24 July 2011

Collecting technological predictions in literature 1

As we all know, Charles Babbage and Byron’s daughter, Ada Lovelace, were pioneers of the earliest and crudest computer technology, but later writers on science went one better and seem to have predicted most of the developments in telecommunications and digital technology that we are familiar with today.

The personal computer and the Internet were accurately predicted by Murray Leinster ( writing as Will F Jenkins ) in his short story, A Logic named Joe ,in the March 1946 issue of Astounding Science Fiction.

“ You know the Logic’s set up. You got a Logic in your house. It looks like a vision receiver used to, only it’s got keys instead of dials and you punch the keys for what you wanna get...You punch “Sally Hancock’s Phone” an’ the screen blinks an’splutters an’ you’re hooked up with the Logic in her house an’ if someone answers you got a vision-phone connection.”

“The Tank is a big building full of all the facts in creation an’ all the recorded telecasts that ever were made –an’ its hooked in with all the other Tanks all over the country—an’ everything you wanna know or see or hear, you punch for it an’ you get it.”

There are only 3 copies of the March issue of Astounding Science Fiction on ABE at present. Considering how significant Leinster’s story is, £2.95 seems a very small price for the copy in Wiltshire, but the other two aren’t dear either.

Laptops were envisaged by James P Hogan in his novel Inherit the Stars 1977)

“ Rob Gray …sat with an open briefcase resting on his knees. He studied the information being displayed on the screen built into its lid…Gray addressed the (microphone) grille located next to the tiny lens just above the screen .”

Copies of the novel are not expensive. At present there are two on ABE, one of which is described as having ‘ a clean, solid, unmarked and virginal spine and pages untouched by a reader’s hands ‘. It’s yours for $17.95.

The technology behind the Internet and especially Wikipedia were predicted by visionary engineer Vannevar Bush in his article ‘ As We May Think ‘, which appeared in Atlantic Monthly July 1945.

“ Wholly new forms of encyclopaedias will appear, ready-made with a mesh of associative trails running through them ready to be dropped into the memex and there amplified.”

Because of the demand from geeks this item is expensive. A single copy of this particular issue is currently on ABE at a slightly risible $1500, whereas a half-yearly bound volume containing it can be had for $350 or $500.

Ipad like devices were described by Stanislaw Lem in The Futurological Congress (1974)

“Dinner with Aileen again, at the ‘Bronx’. A sweet girl, always has something to say, not like those women on the scuttle who let their handbag computers carry all the conversation. “

Early editions are quite numerous on ABE. You can secure a good copy of the first American edition (1974) for $29 or less.

Strange genius Nikola Tesla wrote about an early Blackberry-like device in the October 1909 issue of Popular Mechanics.

“ An inexpensive instrument, not bigger than a watch, will enable its bearer to hear anywhere, on sea or land, music or song…it will be possible for a business man in New York to dictate instructions, and have them instantly appear in type at his office in London, or elsewhere “.

This American magazine was at the cutting edge of consumer gadgetry and there is a big demand for early copies. At present there are no very early issues on ABE, so you might have to settle for a reprint published by Hearst Magazines, who allow you to browse pages online. Alternatively, you could buy a large collection of issues, including the one for October 1909, from a guy in Canada who wants a very reasonable $200 for the lot.

Sci-fi master Robert Heinlein described a Blackberry-like device in his novel Assignment in Eternity (1953).

“’ How come’, he asked as he came abreast, ‘they had to search for you ? ‘. ‘ Left my pocket phone in my other suit ‘, Coburn returned briefly.‘ Did it on purpose. I wanted a little peace and quiet. No luck.’”

Paperback firsts of Assignment to Eternity are legion on ABE. Many cost only 1$.

I phone technology was envisaged by H. G. Wells in When the Sleeper Wakes (1899) and The Sleeper Wakes (1910).

“He became aware of voices and music, and noticed a play of colour on the smooth front face. He suddenly realised what they might be and stepped back to regard it. On the flat surface was now a little picture, very vividly coloured, and in this picture were figure that moved. Not only did they move, but they were conversing in clear small voices. It was exactly like reality viewed through an inverted opera glass and heard through a long tube.”

