Author Archives: Jot 101

Fanny and Johnny visit the Rex Whistler Room restaurant

In 1956, over sixty years before the Tate Gallery ethics committee decided to close it over criticisms of its ‘racist’ mural, Fanny and Johnny Cradock paid a visit to the famous Rex Whistler Room restaurant in the Tate Gallery. They were there to sample the menu brought in by its new owner, a Mrs Adams, to replace ‘railway sandwiches, canteen tea and dish-water soups ‘. In place of these the visitors found:

‘ palatable soups (9d), respectably-fried fillets of Dover Sole and properly-cooked chips (3s 9d) , adding for good measure grilled trout and turbot for 4s 6d, chicken,  ham and mushroom vol-au-vent garni for 6s, and a nice homely plate of braised beef and vegetables for 4s 9d. Fresh fruit salad with ice-cream and cream costs only 1s 9d. Chef makes a tour of the restaurant daily to ensure all is well with his clients.’

Rather bizarrely, no mention is made by Fanny and Johnny of the astonishing mural, ‘ ‘An Expedition in Pursuit of Rare Meats ‘ by the twenty-one year old wunderkind of British decorative art, Rex Whistler, which by now had been there for thirty years, possibly because the couple were there to discuss food, and anyway most cultivated diners-out in the metropolis would already have been aware of the art work. Fast-forward to 2020, when the restaurant was last open to the public. The mural was still there, but in place of fish and chips diners with large pockets could expect to find very fine dining indeed and a reputable wine cellar commensurate with a gallery containing the greatest of British art.

But all was to change following an online post by an activist group calling itself ‘ White Pube’. This called attention to the imagery employed by Whistler, which included stereotypes of Chinese people and, worst of all, the figure of an enslaved black child being kidnapped by traders, hauled along by a rope in front of its distressed mother. According to the post, the notion of dining in the presence of imagery that represented the worst examples of the racism inherent in colonial power was an affront to present day values of equality and diversity. The online response elicited by this attack strongly suggested to the Tate trustees that the issue required immediate action and so a committee containing the great and the good was formed to debate the issue. 

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Yet another book of literary lists

Jon Wynne-Tyson

Henry Eliot—a sort of PR man for Penguin Books—does literary tours based on the work of Chaucer and the Lake Poets. He is also the compiler of The Alternative A – Z of London and Eliot’s Book of Bookish Lists, which we found to be a rather entertaining compendium of off-beat facts about authors. Here are some extracts from it:

The Kingdom of Redonda.

Redonda is an uninhabited rock between Antigua and Montserrat in the Leeward Islands of the Caribbean. The Montserratian novelist M.P.Shiel claimed that, at the age of fifteen, he was crowned ‘King Felipe of Redonda ‘ by an Antiguan bishop, inheriting the title from his father, who had successfully requested the island from Queen Victoria in 1865. Before he died, Shiell named the poet John Gawsworth his successor, but thereafter the line f succession becomes confused. There are at least three seemingly legitimate claimants, all of whom have granted Redondian duchies.

                                        King Matthew  1865 – 80 

                          Matthew Dowdy Shiel, merchant and preacher 

                                                          I

                                        King Felipe 1880 – 1947 

                                  Matthew Phipps Shiell, novelist

                                                           I     

                                         King Juan I 1947 -70

                                   John Gawsworth, poet and editor

                                                           I

           ________________________I___________________________  

          L                                                                                                     I

           King Juan II 1967 – 1989                             King Juan II 1970 -1997

        Arthur John Roberts, publican                      John Wynne-Tyson, publisher 

                             I                                    I                                               I              

                   King Leo                         King Xavier__________   King Bob the Bald       

                            I                               1997 –                                2000- 2009

                 1989 – 2019                      Javier Marias,                     Bob Williamson, 

      William Leonard Gates,              novelist                              artist and sailor

      historian 

                           I I                                                                                     I

      Queen Josephine                                                                    King Michael the

      2019 –                                                                                    Grey

      Josephine Gates,                                                                     2009 –

      King Leo’s widow                                                                  Michael J Howarth,

                                                                                                      yachting writer. 

