That’s K-n-i-c-k-e-r-…
Assistant. No!
Customer. Or ‘Quristmas Quarol with a Q ?
Assistant. No, definitely… not !
Customer. Sorry to trouble you.
Assistant. Not at all…

Once again, thanks to Shaun Tyas for permission to republish extracts from his More Bookwork Droppings (1990) and also to Methuen for extracts from The Golden Skits of Muriel Volestrangler, FRHS & Bar (1984).


Many thanks Robin. Hard to top Shaun's collection. Of the many malapropisms and misheard titles that have perplexed our staff I can only recall one at this moment - someone asking for 'The Seven Pillars of Neasden' and that may have been a wind-up. We did have an opulent looking woman who said she had been looking for twenty years for a copy of East Lynne by Mrs Henry Wood. We found a copy for her in the basement for £2 which she said was a ridiculous price and left (as Driff would say) "in a chauffeur driven huff." We once had some partygoers wanting masks of President Mitterand and were able to direct them to a shop 3 doors away that sold them (Stephanides.) All in a day's work.

15 February 2011

Learning From Las Vegas. 1972

Current Selling Prices
$650-$3000 /£400-£2000

Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown and Steven Izenour. LEARNING FROM LAS VEGAS. Cambridge, Mass. & London: The M.I.T. Press, 1972

Cult classic -architecture / urbanism...a revolutionary case study that opened the world's eyes to vernacular architecture and iconography-the "ugly and ordinary" structures and signage born to satisfy the needs of regular people, not architects. It shows the considerable influence of pop art which some art critics say has, in its turn, influenced contemporary art. Venturi Scott Brown are now an important architectural firm with buildings at Harvard, Michigan, Yale and Tsinghua University Beijing. Robert Venturi is often referred to as the "father of Post Modernism."

The book is a large quarto of 188 pages and can turn up in a translucent glassene printed jacket that adds considerably to its value. In a 2007 interview by Melissa Urcan with the two surviving authors we get a look at the work 35 years on:
"Melissa Urcan: I would first like to ask you about the weight of Learning from Las Vegas, now almost 35 years old. Do you feel tied to the association of your work to this book, or is it something you continue to draw from?

Robert Venturi: Since
then we have written an essay called "Las Vegas After Its Classic Age," which emphasizes that Learning from Las Vegas in the context of now is completely historical. If you had written a book on the Renaissance in Florence, it would have taken maybe 100 years to say, "Oh that's historical." Now you can say 35 years have gone by very fast. But Learning from Las Vegas is still relevant in many ways, such as in its recognition of the relevance and significance of iconography and signage more than of space. Las Vegas got us in a lot of trouble, but we learned a lot from it.

MU: The Strip in Las Vegas appears to be where you spent the most research time. In this book you had the premonition of the building and sign eventually merging. Did you have any idea how big the entire city would become?

Denise Scott Brown: We did concentrate on the Strip, but not only on the Strip. We studied patterns of land use throughout Las Vegas. And we mapped all the strips of Las Vegas, not just the famous Strip...

VALUE? The book has been reprinted and can be picked up for $30 but the 1972 first is now of some value. When I featured this book 3 years ago there were 4 copies on ABE at between $1800 and $4500, there are now 14 with a decent enough copy sans jacket for $600 and a few in jacket from $1400 to $3500 and a one signed by Venturi with a drawing at $5000 in chipped jacket. Some copies listed may have jackets, the ever helpful Powells of Oregon merely describe their $1950 copy as 'standard' - a brutal price without jacket, but fairly decent with. The odds are it has no jacket and is a sad and tired example. If a copy is nice, dealers tend to say so. The jacket being printed acetate/ glassene is almost always less than fine and a perfect jacket could see a fast sale at $3000 otherwise it has become a slightly slow book to sell, although architecture is still a good subject and more reliable, say, than photobooks...For the person 'holding folding' there is also 'An Archive of Manuscript Materials Relating to the Publication of Learning from Las Vegas' at $35000 - considerably less than you could lose in 10 minutes play at the Bellagio.

OUTLOOK? Something of a sleeper, it can be picked up occasionally at library sales, boot sales and flea markets or even from web-savvy dealers who see online prices and assume the sellers are 'having a laugh.' Possibly a good hold over a decade or two, there seems to be considerable interest in the book and a plethora of critical works about it. I suspect in years to come Las Vegas will be seen as a suburb of hell and will be regarded in the way that we now think of Atlantic City or Blackpool. Only the Gods really know-- it mayl be better to sell now before more copies come to roost. My last copy took about a year to sell in 2008 at $1400 ('All lettering on front and back of jacket intact, loss of LE of 'Learning' at head of spine- an impressive example...')

For $50 or less you can buy I Am a Monument: On Learning from Las Vegas on Learning from Las Vegas by one Aron 'Balsamic' Vinegar. This 'provocative rereading of an iconic text' compares the text of the 1972 version and the 1977 'stripped down' edition. Vinegar is concerned lest we '... miss the underlying dialectic between skepticism and the ordinary, expression and the deadpan, that runs through the text.' Post post-modernism and beyond.

