28 April 2011

Big books and big prices

A book affordable only by the likes of Jensen Button and Lewis Hamilton, and weighing in at 37kg, which is slightly more than Bernie Ecclestone, the Official Ferrari Opus Enzo Diamante has just been published at a whizzing £155,000, which is £10,000 more than the company’s cheapest car. Ferrari only plan to allocate one copy to each country in the world of this deluxe, diamond-encrusted tome, signed by every living Ferrari F1 champion. If you are too poor to buy one, or don’t relish moving to another country—say Mali or Niger—to obtain a copy, you may have to get by with one of the cheaper editions-- the ‘Enzo’ model at £20,000 and limited to 400 copies---or the dirt cheap ‘Classic ‘—which retails at £2,000, and is limited to 4,100 copies worldwide. What all customers get for their money are 852 pages of detailed specifications on every Ferrari ever made, oodles of knock-out glossy pics plus notes on every Ferrari driver. As ABE feature none of these volumes at present, cheapskate petrolheads may have to make do with Alessandro’s Sannia’s Ferrari—Icon of Style, which came out this year and costs around $13 on ABE

Is the Diamante likely to be a clever investment ? One wealthy Australian thinks so. He has already bought his nation’s allocation of one copy. I cannot possibly comment on his taste in books, but instinct says it that his may have been a wise buy, seeing that fast cars, unlike fast art ( vide Richard Prince, Koons, Hirst ) will never go out of fashion as long as there is enough petrol to fuel the damn things. Are the diamonds and celebrity signatures worth the extra £151,000 ? Not in my view, though rarity does count for something.

The Diamante is not particularly heavy in the champion book stakes. If we discount the 14,300 ancient stone tablets inscribed with Buddhist scriptures, which is by far the heaviest ‘ book ‘, and one likely to remain in an edition limited to one, Bhutan: a Visual Odyssey Across the last Himalayan Kingdom (2003) at 133 lbs is much heavier. It is also larger, at 7 foot by 5 foot, and is, according to the Guinness Book of Records, the largest in the world, though for all its size, it is cheaper than the Diamante. One copy has been acquired by Special Collections at the University of Washington, where it is on display outside the Graduate Reading Room in Suzallo Library. Pages are turned once a month. There are a few ‘trade ‘editions on ABE. One bumped ex-library copy is priced at $297, but if you wish to buy the dearest mint condition copy you will get exactly 5 cents change from $2,500.

Bhutan may be the largest book in the world, but it is by no means the heaviest. This distinction belongs to the informally titled Ethiopian Book of Signatures and Vision Statements, a compendium of ‘ 30 million vision statements ‘ of Ethiopians around the world, including street children. In 2007 the publisher, Gana Seb Trading, a paper manufacturer, said the book will comprise three volumes, each measuring a metre in height and weighing 500 kgs. ( therefore totalling 3,300 lbs ), and would be transported by forklift. Three kgs. of silver will be used to cover the spines.

From this description the book sounds rather like a modern-day Domesday Book, or more accurately, a gigantic autograph book. It was begun in June 2007 and has may have been completed by now. It is not known whether the book will updated every decade or so; or whether it will be published in a ( presumably ) condensed form and made available to reference libraries. But the basic idea is an appealing one. Perhaps instead of a census, the UK could do something similar in 2022.

Many thanks Robin. Very fat art books used to be known in my part of the trade as 'thicks' but these are in a new category. I thought Helmut Newton's 'Sumo' was a bastard to lift but the Bhutan book would need two strong men, possibly three. It is about the size of a Ping-Pong table and weighs more than Robbie Coltrane. It came out of an Adobe MIT/Microsoft iCampus initiative so presumably Bill Gates and a few other digerati have copies.

How do you shelve a book like that! ? I have met miniature book collectors but have never heard of a collector of outsize books; there are enough now being produced to spawn a few punters. If you want to start with a big one the Bhutan book is $10000 (most of the money goes to charity) however delivery charges might be a little more.

