Author Archives: Jot 101

Autograph collecting (some notes)

There is a story behind every autograph. Idly fossicking about online I have retrieved a few such stories and added some of my own. It needs courage to be an autograph hound so much respect to those who have hunted down celebs and obtained signatures. The best collection I ever bought (about 2000+ inc Walt Disney, Ian Fleming, Bogart and Bacall, the Dalai Lama, Frankie Lyman (and the Teenagers) Tony Hancock and Lester Piggot) was from a very minor celebrity who was able to get into receptions and first nights etc., He had written jokes for the likes of Bob Monkhouse. The greatest groupies and name droppers are often slightly famous themselves and a minor name will often have accumulated a few major names. The most common type of autograph story usually ends ‘and he was a really nice guy…we had a good chat’. It seems to come as a surprise that celebrities are not monsters, although great scorn is reserved for those who refuse autographs. A star cannot disappoint his fans. Graham Greene had a good line when refusing to autograph a book–something along the lines of ” I would like to but it would devalue those I have already done and I don’t want that to happen, sorry.’

Rudyard Kipling received a note from a fan saying ‘…I hear you get paid $5 for every word you write. Enclosed is $5, please send me one word. Kipling replied with the one word “Thanks. It is hard to imagine now how besieged Kipling was by autograph collectors–in this age only JK Rowling comes near to his fame.

George Bernard Shaw was more generous (and even wittier). To fans writing to ask for his autograph he would often reply “Certainly not! George Bernard Shaw.”

The painter Utrillo could, after a few free drinks. be induced to sign canvasses that he had not painted. Caveat emptor!

Damien Hirst sometimes signs things (books, tee shirts) as David Hockney. These are still quite salable as he is known to do this and, in its way, also quite witty.

James Ellroy (above) signed every one of 65,000 first-edition copies of his 1996 memoir My Dark Places. You can buy a copy on ABE for $5, where there are over 180 signed copies for sale with a few over $100. As the signing progressed his signature degenerated to an unreadable scrawl. One optimistic dude manages to make a virtue of this: “…wildly scrawled signature, as frantic and vigorous as the author’s crackling prose. £45”

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Book Collecting for Fun and Profit by Bill McBride (1997)

Part three

What do you like?

5) History:

Periods, politics, wars, monarchs, presidents, suffragists, leftwing, rightwing or in-the middle politics, abolitionists etc.

History is a huuuuuge field, and McBride doesn’t specify if the collector should stick to the history of his or her own country or focus on the history of another country or continent. Collecting in the field of politics, military history, royalty and presidents follows on from there. Collecting in this area is self-explanatory really, but a particular focus on some of the topics he lists under the banner of ‘ history ‘ ( such as monarchs, suffragists and abolitionists ) does indicate what the personal politics of the collector might be. Also, collecting, say, books on a particular monarch, such as Henry VIII or George III, would be pretty boring if only scholarly works on the monarch were collected rather than contemporary works in which the monarch was mentioned. The same applies to ‘ wars ‘ and ‘ politics’. In these two areas contemporary pamphlets, such as those which appeared during the English Civil War, or the period in which the movement for parliamentary reform gave rise to radical works for, and reactionary responses against, reform, would contribute an immediacy to the period. In the reign of George III, for instance, the collector might look out for the radical pamphlets of John Wilkes, William Cobbett, Richard Carlile, Thomas Paine and William Hone , or as a right wing response, the Anti-Jacobin squibs of George Canning and the Tory  John Bull newspaper edited by the brilliantly witty Theodore Hook. In other words, McBride’s section on history is far too vague and lacking in significant detail.

6) Science and Technology:

‘biographies of inventors, naturalists, scientists of any ilk, books about the development of space travel, communication, transportation, computers, mathematics, genetics etc.’

No amplification is needed here. Collectors will have their own areas of interest and biographies of famous scientists are always a good place to start. The late lamented Eric Korn, a marine biologist by training, but a dealer by inclination, was fascinated by Charles Darwin and his lists reflect that passion. Unfortunately, books recording the lives of scientists that were published before, say, 1800, are often too anecdotal and downright gossipy, to be of genuine use. As for books about space travel, collectors should be advised that early science fiction books can broaden the perspective in an entertaining and often amusing way. After all, a collection of works on the development of space travel which is dominated by technical manuals must inevitably be boring. Some rare mid Victorian works eked out by the speculative fiction of H. G. Wells and later writers will prevent your collection becoming too dry. Communication can mean the history of the telephone, the radio and TV, and here the opportunities for assembling an exciting collection of books might start with  copies of the first telephone directories, copies of the Radio Times from the early 1920s and the first book on television, Television: Seeing by Wireless ( 1926) by Alfred Dinsdale—a classic of its kind (see above). The latest collecting field in communications is, of course, the  development of the computer. A worthwhile one to follow, though the field has many rich collectors who have driven up prices.