Expect to pay little more than £20 for the revised 1910 edition on ABE, but the 1899 Sleeper, with its red boards, comes in at a lot more. Pay more for copies with wrappers.

In his predictions for 1983 David Hadju envisaged i-phones in a late 1982 issue of the now defunct Video Review magazine.

“Video-walkie-talkies …with micro-processors and the first flat screen display picture tubes. There’s nothing preventing the development of personal two-way TV transmitter receivers –except perhaps the FCC “.

Copies of the magazine are common enough .

Ipads are described by Arthur C. Clarke in the cult 2001, A Space Odyssey (1968)
“ When he tired of official reports and memoranda and minutes, he would plug in his foolscap-size newspad into the ship’s information circuit an scan the latest reports from Earth . One by one he would conjure up the world’s major electronic papers.”

Signed copies of 2001 are sought after and go for $3,000 or more; unsigned ones for about $1,700.The cheapest are the trade edition firsts in paperback, which can be had for a few dollars. [R.M. Healey]

To be continued...Many thanks Robin and many, many thanks Sophie at Money.co.uk for the painstaking research behind this posting. Sophie also points out a few predictions that didn't go so well:

"I think there is a world market for maybe five computers."
Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943

"There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home."
Ken Olson, president of Digital Equipment Corp in 1977.
I am tempted to buy one of the March 1946 issues of 'Astounding Science Fiction' with Murray Leinster's internet prediction - the only decent one is £20 and it's the Brit issue... On the subject of Tesla the pugnacious proprietor of a used bookshop in Portsmouth, NH, USA has a signed 1894 copy of his Inventions, Researches & Writings of Nikola Tesla in 'prominently' signed by him on the half-title page but in worn condition. Priced with crazed oligarchs firmly in mind, the chap wants $1 million. It has been there many moons. I predict this will sell at this price before the middle of the 22nd century. To put it in perspective 5 years back a canny dealer bought a 4 page signed letter from Tesla to George Sylvester Viereck praising him for his poetry and even enclosing some of his own. He paid $1140 at auction (Spink Shreve NY). At the same auction Tesla's signature on a card with original holograph envelope made $425.

17 July 2011

Early books on the Cinema 2

Legendary dealer in the performing arts, Elliott Katt, reserved the highest praise for the magnum opus of yet another Thomas Edison co-worker, Terry Ramsaye (1885 – 1954). His two volume A Million and One Nights (1926), which tells the fascinating story of the moving image from Muybridge onwards, and benefits from his having interviewed many of the movie pioneers, ranks high in the list of ‘One Hundred Books on Hollywood and the Movies’. However, impoverished cineastes should look out for a cheap reprint, rather than the edition limited to 327 or the trade edition. All copies of the former are signed by the author and Thomas Edison, while some copies of the latter also bear the signatures of the two men. Hence the fancy prices. If signatures do nothing for you, $600 will buy a bog standard copy on ABE, or you may get away with shelling out a lot less for a battered or library copy in some US used bookstore. However, this is less likely to happen in the UK or Europe, which explains why a mom and mop operation called Chloe and Denis working out of Paris want $2639 for an apparently unsigned copy. Sacre bleu! If you’re really into Edison and but are misguided enough not to care whether you get only one volume of the two, then another dealer can offer a typed and signed testimony by the great man with volume 1 of the limited edition for a trifling $5625. A much, much cheaper on-the-spot history of the movies is the less scholarly Behind the Motion Picture Scene ( 1919) by Austin C. Lescaboura, which for its 300 illustrations alone must be a bargain at $60 (ABE).

History is OK, but if it’s stars and gossip you want you might try and look out for a copy of Charlie Chaplin’s Own Story, being the faithful recital of a romantic career (1916). I wish you the best of luck, because when the British star discovered that a female journalist had turned her interview with him into this lurid unauthorised ‘ confession ‘, he demanded that all copies be ‘ suppressed ‘. According to Katt only six copies are known to have survived the pulping carried out by publisher Bobbs-Merrill. Consequently, this is probably the rarest movie book in the world. A rather less scarce Chaplin title is My Trip Abroad (1921). Some copies are signed by Chaplin and include a sketch of his shoes. Such copies, even without the jacket can retail for $750 or more, but ex-library copies in poor condition are presently on ABE for under £50.

