RARE BOOK GUIDE - THE RUNNERS, THE RIDERS & THE ODDS
23 June 2012
A popular field with celebs. In his library of over 6,000 books at his home in north Essex, fogeyish Simon Heffer has a large number of modern firsts. One of his luckiest finds is the controversial Unfinished Victory by Arthur Bryant, which suggested that we should not be beastly to the German, and which now sells for more than £150. In 1998 Heffer found a copy online nestling on the shelf of a charity shop in Milton Keynes for an amazing £8. Melvyn Bragg has a complete collection of first editions by D .H. Lawrence, while ex-punk turned ardent royalist, Tony Parsons, collects first editions of his favourite books, which include Lolita, A Clockwork Orange, Catcher in the Rye ( up to £5,000) and the Bond novels. Poetical billionaire Felix Dennis has shelves of modern firsts, all immaculately jacketed, in his Carnaby Street eyrie. These include The Naked and the Dead, To Kill a Mockingbird, Under the Volcano, Voss and Billy Liar.
At one time show business celebs were avid collectors of Music Hall memorabilia. Nowadays, you’d have to be around 100 to remember the era of Chergwin and Little Tich, and so the field for the more pricey stuff is open to genuine, but younger connoisseurs of the Halls, like Roy Hudd, Jools Holland and Paul O’Grady. Hudd is known to collect a wide variety of Music Hall memorabilia. Oddly, I am a little surprised that more of those who admire the London-centric psychogeographers, such as Will Self, Peter Ackroyd and Iain Sinclair, aren’t attracted to Music Hall too. Although he told me that he didn’t have a large library on London, I suspect that Ackroyd does own a few works on the London Music Hall era. Didn’t he write a book on Dan Leno ?
Veteran horror actor Sir Christopher Lee (b. 1922) has confessed to owning only five or six books on the occult, but does admit to having a very large collection of books on the ‘Third Reich, Nazis and the SS ‘,but only because he was involved with war crime investigation... Good excuse, Sir Chris!
Veteran travel writer, Jan Morris, is a great collector of travel books, but is also a book-sniffer. ‘Some people sniff drugs and glue, but I sniff books. It’s just something I’ve always done. ‘ Desmond Morris one told me that a scientist he knew could pinpoint the geographical origin of a book by its smell. He was best at identifying recently published books, but no doubt he was up for older books too. It is well known that American books of a certain vintage have a strong whiff of something resembling root vegetables.
With the rapidly rising interest in arty photographic books, the prescience of Antiques Roadshow pundit David Battie is admirable. He has long been a collector in this neglected field and when I talked to him he became very voluble about his copy of the exceedingly rare The Habit and the Horse (1857), a treatise on ‘ female equitation’ (contains lithographs from photographs by Herbert Watkins) which he claims is the earliest book of this kind. Elton John collects photographs and possibly books of photographs. Bouffant-haired Queen guitarist Dr Brian May has a large collection of photographic books, with a strong focus on stereoscopy, in which he because interested as a child. In the late sixties he discovered the pioneering stereoscopic photography of T. R. Williams relating to an unidentified English village. After many years of research May identified the village as Hinton Waldrist, Oxfordshire and in 2009 published his findings in A Village Lost and Found. This is one of the few books by a rock star that has nothing whatsoever to do with sex, drugs and rock and roll. Identifying the others might be subject of another blog !
‘Uranian’ literature, including books by Edward Carpenter, E. E. Bradford et al., has always had a healthy market, but work by more modern gay writers is perhaps more popular today. It is possible that many gay celebs have good collections. The trouble is, few if any, advertise the fact.
The best known collector of reference works is probably the late prankster Jeremy Beadle, who had an insatiable appetite for facts and figures and used his library to devise fiendishly difficult questions for his TV quiz show.[R.M. Healey] To be continued...
Many thanks Robin. One of the reasons I am not doing much blogging is that this year we bought the immense library of the great Beadle + more recently 2 even larger collections. Occasional tweets and that's it for the moment. A propos of sniffing books - the great dealer Andrew Henderson used to do this. The reasons may be almost occult but at least it can detect the presence of mould...as for Uranians Freddie Mercury collected the the great gay painter Henry Scott Tuke and it's hard to imagine he would not have had at least a few books of 'Love in Earnest' verse and hopefully a bunch of Baron Corvo. Last if the billionaire Felix D still has his 'Voss' a mod-first dealer might give £10 for it if the jacket is fine, but not us.
12 June 2012
It is unlikely that too many movie stars actually collect film-related books; it is much more probable that this province belongs to film-buffs. Chief of them all is Leonard Maltin, who devotes himself to classic movie memorabilia, including film stills, posters and books. When he was interviewing Ginger Rogers at her home he spotted a book of juvenile fiction on one of her shelves, at which Ms Rogers exclaimed: ‘ My mother wrote that ‘. It turned out that Lela Rogers had indeed published Ginger Rogers and the Riddle of the Scarlet Cloak (1942 ). Later on, he found a copy in a second hand bookstore and sent it to her to inscribe for him. Today a poor copy of this book can be yours for around $1. One with a jacket is currently online at $60.
