28 November 2011

Magazines (first issues)

The recent 50th Anniversary issue of Private Eye prints a letter from someone called David Lyon recalling a lucky find one evening in October 1961. Apparently, while walking through Soho he noticed a box fixed to a lamp-post:

‘It contained some roughly printed pamphlets on yellow paper, with a notice inviting me to take one in exchange for sixpence. I was not to know that my tanner had purchased a potentially valuable document : nowadays, apparently, copies of Private Eye Vol 1 No 1 are worth at least £1,000…’

Unluckily for the young Peter Cook, Richard Ingrams et al, quite a few thievish Soho-ites had removed the copies without placing the requisite payment in the honesty box. Fifty years on, the ‘roughly printed pamphlets‘ have turned into a British Institution, and its surviving founders and present editor, pillars of the media establishment. And yes, incredibly rare first issues of the Eye can fetch around a grand (depending on condition), though demand from ( I suspect ) present employees of the magazine mean that examples are extremely hard to find. Even the more common early copies from 1961/62 are very scarce.

So, I began to wonder what was the story behind other style ‘pamphlets ‘that had became British Institutions.—Viz, for instance. Back in 1979, when the incomparable chanteuse, Lene Lovich was enchanting us all, satirical artist Chris Donald produced the first issue of a magazine which was to raise puerile humour to new heights of comic inventiveness. Put together in a bedroom in his parent’s house in Jesmond, Viz comic had an initial print run of 150 and sold for 20p in a local pub. After this first run had sold out in hours, a new edition had to be run off. If you want to buy the particular copy from the initial run that Donald gave to a friend you’d have to shell out a mere $2,060 via ABE.

Punch, the Daddy of all great satirical magazines, but now sadly no more, also began unpromisingly. On17 July 1841 a small group of writers and artists who were friends, like the Private Eye crowd, saw a gap in the market for a satirical magazine and so the London Charivari was born. The print run was pretty large and so the first half-yearly volume of the magazine is not rare, though it can’t usually be found as a singleton. Don’t pay more than £10.

The general rule of thumb it would seem is that the more primitive and/or basic -looking the first issues were of a magazine that later achieved cult status, the more appealing (and therefore more expensive) they are. So, it follows that the reverse rule applies. Take, for example, the more respectable Scrutiny and Horizon,. The former highly influential mouthpiece of the Leavis circle, began as a very professionally produced critical review in 1932 and so copies of the highly combative debut issue tend not to be too expensive. I got mine for about £1, which though very cheap, but the single copy on ABE of the same issue is a reasonable $112. 22. In contrast, the first issue of Spender and Connolly’s Horizon, which first appeared in 1940, looks much like the last and shouldn’t set you back much more than £20. The same goes for first issues of other significant magazines that began well and continued looking much the same for years and years. There are obvious exceptions to this rule. A first issue of Radio Times (1923) is currently on ABE at £300. A first issue of the less prestigious TV Times (1955 ) shouldn’t cost you more than £30, whereas The Listener might come in at around a fiver. There is no obvious logic in all this, apart from the law of supply and demand.

Collectors might also be surprised at how reasonably priced other first issues of famous newspapers are. To start at the very lowest end of the market for quality, one can find copies of the first Daily Mail (1896) at about £60 and The Daily Express (1900), Daily Mirror (1903 ) and Sun (1964 ) cannot be much more. However, a first issue of The Times, which began in 1785 as The Daily Universal Register, will probably set you back £200- £300, depending on the condition, which is likely to be good, since the newsprint used in the late eighteenth century contained a much higher percentage of rags to acidic wood pulp than that produced from the mid Victorian period onwards. First issues of both The Daily Telegraph (1855) and The Grauniad (1821) may cost a bit less. Incidentally, first issues of all the above are exceptionally hard to locate online. [R. M. Healey]

Many thanks Robin. Yes early EYE issues (first 10) are rare as rockinghorse and highly desirable. Below are some 5 year old auction records - without the premiums (20%):