Two other curiosities of the early years are also worth seeking out. Before Anita Loos wrote Gentlemen Prefer Blondes she put together Breaking into the Movies (1921) with her husband, John Emerson. Copies of this sleeper are hard to find anywhere, but in ABE a certain well know West End dealer has a nice jacketed one at a cool $1237. At about the same time Darryl F Zanuck, who later achieved fame as a movie producer, was writing film plots and short stories. His collection Habit which appeared in 1923, when he was just 21, was described in rather gnomic terms by its blurb writer as a ‘thrilling yarn that starts where fiction ends and life begins’. Was this about cocaine addiction (some things never change ) ? I don’t know, but I could find out easily for a mere $9 (ABE), or, if I wanted a jacketed copy, for a reasonable $75. There is also a copy for $1,000 online. Of early autobiographies by actors, there are doubtless hundreds, but some stand out. Basil Rathbone’s In and Out of Character (1962) comes up at around $90, but a signed presentation copy is presently on ABE at £319. According to Katt, Rathbone always signed copies when he attended Sherlock Holmes conventions.
[R. M. Healey]

Many thanks Robin. Must look out for the suppressed Chaplin book! The signed limited edition of the Terry Ramsaye book seems to attract chancers. It has never made more than $2000 in auction (Will Hays copy at Hindman, Mar 24, 2009) and a few years back made $475 but one dealer want $5500+ for it. A copy appeared recently as a B.I.N. on Ebay at $3000, then $2500 and finally found a buyer at $1000. These days it pays to wait...

Another Chaplin sleeper is the surrealist tract sometimes found in the September 1927 issue of 'Transition.' It is said to be by Aragon and is called 'Hands off Love.' It was written in repsonse to attacks on Chaplin for his private life in the current gutter press. It contains some marvellous OTT ranting '...thank the man who, on the vast screen of the West, over there on the horizon where the suns are setting one by one, today projects your shadows, great human truths, perhaps unique moral truths, which are worth more than all the Earth.' Right on Louis. Value? Surely a wad of euros?

12 July 2011

Beefheart as Vorticist ?

The enthusiasm which has greeted the Vorticist exhibition currently at the Tate may be another sign that Wyndham Lewis is at last receiving the recognition he riches deserves as an artist and visionary. But is seems that the rebel and maverick in Lewis has always attracted admirers, particularly in the world of rock music. Brian Ferry is known to collect Lewis firsts and artwork, while the much wealthier David Bowie owns a number of paintings. Mark E Smith is another great fan and collector, as is Holly Johnson, late of Frankie Goes to Hollywood, whose solo album Blast, mimics the graphics of Lewis’s magazine.

According to art critic David Stoker, writing in a forthcoming issue of cult magazine The Lewisletter (available on ABE ) the recently deceased ( he died in December 2010) Don Van Vliet, better known as gravel-voiced oddball musician Captain Beefheart, was also an admirer. Although he boasted of never having been to school, never having read a book and being self-taught in art, the truth is a little more complex. The gallant Captain certainly had some sort of education, however sporadic, and the Muhammad Ali biography, Sting Like a Bee was his favourite book. He also attended art school, albeit for a short while. What he certainly didn’t have were music lessons---which may explain why his music, though memorably inventive and ground-breaking, can be difficult to like. And, though he was no formal collector of books by Lewis, he was a great fan of many Lewis books, especially Snooty Baronet ,which his manager Gary Lucas, himself an avid collector of Lewis’s art and first editions, read passages from while on the road. It comes as no surprise that Beefheart, whose work is shot through with wit and satire, took to Lewis immediately. Stoker argues a case for seeing the musician himself as a latter-day Lewis, in character and originality; and certainly if Lewis’s fiction can be seen in terms of visual satire, Beefheart’s music has been described by some as sculptural in quality---not surprisingly, as Van Vliet began his art career as a sculptor. Both were artists, Stoker argues, who saw beyond the limits of their particular art.

