31 December 2012

Book Jackets reviewed

G. Thomas Tanselle. Book Jackets, their history, forms and use. Oak Knoll, 2nd edition 2011. £45.

How many academic books sell out in months? This one did.  Around a year ago I ordered a copy of the first edition and the publishers told me that they had sent it. I never received the book and was later sent a second edition. Perhaps some book collecting postal worker took the first to be sent. If any work in the field of bibliophily is likely to become a new ‘must have’ for collectors dealers and auction cataloguers alike, this is it.

For one thing, it’s a labour of love by arguably the world’s greatest authority on book jacket history. Secondly, it is based on the author’s own collection, which was begun in 1968, and is soon to be lodged in an American library. This catalogue is  supplemented by Tanselle’s decades-long correspondence with fellow enthusiasts in the field, notably Tom Congleton, who used to write a column for Rare Book Review. Thirdly, the book has the distinct appeal of cutting edge research, albeit in a subject that for many non-bibliomaniacs, has always been regarded as the source of loud belly laughs.

Forget all that. Book jackets are no longer a joke. To laugh at book jacket is to pass up the opportunity to make big money. There are many examples of a jacket being worth more than the book without it. For instance, a first edition of The Great Gadsby with the jacket will sell for many times more than a copy without one. In 1999 a copy of The Hound of the Baskervilles in a jacket made £80,700 at auction. A copy of Kipling’s Just So Stories (1902) in its dull brown  jacket made £2,600 at Sotheby’s in 1986, the cataloguer noting that the ’ book on its own ‘ would sell for about £100.

But why do so many collectors insist on a jacket ? Simple. If the history of book jackets can now be traced back to around 1830, as Tanselle argues, surely it is not too much to ask that a book printed in, say 1930, retain its jacket and to be worth more by having it, especially as the jacket may contain important information not available in the book itself, such as reviews in obscure magazines, illustrations, and remarkably, extra material on the reverse surface of the jacket. And although most early jackets were dull brown paper affairs that simply reproduced elements of the title page in black ink, a jacket, however uninspiring, must be seen as part of the book. Does any collector of LPs throw away the sleeve notes on acquiring a new addition to his record library?

But this new collecting trend brings with it new dangers. Tanselle warns us that modern technology has meant that laser- printed facsimiles can be passed off as the real thing by unscrupulous dealers. The old consolation that exceptionally rare modern books can’t be copied convincingly probably still applies, even in the age of the computer printer, but jackets are a different matter. With four figures sums at stake collectors must now be very vigilant.

Half of Tanselle’s treatise is taken up with such matters, including, of course the history of the jacket, which we learn was a natural development from the first  protective devices for fragile books, which were slip cases made of card. The first example listed dates from 1779, but doubtless others will be discovered sooner rather than later. After all, this is cutting edge stuff. Tanselle is good too on the rationale of the book jacket in the twentieth century and he rehearses all the silly reasons proffered by librarians and so called ‘ book-lovers’ for dispensing with them at the earliest opportunity. This is all very illuminating , but the meat of the book resides in its second half, which is a chronological list of jackets up to the end of 1900.

Why 1900 ? For Tanselle this seems a reasonable cut-off date. By 1900 the number of jacketed books listed has crept from 2 in 1871 to over 137 in the year 1900. And anyway, have some finishing point has to be laid down, however arbitrary. Why do incunabula end in 1499 ? For collectors of book jackets Tanselle’s list is a ‘ wants list ‘, especially to American collectors. Those titles included in it are around 80% American imprints, because, after all, Tanselle is an American who lives and works and buys books in the States. However, the power of the Internet has enabled him to correspond with collectors and dealers all over the world , with the result that many British and a sprinkling of exceptionally early European jackets/slip cases, are also included. Many of the British  books they cover seem to be illustrated editions of classics or verse, with Andrew Lang and Kate Greenaway featuring frequently. Others are rather dull or obscure books for which no sane person would think of shelling out three figure sums if it wasn’t for the jackets that come with them.