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First Lines

In her anthology entitled First Lines (1985) Gemma O’Connor declared that few celebrated writers in English opened their novels and memoirs with arresting first lines. Dickens, Joyce, and Jane Austen were a handful that did, but others, like Hardy and De Quincey, managed to keep the readers’ attention without providing intriguing first lines. Perhaps it’s gift that certain writers of fiction (O’Connor  excludes poets from her anthology) had, regardless of their eminence. Short story writers, like James Stephens and Saki, were masters of this art and indeed most writers of this type of fiction were aware that they needed to start well. Here are some of the most memorable first lines selected by Ms O’Connor. Guessing the authors of them might make an amusing party game.

This book is largely concerned with Hobbits.

J. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings.

I hate to read new books.

William Hazlitt, One Reading Old Books.

It is difficult for a man to speak long of himself without vanity; therefore I shall be short.

David Hume, Life, written by himself.

Let me tell you the story of my life.

Maxim Gorky, A Confession.

Once upon a time, and I very good time it was….

James Joyce, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities.

Ours is essentially a tragic age….

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Book collecting for Fun and Profit by Bill McBride (2)

Rule three: Know what you buy.

Do your homework. Yes, you will make mistakes early on. But the more knowledge you bring to the marketplace, the better equipped you are to buy wisely and well. Learn all you can about the details of the field in which you collect. Learn to recognise the common titles. Learn the differences between trade (bookstore) editions and those sold by the Book Clubs. The differences are many, but some of them are slight and easily overlooked, even by experienced dealers and collectors.

Obvious advice, this. You wouldn’t collect art if you thought Jack Vetriano was a good painter or you couldn’t tell the difference between a painting done in acrylic and one painted in oil, or couldn’t differentiate between an etching and an engraving or a lithograph and an aquatint. Unfortunately, many amateurs who think they are as experienced in art as the professional dealers are, make mistakes simply through ignorance. It’s the same with books, although book collectors do have an advantage over art collectors in that books are very rarely forged ( too expensive), which cannot be said of art works. As for learning the differences between trade editions and Book Club editions, it’s pretty easy to tell, unless you have defective eyesight. Book Club editions advertise themselves as such and no dealer worth his salt  could be misled. As for identifying first editions, the words ‘ first published in …’ are highly suggestive for modern firsts. Much older firsts are a different matter. In the old days ,like London cabbies, collectors and dealers used ‘ the knowledge’, to identify the first publication of literally tens and thousands of significant titles. Nowadays, a mobile phone with a connection to the Internet will furnish this important information on most older first editions worth collecting, which is only a tiny percentage of all the first editions in the world.

What do you like ?

‘ You can build a book collection  around many things in your life:

1) A hobby: gardening, knitting, cooking, flower arranging, handicrafts, collecting of any kind, etc.

Can gardening be classed as a ‘hobby‘? In the opinion of this Jotter, a serious gardener is someone who understands the basics of botany, which is after all, an academic subject. You don’t have to know what the professionals at Kew learn at University, but the more you know about the science behind the plants that give you pleasure and cure your illnesses , the more you will be drawn towards books on botany. As for knitting and flower arranging, good luck with assembling a significant library that covers these topics. Cooking is a different matter, and today, at least in the UK, this has become one of the hottest ( excuse the pun) collecting areas. 

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Book Collecting for Fun and Profit by Bill McBride. An American perspective (1).

Mr McBride, an American dealer based in Hartford, Connecticut, published his pocket-sized guide to book collecting and dealing for  $9.95 in 1997, but twenty six years later, things in the second hand book world haven’t changed that much, except perhaps that the Internet now plays a much bigger part in the whole business.

This Jot is a commentary on what McBride has to say on collecting and dealing from an American standpoint, though it should be emphasised that throughout the Western world there is very little difference in how collectors and dealers regard books today compared with how such a book maven as Slater ( see previous Jots) saw the business back in 1892.

Let’s start with McBride’s first piece of advice.

Rule One: buy what you like.

‘ Books can be proven to be good investments, but the wisdom to know what to buy seems clearest only in hindsight: “ twenty-five years ago, if you had bought such-and-such a book, it would be worth a hundred times its original price.”. Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to pick the ones that will perform that well out of the millions of new books published in English, world-wide.’

‘ Almost impossible’, perhaps, but not impossible. McBride is talking about new books. But if the author in question  is an established figure with a world-wide reputation (perhaps he or she is a Nobel prize winner) the possibility of that author’s latest novel or collection not rising in value is a no-brainer. If you had bought, for example, a first edition of Philip Larkin’s High Window when it appeared in 1974 you could put your house on it rising in value considerably within twenty years, even if you didn’t know that it would be the poet’s final collection.