This music/art analogy might help bring people to the work of both men. Interestingly, back in October 1956, at the dawn of Rock, Lewis wrote a piece of social commentary on Bill Haley and the Comets for the young Henry Kissinger’s magazine Confluence. The piece was incoherent and wasn’t published. It would seem that the ageing and blind former Vorticist believed the band were black! Today Vorticism is becoming cool among young art lovers—and indeed young art collectors and book collectors. While Lewis’s prose works, with an aesthetic that is essentially cerebral and non-empathetic, might remain ‘difficult‘ to non-artists of any age—the art movement has a more direct appeal. And it’s the early Lewis stuff that’s being avidly collected today. Such is the demand that prices of the notoriously scarce Blast (1914, 1915), which was produced by a small printer in a back street of Harlesden, are at rock-star prices. Even ‘poor ‘copies ( detached covers and much rubbing )of both issues are on ABE for $4,500, and two in good condition, complete with fancy Sangorski and Sutcliffe box, is priced at £5,500. The Tyro (1922 ), though more common, ranges from $100 - $200, although my copy of this issue was rescued not long ago from a junk shop for £5. Copies of the three issue Enemy (1927 – 29), with their Vorticist-influenced covers, range from $60 - $150 ( issue 1 being the rare one ) and the striking jackets of Lewis’s masterpiece, The Apes of God, are a big selling point for what can be a big heavy lump of a book.

And with the rise in popularity of Vorticism can we at last expect the prices of two anti-Lewis pamphlets to rise in price too? On the occasion of a Lewis retrospective at the Tate in 1956 prickly ex-Vorticist William Roberts was so riled that Lewis had described Vorticism in the catalogue as ‘what I said or did at a particular time ‘ that he paid the excellent Favil Press to print two pamphlets,
the first of which violently repudiated Lewis’s claims. The Resurrection of Vorticism and the Apotheosis of Wyndham Lewis (1956) is cheap enough at around £16, while Some Early Abstract and Cubist Work, 1913 – 1920 (1957) is a little pricier at about £30. Despite their comparative rarity these have never been really appreciated. Perhaps they will be now!
[R. M. Healey. ]

Many thanks Robin --must get along to the Vorticist exhibition. Have always admired the movement -- when the shop was in Hammersmith in the late 1970s I was vaguely involved with a local bunch of malcontents loosely known as the Neo-Vorticists who produced the fanzine 'Dat Sun' which blasted and blessed current London figures such as Malcolm McLaren, Emperor Rosko and Monty Modlyn. Now rare! Lewis is of course a difficult read and I was advised to start with 'Tarr'. A good choice, I seem to recall there is a character in there who gives up laughing...The Chatto 'Phoenix Library' series 1928 revised edition is the one you want and it can be had for a tenner. Lewis said of it --" I have throughout finished what was rough and given the narrative everywhere a greater precision. A few scenes have been expanded and some material added." The 1918 Egoist edition can cost £2000 in a jacket.

09 July 2011

The Joy of Dullness 2

The second and possibly the final part. Sadly some of these are not as dull as could be hoped, and I feel bad about that. However some are just plain odd or at least intriguing. A few are from the Summers collection and two (the plane and the office ones) are from the monumental Awful Library Books site, which has 100s of examples, some mind alteringly dull and bland.

Something that has briefly crossed my mind on long haul flights in moments of near desperation.

Written in 1993. Dullish title but the author was a child prodigy.

The kind of book that makes me glad I don't work in an office. The workers at the keyboard are a bizarre, slightly frightening image.

Very dull but probably quite saleable. The dental mason on the left looks like the kind of guy who prefers to work without anaesthetics.

Odd title-- basically it refers to legal cases in a 'nutshell.' Blurb says 'they include a number of features such as boxed "think points" to make them easy to use and retain the information. Nutcases are an essential revision aid...' Probably not P.C. anymore.