07 February 2011

The retrospective inscription...

I don’t know how many writers would ( or have ) contributed retrospective inscriptions to books. I suspect only those with a subversive sense of humour or just a basic sense of fun might have a go. Too many writers ( or indeed celebrity figures as a whole ) tend to be pompous and po-faced on the issue of inscriptions. I’m not sure if many of the sixty or more writers I have interviewed would have obliged if I’d asked them to. Certainly none would have done so off their own bat. The idea is a little left field, after all, and it only works with books published many years before the time of asking. I’ve never interviewed Will Self, but he might have a go, surely, as perhaps would Iain Sinclair, whom I have interviewed. The late J. G. Ballard was another possible candidate, but he said no to an interview, so I’ll never know now.

The notion of subverting the whole notion of ‘ association copy ‘, particularly if a fake event or meeting is roped in, has its attractiveness to an imaginative iconoclast. I have often fantasised about asking a writer to provide an elaborate or even outrageous retrospective inscription but have only had the bottle to ask one writer, though I left it to him to supply the context, as it were. The man in question was Brian Aldiss, but he is an amiable man , totally without pomposity, has a twinkle in his eye, and having read his hilarious debut volume The Brightfount Diaries prior to interviewing him in 2002, I plucked up the courage to ask him to put back the date a few years, and without a murmur of protest, he duly obliged. Witty inscription too. Great bloke !

In fact it was so easy and quibble-free that looking back I wish I had asked previous interviewees to do the same. There is a terrific amount of scope here for the imaginative writer. It would have been fun, for instance, to have got a raunchy retrospective inscription from Germaine Greer ( who merely signed the book she gave me ) or David Gascoyne, who was full of anecdotes as we dined on shepherd’s pie at his home on the Isle of Wight. I could have brought along my copy of his Poems and he may have mischievously referred ( in fountain pen, of course ) to a chance meeting in Paris. Or I could have travelled a few miles south in the same week in 1994 and asked the 93 year old Edward Upward to date our meeting to 1966 when he and Auden may have by chance have met an adolescent me in Oxford or Austria.

In 1993 or so I met our greatest living poet, Geoffrey Hill, over tea at a mutual friend’s home in Hertfordshire, but was warned in advance that the great man probably wouldn’t sign my copy of Mercian Hymns. So I didn’t bring it along. Would Hill have been another Masefield or a Heinlen. I would like to think that he might have been won over by the idea of a backdated inscription. There’s still a chance of persuading him, I suppose . In the same house a couple of years later ( again over tea ) I met the gorgeous Rachel Weisz (her mother came from my village ), who was just out of sixth form and on her way to Cambridge and future Hollywood stardom. If I ever see her again ( some chance !) at some launch of her autobiography in LA would I have the chutzpah to ask her to recall the event in Herts? Not quite a retrospective inscription, but still…

Ideally, I suppose, any books containing scandalous or merely intriguing retrospective inscriptions from big name writers would need to be ‘ released ‘ into the world of modern firsts to exert the maximum effect, but how many owners of such books would be willing to sell their copies ? I imagine that the selling price would have to be sufficiently tempting, unless of course the fun of seeing the effect on people was considered more important. In the world of Gekoski, where an intriguing inscription can triple the asking price for a bog standard first edition, I don’t think I am overestimating the interest that such inscriptions arouse ?

All of which leads one to the inevitable question. How many of these personal inscriptions are genuine ? Surely it can’t be too difficult to forge a hand. Are we assuming that the only collectors who might buy a signed Waugh or Joyce are those familiar with their handwriting ?

Literary forgery is an ancient practice. From, say, 1870 onwards there would be thousands of readers who could imitate Dickens’ signature simply by copying the gilt scribble on the cover of the ‘Uniform Edition’ or the black ink ditto on the half-title. So all that might be needed is some old ink and a pre 1870 copy of Dickens to fool some punter. So the moral is—if you are going for personalised copies, buy those signed by minor writers. OK, they’re not so glamorous, but safer. Better still, forget inscribed books anyway and instead buy holograph letters with embossed headed addresses. [R.M.Healey]

Thanks Robin. Interesting and amusing and even seditious. As a fully paid up members of various trade organisations that, to paraphrase Shakespeare, have "fix'd their canons 'gainst such knavery..." I could not ask an author to backdate an inscription lest I be cast into outer darkness...The problem is that they affect the price quite considerably. For example - a 'Midnight's Children' inscribed at the time of publication is quite a prize, but nowadays Rushdie will sign anything he ever wrote, so later or undated inscriptions add much less value. I have heard of various fun-loving authors who will write inscriptions to any named person--e.g. I have seen Michael Moorcock presentations to Jimi Hendrix that the supreme guitarist could never have owned, also to Marc Bolan and Brian Jones. These are more like 'tribute' presentations.