There are some exceptions. We learn that the first edition of Dickens’ Edwin Drood (1870) was issued with a jacket and as such is well documented in the literature on the author. No price is mentioned, but you can be sure that it will be high. Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark (1876) is a more famous example of a jacketed classic.  Another gem in a jacket is a work edited by Theo Marzials, one of John Betjeman’s favourite poets. His Pan-Pipes, a Book of Old Songs (1883) was priced at a cool $350 in 1989.[R. M. Healey]

Many thanks Robin. Sorry you actually had to buy the book to review it, that doesn't happen at the TLS! The biggest price differential on a jacket I can think of is for Greene's Ministry of Fear (London, 1943) a book that can be obtained in decent condition sans jacket for £40 but wearing a smart jacket £8000 is achievable (more if you believe web mall prices.) That's 200 times, I guess if Drood, a sort of £200 book, was to sell for over £40,000 in d/w, which seems entirely possible (although unfinished and posthumous) Dickens would take the biscuit...


03 December 2012

Two economics classics

Adam Smith, An Enquiry into the Nature and Origin of the Wealth of Nations (London, W. Strahan and Cadell; 2 vols, 1776 )

Current selling price around £100,000

Just as every natural scientist covets a first of The Origin of Species, many city bankers would love to find a copy of The Wealth of Nations, now generally recognised to be one of the most influential books ever published. A first edition would be nice, and such a book, if one could be found, would hardly stretch the finances of your average hedge fund manager. I remember my old paymaster at Rare, Bernie Shapero making a very early Wealth of Nations the star turn in a collection of works on economics that he was trying to sell a few years ago. I even remember wondering at the promotional drinks party whether one of the treasured volumes might get nicked. However, I ‘m not entirely sure whether the book in question was an actual first edition. You can say goodbye to £100,000 if you want one of these. Currently, there is one on line, appropriately, in Beverley Hills. And in Pennsylvania there is a second edition for £60,000.

Apparently, all copies of the first edition were sold within six months and Smith spent some of 1777 incorporating important emendations in  a second edition, which appeared in 1778 and  is now ( rather oddly ) scarcer (at 500 copies ),according to the Pennsylvania dealer, than the first. Other editions followed, some published in the newly empowered USA. As Smith died in 1790, editions which appeared after this date lack the glamour, or indeed significance, of the early editions, but they still go for three figures. Were I buying an eighteenth century edition I’d go for one with interesting marginalia and crossings out from the hand of a prominent businessman of the Industrial Revolution.  

J. M. Keynes, Indian Currency and Finance (Macmillan 1913)

Current selling price £1,875.

Unlike some of the rarest first editions of his Bloomsbury pals, the great economist’s first book is not a sexy title. It is a rather dry treatise on economics which is now so pricey that only a completist Bloomsburyite with long pockets would afford a copy. It is more likely to appeal to admirers of Keynes the economist, since it is the first hint of the direction in which the great man was to go with his radical theories regarding the necessity of government intervention in fiscal affairs

Keynes, like many a spoilt child of wealthy late Victorian parents, had a comparatively easy ride financially up to his late twenties. After graduating from Cambridge in maths he received a generous ‘allowance’ which enabled him to follow his intellectual bent without the fear of falling into debt. Even when, in 1906, he was able to earn money for himself as a Clerk in the India Office he still continued to receive an allowance. His exposure to colonial economics resulted in Indian Currency and Finance, which was published while Keynes was a recently elected Fellow of King’s College. In this treatise Keynes addressed the problem of the rupee and its relation to its exchange value in silver and gold. He argued that as long as the unit of current had no intrinsic worth in relation to gold it would be vulnerable to international market fluctuations. A return to the gold standard, however, would guarantee the stability of the Indian economy, particularly regarding exports. Thus instead of letting the free market determine the future worth of the rupee, the Government had a duty to step in whenever necessary with a fiscal policy for India that would safeguard the currency in relation to world trade. 

This was a distinctly radical theory in 1913 and Keynes was strongly opposed by free-marketeers. However, his talents were recognised by government economists and the book earned him a seat on the Royal Commission on Indian Finance and Currency. Only in the thirties, however, were his ideas on government intervention recognised as a possible alternative solution to the economic crisis then gripping the nation.

Perhaps sensing that his writings were likely to prove popular in the future Keynes  persuaded Macmillan to share profits from Indian Currency and future works on a 50/50 basis. His predictions proved accurate and by 1942 over 4,000 copies had been sold, netting him £295.

