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.
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.
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.
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.
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...