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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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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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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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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Everybody’s Rebound: sustainability in the 1940s

156 Charing Cross Road

Found in a pile of books here at Jot HQ—a paperback copy dated 1943 of Agatha Christie’s Poirot Investigates. It’s exactly the same size as a Penguin, but was in fact published for the British Publishers Guild by John Lane at The Bodley Head. These ‘Guild Books’ were originally designed to rival Penguins, which were dominating the paperback market at the time. However, they never proved as popular and the Guild later folded.

But this particular Guild Book is different from most others in the series in that the original covers have been removed and replaced by what appears to be brown salvaged card. There is a panel for the title which is rubber-stamped, underneath which is a triangle bearing the legend ‘ EVERYBODY’S REBOUND’ 1/6. There then follows an explanation of what ‘Everybody’s Rebound was trying to achieve.

This is a rebound copy of a book worth reading published by a well-know publisher.

We are rebinding books such as this, in order that as many books as possible may do their job twice and so help the vital “ Save Paper “ Campaign.

If you have any books of any kind, and in any condition, that you can spare send or bring them to us and we will make you the highest cash offer.

                                         EVERYBODY’S BOOKS

                                    156, Charing Cross Road, W.C.2.

It is questionable whether this or any other book ‘rebound ‘ by Everybody’s Books was ‘ worth reading ‘. What is not in dispute is the merit of salvaging paper at a time of shortage. The thinking seems to have been that at a time when reading was an important way of distracting people from the War ( after all, the sales of poetry went sky high during the conflict), any means of giving damaged  paperbacks a new lease of life was worth doing. Better to rebind a coverless book than print a new edition using paper which was a scarce resource. What was not revealed was whether hardbacks without covers could be saved in the same way. Nor was there any indication as to when this Guild Book was rebound. An inscription on the inside cover shows that a certain Ann Seabrook owned the book in September 1948, and as paper salvage continued until 1950, the rebinding  may have occurred around 1948.

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Austin Dobson’s famous ‘ lost books ‘

In his Bookman’s Budget ( 1917) the writer and book collector Austin Dobson asks why early copies of certain famous books are so thin on the ground.  One of the books he has in mind is the first edition of Walton’s Compleat Angler, ‘ very few ‘ of which ‘ are in existence now ‘.

‘that little octavo of 246 pages, price eighteen pence, Printed by T. Maxey for Rich. Marriott in St Dunstan’s Church-yard, Fleet Street’ in 1653 ‘.

Dobson fancifully speculates that the copies of this first edition:

 ‘were worn out in the pockets of Honest Izaak’s  ‘Brothers of the Angle’, or left to bake and cockle in the sunny corners of wasp-haunted alehouse windows, or dropped in the deep grass by some casual owner, more careful for flies and caddis-worms, or possibly for the contents of a leathern bottle, than all the ‘ choicely-good ‘ madrigals of Maudlin the milk-maid’ .

Possibly so, as The Compleat Angler, may have been seen by anglers as a book of practical or technical advice rather than a work of rare literary qualities. It is certainly true that many a rare tome has been neglected by bibliophiles who ought to know better. When I interviewed Germaine Greer back in 1999, she shocked my by confessing that some of her more valuable old books ended up eaten by insects or ruined by the heat of the Italian sun while left on the window sills of her Tuscan villa.

Ale spilt over first editions in taverns doesn’t do them much good either. Vade mecums such as firsts by Walton can be left out in the rain, ruined and subsequently thrown away. There is possibly a whole book to be written on valuable tomes that were badly cared for and afterwards chucked out.

But Dobson isn’t just thinking about Walton’s masterpiece.

‘ That other eighteenpenny book, put forth by Nath. Ponder at the Peacock in the Poultrey near Cornhil’ five and twenty years later—The Pilgrim’s Progress from This World, to That which is to come ‘; why is it that there are only five or six copies, none quite perfect, now extant, of which the best sold long since for more than £1,400? ‘

One copy, Dobson declared, was placed in a ‘ great library’ ( presumably the British Museum), but the others have ‘ all gone’. It could be that they, like Walton’s Angler, were regarded as practical guides and therefore were not valued as, say, a volume of poetry might be. Or were the editions small enough for copies to be ‘ dog-eared out of being?

We don’t know, of course. What we do know is that an exceedingly rare copy of the Compleat Angler was sold by Sotheby’s not too long ago with an estimate of £60,000 – £80,000 on it. It was an octavo, and as Dobson notes, it had an engraved title page and contained ten very cute engravings of fishes in the text and a double page of sheet music by the eminent composer Henry Lawes. This ‘ choice copy’ was once owned by the amateur chess player and collector of books on chess, Rimington-Wilson ( 1822 – 87). The most recent owner was Armin Goyder (1908 – 97), a businessman and Blake enthusiast.

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The Library of E. M. Forster

Found in the archives at Jot HQ, this catalogue from Heffers in Cambridge of a large portion of E. M. Forster’s library.