But new novelists? Yes, ‘almost impossible ‘.In the same year (1997) that McBride’s guide appeared someone called J. K. Rowling brought out Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone , following its rejection by a number of leading publishers of children’s fiction. Each year literally thousands of new books for children are published in the UK. No-one could have predicted that Ms Rowling’s book would turn out to be the international sensation that it became. Bloomsbury obviously had faith in their new author, but not faith enough to bring out more than a smallish edition. The book received mainly rave reviews for the originality of its plot and characterisation. The edition sold out and a new edition was reprinted. Fans of the book couldn’t wait for the next Harry Potter story and they didn’t have to wait long. Readers who had bought the debut novel  because they liked stories about schoolboys defying their parents and adults and getting mixed up in magic in a special school for magicians found, twenty years later, that their  pocket money had bought a book worth many thousands of pounds. They had bought what they liked and had ended up with a good ‘investment ‘. 

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The Strawberry Hill Press

Strawberry Hill, the ‘Gothick‘ pile near Twickenham, which dilettante Horace Walpole began to build in 1749, continues to fascinate lovers of architecture and design. No only is it the first building of its kind, and as such was responsible for inspiring the taste for Gothic architecture, but it was the brainchild of a man whose life and work has been the subject of so much scholarly attention. Indeed, the Lewis Walpole Library at Yale began as a private collection devoted to Walpole and today it houses the biggest holding of Walpoliana in the world.

Much of the interest in Walpole among bibliophiles focuses on the Strawberry Hill Press, which was launched by the collector and connoisseur in 1757. The works which issued from it are sought after by collectors around the world and have always commanded high prices. Your Jotter was reminded of this when in leafing through Austin Dobson’s A Bookman’s Budget ( 1917) he came across a sub-chapter entitled ‘The Officina Arbuteana’.

In it Dobson discusses the two Strawberry Hill Press books he owned. The first was An Account of Russia as it was in the Year 1710 by the British Ambassador at the time, Charles Lord Whitworth. This is what Dobson classes as mainly ‘politico-statistical’ which he declares to be largely ‘dull and dry’, but he does admit that the anecdote supplied by Walpole in his Introduction is noteworthy. It concerns a remark made by Catherine I to Whitworth on the dance floor that referred obliquely to some relationship the couple had had when the Czarina was much younger.

The other, distinctly more interesting book, was in fact the first work to issue from the Press. This was Odes by Mr Gray (1757), ‘printed at Strawberry Hill, for R. and J. Dodsley in Pall Mall.’ Walpole thought these rather ‘ obscure ‘poems written in Greek ‘ sublime ‘, while Dobson noted that as later reprinted in English as ‘ The Progress of Poetry’ and ‘ The Bard’ they contained ‘ thoughts that breathe and words that burn’ which have ‘passed into the commonplaces of the language’.

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Bindings

A few years ago your Jotter invited that celebrated expert on the Western tradition in book binding , Mirjam Foot, to give a talk on bindings to the local literary society. She was then married to the late Michael Foot ( not that Michael Foot, but M.R.D. Foot, the great authority on the SOE as well as William Gladstone , who very likely would have been more to the taste of her audience), but this distinction didn’t have the effect of filling the hall that I had hired. My idea in asking her was an attempt to educate literary types on a subject that few bibliophiles know anything about. I was also keen to discover if any of the audience might recognise the lady with the slight Dutch accent as the woman who for years helped man book stalls at garden fetes in that particular corner of north Hertfordshire. The talk seemed to go well, though I am still not sure whether any of those who heard it could understand what she was talking about with such authority.

I was reminded of Professor Foot when I came upon the section of Slater’s Book Collecting which dealt with bindings. After discussing with great enthusiasm the exquisite and sumptuous bindings created in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries by great craftsmen for the super rich Popes, kings and aristocrats on the European continent, Sadler turns with less enthusiasm to England, where the art of fine binding had not progressed anything like as far. Presumably in a book aimed at middle and upper middle class  collectors he was aware that the average lover of decorated bindings was not likely to encounter any of the class of European bindings he had drooled over in most book stalls or auction hoses here in the UK—at least at prices they could afford. Indeed, Slater is a tad sniffy at the quality and innovation shown by binders ‘ up to the reign of Elizabeth ‘.

‘We seem to have persisted in the use of clumsy oak boards or stiff parchment covers, and when a really choice and expensive binding was required , it took the form of embroidered silks and velvets. Queen Elizabeth herself was very expert in this method of ornamentation, which continued to exist, in all probability, simply because it was fashionable.

The first English bookbinder of any repute was John Reynes, a printer who lived in the reigns of Henry VII and VIII. Specimens of his work are very rare, though, when compared with the French bindings of the same date, they appear miserably inferior. The truth is that England was—and, indeed, is —much behind some other countries in everything relating to bibliography, and binding in particular. 

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More gems from Scorn with Extra Bile edited by Matthew Parris (1998)

Pop music

This man has child-bearing lips

Joan Rivers on Mick Jagger

You have Van Gogh’s ear for music

Billy Wilder on Cliff Osmond

Wood Green shopping centre has been committed to vinyl

New Musical Express on the pop group Five Star

Bambi with testosterone

Owen Gleiberman on Prince in Entertainment Weekly.

