05 November 2011

Dennis Wheatley's Library 2

More on the incredible Dennis Wheatley collection - acquired and catalogued by Blackwell's of Oxford in 1979. Things have changed in dealing and collecting in the 33 years since - as said before Blackwell's give no description of the condition of dust jackets -yet these, in current money, add several hundred thousand pounds to the value of the collection. Autre temps, autres moeurs. Some books were priced at a hundredth of their current value, whereas the purchasing power of the pound has only risen by a factor of four since 1979. However there are some books in the catalogue which are worth no more than was paid or have only doubled in value which in real terms means they have halved - if you get my drift.

Blackwells put heavy prices on 'roastbeef' (as Driffield used to call it) i.e. leather bound sets, old travel books, illustrated books ( Rackham, Russell Flint) and especially on the hyped up limited edition multi - volume works of the 1920s (Navarre Society, Medici Society, Peter Davies, John Rodker) which now clutter up the web and are firmly in the descendant. He appears to have bought most of these through the good offices of Percy Muir. To be fair the sets were often exquisitely bound ('turquoise morocco'...'tulip-ornamented panels in gilt'...'crushed victrix blue morocco') but would you want to pay £900 (now £3600) for a 25 volume set of the works of Stanley Weyman? Meanwhile for £110 you could have bought a 9 volume set of the works of William Hope Hodgson published between 1907 and 1921. A curious set of what appear to be first editions in 'original quarter white cloth' but surely worth £5000 or so.

Many books have Wheatley's handwritten note (usually on the front flyleaf) of the use to which the book was put by him, e.g. in a 1924 Medici Society limited edition Homer (illus Russell Flint) he has written "Used by me when writing my book 'Mayhem in Greece'. Dennis Wheatley." For his Roger Brook historical thrillers he appears to have consulted at least 50 of books in his collection. These notes and his bookplate generally enhance the value, but it is hard to say by how much.

A punter with occult powers of foresight could have spent £1000 on books in this catalogue and would now be able to realise £60,000 or more. However a less fortunate and slightly plodding buyer could have spent £1000 and find that he might only just get his money back, representing a loss of a cool £3000 on his investment. In my next posting I will go through some of the highlights (several Crowleys inc a jacketed, signed 'Drug Fiend' with ALS at £150, an early jacketed Hammett, a fine signed Well of Loneliness for £15 etc.,) and a few disasters. Hear is a taster - a signed presentation from Anthony Powell of Hearing Secret Harmonies. This bears an intriguing inscription 'I fear I rather trespass on your own territory here...Tony.' Was Scorpio Murtlock inspired by Gregory Sallust?

P.S. Many thanks to the Dennis Wheatley Project for the pics.


Tim Mayer said...

Astounding what can be found in private libraries.
Does remind me of the seller who said that he didn't mind obscure collectors as they would eventually pass away and their collection would go up for auction.

Edwin Moore said...

Another enthralling piece Nigel. Mind, no one knows anything as Goldman said of Hollywood. I can remember a wise man saying Rangers were the safest investment in Scotland - 'backed by Scottish bankers'. And I know a wise old journalist who put everything into Equitable in the 80s arggh.

In your own dark trade I can remember an 80s book dealer buying up as many John Fowles firsts as he could lay his hands on. I doubt if he got his money back.

But how to tell what will grow and what will sink? I'm glad I don't have to make money out of books! I bet even Gregory Sallust would end up tearing up the cards and freeing the goats.