Though it lacks the glamour of The Wealth of Nations, Indian Currency, without question, a spectacularly dull looking tome, might be easier to acquire among a job lot at some country auction. But if you can’t wait thirty years for such a chance find, there are a handful of copies online. These range from two ex-library books at £250 and £350, to a lovely copy in the original cloth, for which Harrington wants £1,875. [R. M. Healey]

Thanks Robin. That old Adam Smith book could almost be bought as a hedge against inflation (although at a little less than £100K). I seem to recall William Rees-Mogg (bookdealer and Times editor) setting out to prove that it out-performed the market at one time. As for Keynes years ago Indian Currency was a bit of a sleeper and I bought one from a dealer in Eastern travel, normally an ambitious pricer, at about a quarter of value. Couldn't happen any more.


23 November 2012


Anthony Powell. Caledonia: a Fragment. (Published for the Author 1934)

Current selling price £3,000 +

This eleven page bagatelle is actually Anthony Powell’s fourth book, but is certainly more sought after by Powell fanatics than his first. Only 100 copies were printed for the author on the occasion of his marriage ( some say engagement ) to Lady Violet Pakenham . The squib, a pastiche of Augustan satire was aimed at the rise of the Scottish presence in British life, which for me goes back to the liking for things Caledonian that began with the Waverley novels and Blackwood’s Noctes Ambrosiana in the Regency period and continued through the reign of  Queen Victoria ( think Balmoral, Our Life in the Highlands, the gamekeeper Brown etc ) and only waned a little at the end of the Edwardian era. Powell confessed that he had no quarrel with the Scottish and only saw them in the light of his Englishness and Welshness. Caledonia contains  twelve lines on Scottish music by Powell’s friend Constant Lambert and there is an illustration by the mildly cultish Edward Burra, who was little known at that time.

The book was printed to be given away to friends (did Powell have 100 friends in 1934 ? ) and some of the most coveted copies today bear inscriptions to them. For instance, for a mere $4,128 R.A. Gekoski will gladly sell you a copy inscribed by Powell to Mr David Talbot Rice, Gent. Professor in Art of the University of Edinburgh, who was, like Powell, an old Etonian. The faux eighteenth century style of address chimed in perfectly with the pastiche, but it also turned out to be prescient. Talbot Rice, like many an eighteenth century academic at Oxbridge or the Scottish Universities, managed to remain in post for 38 years, a feat unimaginable in our day of peripatetic academics.

Alternatively, for a staggering £7,500 Peter Harrington will be delighted to sell you the copy of Caledonia  bought at a Dominic Winter sale for £1,550. Inscribed bizarrely ‘Feb 16th 1930’ to Wyndham Lloyd, who was apparently a physician and wrote A  Hundred Years of Medicine. According to the Powellites, Powell was not a snob and his obsession with his own genealogy and that of his friends had more to do with his fascination with 'characters' in history. His friendship with Lloyd and his brother may be connected to his interest in his own Welsh ancestry.

Powellites with smaller pockets might have to pay around $3,000 for a plain copy, though the one available at this price in the USA does have  six holograph corrections in Powell’s hand. Presumably, the rest of the edition has these too. It would seem that Powell retained the bulk of the remaining himself, so a few unadorned examples may have been skulking in his library at his death. One wonders what happened to these. Luckily, for those who just want to read the text, the Anthony Powell Society will sell to members for just £8 a facsimile of Caledonia  published in 2011 by the Greville Press, complete with tartan covers but with an additional portrait of the author after Henry Lamb, Powell’s brother in law. Non-members can find copies of the same book for around $20 on the Net. Those with even less money to spare will find the complete text in Kingsley Amis’s Oxford Anthology of Light Verse .

Because Caledonia is such an insubstantial book it could easily be overlooked at book sales and end up sold alongside less distinguished slim volumes or pamphlets. It is certainly worth looking out for. A price tag of £3,000 for eleven pages must be some sort of minor record for a modern first.

Incidentally, Powell, despite what Powell and his acolytes vehemently disputed , is pronounced Powell, to rhyme with Howell (it being a Welsh name apHowell, son of Hwyl. I should know. Winifred Powell, mother of Denis Healey, was my grandmother. [R. M. Healey]

Many thanks Robin. Et tu Healey! I saw a copy of Caledonia on the memorable house call we did at V.S. Naipaul's country cottage. Among many other things we bought a bunch of books inscribed  to him by Paul Theroux and Theroux got into such a bate that he wrote a book about it. Naipaul had a Caledonia inscribed to him by his pal Powell - that he wasn't selling. He did imply that Powell still had a few left which might explain the bit about 100 friends.