About 1914. Beware of the flying piano.

Written in pidgin English and coming out of Southern Africa in the early 1950s. Hints include 'moving as cleverly as a monkey' when you see a nice girl, speaking like a 'honey-tongued orator' (or like a nightingale). Girls will pretend indifference 'like a traffic police on duty..' Early in the genre of books on how to pick up girls and now somewhat superseded.

No laughing matter here. V sign from Churchill, Tartan from Harrods.

Handbook used by the British aristocracy.

The book that launched Subway.

Potential bestseller.

Dull, sad with some bathos and pathos.

Part of a small body of books on potatoes and possibly not as dull as it looks.

05 July 2011

Miniature Books

Metro recently had a picture of a German standing proudly in front of his enormous collection of miniature books. This got me thinking as to whether miniature books were still being collected in the UK as they once were. The market, apparently, has always been driven by fanatical collectors, and in the States forty or more years ago collectors like Arthur Houghton had the funds to dominate the market. With the death of their owners many collections ended up in large libraries ( like the Lilly ), which meant that the best miniature books were taken out of circulation. There are still collectors around--- and indeed there is a society devoted to the field--but miniature books have become a bit un-cool. They are rarely seen at auction and the number of specialist dealers in the UK has dwindled to a handful. Maybe the trend is growing on the continent--- and it is good to see that someone with modest means in Germany can assemble such a large collection. But is there any point in collecting books whose size is often their most noteworthy feature, and many of which cannot be read without a magnifying glass---or, in two particular cases—a microscope?

One man who would have answered yes was the late Louis Bondy, who operated from a shop near the British Museum, where he also dealt in erotica. I recall paying a couple of visits back in the seventies and I remember the place being more especially musty and Dickensian than most second hand shops book shops of that period. Bondy seems to have advertised throughout the nineteen fifties to the eighties, and in 1981 published a book on the subject, which is now a collector’s item itself.

Apparently, the criteria is that a miniature book must be no more than 3 inches tall, which to me is hardly miniature. Most collectors would spurn an otherwise dull book that commanded a premium because it was that unremarkable height, or even slightly smaller. So when there are so many much smaller books around on ABE –although most seem to be boring Victorian or later bibles commanding prices of around $20--I would suggest that unless you’ve got a thing about bibles, you would do well to seek out books of at least 1 – 1 ½ inches high that are interesting in themselves. But don’t expect anything really small to come onto the market. Something like Chekhov’s Chameleon, which at 0.9mm square (about the size of a grain of salt), was, until very recently, the world’s smallest book, until it was trumped by a ‘ book ‘ that can only be read by an scanning electron microscope, are almost always gimmicky. And I suspect that until recently craft technology was unable to come up with anything smaller that a cm high.

The most collectable miniature books remain those which fall into the miniature category because they were designed to fit into small pockets. Many were published for students or children and were cheap because of their size. According to one dealer I interviewed, Galileo’s Letter to Christina di Lorena , originally published in 1636, but miniaturised in Padua in 1897, was once the world’s smallest book, and as such is particularly sought after. ‘Thumb’ bibles and tiny editions of devotional tracts and classical texts, most of which seem to have been published in the seventeenth century, do fetch big money. In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, the golden era for children’s books, some attractive miniature books were published by the Dartons. One that stands out is The Miniature Historic Library in 8 volumes, illustrated by 383 elegant engravings from designs by Alfred Mills, which appeared around 1812. This dinky set of volumes—each 6.2 x 8.5 cm-- was originally sold in its own pine box lined with pink paper, and had shelves and a sliding front. However, nowadays only single volumes seem to come up for sale, but these are pricey. Recently the volume on birds made £700 in the UK, while the less attractive one on Roman History is currently on offer at £87. [R. M. Healey]

Many thanks Robin. Collecting miniature books may, as you suggest, be slightly out of favour; there have been very few requests for them at fairs or in the shop. The trend seems to be the other way-- towards gigantic, heavy books. One of the attractions of miniatures is that you can keep a sizeable collection in a shoe box and if you have to move or leave town in a hurry they are eminently portable.