*The monarchs of Redonda have tended to grant titles and duties liberally. The following authors have been Redondan peers: William Boyd, Ray Bradbury, A. S. Byatt, J.M.Coetzee, Gerald Durrell, Lawrence Durrell, Umberto Eco, Arthur Machen, Julian Maclaren Ross, Henry Miller, Alice Munro, Edna O’Brien, J.B Priestley, Philip Pullman, Arthur Ransome, Dorothy L. Sayers, W.G. Sebald, Julian Symons, Dylan Thomas , John Wain and Rebecca West.

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Bon Viveur visits The Marquee, Egon Ronay’s restaurant near Harrods

Egon Ronay, along with Raymond Postgate, has become a byword for good food guides in the UK. But did you know that  the ‘ Bon Viveur ‘ double act of Phyllis ‘Fanny ‘ Cradock and wine expert husband ‘Johnnie ‘ reported on it with great enthusiasm in their 1955 guide to hotels and restaurants in London and the provinces ?

Here is their report:

‘London’s most food-perfect small restaurant. Two restaurants, in fact, for the price of one. By day this chic rendezvous draws women of international elegance who provide the restaurant with an ever-changing mannequin display as they nibble the now famous brioche toast and drink impeccable coffee in tall glasses. It is, in short, a baby Sacher’s ( from Vienna) , where Viennese and Swiss gateaux compete in popularity  with Hungarian Dobos. By night the counters of patisseries and cocktail snacks disappear. Padded banquettes, candlelight and pink tablecloths form  background to tranquil dining and the light flickers on climbing plants, the striped, canopied ceiling, the fruit baskets and the impeccable cheese board on the cold table. The Marquee is always filled with couples—romance thrives upon good food and wine. We single out for special commendation the luncheon-time Omelette du Chef with fresh crème and mushrooms (6s 6d) and the Poulet au Riz Sauce Supreme ( 6s. 6d ) plus an excellent table d’hote luncheon for 7s 6d.

In the afternoon the Savoury Gateaux, 2s per slice, is a superlative bonne bouche ; foie gras mousse , mousse of smoked salmon , egg puree and anchovy paste are layered with brioche bread and subtly garnished into gateaux form,

By night Bisque d’Homard (4s 6d) and a magnificent 9s 6d Bouillabaisse lead on to Quenelles de Brochet-the real Quenelles for 7s 6d., a delicate 7s 6d Sole Florentine, Rognons Bange (7s 6d.) with cream and wine, and occasionally a gateaux which is without equal in this town, rather ineptly christened Walnut Souffle Gateaux. But do not bother about its name. Taste it. It is made without any flour at all and is rich in cream and rum. The commendable wines include a light, clean steinwein to marry with fish dishes ( 27s 6d) , ’47 Haut Brion ( Chateau-bottled)  37s. 6d., ’45 Leoville Barton 29s. 6d, and ’49 Vosne Romanee 21s. Amusez-vous bien mes enfants!

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Floating Voters

Found – this manuscript poem by E.V.Knox (1881 -1971) one-time editor of Punch , serious humorist, poet, parodist and satirist (known as ‘Evoe’). It was probably published in Punch and possibly just after the Second World War… seems rather topical…The plaque above is outside his house in Frognal, London NW3…

A LAST WORD TO THE FLOATERS 

O scum of the Electorate

Whose vacillating heart is

Unclaimed by the protectorate

Of either of the Parties,

Politely let me woo you,

However plain your features,

And say some home truths to you

You nasty looking creatures.

Unless you vote sincerely

Unprompted by the devil

The sides may come out nearly,

Aye more, precisely level.