Television and movies

A vacuum with nipples

Otto Preminger on Marilyn Monroe

It’s like kissing Hitler

Tony Curtin on kissing Marilyn Monroe

The face to launch a thousand dredgers

Jack de Manio on Glenda Jackson in Women in Love

As wholesome as a bowl of cornflakes, and at least as sexy.

Dwight Macdonald on Doris Day

This was Doris Day’s first picture; before she became a virgin

Oscar Levant on Doris Day in Romance on the High Seas.

A face unclouded by thought

Lillian Hellman on Norma Shearer

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Cycling on the ‘Continong’ in 1906

Two things that jump out from a cursory glance at The Continong by the pseudonymous Anar de la Grenouillere, F.O.N.S., of which a file copy of the fourth edition of 1906 was found at Jot HQ the other day, is first the rather forced facetious tone of its advice to travellers to France, and secondly the predominance of references to cyclists.

In 1894, when The Continong  first appeared, the motor car had only been around for a handful of years and so presumably the author did not feel it necessary even to acknowledge its existence. But by 1906, when many more manufacturers were producing cars, this rise in traffic is not acknowledged in this ‘revised and updated ‘edition. Touring France for the English speaker was still all about railways or, in Paris, ‘buses and trams  ( though not the Metro, although this had been established by 1906)  possibly walking, horse-drawn ‘cabs’ but most of all, cycling. Compared to the four pages devoted to railways and three on cabs and cabbies, the author provides fifteen pages of advice for cyclists.

The first few pages of this advice are devoted to what to expect on arriving in France. British cyclists are urged to join the TFC (Touring Club de France) which was founded in 1890. For a mere five shillings a year, benefits include a Handbook, and the exemption of duty on their cycles, and for a few extra francs a Year-book containing a list of over 3,000 approved hotels, at which members enjoy a privileged position as to charges, a Year-book for foreign countries and a book of ‘skeleton tours’ for the whole of France and adjoining countries. Incidentally, a compulsory requirement for cycles being ridden in France and elsewhere on the continent was a name-plate ‘bearing the name and address of the owner (and) attached to the machine’. This seems to have been the equivalent of a car licence plate, which back then became a legal required for motor vehicles in 1903. Again, this suggests that cycles were seen as the predominant form of personal transport, at least in France.

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The Aetherius Society

Francois Strachan, editor of the Aquarian Guide (1970) ,  in her summary of the Aetherius Society is pretty accurate:

‘Metaphysics, Flying Saucers, Spiritual Healing, the Coming of the Next Master, the Space Message, Yoga, Magic, Karma and Reincarnation…these are some of the occult subjects dealt with by The Aetherius Society, whose President, George King, is himself a renowned Western Yoga Master…’

Well, perhaps not totally accurate. Metaphysics, Yoga and Karma are not strictly ‘ occult subjects ‘. However, it’s true that this mish-mash of discrete topics were, and perhaps still are, part of what Aetherius is all about , and judging from its presence online the society is thriving. 

And Strachan is also right in regarding the ‘ Reverend ‘ George King, or ‘Dr’ George King, DD, Th. D or sometimes George King D. Sc, D. Litt, or even George King, D Sc., Th. D  as the presiding genius of the Society.

It all came about like this. One sunny day in May 1954 George King, a London cabbie, was washing dishes in the kitchen of his flat in Maida Vale when he suddenly became aware of a strange Voice. It didn’t come from within him, he later declared,  but was an exterior presence, and it said to him in English:

    ‘ Prepare Yourself. You are to Become the Voice of Interplanetary Parliament.’

King later called this ‘The Command’ and although he hadn’t a clue what this Interplanetary Parliament was, and despite knowing nothing about Flying Saucers or beings from Outer Space, he paid serious heed to this Command. Soon afterwards a being from Venus which he dubbed Aetherius, visited him and explained what King was expected to do. He was to act as a conduit for messages from the Gods of Space. In the following year King set up The Aetherius Society to promote the wisdom of highly evolved intelligences from other planets ‘. 

King’s background may have had some influence on his conduct. Born in Wellington, Shropshire in 1919, even as a boy King was interested in spiritual matters. At some point he became a Quaker and during the Second World War declared himself a Conscientious Objector, replacing military service with service as a Fire Officer during the Blitz. At about this time he became interested in yoga and practiced it for 8 – 10 hours a day—not for its health benefits, but for its spiritual qualities. During the ‘fifties, according to the Aetherius promotional material, ‘he honed his psychic abilities and entered some of the highest states of consciousness it is possible to achieve on earth’ as a Western Yoga Master.

