22 May 2012

More celebrity collections

American books
The late Gordon Burn, a near genius of true crime narrative  
(biogs of Peter Sutcliffe and the Wests), and a devotee of Truman Capote, and Richard Ford, adored the physicality of American books, which he collected, along with magazines like Esquire. ’ I like the paper they use. I like the way they leave the edges untrimmed. I like the way they provide those little notes at the back about the typeface they’ve used’.

Veteran Torygraph fogey Simon Heffer is ‘ hugely into architecture ‘ and owns a full set of Pevsner’s Buildings of England, though he admits that he spent years searching for the hardback editions of North Devon, South Devon and Middlesex ( so very common in paperback form), before finally tracking them down in Ken Spelman’s York bookshop. He also collects ( or collected ) Thomas Carlyle. Comedian Griff Rhys Jones is also keen on architecture, as is Sir Michael Caine, who once admitted that he would have liked to have been an architect. Janet Street Porter trained as one, but did not practice. She collects contemporary art and in 1981 published a book on collecting British teapots.
Augustan literature
Today, a bit out of fashion, but ex Times editor and sometime bookseller Lord Rees-Mogg, has always seemed unashamedly fuddy-duddy, and his MP son Jacob is resolutely keeping up the family tradition. Rees-Mogg prefers the Augustan political values of social balance to those of Romantic individualism, and when I interviewed him in 1998 I wasn’t surprised to learn that from an early age he had been a keen collector of Edmund Burke, Alexander Pope and Samuel Johnson. While studying history at Oxford he bought many books in his chosen field. ‘In the fifties and early sixties there was a lot of Pope around. No-one seemed very keen and therefore it was possible to assemble a very good Pope collection ‘. Johnson too was cheap back then. In 1950 from Blackwell’s Rees-Mogg secured a complete set of the first edition of Johnson Lives of the Poets with the prefaces and a very rare extra leaf . ‘There were 68 volumes, all in boards, uncut. I paid £7.15s., I think ‘.
Another devoted collector of Johnson and other writers of the period was the late, great Frank Muir, comic scriptwriter and ‘ Call My Bluff ‘ veteran, who confessed that he often felt ‘born out of his time’ and ought to have lived in the eighteenth century.


As an undergraduate fogeyish Rees Mogg, may have had few good words for Wordsworth and Coleridge, but a few decades later he developed a grudging respect for Romanticism—or at least for William Blake. His anecdote about discovering a glass engraved by the great man in a sale at Christie’s is worth repeating : “ It was an ordinary rummer with the bottom broken off, he told me “There was a very Blakean angel on it, and an inscription which read 'Blake in anguish, Felpham August 1804’…I couldn’t see that it was wrong.”
A Times lackey was sent to bid for it and it was knocked down to Rees Mogg for £55. The ‘Felpham Rummer’, as it was dubbed, was afterwards sold to the famous Corning Glass Museum in New York, where it remains on display ‘ No expert has ever questioned its authenticity’, he claims.

James Bond
It is not known whether unlikely-looking Bond actor Daniel Craig collects Ian Fleming firsts, but as he is moving into a large house with his beauteous wife Rachel Weisz, in a village just two miles from me, I may have a chance to ask him. I don’t see any of the other Bond actors as collectors, but I may be wrong. However, film director and thriller writer Bryan Forbes is, or was, a collector, and told me that before prices started rising he was selling in his bookshop nice copies of all the Bond novels, including Casino Royale, in dust jackets for just £50 each.  
Children’s books
A collecting field very popular with celebs. Fans include finger ring fetishist and multi-award winning author Jacqueline Wilson, whose early loves were the late Victorian writers Mrs Molesworth, and the lesser known Frances Crompton, and also Edith Nesbit. Sarah Michelle Gellar is another. She  casually mentions her interest in 'classic children’s literature', is not too forthcoming about authors, but surely must own a first of Dracula. Columnist Lucy Mangan, who famously complained in the Guardian Magazine that booksellers were always moaning about their lot ('they live this idyllic life surrounded by books and they practically growl at you') has a ‘ rag-tag ‘ collection of  assorted children’s literature, including a pristine set of Joyce Lancaster Brisley’s Milly Molly Mandy books and much Enid Blyton, She decries the idea of collecting first editions, however, believing  it to be a ‘ bloke thing ‘.

R. M. Healey
To be continued…

Many thanks Robin. Craig was in a Waugh adaptation ('Sword of Honour') so he might also collect him. I have actually seen Ms Gellar (aka Buffy the Vampire Slayer) at a bookfair. 