And where would England be then

If indolence so trumpery

Exposed her to the heathen-

A by word for Mugwunpery?

Why, damned to all perdition,

A land without a master,

Foredoomed to Coalition

And weltering in dienster:

This home of Kings and fighters

And Constitution-shapers

Depends on you, you blighters,

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Dining on the north Norfolk coast before it was as trendy as it is today

Judging from their entries in their 1956 guide to good eating, Bon Viveur ( Fanny and Johnny Cradock ) had nice things to say about eateries in coastal Norfolk. Here are two of the restaurants they wrote about:

The Golden Lion Hotel, Hunstanton.

Nearest railway station: Hunstanton.

This is a place to take the family in summer for a seaside holiday. It is a solid hotel solidly set down at right angles to the sea and the golden sands. We can still remember a guinea fowl and an apricot pie  with fresh cream at astonishingly moderate fee and the samphire ( seaweed) which grows hereabouts and which chef serves among his hors d’oeuvre. His Norfolk Mussels Meuniere are likewise delectable.

Bed and breakfast 19s. 6d.

En pension from 35s.

Breakfast from 4s. 6d.

Luncheon 6s. 6d. to 7s. 6d.

Dinner –8s.6d. to 10s.6d.

Along the coast from here, at Snettisham, the pickling of samphire still goes on in the cottages. The old ’uns in the village will reminisce of mussel and Stewkey Blue cockle collecting which was done in those days in tiny carts drawn by St Bernard dogs. Inland, you must explore the stately homes of the county—Raynham Hall, seat of ‘Turnip’ Townsend, designed by Inigo Jones; Blickling Hall, Jacobean architectural jewel, and Holkham Hall, enshrined in Ilex Groves.

A recent visit in late May by your Jotter confirmed that Hunstanton on a hot summer’s day is still an attractive holiday spot for families , with its funfair, crazy golf  and  golden sands extending four miles down to Snettisham, where incidentally eight years before this entry was written the largest trove of Iron Age gold and silver in Europe was discovered in a field by a local ploughman, an event commemorated today in the name of the antiquarian bookshop in the village ( Torc Books). Some of the old cottages where samphire was pickled are doubtless  holiday homes, though samphire ( which is not botanically speaking a seaweed ) still grows on the mudflats in north Norfolk, although mussel and cockle collecting has long gone.

The station at Hunstanton is now a huge car park, but the imposing Golden Lion Hotel, the oldest building in the town( 1846) is still there, though  a double room without breakfast will now set you back £120. The restaurant  still serves samphire as a starter , but guinea fowl, mussels and apricot tart  have been replaced by steaks, the inevitable sea bass and vegetarian options.

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Roedean Slang

We are always interested in slang at Jot especially specialised slang, like school slang. Lists can often be found in the appendixes of school histories. Winchester College has probably produced the most slang (there are books). Roedean does quite well but some of the slang is (or was) fairly widespread in British schools, and beyond — e.g. ‘bog’ and ‘MYOB’.

These were found in Memories of Roedean – The First 100 Years by Judy Moore (1998) -copies freely available for less than £10 at Abe, Amazon etc., Many thanks indeed…

Appendix A – School Slang and Sayings.

Aunt – lavatory
Backs and feet  – medical examination 
BB  – bust bodice (later used to mean bra)
Bilge – biology 
Bish  – faux pas 
Bobbing – saying goodnight and shaking hands with the prefect or member of staff on duty 
Bog – lavatory (from the 70s)
Boiled babie’s arm – roly-poly 
Boot hole – cloakroom 
BUFF – best friends forever 
Bugs and fleas – medical examination 
Bunny run – covered passage connecting different parts of the school
Cardboards – Lisle stockings 
Carthaginian brick – a peculiarly hard pudding chitchat – informal meeting of prefects or sub prefects with housemistress to discuss days events 
Chucked – banished from a ‘set’
Cockroaches – area underfloor by Bunny run
Continental shelf – where girls sunbathe or watched matches 
Crows nest – front room of Heaven
Cubic – cubicle 
Dead babies arm – roly-poly 
Ears and eyes – medical examination 
Festooned hair – hair falling over the face 
Fic – fiction library 
Forties – lessons (40 minutes)
frogspawn – tapioca pudding 
Ganges river muck – caramel pudding 
Garbage pudding – pudding made from leftovers 
GDR – girls drawing room 
Going up the house – blushing 

