The First Edition and Book Collector (1924)

Sent in by jot watcher RMH (a man who knows a bad book magazine when he sees one) this neat analysis of why magazines fail. The Alan Odle cover and illustrations seem to be the only saving grace...

When a magazine folds after a handful of issues there are usually just a few reasons why:

1) The editor dies and no replacement can be found
2) The financial backing dries up
3) There are too few new contributions in hand
4) No-one buys the magazine.
5) The magazine is really not that good

In the case of The First Edition and Book Collector, which expired after just  two issues in the autumn of 1924, the latter was probably the reason. The only redeeming features of this real stinker of a first issue are Thomas Hardy’s first publication, a short story   that was first published in 1865, and some wonderful black and white illustrations by Alan Odle, a genuine heir to the mantle of Aubrey Beardsley. But even the genius of Odle cannot save this one.

The First Edition and Book Collector begins with utter tosh and ends with it. The magazine purports to be focussed on the collection of first editions, but what do we get in this first issue? We get two opening pages on why the editor, one H.D.Clevely, doesn’t care too much for poets and novelists who dress like analytical chemists or rent collectors and who write adverts for liver pills (no names given), and who is quite capable of arguing that poets should leave their intellect behind and grow long hair in order to engage with human emotion. Later on, the same author contributes an eleven page story which has nothing whatsoever to do with first editions or even book-collecting, though it does give reign to a nasty brand of anti-Semitism.

There follows two further pages that begin promisingly with some sort of sense—in which the writer divides bibliophiles into collectors and accumulators. He then spoils it all by stating categorically that ‘book collecting is probably the most inexpensive form of artistic recreation in the world ‘.He then goes on to claim that books are cheap ( compared with what ?) and produces a classic piece of false logic :‘ first editions are just as cheap as any other books; therefore when they come out is the time to buy them’( my italics).

It gets worse-- far worse. Again, we are treated to another two pages of hokum, this time  on ‘the condition of books ‘.The writer begins reasonably enough , before his  little brain gets overheated and he develops a familiar rant. Adopting the authoritative tone of someone who has run an antiquarian bookshop for four decades, we get this planet-sized generalisation:’ the majority of old books are quite worthless ‘. He doesn’t define what he means by ‘old’, but never mind, he is getting into his stride here:

Early editions of classics, issued by presses famous in their time, are most frequently valueless nowadays, and it is an easy matter for anyone to fill his bookshelves with sixteenth century imprints, worth only their weight in waste paper...

I guess that some collectors of Aldus, Elzevir, Estienne, and half a dozen other continental presses might have disagreed slightly  with this statement.

A grubby, little character demolition of George Moore by someone called G.H.Verne ( yes, I’ve never heard of him either) follows, though what it is doing in a magazine devoted to first editions is anybody’s guess. We are then treated to more egregious pronouncements on ‘valueless’ antiquarian books. By now the writer is really warming to his task. This time he takes it out on bibles. At a recent sale, he claims:

My dealer friend bought for 10s a collection of forty Bibles, all of them between one hundred and four hundred years old, and all of them quite worthless.

Let me do the maths here. Forty bibles dating from the early sixteenth century to around 1824 are apparently ‘all worthless ‘. This is just arrant stupidity, which is confirmed when he pronounces that ‘ the truth is that only about one book in four thousand is worth collecting ‘.The trouble is, that this writer wouldn’t know the truth concerning book collecting if it hit him in the form of a elephant folio ….bang on top of his empty skull.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *