A fascinating book catalogue of 1946

We found this rare and second hand book catalogue in our pile of ephemera the other day. It Elkin Matthews book catalogue 1946 001was issued by the well-established book dealer Elkin Mathews Ltd in July 1946, just a year or so after the close of the Second World War.


It is interesting in several respects—not least because it lists books from the libraries of ‘Stephen Hudson’, the novelist and patron of the arts whose real name was Sydney Schiff (1868 – 1944) ,the novelist and playwright John Galsworthy, the acclaimed thriller writer Coulson Kernahan ( 1858 – 1943), the  fin de siecle writer Arthur Symons and Sir Hugh Walpole, the popular novelist and book collector. It is also revealing in that among the list of three directors published we find the name of Ian Fleming, who was to create James Bond a few years later. Fleming was a keen bibliophile, whose special interests included firsts of the most crucial works of modern civilisation (TV, atomic fission, birth control, motor cars and penicillin). One can imagine that before the list went out he would have selected several titles for his own collection.


Naturally, many of the items described in the catalogue are presentation copies from the authors and from friends and admirers; some contain pencilled annotations by the owners. For instance, at 4 guineas, a price which reflects the growing reputation of the author at this time, there is a copy of Betjeman’s exceedingly rare poetry pamphlet Sir John Piers (n.d.) with the poet’s corrections. Equally appealing and priced at 3 guineas is a first edition of Edward Dowson’s Decorations in Verse and Prose(1899) with a presentation inscription from Leonard Smithers to Arthur Symons: “ in memory of our friend the author “.


A number of the items listed had already been sold and this fact can be revealing.

For instance, an otherwise unremarkable copy of E. M. Forster’s Aspects of the Novel

(1927) was marked as sold, presumably because it came from the library of the popular philosopher C. E. M. Joad, at that time one of the most famous personalities on radio. He was, of course, much later on, prosecuted for fare evasion, an offence which effectively ended his career.


Other sold items include inscribed copies of early firsts by John Masefield, the then Poet Laureate, and John Galsworthy, then a highly lauded novelist. Needless to say, the reputations of both writers have suffered badly. Of much greater significance is the sold copy of
On the Discovery of the Periodic Law(1884).

Its importance to a scientist can hardly be exaggerated. According to the cataloguer’s description:-


‘ the credit for the discovery of the periodic table…is generally accredited to Mendeleef and Meyer, who shared the Davy Medal of the Royal Society for the discovery. These two men made their first announcement in 1869, but in 1863 Newlands had already outlined the main features of this famous discovery in a letter to the Chemical News. In various papers during the three following year he developed his theory and in 1866 he read a paper to the Chemical Society in which he not only gave the table in full, but predicted, from gaps in it, the discovery of missing elements. His fellow chemists met the theory with ill-mannered snubs and sneers. He gathered together , in 1884, in order to prove the priority of his discovery. It hasavailed himlittle. He is not even in the DNB, though the name of Mendeleev is universally honoured as the discoverer of this fundamental law of chemistry.’


Thanks to the Internet, however, the reputation of Dr Newlands as the true discoverer of the Period table has been recognised.


This appalling act of plagiarism reminds all of us at Jot HQ of other similar travesties of justice in the world of science, including the treatment of DNA pioneer Dr Rosalind Franklin by the Nobel committee.


Other notable sold items include a copy of A Mission that Failed( 1898 ), Edgar Wallace’s first book, which happened to be a collection of poems written while the author was a private in the Royal Army medical corps in South Africa. Also sold was a copy of Pound’s Hugh Selwyn Maberleypresented by the author to Thomas Hardy. Who knew that Pound, then of course, in prison for his vocal support of the Fascist powers, was a devoted admirer of the Dorset poet and novelist? Also sold was a book containing engravings by the brilliant painter and designer Eric Ravilious, who had recently been lost at sea, and a copy of Betjeman’s first collection, Continual Dew(1937), inscribed to Hugh Walpole by the poet. Most inexplicably, however, someone managed to bag every copy of the nine books by the playwright and alleged poet Gordon ‘Bottomless‘ Bottomley from Walpole’s library. Why would any sane person do such a thing? Alas, we will never know.


There were some bargains to be had back then. Two firsts of Hugh McDiarmid, now recognised as the greatest Scottish poet of the twentieth century, were priced at 12/-and a guinea each.


Also there were forty-four rare items by Havelock Ellis, the pioneering sexologist, who today, for some inexplicable reason, is not appreciated as he deserves to be. Back in 1946, however, he was given his due as ‘one of the greatest sages of our time’.


To be continued…


One thought on “A fascinating book catalogue of 1946

  1. James

    Nice stuff. I wonder where that Dowson copy is now.
    Any more info on the Symons books would be appreciated. I recently bought a boxful of Symons books at auction – many inscribed to his wife’s family, and many of which are in the kind of condition that would have deterred dealers.


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