I thought I would record this dogged description of a ‘dog’ (booksellers slang for an unsaleable book.) I have forgotten what the title was but as I recall it was not at all valuable even in decent condition, and certainly not rare. The best that could be said of it is that it was a ‘working copy.’ Why the seller persisted with his or her description is a mystery. At least they did not end the description ‘else fine.’ Most sellers would put it in the recycling bin, surely no charity or thrift shop would accept it:
A few library marks…First 2 leaves barely attached. Front inner hinge tender. Green cloth fraying at tips, scuffed. Scattered, light pencil marks mostly to margins. Light spotting to endpapers. Ex-Library. Rebound in modern, library-style binding. Serious tears to 3 of the 4 folding maps, 1 repaired with tape, 1 with careful stitching. Short tear to 4th map. Water stain to lower portion of text block. Foxing throughout. Twenty-Fifth Thousand. Brown cloth, lightly faded on spine, embossed decoration and gilt in center of front boards. Both volumes have amateur repair to frayed tips and spine ends, spines glued to text blocks, moderate foxing and soil to leaves. Last signature in vol 1 tender. Owners’ names on front endpapers: 16 plates, some starting to detach. 25 short tears to margin of text, some repaired with tape or showing residue from tape. Inner spine tender. Former owner has covered the cloth and front paste-downs with a clear, adhesive backed plastic cover. Green cloth is a bit grubby, spine lettering rubbed. Folding map has 1 short tear to margin. Scattered foxing. Binding tender. Lower half of backstrip missing. Full spine and board corners reinforced by clear tape. Boards soiled, title page more so. Lacking half-title and frontis. …Volume 2 has a serious chip to top of spine…
Photo below is of some distressed books glimpsed at Warwick Castle.
Martin Stone's Forgotten Shelf book catalogue no. 5: Modern Literature Fantasy and Detective Fiction - November 1982. The macabre cover was hand-coloured by impecunious students and the image from the cover taken from a Marcel Schwob novel Coeur Double (Paris, 1891.) Martin, now an expat in Paris, is still going strong but has not done a catalogue since the 1980s. The dedication reads..
Thanks should go to Mr. D. Attoe of Wapping and Mr. Robin Summers for sterling excavation work in the compiling of this catalogue. A tip of the hat also to Iain Sinclair of Albion Village Books for light shed in some obscure bibliographic corners and to Skoob Books for the use of congenial office facilities beyond the boundaries of the East End.
There follows a poem by David Attoe, now a US expat and at that time poet, book collector and Ford Madox Ford expert. He later published a novel Lion at the Door (Little, Brown, 1989) which had a great succes d'estime, even carrying a blurb from Thomas Pynchon.
Poster for Tom's Midnight Garden
(Leeds Children's Theatre)
Found in the Peter Haining hoard a rare book catalogue from about 1990 with an introduction ('Chat Dept.') by the cataloguer. This was J. J. Rigden (Books) of Kent, dealing mostly in fantasy-- if still around he would be pushing 90. These 'chats' by dealers are much prized. A dealer once told me that when he omitted them sales went down and there were protests…this one is a classic of its kind:
The onset of autumn.. the approach of Christmas.. the inevitable rise in postal costs.. This leads us nicely on to a point we must make clear. We always despatch your parcels by the cheapest possible rate. Since we live in a mad world, this sometimes means first class letter rate, rather than a parcel rate.
Over a wet Bank Holiday weekend, we watched a children's fantasy on T.V. Time Slip always a popular subject, now incorporated with sci-fi. Many famous authors have written around this theme, both adult and children's. My first remembered introduction to it was listening in the 1930's to Saturday Night Theatre. The B.B.C drama players put on some wonderful plays J. M. Barrie's "Mary Rose" made a great impression on me. My first introduction to Barrie apart front eh magical Peter Pan of course. Another play that filled me with horror was W. W. Jacobs "The Monkey Paw". Two themes that occur over and over again in children's stories, time slip and three wishes. Always in the three wishes stories the last wish has to be used to 'undo' the first two! (Well, I say "always".. someone will come up with a three wishes story that proves me wrong!) If time slip is a theme that interests you, have you read Alison Uttley's 'Traveller in Time', Lucy's Boston's 'Green Knowe' stories, Jane Curry' s' The Daybreakers', 'Moondial'.. I think this was by Helen Cresswell, quite recent so to in the reference book). These are some of the lesser known titles on this theme. Tom's Midnight Garden everyone known about. Stories so much more believable than the film just shown.. 'Back to the Future'.