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When Iain Sinclair was a book dealer…

Found in a pile of books at Jot HQ, list 53 compiled by Iain Sinclair, the cult author of Downriver and Orbital to name but a few, when he was a bookseller. The catalogue is dated Autumn 1992, by which time he had already published several books, and is signed by him. 

When I interviewed him for Book and Magazine Collector in 1999, I knew only a little about his tastes in literature. Had I obtained a copy of this, or any other of his lists, I should have gained much more and the interview would have been longer and more wide ranging.

Having said that, I was happy with the interview, which was a very early one, and so it seems was my companion, the poet, drinking pal , Loch Ness Monster expert and author of ‘ the Bar-room Bum from Brum ‘, Dr Paul Lester, who managed to stay almost silent ( quite a feat for him) throughout the interview. Later on, Sinclair disguised two other drinking pals of mine from Brum as ‘the Ketamine Creeps in one of his books.

But back to the list. The books for sale are listed and described under several heading, viz Cardinal & Corpse: Checklist of characters , the Quests: search for a story line, The Beats, Fellow Travellers, Counter Culture, Low Life, Pro Lit, Bohemian Excesses, Youth, JDs, Teen Style, London Novels and London Novelists, The Terrible Triad: Jazz, Drugs, Rocks, Luvvies, Losers, Legends, Film, Theatre, TV, Hollywood, PIs Hardboiled Crime, Mean Streets, Thrills, Mysteries, Spies, Romance, Sailors, Science  Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, Gothic, Black Lit and Novels dealing with question of Race, London, Dimestore sex, Vietnam and other wars , Conspiracies, Comics, Bin Ends…

It seems to me that librarians, literary academics and especially dealers in rare books are well paced to become decent novelists, or in the case of Sinclair, discursive writers of fiction. They absorb so much information in their everyday lives among books that they have an advantage over others, including journalists, when it comes to communicating stories .Apart from Sinclair, there have been a few writers in the category of dealer or rare book expert. One thinks of Ian Fleming, for instance and perhaps most recently Joseph Connolly, who I’ve also interviewed. The catalogues of some of these dealers   show that they are writers manqué. One thinks of that now dead dealer in modern firsts Peter Joliliffe, of Ulysses Bookshop, who, perhaps taking his cue from Sinclair, used to add rambling anecdotes and musings to his catalogue entries.

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Now and Then

This was a literary magazine published sporadically by Jonathan Cape to promote their own new books.

The idea of such a magazine is unusual, to say the least. Your Jotter is not familiar with any other periodical of this type ( though doubtless there must be one or two) , and it is certainly sneaky to design a magazine to look almost exactly like an independent  literary review, rather than a book promotion. The name of the publisher does appear on the cover of the Winter 1936 issue, which we found in our archive at Jot HQ, and in the case of The Book of Margery Kempe, the name ‘ Jonathan Cape’ appears under the blurb in an advertising panel in this issue , but in every other advert in the magazine  the publisher’s name is absent, as indeed it is in every review of the books. This is surely misleading to everyone reading the magazine except those who were familiar with it and its aims. A casual reader picking up  a copy of Now and Then from a bookstall back in 1936 would conclude that here was yet another literary review and only on close inspection would he or she perhaps be suspicious of its independence. The inclusion of the words ‘Jonathan Cape’ on every advert and in every review would have immediately given the game away. However, any reader sufficiently impressed by a review to seek out the books in a store might easily be offended at being taken in by a blatant piece of puffery. I wonder if Jonathan Cape lost any customers this way. Few would have expected a reputable and long established publisher, such as John Murray, to indulge in such chicanery. But the comparatively recently founded Jonathan Cape, which had begun in 1921, was evidently keen to boost its sales.  