As for £3000 for 11 pages there are several modern first worth more per page - off the top of my head - the limited edition of Whoroscope, Virginia Woolf's Roger Fry pamphlet, the Bruno Hat exhibition catalogue and obviously the one page poem Sylvia Plath handed out on the streets of Edinburgh in 1960 - A Winter Ship, not to mention a couple of Joyce broadsides and the Parnell pamphlet. In fact you could probably get a million pounds worth of the stuff in a Fedex envelope...

03 November 2012

Rare books on the screen

For some reason, the world of rare books seems less appealing to film and TV producers than it does to crime or thriller writers. However, there are a handful of examples where rare or antiquarian books feature prominently on the small screen and in movies. Here are seven that immediately come to mind.

1) The Big Sleep (1946). Directed by Howard Hawks, starring Humphrey Bogart.

In the film Philip Marlowe enters Geiger’s rare bookstore and asks to see certain books with ‘points ‘. This is clearly a wind-up, as Marlowe rightly suspects that the store is a front for an illegal operation. Incidentally, what happened to this term, beloved of the rare book world in the twenties and thirties? It seems to have died out completely.   

2) The Ninth Gate (1999). Written and directed by Roman Polanski, starring Johnny Depp.

Probably the best known example of a film in which a rare book plays a central role. Depp is the bookseller who is asked by a client to authenticate his copy of The Ninth gate of the Kingdom of Shadows, a seventeenth century treatise on devil worship, of which only two other copies are known, one of which may have been written by Satan himself. The book in question is fictional, but is based on the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (1499), whose woodcut illustrations are cryptic instructions.  We are given glimpses of pages from the book, which looks little like any seventeenth century book that I’ve ever seen. Best thing in the film is the art direction, especially the higgeledy-piggledy interior of the bookshop.

3) Casting the Runes, BBC TV drama based on the short story by M. R. James.

By far the most convincing TV drama involving rare books. A scholar wishes to borrow an exceedingly rare work from an ancient academic library, but finds that a mysterious stranger wants to do the same. The rest of the story shows why this book is so important to both men. James is a brilliant plotter and the spooky atmosphere of the library is wonderfully conveyed.

4) The Name of the Rose (1986).Directed by Jean-Jacques Arnaud from the novel by Umberto Eco. Stars Sean Connery, Christian Slater, and Ron Perlman.

Visually a terrific film, thanks to  brilliant art direction that includes  a sublimely romantic landscape setting ( presumably somewhere in northern Italy or the Balkans) and a library whose shelves are crammed with  incredibly ancient-looking tomes. The library, which looks as if it was designed by Escher from an idea by M. R. James, always reminds me of one of those amazing ancient European libraries featured in that excellent tome Great Libraries of the World. All the books look so scrumptious that the fire which breaks out must bring out archivists and rare book librarians in a cold sweat. The plot has holes.  How is it that in the midst of an inferno Sean Connery is able to make such a rapid choice of which books to rescue? I also find it hard to believe that there exists a poison so virulent that a scintilla deposited in the mouth through page-turning could accumulate in the body without its taste (most poisons are very bitter) being noticed by the illuminators in the scriptorium. Most poisons of this potency need to be injected.

5) Black Books ( 2000-2004).Channel 4, starring Dylan Moran, Tamsin Grieg, and Bill Bailey.

It must be the only British sitcom to be set in a second-hand bookshop. I don’t know how much background research the scriptwriters undertook, but they seem to have concocted a very believable owner from characteristics shared by a random selection of the most rebarbative book dealers in the UK, several of whom may have been those encountered by Driffield and myself. Bernard Black has a sharp and indeed withering wit, which most dealers don’t necessarily show to their customers, unless you count barely audible grunts as wit. Although the exterior shots use Collinge and Clark’s premises in Bloomsbury, rumour has it that some aspects of Bernard Black’s personality are based on various bookshop characters  - Eric Barton, Thoreau Books, possibly Charing Cross Road shops.

6) Happy-go Lucky (2008). Directed by Mike Leigh, starring Sally Hawkins.

One of the funnier scenes set in a bookshop sees the delicious Sally Hawkins gamely engaged in the thankless task of engaging a monosyllabic assistant in conversation, but failing miserably. Happily, being cheerfully disposed, the lovely Sally won’t give up her mission to cheer people up, although sadly she is doomed to failure.

7). Midsomer Murders, ITV.