The HQ of the Aetherius Society since 1958 has been at 757, Fulham Road, not too far from Parsons Green Underground station The premises were modest at first, but as the funds rolled in during the hippy era of the mid sixties, the floor space expanded and before long Mr King and his cronies had added a George King Chapel from which the Blessed Leader received messages from Outer Space. In the seventies the Reverend Doctor, at some point christened ‘ The Metropolitan Archbishop ‘, moved to California, where he died in 1997 aged 78. He left behind him a loyal following in many countries and several books (some hardly more than pamphlets) many of which can still be bought online. Titles include Jesus Comes Again, This is the Hour of Truth, Become a Builder of the New Age, Visit to the Logos of Earth: a True Contact with the Lords of the Flame, You are Responsible and Contacts with the Gods of Space. The blurb of the latter extols the virtues of ‘this fascinating book (which) explains the seemingly unexplainable, introducing an array of mind-blowing spiritual revelations on subjects including life beyond Earth, UFO’s, mediumship, Karma, reincarnation, Atlantis, Lemuria, Maldek, Cosmic Missions, Ascended Masters, life after death, spiritual energy, holy mountains, spiritual ecology, prophecy, and even the future of life on Earth !’ Also available are issues of King’s magazine, Cosmic Voice, dating back sixty years.

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Slater on does and don’ts, fads and fashions,  in book collecting

J. H. Slater was often scathing about certain types of printed book and the dealers/collectors who handled them. However, he was positive concerning which books ought to be valued by collectors. Here are some of his views on what bibliophiles should avoid and what they must appreciate.

Privately printed books.

Slater was not a fan of this class of book.

Privately printed books are those which are issued either from a private press or for the benefit of private friends. They are never published in the ordinary acceptation of that term and cannot be bought at first hand. A good collection of these is of course difficult, though by no means impossible, to acquire; and for the benefit of those who may wish to devote themselves to this department –uninteresting though it undoubtedly is—Martin’s Privately Printed Books ( 1834, 2nd ed.,1854—in 1 vol. 8vo, is readily available . Many of these so- called ‘ books ‘ consist of single sheets of letterpress; others, on the contrary, are more pretentious….

Early printed American books.

‘Early printed American books, or those which in any way relate to the American Continent, provided only they were published during the 16th or 17th centuries, have lately become exceedingly scarce. In June 1888 one small quarto tract, bound in one volume, brought £66by auction, a record entirely surpassed by the preceding lot, which, consisting of twelve similar tracts only, brought no less a sum than £555. These prices of course are highly exceptional; but so great is the desire to obtain books of this class that the amounts in question, exorbitant though they may appear to be, were perhaps not excessive.’

Slater goes on to urge collectors not to pass by books printed in America, or indeed Scotland, before 1700.

‘In both cases it is probable that the specimen offered for sale will have a most unprepossessing exterior , and in some instances the price asked may be small. This frequently happens, since the more uneducated class of dealerscommence by valuing a book from its appearance (since) ….there is nothing about books of this kind which looks valuable. It is no disparagement to the trade as a whole to say that some booksellers, particularly those who carry on business in small provincial towns, are absolutely ignorant of anything more than the first principals of their trade, and it is out of them than bargains are made…

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Politicians

In view of the forthcoming General Election, here is a selection of remarks on British MPs published by ex-MP Matthew Parris in his ‘Scorn with Extra Bile’ (1995 and later editions).

He lied and lied and lied.

Guardian headline on the news that former Tory Minister Jonathan Aitkin had withdrawn his libel case against the paper, 1997.

Jail Him!—Aitkin: serial liar, cheat, coward. His marriage is over and he faces a £2 million legal bill. It is not punishment enough. He must be sent to jail…he is unfit to mop the floor in a soup kitchen. He is not just a failure as a politician. He is a failure as a human being.

The Mirror on Aitkin.

Mr Aitkin was duly tried and sentenced to 18 months in prison. Here he ‘ got religion’. He is now a minister at St Matthews church, Stoke Newington. By declaring himself bankrupt he managed to avoid paying the enormous costs awarded against him, though the Guardian suspected him of having more resources than he admitted to.

A semi-house trained polecat.

Michael Foot on Norman Tebbit.

In March 2022 Mr Tebbit ( aka ‘ the Chingford skinhead ‘ ) retired from politics aged 90.

…He was always the sort of Socialist who would do anything for the workers except like them.

Bruce Anderson on Roy Hattersley in The Spectator.

Apparently Hattersley has written three ‘ novels ‘ and several biographies. He retired from politics and is little heard of nowadays.

Harold Wilson was one of the men who ruined post-war Britain. He was a small posturing visionless politician, personally pleasant to his friends and even his enemies, amusing, irreverent and apparently kind. But his public work was a long strung-out disaster, overlaid by the impression at the time that it was at least dextrously accomplished.

Hugo Young, the Guardian, 1995.

The Bertie Wooster of Marxism

Anonymous, about Tony Benn.