The five volume auction catalogue of Boulard's vast collection showed up in auction at Christies New York in 2005. It made $5750. It does not appear to have ever left the book trade - possibly book dealers are almost the only collectors for them - and the exact same set is now on sale online at $20000. Christie's catalogue entry is below. It should be noted that Boulard was also a distinguished translator - the French Wikipedia list many of his works (they put the size of his book collection at a mere 500,000.) He translated works from English (including much Dr. Johnson) Italian, German and Latin and also translated from French into German. During the revolutionary period publisher's note him as 'Citoyen Boulard.' Lawrence S. Thompson in his Notes on Bibliokleptomania, without much evidence, writes that Boulard "...had 'itchy fingers' whenever he saw a volume that could not be bought and excited the acquisitive instincts in him." Another interesting note of Thompson's is that '…when the collection was auctioned off in 1828-1833, it played havoc with the Paris market.' One wonders how long it took to recover and if such a thing could happen again in these less resilient times (for books) - if another Boulard style estate emerged out of Los Angeles or London with half a million good books the effect could be seismic…especially if, as happens, yet another collection emerged shortly after. Nodier (that man again - note his mention of underbidding) gives this eyewitness account of the perils of bibliomania:
Max Sander's article Bibliomania, freely available from Northwestern University School of Law Scholarly Commons, yielded the gripping tale of the murderous monk/ bookseller Don Vincente (see recent jots) . He talks of other crazed collectors including the English bibliomaniac Richard Heber who filled 8 houses with books, but for all his acquisitiveness was a discerning collector. The sale of his books took 184 days. The following collector, Boulard, was very much of a quantity man and may have accumulated more books than any individual in the history of the world - 800,000 by some accounts and half that by others… the sale of his books took 248 days.150,000 were sold as scrap. Sander writes:
Last part of this thrill-packed piece on murder, mayhem, obsession, vengeance and book collecting. Slight doubt is cast on this (incredible) event. The story has inspired a wealth of articles and books from Flaubert right up to Basbanes. However, in 1928 a book appeared in Spain written by bibliophile and author Ramon Miquel I Planas (1874-1950) seeking to rectify the story of Don Vincente and arguing that the anonymous article in La Gazette des Tribunaux (Paris 1837) which had informed the world of the murders had no basis in fact. **Planas argued that the article had been written by French occultist (Priory of Sion) author and librarian Charles Nodier, (1780-1844), most known for his influence on the French Romantics. He found that Don Vincente’s crime does not appear in any local newspapers of the time, that there was no monk by the name of Fra Vincentes at Poblet at the time of its closure, and that the local ‘colour’ does not ring true. Planas's theories have also been later disputed..but if Nodier was the original author, it should be noted that it was rumoured that he had killed a man for outbidding him at auction during one of his trips to Spain.
The account, indeed, does have a slight air of legend about it - especially the part about each victim returning with alacrity to the shop to report a missing leaf…booksellers will tell you that often a missing page is not discovered for years. What does ring true is the murderous anger of the person outbid (almost as deadly as the ire of the person who has been relentlessly bid up to way beyond the price that they had intended to pay. Pace Nodier.) The fetish / obsession about uniqueness is also familiar in rare bookselling lore..The bookseller 'unwilling to part with all but the cheapest of his stock' and who keeps every good book he ever gets (or prices them so high that only a very rich madman would buy ) is also an all too familiar type in life and legend and one who is still with us online and in the cloud…
** This part is in the debt of the ARCA Crimes against Art blog where there are more info and links/ footnotes on the case.
This is an oft told tale of book madness and murder. It has elements that ring true and also mythic elements. It inspired the young Flaubert's 1838 novella Bibliomania. This version comes from the unrecorded scholar Max Sander's article Bibliomania, freely available from Northwestern University School of Law Scholarly Commons. It was published in a criminal law journal in 1943. Sander, a 'scholar specialising in bibliographical-iconographicaI research work' gave his address as The Huntington Hotel, Pasadena, California. See part two for an update and queries on this story...
...As a young man, Don Vincente was a monk in the Cisterciens cloister Poblet near Tarragona, and because of his passion for books he was made keeper of the cloister's valuable library. During a political disturbance of the time the cloister was pillaged, and there was good reason to believe that Don Vincente had been familiar with the plunderers. It was hinted that he had shown them the place where the cloister's gold and silver treasures were hidden, in order to secure precious books for himself. Be that as it may, he went to Barcelona and opened a bookshop with a remarkable stock of rare books, which was patronized by all collectors although he almost never sold a really important item. His frugal livelihood and small business expenses could be covered by selling cheaper stock. He was never seen reading a book; only to own them and look at them, to turn over their leaves was of interest to him. When he had a chance to buy a precious book, he was obliged to sell something more substantial from his beloved stock, but even then the buyer almost had to wrench away his acquisition before Don Vincente reluctantly parted with it.