As far as I know only one episode of this popular TV series concerns the criminal activities of a rare book dealer, but I may be wrong. Clearly, the scriptwriter doesn’t want viewers to learn how little he knows about bookshops, book dealers or antiquarian books generally, because the workings of the book trade plays only a peripheral part in the screenplay.

Note. Have you noticed that when someone in a period drama is seen reading or handing over a book that has been recently published (say, a copy of his or her novel or poems) the volume is invariably bound in leather, rather than in paper-covered boards, or even cloth; or if it is a book of spells it is invariably jewel-encrusted or bound in a very new-looking or brightly coloured leather. Could some props person explain why this is so? [R.M. Healey]

Many thanks Robin. Second hand books tend to turn more on TV - there was even a Lewis with a sort of occult bookshop run by the actor who used to play Trigger. Recently there was a slightly suspect man with a lawyer wife who sold second hand books on the internet and the copper (Vera?) seemed surprised that this was a viable business. Our own area Charing Cross Road features in the gay 60s noir Victim where a shop in Cecil Court is used for drop offs. Brilliant film with Dirk Bogarde. Some scenes in the cult Hanif Kureishi movie Sammy and Rosie Get Laid (Stephen Frears) were shot in our old Hammersmith shop. 

16 October 2012


In celebration of yesterday's great jump by Felix Baumgartner we are reposting this from 2007. Captain Kittinger (now 84) was up there with the Austrian daredevil. The only person FB talked to on his descent was the captain. He broke all sorts of records but Kittinger was actually in free fall for 17 seconds longer! 

In an open gondola hung beneath a shimmering cloud of plastic, a man ascends to the awesome height of 102,800 feet. He looks about him at a world that is not the world of man. The atmosphere of his planet lies beneath his feet. The velvet blackness of space is close enough to reach out and touch. He is absolutely alone. Then he jumps . . . ( From the blurb of 'The Long Lonely Leap' 196i)

Captain Joseph W. Kittinger, Jr., USAF (with Martin Caidin.) THE LONG, LONELY LEAP. E.P. Dutton & Company, N.Y. 1961.

Current Selling Prices
$600+ /£400+

Highly uncommon regularly published book that is much sought after. Back in the 1950s and early 1960s, well before liquid-fuel rockets were fully operational, a small group of military men made the first exploratory trips into the upper stratosphere to the edge of outer space in tiny capsules suspended beneath plastic balloons. They are sometimes referred to as 'the pre-astronauts.' Doctors, physicists, meteorologists, engineers, astronomers, and test pilots, they made great personal sacrifices and took great risks in the promise of high adventure and the opportunity to uncover a few secrets of the universe. One of their number, Capt. Joseph Kittinger, rode a balloon up to 103,000 feet in an open gondola and then stepped out and freefell to Earth, becoming the only person to break the sound barrier without a vehicle. Kittinger wrote the book with Martin Caidin, aviation writer, pilot, and author of over two dozen books, the two men flew and spent months together to re-create the amazing events of this story.

A good summary was posted on the Corinth Information Database in 1995
"These...jumps reached their climax in his famous record leap from the very edge of space itself, almost 20 miles above the earth. This drop included a free fall lasting more than an incredible 4 1/2 minutes, during which Captain Kittinger reached a falling speed of 614 miles per hour before his parachute finally opened at 18,000 feet. Captain Kittinger describes the preparations for the balloon ascent, and the actual ascent itself. He tells of floating for eleven minutes in the alien world of space, 102,800 feet up. Then . . . the descent. Using an actual tape recording of his words as he fell, Kittinger relates his impressions, vividly re-creating this magnificent and terrifying experience."

In later life Joe Kittinger served three combat tours during the Vietnam War, flying a total of 483 missions, On March 1, 1972, he shot down a MIG-21 in air-to-air combat, and was later downed himself on May 11, 1972, just before the end of his tour. He spent 11 months as a prisoner of war in the "Hanoi Hilton". He was not a good prisoner.

VALUE? I hesitate to say 'sky high' but this a hard book to find. There are copies sans d/w at $1000+ on the web and well read copies at $500. Wikipedia, posited a reprint in November 2005 that didn't happen and says that 'surviving copies are 'expensive.' A National Geographic from December 1960 has an article about his jump and that can command $50. His signed photo can go for $300.