In the introduction by King’s College Librarian, A.N.L. Munby, who knew Forster well, we learn something of Forster’s ancestors, who included his grandfather, Charles Forster, friend and Chaplain of John Jebb ( 1755 – 1833), Bishop of Limerick. Of the books bequeathed by Jebb to  Forster, by far the most valuable was a ‘superb’  copy of Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience, which came down to E. M. Forster in 1904. He in turn donated it to Kings College Library on his eightieth birthday. One book from Jebb that Forster owned at his death was a piece of incunabula dating from 1494. Sacrii Eloquii Celeberrimi Preconis Venerablis dni Alberti Magni Epi Ratisponess Sermones Aurei de Sacrosancto Eucharistie Sacramento had covers bound from a vellum manuscript. 

When Forster left the family home at West Hackhurst, Surrey, for King’s College, Cambridge in 1946, he had to downsize his library. Many books were sold and in his new accommodation on A staircase in the College Forster was obliged to settle on a library totalling 2,500 volumes. So, as new acquisitions were made, other volumes had to be given away to friends or to the College library.

On Forster’s death in 1970 Professor W. H. Sprott, one of his executors, inherited the contents of his rooms, including the library. After King’s College was allowed to purchase five hundred significant items from the library and friends were invited to choose books in memory of the writer, the rest was retained by Sprott. On the latter’s death in 1971 Heffer’s bought this remaining portion of Forster’s library.

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G.F.Sims bookseller

G. F. Sims (d. 1999) was a rare book dealer and writer of crime thrillers who your Jotter last wrote about five years ago. His catalogues were always full of tasty items. Indeed, they are now appreciated and collected in their own right. Sims specialised in nineteenth and twentieth century books and letters and the catalogue of c 1980 that we found at Jot HQ the other day contains some choice pieces.

1) Pulped ,burnt and otherwise destroyed.

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Ezra Pound

Sonnets and Ballate of Guido Cavalcanti ( Steven Swift 1912). The bulk of this edition was destroyed by fire at the binders. Some escaped the fire, including Sims’ copy, which he had at £75. Another in Abebooks is priced at £375.

Vladimir Nabokov

Other Shores. Translated and revised by V.N.( Izzdatel’stvo imeni (Chekov Publishing House 1954). Only one copy can be found at Abebooks. Sims says ‘Rare—many copies were pulped.’ In the Abe description there is no mention of this book being pulped. Today you’d pay £228 for a copy. Sims has his at £75.

D. G. Rossetti.

The Blessed Damozel By D.G.Rossetti. nd. (?1904)

“Excessively scarce”. The edition was destroyed at the binders. Funny that you don’t hear of such fires nowadays. I blame Edwardian pipe-smokers. Anyway, according to an inscription by the printer at the Pear Tree Press ‘This is one of the best copies after the fire in which the whole edition of 250 copies were destroyed. One copy remained as sample binding and five more made up from sheets not sent to binders, making six copies in all. There were also five vellum copies which had not been sent to the binders.’ In the words of Sims ‘One of the few books to which the description “ excessively scarce “ might well be applied. He accordingly priced it at £75.

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Richmal Crompton on writing for children

Today, when fully formed adults from around the world queue patiently at the portal to  Platform 9 ¾ at  King’s Cross Station to have their photograph taken beside the Harry Potter luggage trolley, it’s worth reading another and better children’s writer, the one-time Classics teacher and creator of William, Richmal Crompton, as she explains in an article in the October 1952 issue of The Writer, how she began her career as a writer for adults.

‘I submitted the first one to a women’s magazine and the editor, accepting it, asked for another story about children. I remember that I racked my brains, trying to invent a different set of children from the ones I had already used, and it was with a feeling of guilt and inadequacy that I finally fell back again on the children of the first story. Asked for a third story about children, I wrestled once more with the temptation to use the same set of children, succumbing to it finally with the same sense of guilt. When I had written the fifth story I said to myself: “This must stop. You must find a completely different set of children for the next story.” But somehow I didn’t and gradually the ‘William’ books evolved. They were still, however, regarded as books for adult reading, and I think it was not till the last war that they found their way from the general shelves to the children’s department in the bookshops. And even now I receive letters from adult—even elderly –readers…

…if you are writing about children for children, you must be able to see the world around you as a child sees it. To “ write down” for children is an insult that a child is quick to perceive and resent. Children enjoy assimilating new facts and ideas, but only if the writer is willing to rediscover these facts and ideas with the children, not if he hands out information from the heights of adult superiority. I think the fact that the ‘William’ stories wer4e originally with no eye on a child-reading public has helped to make them popular with children…The plots are not specially devised for children, but I think that if there’s anything I the story that children don’t understand they just don’t worry about it. Children, too, seem to like a series of stories dealing with the same character—especially if it’s a character  with which the normal child can identify itself…