A rather harsh verdict on the former Viscount Stansgate, whose son Stephen inherited the title that his father renounced. It’s hard to imagine Bertie Wooster swapping champagne for copious mugs of tea.

A perfectly good second-class chemist, a Beta chemist…she wasn’t an interesting person, except as a Conservative…I would never, if I had amusing, interesting people staying, have thought of asking Margaret Thatcher.

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The Early English Presses

Our old lawyer friend and bibliophile J. H. Slater seems to have been particularly attracted to English incunabula as well as some early sixteenth century books, such as those printed by John Day. It was the latter who printed the early editions of the great John Foxe’s Actes and Monuments, otherwise known as Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. By some good fortune your Jotter picked up, for the ridiculous sum of £50, a nice copy of the second and best edition of this very famous book, possibly in its original binding, and dated 1570, on one of Mr George Jeffries stalls in the Farringdon Road around 1988. Less than a month later a copy of a later edition, in a larger format but without a title page, was secured at the same establishment for the equally low price of £25. Such bargains were not uncommon features of the Farringdon Road stalls, at least in the period that your Jotter frequented them regularly, which was throughout the eighties and early nineties. It is quite possible that Slater himself acquired early English books there in the 1880s and 90’s, though the Jeffries family, who may have run the stalls back then, did not specialise in antiquarian books.

The rarity of fifteenth century books coming to light unexpectedly on bookstalls or in junk shops at any time is highlighted by Slater:

‘…a single discovery of a hitherto unknown book of the fifteenth century acquires an importance proportionate to the exceptional nature of the occurrence; and though the book hunter never despairs, he knows only too well that such rarities fall only to fortunate mortals like the French bibliophile Resbecq, whose extraordinary luck was proverbial , or to those whose ignorance is so dense that they seem provided , as compensation, with more than a fair share of attractive power. It seems a pity that the unappreciative should often obtain chances which are denied to those who could utilise them to advantage, but it is often the case. The merest tyro sometimes experiences a success which the experienced bibliophile sighs for in vain…’ 

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Books to buy in late Victorian Britain

J. H. Slater, a lawyer by training, who became the doyen of late Victorian writers on rare books, deserves to be far better known than he is. It is scandalous, for instance, that someone with so much influence and practical discernment  has no Wikipedia page ). He often comes across as  a grumpy, somewhat world-weary and cynical guide to the world he knew so well. Though occasionally inspirational ( particularly on incunabula ), his observations on the second hand book trade in general were often shocking when he made them, and continue to be distressing to many collectors today. Take some of the comments in his chapter entitled ‘ books to buy ‘.

‘ Few collectors, who are not specialists, care very much for the utility of their libraries; in many cases, indeed, it is not a question of utility at all, but of extent, though I apprehend that no one would wish to crowd his shelves with rubbish merely for the sake of filling them. As an immense proportion of the books which have been published during the sixteenth, seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries clearly come under that category, the collector has much to avoid, and stands in need of considerable experience to enable him to make a selection…’

Such a statement might be regarded as sacrilegious to many collectors who feel that any writing that has reached the stage of publication must, ipso facto, be worthy of respect. The fact that a book printed in the sixteenth century has survived into the twenty-first doesn’t mean that it is worth collecting. The often argument that such a book reflects the morals, taste or intellectual climate of the time is not a valid one. Discernment must be another factor and that can only be acquired through knowledge and scholarship, or ‘experience ‘,as Slater goes on to argue.

Slater cites the example of Naude, the seventeenth century bibliophile whose method of purchasing, was ‘ if not unique, was at any rate, uncommon’.

‘His favourite plan was to buy up entire libraries, and sort them at his leisure; or when these were not available in the bulk , he would, as Rossi relates, enter a shop with a yard measure in his hand, and buy his books by the ell. Wherever he went, paper and print became scarce: ‘ “ the stalls he encounters were like the towns through which Attila had swept with ruin in his train”  

Then there was the notorious bibliomaniac Rev. Richard Heber (1773 – 1833 whose great wealth was spent on a vast library that occupied eight houses in Britain and the Continent. His dictum was ‘ no gentleman can be without three copies of a book, one for show, one for use and one for borrowers ‘. In 1834, after his death, the sale of his books occupied 202 days, and in the words of Slater, ‘ flooded the market with rubbish —a worthy termination to a life of sweeping and gigantic purchases, made in the hope of acquiring single grains of wheat among his tons of worthless chaff’.

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The Encyclopedia of Insulting Behaviour  (Anonymous 1981).

Forget the Season of Good Will. Behaving insultingly is much more fun. Over Christmas why not try out some of these stunts.

Abroad.

Insist on paying for everything in sterling.

Ask for local delicacies and leave them on your plate.

Drink Guinness or Scotch everywhere.

Wear your military decorations at all customs checks

Order a cup of tea at 9.00 p.m. in a pavement café on a Saturday night and sit over it for as long as you dare.

Wave back at policemen who whistle at you and wave their truncheons. ( Have your number plates covered in mud first!)