28 September 2012

At the Bookshop 1822 and 2012

We posted this extract from an 1820s English/ French conversation manual on our shop website in 2005 and on revisiting it find that it now needs a modern version. It gave an interesting insight into a vanished world.

Note the concern with the appearance and quality of the books, the perennial problems with trying to get the binder to do what the bookseller and customer wants, and on time. The eagerness of the collector to be the first to be offered fresh stock from the shop has changed very little. Also still with us are the problems of delay in postal sytems...

 It is interesting that in the early nineteenth century women bookbuyers were thought likely to be attracted to Large Paper Copies and vellum. The customer's knowledge of book lore and binding styles has changed somewhat.


Well ! you are a man of your word, as usual: and the books that you were to send me, when shall I have them?
Eh bien ! vous etes un homme de parole, comme a l'ordinaire: et ces livres que vous deviez m'emvoyer, quand viendront-ils?

You are under great obligations to your binder; he often furnishes you with an excuse.
Vous avez un relieur a qui vous avez de grardes obligations , car il vous sert souvent de manteau.

I protest that I sent them to him the same day you came to buy them.
Je vous proteste que je les ai fait porter chez lui le meme jour que vous etes venu les acheter.

Well, I am willing to believe you; but, tell me, have you received anything new?
Allons, je veux bien vous croire; mais, dites-mio , avez-vous recu des nouveautes?

None since I had the honour of seeing you; but we have received within these few days the bill of lading of several chests which we expect every hour.
Aucune, depuis que j'ai eul'honneur de vous voir ; mais nous avons recu ces jours-ci le connoissement de plusieurs caisses que nous attendons incessamment.

Do not fail to preserve me a copy of every thing you meet with that is interesting.
N'oubliez pas de me reserver un exemplaire de tout ce qui pourra s'y trouver d'interessant.

Have you Moliere in a small size?
Avez-vous Moliere en petit format?

We have the stereotype edition, on four different kinds of paper.
Nous avons l'edition stereotype, sur quatre differens papiers.

As it is a commission that a lady of my acquaintance has given me, I think I had better take the large vellum paper.
Comme c'est une commission don't une dame de ma connoissance m'a charge, je crois que je ferai bien de prendre le grand papier velin.


Are all your books to be found online?
Sont tous vos livres pour être trouvé en ligne?

I have seen many copies of this book at Amazon some priced as low as 1p

J'ai vu de nombreux exemplaires de ce livre sur Amazon certains prix aussi bas que 1p

The Harrington brothers have a fabulous signed copy of this book in a magnificent binding. Sadly their price is beyond my means.

Les frères Harrington  ont une fabuleuse copie signée de ce livre dans une magnifique reliure. Malheureusement leur prix est au-dessus de mes moyens.

Please email if you see any books about hippies, beatniks, thieves or punks.

Veuillez nous contacter par e-mail si vous voyez des livres de hippies, beatniks, des voleurs ou punks.

He has closed his bookshop and now sells online from his home.

Il a fermé sa librairie et vend maintenant en ligne à partir de son domicile.

We do not sell the Kindle machine. I am sorry to say that we regard it with disfavour

Nous ne vendons pas le Kindle machine. Je suis désolé de dire que nous le considérons avec défaveur.

My price is fair. You can check the current price at ABE on your iPad. 

Mon prix est juste. Vous pouvez vérifier le prix actuel à l'ABE sur votre iPad.

That price is from an American web company called Custodial  Arts. I am sorry to inform you that their prices are utterly ridiculous and they are lunatics.

C'est le prix d'un Américain société web appelé Custodial Arts, je suis désolé de dire que leurs prix sont tout à fait ridicule et ils sont fous.

Thank you. I do not require the Print on Demand edition. They are an abomination. 

Merci. Je ne nécessitent pas un POD edition. Je considère ces livres comme une abomination.

P.S. The latter translation is via Babylon and I am waiting for a colleague in Paris to send a less robotic version.

27 September 2012

Ford Madox Ford as Daniel Chaucer

Daniel Chaucer (ie Ford Madox Ford), The Simple Life Ltd, John Lane, The Bodley Head, London 1911.

Current selling price £300 +

Seeing that every branch of Waterstones is presently crammed with fat paperback reprints of the Parade’s End tetrology, now perhaps is the time for publishers to consider new editions of the less well-known titles by Ford Madox Ford. One of the contenders must be The Simple Life Ltd (1911), one of two satires with similar themes, the other being  The New Humpty Dumpty (1912 ). A reprint would certainly please members of Ford’s fast-growing band of followers. At present there is no copy of The Simple Life Ltd on ABE. Indeed, there appears only to have been one edition, and this is an ever present item on some bookseller’s wants lists.

