25 February 2012

Claude Houghton. I am Jonathan Scrivener (1930)

Claude Houghton. I AM JONATHAN SCRIVENER. Thornton Butterworth, London, 1930.

Current Selling Prices
$150-$250 /£100-£160

I first heard of this book when we were buying a wagon-load of (mostly) review books from the British actor and writer Simon Callow. He seems to be using a different dealer now, probably a friend or relation, possibly a dealer more generous than us, although that seems unlikely…The name of the novelist and poet Claude Houghton came up in literary banter and SC mentioned that Houghton's novel I am Jonathan Scrivener had been an influence on Orson Welles in the plotting and style of Citizen Kane - the 'prismatic approach.' Having written a fat bio of Welles his word has some weight and the web bears out this idea with several articles on the matter (some require money to read.) Certainly when I read the book I could see his point, although AJA Symons Quest for Corvo could also be seen in this light. The plot unfolds thus:

One James Wrexham, an impoverished but well-educated Englishman past his first youth answers an advertisement in the London Times and becomes secretary to the mysterious, invisible Jonathan Scrivener.
He never sees his employer, who goes abroad after hiring him (solely on the strength of his letter of application.) Wrexham’s only duties are to live in Scrivener’s London flat, catalogue his library, receive his friends, write occasional reports to his absent employer. One by one Scrivener’s friends turn up in search of him, get acquainted with Wrexham, tell him what they think of Scrivener. Each description is different…who exactly is Jonathan Scrivener?

OK no-one utters the word 'Rosebud' but it is credible as an input for the 'greatest film ever'. The book was a best- seller in its day, especially in USA and the Penguin paperback sold 100,000 copies. ABE has 6 Penguins from £5 to £25 the latter price for a fine copy in a near fine d/w. Penguin jackets often turbo charge prices….The hardback British first can go for £160 fine in jacket and the Simon and Schuster first USA for a little less, although some patient dealers want $200+ for copies sans jacket.

Henry Miller wrote in The Books in My Life that 'it would have made a wonderful movie' and there is even speculation that Godot came out of it, possibly Sam B read it, there was even a French edition Je suis Jonathan Scrivener. The IMDB database shows that it was filmed for TV in 1952 in the Studio One in Hollywood series. The French edition of 1954 has an intro by Henry Miller.

There are some quotable lines in the book:

"Most of us commit suicide, but the fact is only recognized if we blow our brains out.”

“I’ve met a number of people who had endured agonies in their determination not to suffer.”

“To solve a problem, you must have all the data or none.”

At the recent auction of some of Peter Howard's stock in Los Angeles I managed to acquire the typed/ corrected manuscript of the book. I look forward to cataloguing it when it arrives back in the UK. It came with the MS of his novel The Riddle of Helena and the cataloguer records that Claude Houghton (1889-1961) 'enjoyed success as a writer of metaphysical thrillers.' Another cataloguer notes that he was admired by P G Wodehouse and Hugh Walpole. Doubleday, his American publisher described him as 'this fascinating romantic mystic...who insists that there are more spiritual worlds than this one in which we live and that it is man's chief business to discover his relations to these worlds."

Fittingly, four of his novels are listed by E. F. Bleiler in his Checklist of Science Fiction and Supernatural Fiction under such categories as 'mental aberration' 'after death experiences 'visitors from other worlds,times' and 'Supermen.' All the Bleiler titles are obtainable, often signed, at fairly reasonable prices. In his day he was compared to D.H. Lawrence and Emily Bronte, because like both of them he had made a decisive break with the 'novel of manners.' He now belongs in the honourable category of forgotten or even neglected writers but in the 'long tail' of consumer demand his books are likely to be always saleable.

20 February 2012

Yoko Ono / Grapefruit

Yoko Ono. GRAPEFRUIT. ( Tokyo, Wunternaum Press 1964)
Current Selling Price
$9000 /£6000

Well-heeled collectors of early Beatles memorabilia ( signed programmes, posters, concert tickets, song lyrics written on napkins etc etc ) may not thank you for offering them a first of Yoko Ono’s Grapefruit, signed or otherwise, at a hefty price. Many fans still blame Ono for contributing to the splitting of the Fab Four and for taking John in a direction that would ultimately lead to his violent death.

Such narrow-mindedness seems absurd when we think of what Lennon achieved while with Ono. As for the woman herself, one art historian has called her ‘ one of the most daring , innovative and eccentric artist-performers of her time’.