The number of stars to be seen at bookfairs is small but growing. It's a safe environment and you are unlikely to be pressured into blowing a lot of cash...

15 May 2012

Tardis and the art of bargain hunting

Ever fantasised about hijacking the Tardis and going back in time to bag books that were going for pennies or a shilling ( or even gratis ) and returning to a UK in recession and selling them for tens or hundreds of thousands ? Of course you have. Mind you, you’d have to deal in the correct currency, but a few visits to auctions houses or coin dealers might solve the problem. But do take a stout bag (perhaps a large backpack) and plenty of cash.

1) Shelley’s Queen Mab (1813 ), a few old pence
    Shelley’s Revolt of Islam (1818) 6d.
In 1822, following Shelley’s death, wily old atheist Richard Carlile somehow managed to bag around 180 sheets of the privately printed poem, the author having already given away about 70 bound copies to friends. Ideally, you would need to get there before Carlile, but if you were too late, the radical rascal might do a deal. Fresh out of jail, he would need the money. If you bagged the lot for £5, you might struggle to carry the sheets back home to 2012, but it would be worth it.  Harrington has a association copy  for £14,500, but even if you consigned ordinary copies ten times a year to auction houses in various parts of the world  over a period of ,say, eighteen years, you’d end up (after paying commission) with around £1.5m profit !
Shelley’s Revolt of Islam, which was published at the poet’s own expense in an edition of 750, did so badly in 1818 that in 1829 the family ( Shelley’s widow or pater, Sir Timothy ) sold the unbound sheets to  pirate bookseller John Brooks, in bundles of 25 for sixpence a copy. Brooks then sold them in his bookshop for half a crown (12 1/2p). You could do much better than Brooks in 2012. Actually, over £100, 000 better.

2) Keats’ Endymion (1818). A penny halfpenny.
Publishers Taylor and Hessey were so alarmed at sales that they sold the remaining sheets of Keats’ long poem to a bookseller /waste paper merchant called Edward Stibbs for a penny halfpenny (half a pee) a copy. This Stibbs character then paid a jobbing bookbinder tuppence halfpenny ( 1p) to bind some sheets and the resulting bound volumes were sold in Stibbs’s Strand bookshop for 1s 6d. History doesn’t record exactly how many sets of sheets were bound or what happened to those that weren’t. Had you landed in the London of the original Tom and Jerry in 1821 doubtless you could have found Stibbs’s shop and done a deal with him for all the sheets  over a jug of ale and a visit to The Fives Court  to see Bill Neat box . But whatever you do, don’t mention that a copy of a bound Endymion in 2012 would fetch a cool £6,000 !

3) A ticket for Shillibeer’s Omnibus (1829). One (old) penny upwards.
It’s not worth the risk of drowning to snaffle a Titanic menu, but land in 1829 instead  and while you’re buying the unsold sheets of son Percy’s Revolt of Islam for a bargain while also  checking out Mr Peel’s new-fangled ‘bobbies’, you could make your way to the New Road and try collecting  some used bus tickets from the floors of Mr George Shillibeer’s new patent Omnibus. The earliest ‘bus tickets ever issued in the UK rarely, if ever, appear on the market, but when they do they generally make more than a £100. Just think of how many you could cram into your bag. 

4) Edward Fitzgerald’s Rubaiyiat of Omar Khayyam (1859) 1d or 2d.
 Whizz back to the year 1861 and make your way to the Castle Street bookshop of Bernard Quaritch, where in the bargain box you’d find priced either at one, two or four old pennies, many copies of the remaining stock of young Mr Fitzgerald’s translation of the Persian classic, which had found no buyers at the original 1859 price of one shilling. Grab as many as you can, and in case scholar Whitley Scott and some of his literary cronies, haven’t bought their own copies, leave some in the box for them to discover. Even if you only managed to buy 50 copies, at the 2012 price of around £28,000each, those slim volumes would be worth around £1.5 m today.

5) Catalogue of Manet and the Post impressionists (1910) One shilling at the door.
Programme the Tardis to land off Bond Street on or about 8  November 1910. Here you will find the Grafton Galleries, where an exhibition of poncy  foreign ‘ artists ‘, most of whom couldn’t even draw properly, should be worth a look. While you’re there buy twenty or more catalogues at a shilling a pop. Roger Fry might be on the till and you could possibly bump into Virginia or Lytton.  Even without illustrations, copies of the catalogue now sell for well over £1,000, so that’s a cool £20,000  profit. Now that’s what I call ‘making an impression ‘.