Simple Life Ltd is still regarded as a ‘curio‘ among critics, positioned somewhere between the early fiction and poetry and the experimental, impressionistic work of Ford’s mature years. Published at a difficult period of his life, just two years after he had been displaced as editor of The Fortnightly Review, it is a satire on Utopian lifestyles, but predominantly focuses on those who corrupt the ideals of the simple-life movement  for their own gain. It features caricatures of many of those with which Ford had been associated a few years earlier, while living a simple life himself  in Pent Farm, Kent and Limpsfield, Surrey. These figures included anarchists and proto-socialists such as Kropotkin, Edward Pease and the Garnetts. The frequently abrasive satire at the expense of many of his former friends may explain why Ford chose to write under the pseudonym Daniel Chaucer, which he continued to use for The New Humpty Dumpty.
The straight-forward plot of the novel revolves around the lives of a group of Simple-Lifers (as they are called throughout the book) who, led by the charismatic Simon Bransdon ( a thinly disguised version of Joseph Conrad) settle in cottages on land belonging to a Tory squire. Here they engage in the usual alternative pursuits of vegetarianism, abstemiousness, weaving, maypole dancing and homeopathy, while they investigate such paranormal phenomena as telepathy and thought transference. This idyllic existence begins to implode when one of the more fervent supporters of the utopian philosophy leaves the colony for university and returns as a Thoreau-like critic of the leader’s achievements, while the colony’s administrator is first revealed as a peculator and then is shown abandoning  the colony to set up his own garden city in East Croydon.
In the end the settlement is destroyed by fire—an appropriately symbolic end for a social experiment that carries within it the seeds of its own destruction.

The Simple Life Limited is interesting from a historical perspective. While it was being written physically threatening anarchist activity (such as the Sydney Street Siege) was continuing in London side by side with the peaceful Garden City movement, which, initiated principally by the Quaker Ebenezer Howard, had borne its first fruit with the establishment in 1903 of Letchworth Garden City. Ford could hardly have been unaware of the ideals of Howard and his disciples and if he visited Letchworth may have noticed that these principles when turned into bricks and mortar did not always benefit those who most deserved to be rewarded. Today, it is ironic to discover that  some of the ‘ early ‘houses in ‘ the World’s First Garden City ‘,though originally built as ‘ affordable ‘ alternatives to the insalubrious terraces of  industrial cities, are now  among the most expensive homes in Hertfordshire, and as such  well beyond the pockets of today’s simple-lifer .

The recent TV-induced surge in the popularity of Ford doesn’t seem to have affected his online values much, if at all. Most firsts, of his many works in fiction and non-fiction come in at under £20, some at under £15. Such low prices are probably a reflection of his high productivity and the necessarily uneven quality of his output, which amounted to, on average, a book a year. Even early editions of the Parades End tetrology aren’t expensive. The exceptions are his ‘masterpiece‘, the Good Soldier (1915), which is online at £2,500, and the two satires, The Simple Life Limited and The New Humpty Dumpty—the latter being of particular interest to those studying the history of socialism and environmentalism.

I would to thank Nathan Waddell of the University of Nottingham for allowing me to see the whole of his article on The Simple Life Limited. [R. M. Healey]

Many thanks Robin. £300 might be cautious for a very sharp copy and in a d/j it would be thrice that. 'Good Soldier' - his masterpiece and a Connolly 100 is, as we have noted, a £10000 book in a jacket. I enjoyed the recent Hueffer fest on the BBC - there are some echoes of 'Simple Life' in the Wannup family. The late Peter Howard had a bunch of early jacketed FMF's he would take to fairs for many a year, oddly they were not subject to his usual very deep discounts...

Above is Ford with Joyce and Pound, the unassuming party on the right is John Quinn, lawyer to the Modernists. His literature collection, sold in 1924 was probably the most desirable of the last 100 years. He owned most of Joseph Conrad’s major manuscripts,  the manuscript of Joyce’s 'Ulysses', Synge’s manuscript of 'The Playboy of the Western World', Eliot’s 'Waste Land' and much of Yeats’ best work in manuscript. Those lawyers...