Oko was a leading figure with the Fluxus art movement, which originated in New York City in the early sixties and eventually spread to Japan. Fluxus, according to one critic, ‘ encompasses a reductive gesturality, part Dada, part Bauhaus and part Zen, and presumes that all media and all artistic disciplines are fair game for combination and fusion ‘. John Cage was an early member of the movement and ‘do-it-yourself ’ music was often performed. As well as a performer, Ono sees herself as a musician and the instructions she and others issued for enacting the art work they called an ‘ event’ was called an ‘event score’. In Grapefruit she collects some of ‘ pieces’ ( such as ‘Clock Piece’ and ‘Laundry Piece ‘) that she enacted in galleries and concert halls, mainly in the USA. Here are some of the pieces/scores included in Grapefruit:

Imagine the clouds dripping.
Dig a hole in your garden to
Put them in.

Let people copy or photograph your paintings.
Destroy the originals.

Think that snow is falling. Think that snow is falling
Everywhere all the time. When you talk with a person think
Snow is falling between you and the person.
Stop conversing when you think the person is covered by snow.

One can see the influence of Japanese graphic art, the art of haiku and Zen in such ‘instructions ‘.

As you might expect, Grapefruit is as minimal in appearance as a piece of Raku pottery. In fact, from the outside it looks like nothing more than an artist’s sketchbook, square in shape and covered with a dull light brown or cream wrapper. Some way down on the left of the front cover Ono ( a fan of calligraphy ) has inscribed in black ink the single word Grapefruit. Inside, the instructions are printed in black ink using a number of subtly different typefaces.
There are conflicting accounts regarding the first meeting of John and Yoko, but it is generally accepted that the year was 1966, that soon afterwards Yoko sent John a signed copy of Grapefruit, and that the Beatle was intrigued by both book and artist. The rest is history.

The pre-publication price of Grapefruit was a mere $3; post publication it doubled. It is not known exactly how many of the edition of 500 were sold. I can’t imagine that Ono kept a list of buyers. It has been said that no copy has appeared at auction for thirty-five years and that this is because most remain with Japanese art collectors, who are hanging on to their copies. However, a well known London dealer has a nice copy for sale at £12,000, and there must be other Grapefruits circulating in the UK, perhaps bought in the era of Flower Power and forgotten about. One of these was acquired by a friend of mine, who now wishes to sell it (see me for details) at a price far below the £12,000 cited. A much expanded trade edition was published by Schuster and Peter Owen in 1970 and a year later Sphere brought out their own edition. These later copies range in price from $20 – $40, though one dealer wants a very un-Zen like £2,250 for one signed by both Yoko and John. [R.M. Healey}

Many thanks Robin. Hope that one finds a buyer-- it certainly should. I remember Yoko as an avant-garde artist before John loomed so large...She used to get people to cut bits off her clothes with scissors at the Round House. Fluxus surely. I always heard that they met at the Indica Gallery in Southampton Row, probably the most interesting thing to happen in that street since Maclaren-Ross moved out of the Bonnington. Meanwhile £2250 for a copy of the UK ed signed by Yoko and John may not be unbuyable - especially less 20 % and with 3 post dated cheques stretching into 2013. A better investment than Groupon shares.

Btw the plain white copy above is the true 1964 first, the title being always handwritten on the cover by Yoko. The b/w one is the USA first, John and Yoko are holding the UK first. Gorrit?

15 February 2012

Andre Raffalovich

In a box of pamphlets and booklets at the California Book Fair recently I found a catalogue by the legendary Anthony D'Offay. It appears to date from 1961 and was sent from an address in Jamaica Street, Edinburgh. D'Offay, 21 at the time, was one of the great post war booksellers and probably the richest although most of his money was made in modern art. Books probably provided the seed capital for a business fortune large enough to enable him to generously donate £125 million worth of art to the nation in 2008. His first great coup was to locate and buy much of the book and manuscript collections of the John Gray and his lifelong companion Andre Raffalovich.

Both poets were Roman Catholic converts, both gay and very much creatures of the 1890s--the great English decadence. Also their work is seriously collected and quite valuable - a completist collection of their published books in decent condition would leave little change from $60,000, with Raffalovich using up most of one's funds. In D'Offay's catalogue he has 3 works by Raffalovich. Roses of Shadow a short play which AOD suggests lampoons Wilde with lines such as 'Even my red carnation is getting faded... I wish red flowers never died. I love red I always wear red: the red flower of a passionate life.' It was privately published in 1895 in a very small edition. D'Offay needed 5 guineas for a fine copy, a copy has been sitting on ABE for some while at a fairly challenging £4000 - not as nice as the 1961 copy but a presentation copy from Raffalovich to film star Ernest Thesiger. It is by no means Raffalovich's most valuable book.