The trick, which  probably began in the company’s marketing department, originated with the first issue of Now and Then in the 1920s, but was further enhanced in the ‘thirties when it adopted the art deco cover style of  Geoffrey Grigson’s New Verse, with its trendy sans serif font. Up to this point Now and Then had used the conventional roman font for its cover. However, the main text and back cover remained resolutely Roman throughout its existence. 

To their credit, the people at Jonathan Cape did not choose many of their own authors as reviewers. In this Winter 1936 issue, only Muriel Stuart could be classed as such. Most of the others were under fifty, although there were few older , well-known authors , such as Winston Churchill, William Beach Thomas  and Grant Richards.  Most were well known literary figures , although one or two, such as short story writer and novelist L. A. Pavey, James Curtis, a screenwriter and novelist, best known for ‘They Drive by Night’, and Muriel Stuart, a poet and writer on gardening, were less eminent.

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The Bus stops at Binham Lane

A lost classic of ‘thirties dormitory suburbia ?

When a comparatively recent book becomes hard to find one is tempted to wonder exactly why. If it isn’t a private press production in a limited edition, or wasn’t the victim of a fire that devoured most copies in a publisher’s warehouse, or wasn’t withdrawn from publication due to a law suit, or bought up by the author who didn’t want readers to buy it, then one is entitled to ask why it is so scarce . There is only one copy ( at some point there were two, but one was sold) of The Bus Stops at Binham Lane by Stacey W(illiam) Hyde, published by Jonathan Cape in 1936, on abebooks. This particular copy is in only fair condition and lacks its dust jacket, but the vendor wants a cool £29 for it. Does he know something about the book that we don’t ?

Perhaps he read a review of it by L. A. Pavey in the Winter 1936 issue of Now and Then in which the reviewer praises the author for a remarkably shrewd eye for the idiosyncrasies of a couple newly displaced from one established piece of suburbia into a brand new estate development built on fields and country lanes on the edge of a town. Hyde’s general theme is the effect on those who began their post-war life in the heart of the country but who ended up ‘ in a Calvary of estate development and jerry-building’ to a place with (to quote Hyde himself)

‘homes strung out interminably along the white skewers of their concrete roads; there were no churches among them, no schools, no parks, shops only in isolated pairs, no pubs, no halls, no libraries, no cinemas—nothing to indicate that a people…had come to live among the immemorial quietudes of Binham fields’.

 If we put aside the town-planning issues temporarily and focus on the sociological ones, it’s possible to imagine why The Bus Stops at Binham Lane is regarded as an important record of how the displaced inhabitants of new housing estates were obliged to make the best of their ‘ bleak sort of wilderness ‘. If we return to the town-planning issues and perhaps view them with a sociological eye , the book could be read alongside such classics as William Clough-Ellis’s Britain and the Beast , C.E.M. Joad’s The Untutored Townsman’s Invasion of the Country (1946), or for that matter, the Shell Guides of the ‘thirties and their temporary replacements of the forties , the Murray’s Architectural Guides, which cast a baleful eye on the ribbon development and the new arterial roads that disfigured so many of  the outer suburbs of London. Needless to say, many of these issues were also addressed by John Betjeman in his early poems as well as in his excellent First and Last Loves. At a slightly later date, the late great Ian Nairn highlighted them in his pioneering Outrage and Counter Attack.  

In his book-length diatribe Joad discusses the rise of what he calls ‘ dormitory England’ and here he uses the same objections in 1949 as Hyde had used in 1936.