01 September 2012

Bertrand Russell

Bertrand Russell, Principles of Mathematics, Cambridge University Press. Volume one (all published), 1903

Current selling price   £2,000+

‘ With the beginning of October (1900 )I sat down to write The Principles of Mathematics, at which I had already made a number of unsuccessful attempts . Parts III, IV,V and VI  of the book as published  were written that autumn. I wrote also parts I , II and VII at that time, but had to rewrite them later, so that the book was not finished in its final form until May 1902. Every day throughout  October, November and December, I wrote my ten pages, and finished the MS on the last day of the century, in time to write a boastful letter to Helen Thomas about the 200,000 words that I had just completed …’

Bertrand Russell, Autobiography, volume one, 1967.

Russell, arguably the greatest British philosopher of the twentieth century was just 28 when he undertook this astonishing feat. The title page indicates that a second volume which would be a ‘symbolic account of the assimilation of mathematics to logic ‘was to follow, but Russell later discovered that Alfred North Whitehead was preparing a work along similar lines, and so he decided to collaborate with him on a larger work that would be published as  Principia Mathematica in 1910 – 13. Both books are sought after, but the earlier work is perhaps more in demand from purists. Oddly, it was not even Russell’s first book. German Social Democracy, which appeared in 1896, when Russell was 24, now fetches over $2,500. It is astonishing to think that this was penned when Gladstone was still alive and radio communication and powered flight had not yet been perfected. Russell, of course, lived to see the first men on the moon. Maybe because he was such a presence in intellectual circles for so very, very long, that he is so revered, despite his persistent womanising, for which, oddly enough Albert Einstein is excused. Both men, incidentally, have been retrospectively diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, with Russell being labelled as the more extreme case.

In Principles of Mathematics Russell particularly acknowledged the influence of the logician Peano on his ideas, arguing that mathematics and logic are identical. Indeed, some reviewers felt the book to be of greater interest to philosophers than to mathematicians. It consisted of 59 chapters and was divided into seven parts---indefinables in mathematics, number, quantity and order, infinity and continuity, space, matter and motion. Interestingly, considering that Einstein was working on relativity at the time, Russell anticipates this theory, though he rejected   it. G.H Hardy, who reviewed the book, called Russell’s ‘firm belief in absolute space and time’ old –fashioned. Hardy also felt that although it was 534 pages long, the book was too short. In his view some chapters were too compressed to deal with important issues lucidly.

In 1904 the mathematician Edwin Bidwell Wilson lauded Principles as ‘a monument to patience, perseverance, and thoroughness’. So in demand was it that it went through several editions in Russell’s lifetime and beyond. Today, though it has had its critics, it is still seen as a landmark in philosophy. To Jules Vuillemin writing in 1968 it:

 ‘inaugurated contemporary philosophy…It is serious and its wealth perseveres…it locates itself again today in the eyes of all those that believe that contemporary science has modified our representation of the universe and through this representation, our relation to ourselves and to others .’

Today, first editions of Principles of Mathematics are in great demand, but hard to come by. Presently, ABE has 8 copies available. Even the cheapest, which is rebound, is selling at £387, while those in the original binding, but without jackets, are going for well over £2,000.The print-run must have been pretty small. Russell was not an established name, and even had he been one, new theories in philosophy and mathematics, by their very nature, are only in demand from University departments in these disciplines. Some idea of the risk any publisher took with such a book in this period may be gathered from the problems described by Russell that beset the follow-up, Principia Mathematica (three volumes, 1910 - 13. Apparently, the Cambridge University Press estimated that there would be a £600 loss on the book. The syndics agreed to bear a loss of £300 and the Royal Society donated £200. The remaining £100 had to be found by Russell and Whitehead.

As the author wryly remarked in his Autobiography, 'We thus earned minus £50 each by ten years’ work. This beats the record of Paradise Lost.' [R.M. Healey]

Many thanks Robin. How many dealers have found this book and thought it was just an odd volume? There are quite a few  books like this ('all published') - right now I can only think of a fairly modest Vita Sackille West and Alfred Marshall's Principles of Economics (1890) usually exchangeable for a $1000 bill. As for blameless womanisers you might add Gandhi and JFK! H.G. Wells was something of a satyr but not quite so illustrious...The copy above is for sale at £2000 during next week's York Book Fair (York Modern Books) - a decent looking example with the ownership inscription of A. D. Lindsay Master of Balliol College, Oxford to the front end paper.