In banks

If there isn’t a queue form one by asking the cashier as many questions as you can think of  until the people get fed up and either go out or move to another window.( Questions about holiday money just before Christmas are always a success.) 

If there is a queue make it longer by writing your cheque incorrectly. Get the date wrong. Write another name by mistake and appear to see the fraud, enter a huge sum, say £10,000, and then change it to £10.00. Drop your pen, or lose it in your handbag while this is going on.

On the Beach.

Play your transistor very loud, but play Radio 3.

Take elaborate picnics with iced wine and proper cutlery, especially if you’ve noticed that everyone else is eating corned beef out of a tin.

At Christmas

Refuse to give any guests a drink on the grounds that it’s for their own good not to drink and drive. Have plenty of soft drinks to offer them though. Then pour yourself a large Scotch on the grounds that you aren’t going anywhere and don’t have to worry.

Send no Christmas cards at all.

Send the television set to be serviced on Christmas Eve.

Fill the children’s stockings with ‘useful presents’—O level revision cards, that sort of thing.

Turn up the television when the carol singers arrive and turn off the lights until they go away.

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Association copies

Hedda Hopper

Having pre-booked an event on ‘ association copies ‘ at a book fair, not knowing exactly what this would entail, I was looking forward to a scholarly disquisition on the subject ranging over the centuries, from the sixteenth to the twentieth. Perhaps I’d be shown association copies containing comments and marginalia by genuinely important figures such as Charles Darwin or Samuel Johnson, or perhaps J.M.W Turner or Oscar Wilde. So imagine my disappointment when I discovered that the event would consist of one of the dealers visiting three of the stalls at the Fair, including his own, and picking out a book from each of the stalls  to illustrate the three type of ‘association’ copies. O, well, I thought, the three young people who had also booked looked excited by the prospect, so perhaps I’d wait to see what might happen.

The first type of association copy, we were told, was when a book bore the signature of a famous person, plain and simple. No presentation and no annotations, just the signature on a flyleaf, or whatever. In this case it was the signature of the future George V on a book about the monarchy. So far, so boring. Our guide moved on .The next type of association copy, we were told, was one containing an inscription  presented by someone associated with the book in question . In this case it was the illustrator Arthur Rackham inscribing a book he had illustrated to someone close to him. I can’t remember who this was. The third and last type, and in theory, the most appealing, was a book containing a comment of great interest by its author on someone to whom it had been presented. In this case it turned out to be a very barbed comment by the bitchy Republican showbiz ‘ celebrity gossip’ and failed actress  Hedda Hopper ( aka Elda Furry ) on her arch enemy, the  liberally-minded  Democrat and gifted actress Olivia de Havilland .I cannot recall the actual words used by Mrs Hopper, but they undoubtedly elevated the art of sarcasm to a new level of bitchiness. Unlike the other two association copies, I did find this particular one appealing, in a rather perverse way, but was less impressed by the four figure price attached to it, especially as both protagonists are rather forgotten figures today.  

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Nicolaus Claudius Peiresc: scientist and antiquary as bibliophile

Austin Dobson, himself a learned bibliophile and antiquary, was evidently a great admirer of the seventeenth century savant and bibliophile , Nicolaus Peiresc, as his anthologies De Libris (1911) and A Bookman’s Budget ( 1917) demonstrate. In the latter Dobson quotes his biographer Gassendi on Peiresc’s generosity as a lender of books:

‘ He sought books, not for himself alone, but for any that stood in need of them. He lent an innumerable company, which were never restored; also he gave a world away…of which he could hardly hope ever to get the like again\: Which he did when learned men had occasion to use them.’

Nor, Dobson added, was Peiresc content to be an ideal lender; he was also an ideal borrower:

‘ Such books as he borrowed ( Gassendi continues) , being neglected by their owners and ill-bound, he delivered to his binder to be restified and beautified, viz. when their subject matter or rarity  deserved that cost; so that having received them , ill-bound, and ill favoured  he returned them trim and handsome.’

Nor did Peiresc shrink from marking or annotating his books. Here’s Gassendi again:

‘He was not therefore of their mind, who having gotten fair Books, are afraid to blot them  with such lines ( underscorings) , or marginal notes: for he esteemed those Books most highly, into which he could insert most notes; and therefore he commonly caused all his Books , when they were in quires, to be washed over with Alum-water, and when he foresaw their margents would not be large enough he caused white paper to be bound between the printed leaves.’

What was the purpose of alum-water? Well, since antiquity alum (typically aluminium sulphate) had been used as a mordant ( a drying agent ) in dyeing fabrics. In paper-making a solution of it was used to strengthen paper and make it less vulnerable to damp and therefore to mould growth. Presumably, Peiresc was aware of this property of alum and saw its use as contributing to the longevity of the paper on which his notes were written. This would make sense at a time when libraries were often damp, which environment contributed to the destruction of books through the growth of mould.