This ‘England of the factory and the spreading dormitory suburb’, Joad complains,

…is a lonely England and lacks almost all those places of meeting in which human beings have traditionally gathered, known their neighbours and felt the stirrings of civic consciousness. There are no assembly halls, no theatres, few churches, no civic centres; in many garden cities there are no pubs or very few. There are only those awful isolating cinemas where the inmates sit hand in hand, absorbing emotion like sponges in the dark…These spreading suburbs have no heart and no head…’   

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Book collecting for fun & profit by Bill McBride (1997) Part 4

Entertainment:

Music, vaudeville, movies, dance, theatre, television, radio, circus, the carnival, etc. If it amused, it was documented in books.

We have already looked at television and radio under ‘communication ‘. Under the heading ‘ music ‘ we can find bound volumes of sheet music going back to the mid eighteenth century, biographies of composers, songwriters and performers, and collections of folk music and old ballads. Some in the latter category are rare and sought after. Under the American term ‘ vaudeville ‘ are grouped the British Music Hall, Variety and Reviews and those interested in this type of entertainment may look for biographies of leading figures, such as Dan Leno or Marie Lloyd. However the most revealing ‘ literature ‘ relating to vaudeville are still theatre and concert programmes and copies of magazines devoted to this field, such as The Stage. One even more revealing source of information, particularly on Music Hall and Reviews are the manuscript Wages Books. Your Jotter found the Wage Book of the Wood Green Empire from 1912 – 24 in an auction a few years ago. From it he learnt that the leading performers of the day, such as George Robey and Marie Lloyd, were earning huge sums —£200 a week in some cases –compared to some lesser ‘turns’ who were lucky to receive £15 or £20. These star attractions were the movie stars of the day. The Wage Book also revealed the sad story of the faux Chinese illusionist, Chung Ling Soo, aka an American called William Ellsworth Robinson, who was shot on stage at the Empire in March 1918 after a bullet catching trick went horribly wrong. A real bullet had been loaded by mistake into the ‘gun’ aimed at him by his assistants. Robinson later died of his wounds. The Wages Book doesn’t pay tribute to the dead man, but it does record a large sum of money given in compensation to his widow. Boris Karloff later portrayed Robinson in a popular film.

Books on movies and movie stars, of which there are many, are collected by film buffs around the world. Years ago your Jotter interviewed one of the biggest dealers in the performing arts, the American Elliott Katt who revealed, that  most of his customers were professionals from the movie industry, notably in Hollywood, and that one particular star, Michael Jackson, always insisted that he close  his shop when he visited, such was the clamour from fans. Katt also had a fund of anecdotes relating to the very rare and valuable books on early cinema that he always kept in stock.

The history of dance is a popular field for collectors, though books on this subject are few. The most valuable items usually date from the eighteenth century and are often written by dancing masters. 

Books relating to the theatre can be plays dating back to the time of Shakespeare and here the most elusive ( and expensive) are the so-called ‘quartos’ of single plays by the Bard printed (often badly)  in small numbers for the use of actors and perhaps theatregoers at the time. Back then Shakespeare’s plays were well regarded and popular, but their author had yet to attain the status of genius and national figure that the appearance of the First Folio in 1623 helped to foster. Thus the original quartos weren’t valued and most were thrown away when they fell to pieces through over-use. If a quarto of one of his greatest plays were to come onto the market now it would cause an extraordinary furore and command a price close to a million pounds for its rarity value alone, particularly if it contained annotations by one of the Bard’s company. Copies of the First Folio and subsequent Folios also fetch large sums, but are much more common. More common still are the various, often bowdlerised editions of Shakespeare that appeared from the press throughout the eighteenth century. These are always quite cheap, reflecting as they do the tastes and morals of their editors rather than the inimitable greatness of the Bard. For this reason they are probably best avoided as texts, though they have a novelty value. 

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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 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. They still have value as he is known to do this and, in its way, it is 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, minimalist 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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