Raffalovich, who was quite wealthy, had 2 bookplates one by Eric Gill (top) and one by Austin Osman Spare (one of his best) they always enhance the value of any books they are found in... [to be continued]

08 February 2012

Three of the rarest twentieth century books on magic...

Guy Jarrett. Jarrett Magic and Stagecraft ( Written, printed and bound by the author 1936) Current selling price $4,000 +

Guy Jarrett was the magician’s magician. An astonishingly accomplished technical magician and inventor, he was extremely scathing about the deficiencies of his fellow illusionists and apparently difficult to work with. In 1936 he decided to disclose the secrets of his inventions in a book that he would print and bind himself. Using foundry type and a simple printing machine he went about his task, which involved actually writing the book as he set the type for each page, which he printed one at a time. This was not unlike the John Bull method of printing, though with metal rather than with rubber type. As each page was printed Jarrett would remove the type and reassemble it for the next page. The book contained 106 pages and, according to the author, 582,489 characters. It took Jarrett a year to complete this awesome project ( he claimed to have printed 400 copies ) after which he allowed himself a little self-congratulation on the last page:

‘This is a hell of a good book. I just read it. I invented the tricks, built the tricks, made the drawings, set the type, printed the book, and will bind the book. All over and out ‘

Jarrett was as good as his word. He did indeed bind his book in blue cloth—very badly, according to one critic—and on the cover of it in silver lettering he stamped the single word ‘ JARRETT ‘. He priced the book at an amazingly cheap $5, but it didn’t sell. He then advertised that he would increase the price by one dollar a month until it reached $10, at which point he would throw away all the unsold copies. Luckily, he didn’t carry out this threat, but no-one really knows how many copies of Jarrett Magic and Stagecraft have survived. Because of the lack of interest from magicians it is likely that the author bound only around 70 or 80 copies from the sheets. There is evidence that he gave away copies to magicians he liked. As a result, and perhaps because of its poor binding, the book is now exceedingly rare and much sought after by the wealthier professional magicians. Historian Jim Steinmeyer, who in 1981 reprinted it with his own comments as The Complete Jarrett, calls it one of the most important books on illusion ever published.

Wilf Huggins (ed), The Midget Magician ( Published by the author at 171, Argyle Avenue, Hounslow, Middlesex, January 1951 – March 1960 ) Current selling price $8,000+

This was a magazine of truly Lilliputian proportions, each volume being around half the size of a pocket diary, and like Auden’s famous Poems of 1928, hand printed on an Ardana press. Essentially a miscellany of articles on the history of magic, it was published by subscription by magician Wilf Huggins in an edition of 50 for each of its 38 issues. Probably only 30 complete sets have survived, some of which are in academic libraries. The Library of the Magic Circle, for instance, holds one set in limp leather. In 2000 a fan tried to track down the current owners of complete sets and discovered that at least 17 sets were unaccounted for. Individual issues may still in circulation, though the tiny dimensions of each copy would militate against many surviving. Like Jarrett, The Midget Magician is a legendary rarity among collectors, and is probably on more ‘ wants lists ‘ than any other magic books.

S. W. Erdnase, Artifice, Ruse and Subterfuge at the Card Table ( Published by the author, 1902). Current selling price £1,000 +. Later reprints $300 +

The first book to describe in great detail all the gambling moves in cards, and as such is greatly sought after by card magicians throughout the world. Mystery, however surrounds the identity of the author. Obviously, S. W. Erdnase is an anagram and a number of writers have proposed theories. The most substantial book ( 420 pages ) on the subject is The Man who was Erdnase by Bart Waley with Martin Gardner and Jeff Busby, who argue that the mystery figure was an American con man, gambler and murderer called Milton Franklin Andrews . All later issues bear the date 1902, but only the first edition was bound in green cloth. [R. M. Healey]

Many thanks. Too busy to post anything myself and even found it hard to find suitable, clear images-- the top photo is of a late reprint of Erdnasse's fabulous work here got up like a bible and said to be almost as useful as the great book. The other photo ( Jarrett) seems to be from a catalogue of a forthcoming sale where no doubt the book will make the right price...Rock on Robin, will get back to scribbling when these book fairs are behind me...