25 April 2011

Fictional Guidebooks

One of these books does not exist at all, two are imaginary books from movies and only exist because they have been subsequently published and one is a regularly published book.
Well done if you spot them all correctly.


Handbook for the Recently Deceased
is the book seen in the movie 'Beetlejuice'. It is used by the dead couple (killed in a Volvo crash) who haunt their old house. A movie memorable for the performances of Michael Keaton as Betelgeuse and Winona Ryder as the beautiful young Goth who is able to see the dead couple. Versions of this handbook have actually been published, possibly several, and it is not valuable.

The Traveller's Guide from Death to Life is a real book. I photographed the cover then gave it away so I am not sure what it is about. I suspect it is a modern abridged edition of the 100 year old book by Mrs. Menzies published by the British Gospel Book Association. There have been many editions. It appears to use travel as a simile for the life of salvation:
"...As the railway passenger finds the line laid, the stations built, the ticket printed, the train ready for him, and he has only to present the price named for his ticket; so in the journey to heaven, all is done for him even to the price of his ticket, which he has but to ACCEPT as a free gift from God to him, and his Salvation is perfectly secure."
The book is rare in this edition but probably of modest value. The cover is enigmatic. Who are these ramblers and why is the young woman resting her foot on a rock? My theory is that the world has ended and they are the only ones left alive.

Tobin's Spirit Guide is of course the fictional guide book from the movie 'Ghostbusters'. It provides information about miscellaneous ghosts, spirits, spectres, demons, deities, etc.and is used by the ghostbusters to look up the history, strength and weaknesses of supernatural beings. A useful book that has spawned several terrestrial books. It can be bought for £20 or less but there are copies (print on demand) at £800+ with outfits like Aphrohead and Quarter Melon.

The Orange Catholic Bible has nothing to do with the protestant Ulster order but is a fictional book from Frank Herbert's Dune. Created in the wake of the crusade against thinking machines known as the Butlerian Jihad, the Orange Catholic Bible is the key religious text in the Dune universe and is described thus in the glossary of the 1965 novel:
ORANGE CATHOLIC BIBLE: the "Accumulated Book," the religious text produced by the Commission of Ecumenical Translators. It contains elements of most ancient religions, including the Maometh Saari, Mahayana Christianity, Zensunni Catholicism and Buddislamic traditions. Its supreme commandment is considered to be: "Thou shalt not disfigure the soul."
As fas as I know it has never been published but I found this mocked up image at the Naomi Bardoff blog (thanks) which is related to the Invisible Library.
Last word from the Dune bible: 'Thou shalt not make a machine in the likeness of a man's mind.' Tell that to them in the valley...

17 April 2011

Collecting books on the early history of cinema 1.

First lesson. The USA is a better place to buy and sell rare books on the Cinema. Fact. Elliott Katt, who before his recent retirement, ran the world’s largest performing arts bookstore in LA, convinced me of this twelve years ago. But I thought I’d try an experiment anyway. A couple of years ago, having failed to find a half decent Cinema bookshop in the UK, I approached Bloomsbury Auctions, who estimated my impeccably provenanced typescript of a ‘Kes’ screenplay at £50. As I had already been offered five times that by a US dealer, who even volunteered to pay carriage, I walked away and on returning home accepted this earlier offer. Are most British auction houses and dealers sniffy about books on the Cinema ? You bet.

But they shouldn’t be. Collecting in film history is a growing field, with early material being the most sought after. One of the pioneers of the moving image, Eadwerd Muybridge (born Edward Muggeridge) has recently been recognised with a major exhibition in London and his Animals in Motion, which lay the foundations for cinematography, has always been in demand. All early editions are sought after, but are often in poor condition through constant use. I paid just £2 for my rather dilapidated ( but complete ) copy of the 1902 edition over 30 years ago, but presently ABE has a good copy for $572 and two of the 1907 edition at $250 and $225. Not excessive prices, really, for such an important book.

