17 August 2011

Lousy condition / Cold climate

I have been trying to build a set of books by Nancy Mitford for a customer who wants to have them bound in leather. In these cases you require no jackets, the covers can be worn but the text must be clean. I have dismissed all the nice copies at silly prices and all the lousy copies at whatever price, although as usual some of these were pricier than the ones in exemplary condition. Some were so bad they reminded me of the Dada knife (lacks handle and blade). They lacked pages, spines, boards, some even had missing title pages - mentioned as an afterthought as if it was no big deal.

Inspired, motivated, energised and exasperated I started on a search for the worst condition book on the entire web. In 2007 there had been a legendary Webster's dictionary on Ebay that was basicaly a pile of ruined, frayed and crumbling paper -- it looked like, as Jimmy Webb would say -'Someone left a cake out in the rain...' It attracted no bids but was a fun item for a while. That was a yardstick. There are not that many truly appalling books on the web as they take a long time to describe and you cannot charge much for them. There are some eighteenth century and earlier books in laughably bad state often with huge loss and every indignity a book can suffer, presumably catalogued because of their antiquity. There is a type of customer who thinks old books should be a bit worn and distressed, even a few dealers. The above image is from a site where the customer bought the books to use for collage work and old and ruined books can have their uses as door stops or draught excluders etc.,

In my quest I did not have to go much further than the divine Nancy's Love in a Cold Climate (a book worth nearly a grand fine in fine jacket). A German dealer had a reasonably priced hardback first and I took his description through a translation machine (Babylon) only to find it was a staggeringly poor copy:
"... worn, dirty, stained, tanned, rubbed on the book spine, mint gold florins, edges and corners, provides a home for some very schiefgelesen, body is dirty, pages with a tan, slightly wavy, stained, notes on passports front, very relaxed in bond, body disintegrates, medium to rather bad condition..." ['Ganzleinen, abgegriffen, verschmutzt, fleckig, gebräunt, abgerieben, am Buchrücken Goldprägung, Kanten und Ecken bestossen, sehr schiefgelesen, Textkörper verschmutzt, Seiten gebräunt, leicht wellig, fleckig, Notizen auf Einbandinnenseite vorne, sehr locker in Bindung, Textkörper zerfällt, mittlerer bis eher schlechter Zustand, in Englisch".']
'Schief gelesen' actually means 'cocked' or 'askew' but at first I had thought the book was a home for some sort of Berlin based insect and that it might be hands down the worst condition book on the net! The Google translation isn't much happier:
"...worn, dirty, stained, browned, rubbed, the spine gilt tooling, edges and corners slightly worn, very wrong read the body of polluted, pages browned, slightly wavy, mottled, notes on inside cover page front, very loosein binding, the body decays, moderate to rather poor condition, in English..."

Keyword searches at online malls using words such as 'poor condition', 'missing',' worn', 'torn' reveal some seriously ravaged old books. I was rather taken with a very honest description of a dust jacket on a decent condition 1940s film annual at $20. The dealer prefaced his description thus- 'Words almost fail me on just how bad this dustwapper truly is...' but he goes on at length to describe its many faults ('very heavily rubbed, faded and marked...major tears and pieces missing...rubbing and chipping, with loss to all corners. The top of the spine is missing and chipping to the lower spine edge. The front top panel has a piece missing measuring 4.25 " X 1.25 ". The front fore edge has also a piece missing 3 " from the bottom edge. There is a 1 " torn piece to the spine area 3.5 " from the bottom edge. The back panel has 2 tears measuring 1.75 ", with associated creasing and there is a piece missing measuring 1.25 " X 0.75 ", Heavy rubbing along the rear fold over crease. Verso of the dustwrapper is stained, brown and quite marked. Remains of tape can be seen on both the top and bottom...)

My advice would be to chuck the jacket away; you could probably get $25 if you did not have it. Due to a sort of 'halo effect' its awfulness reduces the price to less than a copy that has no jacket and 20 minutes does not have to be wasted describing its many problems.


Anonymous said...

I looooove the German description. If I were still teaching, I'd definitely find a way to use it in my class. I'd bet the dealer had a lot of fun writing it.

An Appreciator of This Kind of Thing

Anonymous said...

A few years ago there was a copy of M R James's More ghost stories of an antiquary that was catalogued on abe as having "ice-pick holes through covers". £25. Wish I'd bought it.

Jules said...

Extraordinary description of the jacket. Why did he not simply say 'd/w in heavily worn conditon' or as you suggest toss it and charge more. It had done its job. Great post btw.

Anonymous said...

The practice of discarding dustjackets seems rather upsetting - especially on pre-1940 books, or rare ones. They should be preserved as often as possible. A tatty-jacketed book could simply be described as 'very good - (bonus: includes remnants of dustjacket)'.

Edwin Moore said...

A friend has a first edition (1762) of the Macpherson Fingal - not a wildly scarce 1st but certainly collectable. Alas, the cover is not only in bad condition, someone has scrawled 'Happy Birthday Tommy' all over the title page with a 1992 date underneath.


'A few years ago there was a copy of M R James's More ghost stories of an antiquary that was catalogued on abe as having "ice-pick holes through covers".'

It was a cataloguing error perhaps - and it was a biography of Trotsky that had the ice-pick holes

Bookride said...

Thanks all. Edwin good point about the Trotsky, don't get me started on blood-stained books and ANON - I agree with you-- don't throw away the very poor jacket just add it as a sort of freebie - loosely inserted remains of d/w etc.,

A propos des bottes...Was it Driff who found a book with a fried egg as a bookmark?