Ain’t time travel a wonderful thing ? [R. M. Healey]

Many thanks Robin. A fascinating game, but don't forget the 'Diamond as big as the Ritz' factor - with so many duplicates of these items the market would flatten unless you teased them out over a decade or two... the best move at the Post Impressionists would be to swan around with your catalogue, buy £1000 worth of pics, about a dozen (they were on sale) concentrating on heavy hitters like Van Gogh and Cezanne, load them into a Tardis Transit Van parked around the corner in Haunch of Venison Yard, come back to now and bang them in auction and then look for your name on the Sunday Times list (£1.2 Billion). You could keep the catalogue as a memento -the money, as always is in the art.

03 May 2012

Never mind the length…

I once sold a small folded sheet of printed paper with a hole through the middle of it for over £300. Mind you, it was an exceedingly rare printed example in Latin of Lord Northumberland’s address from the scaffold in 1552, possibly published on the Continent for propaganda purposes. Weirdly, one previous owner who evidently ‘didn’t have the Latin’ thought it was something to do with boar-hunting ! According to the auction house, without the tiny hole (which affected text) it may have fetched twice or even three times as much. Sigh.

So, let’s look at one or two of the shortest works ever published and the extraordinary prices they command.

George Santayana, Lines on leaving the Bedford Street Schoolhouse (Boston 1880) Four pages. $750

The great Spanish-born philosopher George Santayana is perhaps more appreciated in his adopted USA than in the UK, which may explain why his four page Lines on leaving Bedford Street Schoolhouse bears such a large price tag. The short poem, his first publication, appeared when he was just 17 and on his way to a brilliant career at Harvard. Most of his subsequent published works, which in addition to philosophical treatises promoting his particular brand of scepticism and pragmatism, include a novel, volumes of memoirs and poetry, fetch nothing like this high figure, though naturally, like any other original thinker, he has his collectors.

American Declaration of Independence, 1776. Print run of 500. $8.14 million

In 1776 five hundred ‘official ‘broadsheets declaring the independence of the United States were rushed off the press and distributed, presumably to lawmakers and politicians, across the new nation. Over the years various copies, in various states of repair, have been found, in public collections, framed behind glass or among the papers of deceased individuals in the US. Up to 1987 only three copies were known to be in private hands, but in this year a browser found a picture in a garage sale in Pennsylvania and bought it because he liked the frame. We’ve all done it. However, on removing the art work he discovered an almost mint copy of the Declaration being used as a lining. Possibly it had once been proudly displayed in the frame, only to be supplanted by the artwork at some point.

The lucky owner hung onto it for four years, until he consigned to the Sotheby’s where it sold for $2.42 m in 1991. Nine years later it was bought at auction by Norman Lear, the TV producer, for a whopping $8.14m. In 2006 a varnished copy of the 1820 edition, which the wife of a pipe fitter had donated to a charity shop, was bought for $2.48 by another jammy browser, who sold it on for a cool $477,650. Other copies must still be out there.

Single pages

Although, strictly speaking, single sheets torn from very ancient books don’t belong here, some opportunistic online dealers still try to convince punters that a single printed page from any black-letter work printed before 1600 is valuable per se. For instance, two ABE dealers from Glastonbury and Cumbria both have different single pages from the Udall translation of The Paraphrases of Erasmus (1548) for sale at £55 and £95 respectively, slightly ambitious when one considers that the whole volume of 900 plus pages can be had for around £2,500. It’s a very rare book, admittedly, but not exactly incunabula. Better value, considering that it is the very first book to be printed using moveable type, is a single page from the Gutenberg Bible, which retails at the Great Site in the USA at around $100,000, according to which section of the book it comes from. In May Bloomsbury will be selling a page from a Gutenberg, so it will be interesting to see what such a rare item fetches. The estimate is £25,000- £30,000 [R. M. Healey.]

Many thanks Robin. Talking of one sheet items one must not forget Joyce's broadside poem 'Gas from a Burner' (Trieste, 1912) which leaves little change from $20,000 and the one page poem 'Winter Ship' distributed by Sylvia Plath on the streets of Edinburgh in 1960. Only 60 copies and worth about £1500.Kerouac's 1966 broadside poem 'A Pun for Al Gelpi' is worth about the same and there are countless ephemeroids in 4 and 5 figures (like a ticket to a Mozart concert or last week's Titanic menu.) As for leaves from the Gutenberg Bible an incomplete copy was broken in the 1920s and leaves were issued by A Edward Newton in a book called 'A Noble Fragment'. 23 copies have shown up since 2000 and the last 4 made just over $40000 each and one in 1998 with 4 leaves made $85,000. Leaves from Shakespeare Folios also appear and make useful sums...