Other early technical works on cinematography are collected, and many are priced on the low side. Katt told me of a collector in Los Angeles—a tool and die maker by trade-- who had managed to fill his modest three bedroom home in the suburbs floor to ceiling with books of all kinds, and had stuffed his garage full of cinema books, some of which were very early technical works on cinematography. One in this collection was The Life and Inventions of Thomas Alva Edison which W.K.L Dickson, a prolific inventor in Edison’s laboratory, had brought out in 1894, the year in which he also demonstrated the world’s first modern motion picture projector. At present ABE is not short of copies of this particular title —all of which are located in the States—and prices range from a competitively priced but well thumbed ex-library copy at $80 to one in fine condition at $297. Today, Katt believes that the collector with the largest haul of early technical books is Mark Ulano, the Oscar-winning production sound mixer on the film ‘Titanic’, who has published a book on the technical side of early cinema. Another pioneer on the technical side, C. Francis Jenkins, an American rival to John Logie Baird in the TV stakes, started his career in movies. His very rare Animated Pictures of 1898 is about the painterscope. Katt revealed to me that he had only ever handled two copies—the last he sold for $5,000—a little steep even for this legendary rarity. At present ABE have a couple of grubby ex-library copies at under a $100 and two lovely copies at $750 and $1,000 plus. It would seem that the book has become less elusive in recent years.

Books on or by early film makers are avidly collected and are a little pricier. The life and work of D. W. Griffith, director of ‘The Birth of a Nation’ (1915) is well documented, but this pioneer also went into print himself early in his career, though you might spend a lifetime locating a copy of the exceptionally scarce Biography of David Wark Griffith and a Brief History of the Motion Picture in America (c1920), which appeared in the form of a 36 page pamphlet from ‘ D. W. Griffith Service/Exhibitor’s Trade Review ‘. A dealer in West Virginia wants $3,500 for his lavishly illustrated gem. This works out at around $95 a page !!


To be continued...Many thanks Robin. I'm keeping an eye open for the Wark Griffith pamphlet -- it appears to be 9 by 12 inches, so not small, and comes with an illustrated gray paper dust jacket with a drawing of Griffith on the front panel. At $3500 the dealer appears to have come up with a price large enough to stop all buyers from buying. This is the holy grail for many dealers who hate to see a good book sell - but in the meantime his price could be a useful comparison marker for other copies selling at slightly less. This may happen on a regular basis but it seems unlikely as WorldCat cites just 2 copies...

10 April 2011

Collecting early bibles in English 2

Price guide $3,000 - $2m

The first versions of the Bible in English were manuscripts created from the 1380s by Dr John Wycliffe (1328 - 84 ), a professor of theology at Oxford University, and his followers. Wycliffe’s main gripe was with the unethical practices of the Church, such as indulgences and relics, and with its stout resistance to any version of the scriptures being available to English readers. For his attempts to remedy this failing he managed somehow to escape the horrible fate of those Tudor theologians who were to follow his example, but the Pope exacted a kind of revenge 44 years after his death by ordering his bones to be exhumed, crushed and scattered in the English Channel.

A later follower, Jan Hus, a Czech theologian and dissident, was not so lucky. In 1415 he was burned at the stake for his support of Wycliffe’s teachings, and it has been reported that some copies of the offending bibles were used as kindling. One would rather like to know how many of these manuscripts were produced over the years and how many survived the flames. Presumably, those copies distributed originally by Wycliffe and his helpers were read in private and then secreted away, so a few must have survived. Until very recently, the Great Site ( of the Bible Museum Inc) boasted that it had a single copy for sale at over $1m. This has now gone, but the Site hints that it has the means of obtaining other copies, providing the buyer has up to $2m available.