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Books burnt in the Great Fire of London

The Great Fire of London, which claimed most of the medieval and Tudor city in the summer of 1666, including St Paul’s Cathedral and the Guildhall, also destroyed the centre of the London book trade, Paternoster Row, which lay just south of St Paul’s . Doubtless there are many anecdotes concerning the efforts of booksellers and bibliophiles to rescue books before they were consumed. In exploring the smoking ruins of the city John Evelyn noted that the vaulted roof of St Paul’s had smashed  into St Faith’s church, ‘ which being filled with the magazines of books belonging to the Stationers, and carried thither for safety, they were all consumed, burning for a week following ‘. But the anecdote that most intrigues your Jotter has to do with Samuel Pepys, who buried his prize ‘Caxtons’ in his garden to protect them. That the diarist was a genuine bibliophile is obvious to anyone who has visited the Pepys Library in Magdalene College, Cambridge, but how many are aware of his interest in the earliest years of printing in England ? One wonders if Pepys’s ‘ Caxtons’ still form part of this library, and if they do, which books are they ?

Perhaps lesser known are the books which perished, either in whole or in part, in the conflagration. One of the most famous must be the Third Folio of Shakespeare, which was published in 1664. Apparently, many copies of it were still being warehoused when the fire broke out. We don’t know exactly how many volumes were stored in this warehouse, but we must assume that all of them were destroyed and that the only the volumes that survived were those that had already been sold. One of these is currently for sale at an eye-watering price . Not too long ago another copy ( perhaps the same one)  made a high price at Cheffins in Cambridge. I know because I was at the sale. 

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John Harris junior (1791 – 1873)—facsimile artist 

One of the more extraordinary figures in the art world of the early nineteenth century was not really an artist in the true sense of that word. He was not an imaginative  ‘creator’ of art, nevertheless in the annals of the British Museum, where he worked for much of his life, John Harris, in the words of a contemporary, was ‘ probably unrivalled ‘ in the curious field in which he chose to work. Harris was a ‘facsimile artist ‘, which meant that today he would be classed as a ‘conservator ‘. At the British Museum his job was to repair or replace sections of books where pages were missing or damaged and in this he was so expert that contemporary reports state that his facsimile work was entirely indistinguishable from the original’.

In his book conservation activity Harris worked almost entirely in pen and ink. He would trace the piece of missing text from another copy of the same book and apply the tracing onto old paper using a pen and black ink. Once completed, the facsimile text would be incorporated into the damaged book. Whole pages were sometimes replaced this way and although Harris signed his work ‘ by I.H. junr. ‘ it has fooled some scholars.

Harris’s accomplishments began a fashion for such facsimile work in the nineteenth century’s bibliomania. When such exacting work became too difficult for Harris, his   son replaced him as a facsimile artist at the British Museum. But there were other very skilful artists who were doing similar work. The current exhibition on ‘ Fakes and Forgeries ‘ at the Folger Shakespeare Library in the USA features a copy of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales printed by Caxton in which sixteen pages of missing text were replaced in facsimile, probably  by the printer and bibliographer William Blades, who had carefully studied Caxton’s typefaces.

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Rare book anecdotes from J. H. Slater’s Book Collecting

In Book Collecting ( 1892) J. H. Slater, that doyen of the rare book trade in late nineteenth century England, provides some wonderful anecdotes, the best of which  concerns a certain Mr Day, ‘ a well-known book hunter of the earlier part of the present century’:

‘One day, upon removing some books at the chambers of Sir William Jones, a large spider dropped upon the floor, upon Sir William with some warmth said “ Kill that spider, Day! Kill that spider!”  “ No”, said Mr Day, with that coolness for which he was so conspicuous, “I will not kill that spider, Jones: I do not know if I have a right to do so. Suppose, when you are going into your carriage to Westminster Hall, a superior being, who perhaps may have as much power over you as you have over this insect, should say to his companion, ‘ Kill that lawyer!’ Kill that lawyer!’ How should you like that? I am sure to most people a lawyer is a more noxious insect than a spider.” 

Slater evidently did not suffer fools gladly, and believe me back then, as now, there was a good deal of nonsense talked (and written) by so called bibliophiles. is chock full of Slater’s withering observations on his fellow dealers and collectors, of which one of the most withering can be found in his chapter on the venerable Elzevir Press.

 It seems to be an almost universal belief that all the works issued from the Elzevir press are small in bulk, and various terms, more or less foolish, have been invented by careless or incompetent persons to give expression to this idea. One of them, and perhaps the most hideous of them all, is “ dumpy” twelves. In the first place, works issued from the Elzevir press in 12mo are perfectly symmetrical in shape, and not at all dumpy; and, secondly, many books are in 4to and some even in folio…The amateur must avoid being misled by the poetical effusions which from time to time make their appearance, and which for the most part are written by persons who know nothing whatever of the subject…’

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