One wonders if anyone has ever asked Henning Mankell to inscribe a pre 2005 book to Stieg Larsson or innocently got J.K. Rowling to inscribe a Harry Potter to Daniel Handler (real name Lemony Snicket). As for authenticity, it's really down to where you find the books-- if you buy them from big players like the Harringtons or Jonkers they are going to be right but from a low scoring Ebayer they may well turn out to be 'Sexton Blakes' (i.e. fakes.) Beware the signature that it is too much like the printed signature of the author--- I once saw a very good Hemingway signature that was proved a forgery because it was the exact copy (and exact size) of the printed signature on the cover of the book.

04 February 2011

Graham Greene. Brighton Rock, 1938.

Graham Greene, BRIGHTON ROCK. Heinemann, London & Viking, NY 1938.

Current Selling Prices (in jacket) £10,000 - £60,000/ $16,000+- $100,000

Greene's most famous and most valuable book. A note of caution, the value lies almost entirely in the jacket of the British (Heinemann) edition, not wearing jacket £500 is the maximum. The US edition is worth a fraction of the UK edition but has a more striking jacket. The artwork is by the revered graphic designer George Salter who was known for his multi dimensional images. The rarissimo British d/w is pinkish - mimicking the colour of the British candy known as 'rock.' Wiki defines it as '...a tubular boiled sweet commonly sold at tourist (usually seaside) resorts in the UK...with a pattern embedded throughout the length, which is often the name of the resort where the rock is sold.' It is not unknown in Australia and even the Danish resorts of L√łkken and Ebeltoft have their own rock.

A recent theory is that Greene got the idea for the book from watching the Jean Gabin movie Pepe le Moko which he had reviewed in early 1937. Greene wrote - 'I cannot remember a picture which has succeeded so admirably in raising the thriller to a poetic level.' Similarities include smiling villains and the trivialisation of murder and betrayal. The Brighton trunk murders of 1934 and the crimes of the racecourse gangs who created havoc in Brighton during the 1930s are said to have been an input, also he had stayed in Brighton and responded to its seedy and violent undercurrents; in the novel he was exposing what he called 'the shabby secret behind the bright corsage.' Brighton ('London by the Sea') still has a louche and sordid side to it, although possibly less palpable than in GG's day. Keith Waterhouse, a former resident, said that ‘Brighton has the air of a town that is perpetually helping the police with their enquiries.’ A re-make of the film has just appeared starring Sam Riley, Andrea Riseborough & Helen Mirren. It is set in the moddish 1960s, plays up the religious elements and is said to be pretty good.

The first of Greene's overtly Catholic novels. Orwell said that they put forward 'the idea…floating around since Baudelaire, that there is something rather distingu√© in being damned; Hell is a sort of high-class night club, entry to which is reserved for Catholics only, since the others, the non-Catholics, are too ignorant to be held guilty.…'

The 1948 movie has cult status. Richard Attenborough, the original lovey, is unforgettable as the baby faced psychopath.

VALUE? About 4 years back there was a pretty nice jacketed copy of the 1938 UK first that went from book fair to book fair at £50K. It seems to have eventually sold. An unpleasant ex library copy in jacket sold on October 2009 at £11,000 (Dominic Winter.) The US first in a great jacket with wraparound band has made $3000 but decent examples can be had for less. At the Sotheby's sale of the library of an anonymous but obviously well heeled 'bibliophile' in October 2010 a copy made a staggering £70,850 ($110,000). It was described thus: '... original red cloth stamped in gilt, original pink dust-jacket, cloth folding box, some slight spotting along edges, short tears to edges of jacket (one at head of lower cover with some slight loss), neat repairs to lower hinge of jacket...very good condition.' A fine copy is unlikely to show but on this form could make £100K. It represents the greatest disparity in a modern first edition of value with and without jacket. In the recent Sotheby's case it works out the book is worth 140 times more with jacket. The only other 20th century book I can think of that is close to this sort of disparity is The Hound of the Baskervilles, possibly The Maltese Falcon.

PROOFS? Someone emailed about proof values. They can vary alot. In the late 1980s there was a vogue for them and prices surged but the market quickly ran out of steam. Proofs were then looked upon by dealers with mild disdain except in the case of major works or controversial books and banned items. Typically they are plain and uninteresting in appearance. Ebay has slighly revived their fortunes but they are tricky and don't tend to hold to consistent patterns of value.

I sold a proof of Brighton Rock about 10 years ago for circa $4000, not in wonderful condition. They are not impossibly scarce. At first I was excited by it, but found there are almost no changes with the proof and the hardback first- Greene's period anti-semitic tone is retained (passages like '...he had been a Jew once, but a hairdresser and a surgeon had altered that...' and references to Jewish women as 'little bitches') although it was later expunged. The only difference is that Brighton is spelled Brihton on page 77 and one letter of damaged type has been repaired on page 13. Substantial differences would have made a substantial difference to the price- a good rule with proofs. Rock on.