With the printing of the Gutenberg Bible in 1455 the scriptures remained in Latin but the Great Site recognises the world-altering significance of this particular book by charging $120,000 for each page it offers for sale from a well documented broken up copy. But it reserves its greatest acclamation for the man who did most to spread the gospel by printing the first English version. William Tyndale, a scholar and intellectual, brought out his New Testament of 1525-6, from the safety of Germany. For this act of defiance a sizeable price was placed on his head, but Tyndale, protected by fellow Protestants on the continent, managed to supervise the smuggling out of copies ( often in bales of cotton and sacks of flour ) of his often reprinted work to England throughout the 1530s, although anyone caught with a copy here risked certain death. In the end, after eleven years on the run, Tyndale was finally cornered by bounty hunters in Holland and shipped back to England, where he was strangled before being burnt at the stake.

Over this period many Tyndale New Testaments must have been seized, or even legitimately bought and subsequently destroyed, by the authorities. Because of this, only two copies of the first edition are known to have survived. Even later editions of the 1530s command six figure sums. After his death Tyndale’s work was carried on by two devotees, Miles Coverdale and John Rogers. It was Coverdale who could be said to have published the first complete Bible in English, since in 1535 he added his own translation of the Old Testament to Tyndale’s New Testament. The Great Site has one of these at $445,000. Two years later, Rogers produced the second complete English Bible-- the first to be translated from the original Greek and Hebrew sources. One US dealer, who like the Great Site, described this edition as the ‘Tyndale Bible’ wants $750 for a single leaf, a sum which makes the Great Site’s single leaves of Gutenberg appear cheap. And as there are fewer that 15 copies extant, the $275,000 that it asks for the whole book also seems good value. Three years after Wycliffe’s execution, Henry VIII put the royal seal of approval on the English version by authorizing the publication of what became known as ‘The Great Bible ‘. Such a volte face on the part of the king, who by now was happily dismantling the monasteries of England, can only be seen as an attempt to cock yet another giant snook at the Vatican. For this particular Bible expect to pay a mere $200,000, perhaps a reflection of the fact that no one had to die for having published it.

[R. M. Healey]

Many thanks Robin. Noble words. I should say that prices charged at these bible sites tend to be absolute and final end user prices and then some, often such items can be seen at auction at considerably less. An Italian dealer once told me that his father had been offered a Gutenberg bible (on vellum) for $2000. He was sitting in his shop in the early 1940s when a monk appeared with the books under his arm. He was probably fleeing the war in the north. The fugitive monk needed the equivalent of $2000 for the great Bible of Mainz - which sadly the dealer could not muster. The coweled figure disappeared never to be seen again. Current value --more than an oligarch's mansion in Hampstead. Last word on bibles-- at a lower level old bibles of medium size tend to sell well, the great big clasped ones take much longer--presumably a question of portability. Sometimes we have half a dozen weighty bibles waiting for buyers. In the meantime they add an air of gravitas and spirituality, especially in this atheistic era of the shrill Dawkins.

02 April 2011

In the Key of Blue...

I bought some books at a house yesterday, show biz stuff some signed and rather Ebayable and some rubbish (Jeremy Clarkson, books on Bros and Rod Hull and his Emu.) All in a day's work-- 20 boxes in the back of the battered Volvo. The seller showed me some of his own collection (this stuff had belonged to an uncle) and I took a shot of that-- a pretty stunning thematic collection of blue books. The photo does not do them justice, they had a kind of glow from the Victorian indigo-- hints of Royal Azure, Cerulean and Ultramarine. Out of shot were some Strands and Punches (sometimes seen in blue rather than red.) Impressive and quirky, self indulgent - but in a good way (and NOT FOR SALE, dammit!)

He did not have a copy of the lovely 1890s book by John Addington Symonds In the Key of Blue (1893). The interesting thing about this book is that it is normally seen in cream cloth or if you are lucky vellum with a gilt pattern of laurel and hyacinths by Charles Ricketts. The first copies were actually blue but when Ricketts saw them he protested that the colour had to be changed because the critics would otherwise be tempted to refer to the binding as "Ricketts blue." This is a reference to a very old product which was used for washing clothes -- 'Reckitt's Blue' sold by the Carbolic Soap Company. Quite a few blue copies got through but it can go for $500 + and more if limpid.