Private Eye. [N.p.: Andrew Osmond], 25 Oct, 1961 - Vol I, No 1 - 4to, - stapled as issued - Ptd on orange paper. - Bonham's, June 6, 2006, lot 1000, £1,250 ($2,300)
Private Eye. [N.p.: Andrew Osmond], 25 Oct, 1961 - Vol I, No 1 - 4to, - stapled as issued - Ptd on orange paper. - Minor stain to final page - Bonham's, Feb 24, 2004, lot 100, £880 ($1,636.80)
Private Eye. [N.p.: Andrew Osmond], 7 Nov, 1961 - Vol I, No 2 - 4to, - stapled as issued - Ptd on orange paper - Bonham's, Feb 24, 2004, lot 101, £550 ($1,023)
Private Eye. [N.p.: Andrew Osmond], 7 Nov, 1961 - Vol I, No 3 - 4to, - unsewn as issued - Ptd on orange paper - Bonham's, Feb 24, 2004, lot 102, £550 ($1,023)

Note these ones were orange. Possibly other colours exist. Andrew Osmond, by the way, was the original `Lord Gnome'. He backed the young satirists with all the money he had - £450 - and thought of the title. He deserved a peerage. Robin's little misspelling 'Grauniad' for 'Guardian' of course comes from the Eye and reflects the large amount of typos that used to occur in that worthy broadsheet...

19 November 2011

The collectable Alice Cooper

I sometimes look at the very long list A Book that Looks Like Nothing on Ebay forums. Worth checking to jog the memory before a library sale, boot fair or a raid on a flea market. The thread began in 2003 and covers all sorts of books that have (mostly) appeared on Ebay and that have made surprising sums. Surprising sums can mean a book that looks like an Amazon one cent special but makes $12 or a book bought for $12 at a dawn swap meet and sells for $3000. Some of the books are now 'netblown' i.e too many copies have appeared online and the price has descended alarmingly. The opposite can happen if a book is genuinely rare and lots of people (with money) want it.

Some of the books, to my mind actually look like something The Lion the Witch and The Wardrobe, the 1939 Shell Guide to Devon, Dodd and Graham's Security Analysis (NY 1934 - a fairly easy $10,000 for a nice first) Carnival Strippers by Susan Meiselas, Clapp's The Big Bender (1938) and V by Thomas Pynchon. But who knows about Zimmermann's Source Code & Internals, Meerloo's Rape of the Mind (1956) Disco Bloodbath, Shafer's Mathematical Theory of Evidence (1976) etc.,? All circa S100 and look like nada.

What defines a 'Nothing' book? It cannot be too mainstream as there will be too many copies, or too minor and cultish as there will be too few copies and even less punters. Thus a big fat book on Elvis might be worth $0.001 but a book by Elvis's hard-worked Graceland cook might get you $50.

On the subject of Rock the list contains two Alice Cooper sleepers - the first, one of the more valuable rock rarities, is Alice's Me, Alice (Putnam, N.Y. 1976) a roaring tale of the early days of his career, along with the alcoholism (beer and whisky) that nearly ended him + his mentor Frank Zappa, hippies, sex, drugs and his fling with a GTO plaster-caster etc., It seems to go for $500 or more in a nice jacket although one guy says he wouldn't sell his signed copy for $20,000. A dealer called Splatterhead seems to have sold his copy for $666.66 and Alice's collaborator / ghost Steven Gaines is selling his remaining allotted copies on Amazon at a chancer's $2000 each (but he will sign it if requested.) Meanwhile another Alice Cooper book by band member Bob Greene Billion Dollar Baby: A provocative young journalist chronicles his adventures on tour as a performing member of The Alice Cooper Rock-and-Roll Band (1974) can get you well over $100 in a jacket and a $50 note in paperback.

Even one of his song books Alice Cooper Complete (Bizarre, L.A. 1973) is nodding on a $100. Alice's wild days are well behind him now and he has moved on to recovery, good works and a golf handicap of two. His 2007 work Alice Cooper, Golf Monster: A Rock 'n' Roller's Life and 12 Steps to Becoming a Golf Addict can be had for $3, however its hardback publication was greeted with queues all round the shop at his London signing at Borders and there are no signed copies online - which bodes well for his collectability. A piece of ephemera to watch out for are fake billion dollar bills from his 1973 tour. They can be had for $15 when they occasionally surface on Ebay...