As well as the obvious celebrity chefs, such as Anton Mossiman, Delia Smith and Jamie Oliver, a less obvious collector is Jake Gyllenhaal, star of Brokeback Mountain. In an interview Gyllenhaal confessed that as well as eating healthily and growing his own food, he loved collecting old cookery books:
‘ I have a massive section in my library of beautiful old cookery books. I really have a strange obsession with them…’
Madonna collects books, but perhaps only President Bill Clinton knows exactly what she collects. Not too long ago, probably while he was here for the Hay Festival, he took Madge for a tour of Charing Cross Road. Did she visit Any Amount of Books ? Other celebs who described themselves as collectors include Chelsea Clinton and Twilight star Robert Patinson, though doubtless security considerations prevent many other celebs from revealing their collections to the wider world.
Veteran lyricist and composer Leslie Bricusse (Goldfinger, Scrooge, You Only Live Twice, Doctor Doolittle, Willy Wonka, Harry Potter etc etc ) has amassed a superb collection of books on fine printing at his home in California. Recently, a few books from his collection that were signed by the Beatles have appeared on the market.
Bryan Forbes bought the books of Graham Greene, including the rare Rumour At Nightfall ,when they first appeared. Around 1951 he got to know the author personally and they remained friends until Greene’s death in 1991.On being presented with one of his books Greene would sign it for his friend and a few months before he died he presented Forbes’ wife Nannette Newman, of Fairy Liquid fame, with a signed copy of the ‘very rare‘ The Third Man. Being a collector himself, Greene would have appreciated the significance of this particular presentation. Other well known collectors of Greene include Melvyn Bragg and Bernie Taupin.
The late multimillionaire Bee Gee, Robin Gibb, was extremely keen on British history and had a sizeable library at the 12th century Prebendal, his main home in Thame. In an interview he admitted that he loved anything ‘old ‘ and certainly he belongs with Sting, Mick Jagger, Jimmy Page and Elton John as a rock star with remarkable taste, at least in architecture. Such is the importance of The Prebendal that Pevsner devotes two whole pages to it and contends that the 13th century Chapel is 'one of the most elegant EE buildings in the county’.
Johnny Depp, star of the antiquarian book movie The Ninth Gate, has confessed to being an avid collector of Jack Kerouac firsts, as well as those by Edgar A. Poe, and Dylan Thomas. Reportedly to have ‘weird‘ tastes, he is said to collect dolls, insects and 'pig skeletons' too.
Vorticism is very cool at present (witness a simple Etchells composition on paper that went for more than £100,000 recently ! ) and arch-Vorticist Lewis has many admirers, particularly among the rock music fraternity. These include the late Captain Beefheart, Brian Ferry, David Bowie, and Holly Johnson, among many. Iain Sinclair is also a keen collector. The tale of how he assembled an almost complete collection of Lewis on one visit to Farringdon Road is fascinating:
‘They were in a box and Jeffery didn’t allow people to examine them. It was pot luck. The box had a price tag on it, but you took a chance on whether the contents were worth the £75, or whatever it was. You knew he’d bought them in some auction, and had an idea of their value, but it was a gamble. Well, I bought that box of Wyndham Lewis and I still have them. A few items needed repair, but most were in pretty good nick and now I own virtually a complete Wyndham Lewis collection, including some rare volumes in dust jackets, like Snooty Baronet, which would have paid for the whole thing anyway.’
Veteran publisher Tom Rosenthal, the model for one half of Private Eye’s Snipcock and Tweed, is a fanatical Lewis man too. However, his superb library of major modernist literature, which also includes wonderful firsts of Conrad, Joyce and D. H. Lawrence, is also notable for the remarkable absence of books by a certain T. S. Eliot. ‘He’s an anti-Semite and I don’t want his books in my library...' he once growled to an amazed Rick Gekoski. More sensibly, Rosenthal also excludes anything by Mrs Virginia Woolf: ‘Boring books, never admired her ‘.
In pursuit of books on his home county of Nottinghamshire the late Alan Sillitoe was an inveterate browser among second hand bookshops wherever he went. He found many treasures in or around Sussex and Kent. His theory was that because people from the North and Midlands often retire to the south-east coast their book collections end up there after their deaths. Interestingly, Sillitoe only kept one copy of his debut novel Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, which is the only Sillitoe title to fetch much money today.
Romantic novelist and professional Cumbrian Melvyn Bragg also collects books on his native county: ‘ I’ve been told by my friends that I have the best collection of books relating to Cumbria and my birthplace Wigton.’, he claimed. [R. M. Healey]
To be continued…
Many thanks Robin. It should be mentioned that Bragg is almost entirely uncollected and his books, even signed, can be bought for the price of a cup of tea. The Donn Byrne of our day. Who was he? Exactly. Enough Bragg bashing (I can do this because I am not seeking work in media.) Pig skeletons? Where does Depp get them? Are there dealers? Lastly I don't remember Clinton and Madonna coming in the shop but we get so many celebs (Boris, Hanif, Edwina) they may have gone unnoticed...