11 November 2011

Filched First Folios

Eric Rasmussen. The Shakespeare Thefts: In Search of the First Folios. (Palgrave / Macmillan, London 2011) £16.99. Bibliomania, as anyone who is familiar with the literature on book thieves will know can drive normally respectable people to crime. It can also make scholars and journalists into literary detectives. Allison Hoover Bartlett, the journalist who tracked down John Gilkey in The Man who Loved Books too Much encountered a motley crew of bibliomaniacs along the way, including at least one murderer, while American Shakespeare scholar, Eric Rasmussen, whose The Shakespeare Thefts has just been sent to me, combed the globe to compile a definitive scholarly list of First Folios and decided found that the stories attached to so many of the 232 extant copies, were too amazing to be ignored.

Just as Bartlett constantly asked herself why people become mentally unbalanced in their pursuit of certain books—even to extent of killing to obtain them—Rasmussen begins his account with a similar question. What is it about Shakespeare’s First Folio that so fascinates both thieves and collectors. It can’t be because the world’s greatest writer had much to do with what is, after all, a posthumous volume; Shakespeare never saw it appear. He never read it; others compiled it from printed sources, notably the quartos, which having been published in the writer’s own lifetime, are undoubtably closer to the man. Are some collectors more obsessed with owning a quarto ? Rasmussen doesn’t say.

We have to accept, I suppose, that to those who know little or nothing of the genesis of the First Folio , it alone has become Shakespeare’s ‘ book ‘. To the man in the street it remains the fountain from which have flowed, subsequent editions, including all the texts children and undergraduates have pored over around the world for centuries.

But murder someone for a Folio ? This seems very likely in the case of the Fiske Harris copy, which ended up in the hands of an unscrupulous bookseller following the unexplained death in 1883 of a well-known American collector and his wife in a boating accident. But acquiring a copy in such a ruthless way is thankfully rare. Throughout the centuries, most copies have been stolen from libraries, only to end up centuries later in other libraries. One king was relieved of his copy. While escaping by boat to the Isle of Wight in 1647 Charles I took his own First Folio with him only to have it confiscated by the island’s governor when he embarked. The book passed through the hands of several collectors before it landed up in royal hands again, when George III acquired it for the Library at Windsor in 1800.

Libraries seem particularly unable to keep their First Folios safe from thieves. One of the funniest stories concerns a copy in William College Library in Massachusetts. In 1940 a gang member wearing the ‘uniform ‘ of an academic , that is ‘ an ill-fitting suit and a pair of old-fashioned eye-glasses ‘ managed to convince staff that he was bona fide. Left alone with several folios, it was even easier for this bogus professor to fish around in his brief case for a practically worthless copy of Goethe’s Reynard the Fox (1872) which had been smuggled in to replace the Folio. The thief then left hurriedly with his prize on some pretext or other. After much negotiation the book was recovered, thanks to good detective work. However, it might easily have been lost for ever.

Seventy years on, book detection has come a long way, and thieves today need to be much more au fait with the workings of the book trade, book history, bibliography and textual criticism to succeed. We know how even supposedly ‘ clever ‘criminals like William ‘Tome raider’ Jacques and Dr Simon Heighes, come a-cropper, but Raymond Scott, a Walter Mitty-like character from a council house in County Durham, who was sentenced to 6 years in 2010 for stealing a First Folio from Durham University Library, was hopelessly out of his depth from the start. His big mistake was to believe that if he removed the first and last pages of his copy, it wouldn’t be recognised. Alas, for the unemployed carer, who was living the high life in the Caribbean on the expectation of selling his book for a cool million, the curse of the First Folio triumphed.

But not all Rasmussen’s excellent stories revolve around thieves. There are some pretty eccentric collectors out there. One American gave his copy up because it had begun to smell horribly !!. Another, who lived off Big Macs and cheeseburgers, bought a copy of the Folio comparatively cheaply because the corners of many pages had been chewed off by rodents. This defect, however, proved no problem for our amateur book conservator. He bought loose leaves from a disbound copy of a Folio and instead of replacing the damaged leaves of his copy with the loose ones, actually cut off the corners of the latter and pasted them deftly onto the ones in his own Folio. For all its dottiness, there is a sort of warped logic in this solution, especially if the loose leaves themselves had imperfections. [R. M. Healey]

For this review much thanks Robin. Bit of a first for us - being sent a book to review. If the trend continues we will have a pile of books to sell and will have to call in a dealer! Hang on a mo, don't we buy review copies? Might make a low offer however...Pic of the Mitty-like Scott above.

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.