In those early days I saw myself as a budding novelist and wrote the William stories —rather carelessly and hurriedly—as pot-boilers. The history of the pot-boiler, by the way, is an interesting one. Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, Hans Andersen’s fairy tales, Stevenson’s Treasure Island were all written as pot-boilers…Stevenson would have been surprised to know that after his death the story that people connected most readily with his name would be Treasure Island…

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Walter Jerrold’s book collecting habits: A second peep into Autolycus of the Bookstalls (1902)

Jot 101 Farringdon road books 1966In our first Jot on Jerrold’s book we were rather harsh. We felt that he was too easily pleased by his discoveries among the book barrows and second hand bookshops. However, some of his adventures do shed some light on the second hand book trade in London around the turn of the nineteenth century. The book stalls in New Cut he describes may have gone, but selling books from street stalls has changed little since then. The only exception to this appears to be the methods of the veteran Jeffrey of Farringdon Road, who, if you asked what his ‘best price’ was had the habit of tearing the book in question in half before your startled eyes( see previous Jots).

Take the penultimate chapter of Autolycus entitled ‘The Twilight of the Gods ‘. Jerrold begins his anecdote by setting the scene for a discovery:

‘The scene is the New Cut, a few yards from where it turns out of the Westminster Bridge Road. We are standing at a regulation costermonger’s barrow, laden with a great variety…of literary wares…The air is heavy with the nauseating smell from a nearby cook-shop, of which the windows, steam clouded from within, bear in bold type, this simple legend: “ What are the wild waves saying? Come and get a good dinner for sixpence!” Continue reading

The Collection of William White / third and final part

This Jot deals with the final three writers that the bibliomaniac William White collected during his lifetime. Two of them– Emily Dickinson and Nathanael West –were American. Ernest Bramah was British.

 Jot 101 William White third part Bramah pic

Firstly, White admits that his own collection of Dickinson cannot compete with that housed in the Jones Library, Amherst, Massachusetts, her home town. For instance, he only managed to acquire second impressions of the poet’s Poems ( 1890), Poems: second series (1891) and Poems: third series (1896), all of which were brought out by Roberts Brothers of Boston. Today, Abebooks have all three of these first editions at an eye-watering £42,000 the lot. White also owned the first English edition of Poems (1890) which was printed from American sheets of the seventeenth edition with a cancel title page. Today, Abebooks has a copy priced at   £2,100.

White declared that the rarest and most expensive of his Dickinson books was a second edition (1915) of The Single Hound: Poems of a Lifetime (1914), which was edited by Dickinson’s niece, Martha Dickinson Bianchi. Abebooks has this first at £1,700.

Ever the scholar, White also felt a need to collect the various biographies of Dickinson, the best of which was George Frisbie Whicher’s This was a Poet ( 1938). One of the principle experts on the poet seems to have been Thomas H. Johnson, whose Poems of Emily Dickinson (1955) and Letters of Emily Dickinson (1958) were praised by White as ‘scholarly productions in every sense of the word’. Mr Johnson also wrote an ‘ excellent ‘ biography.

For some reason White next chose to collect Nathanael West, the novelist who died at just 37 following a car smash and whose best book is possibly Miss Lonelyhearts. According to White, West’s other three novels, The Dream Life of Balso Snell, A Cool Million and The Day of the Locust, were in `1965, being reassessed and accordingly were becoming more sought after, but White managed to buy first editions  of them for very reasonable prices. Characteristically, he also felt a need to buy all the reprints, all three of the lives of West and several translations. Today, we might agree with White that West’s appeal is likely to remain ‘limited ‘.

The happy accident that led to White’s decision to collect the works of Ernest Bramah, the English author of the Kai Lung series, was his wife’s discovery of him in anthologies published by Dorothy L, Sayers. Because few Americans knew anything about him, including the Librarian of Wayne State University, White was able to acquire sixteen of the first editions for little more than the $3 he had shelled out for Bramah’s first book—English Farming (1894), which the vendor had catalogued under ‘agriculture’. Continue reading

Collecting on a Professor’s salary Part two.

William White was a professor of Journalism and American Studies, which may partially explain his academic interest in certain American writers, but we at Jot HQ are at a loss to understand why he spent time and good money assembling a collection of the work of such a mediocre American novelist as John Marquand. In his account of how he came to do so, White seems a little embarrassed, as if he needed to justify his ‘ affection ‘ for a novelist ‘not of the first rank ’. And when he brings in the opinion of another critic to support his case, he further mystifies us. According to T. G .Rosenthal, Marquand ‘never achieved greatness but was an excellent entertainer’. Talk about damning with faint praise. The status of Marquand as a novelist is unlikely to alter in the coming years. Today, most of his first editions can be bought for a few pounds, although Do Tell Me, Doctor Johnson , at £60, and The Late Lord Apsley ( according to White the best thing he wrote) at £90 are exceptions. Maybe it was the journalist in White that saw merit in Marquand. But ever the completist, he could not pursue his prey with half measures:Jot 101 Hemingway pic

‘ I have just about every first edition of his forty novels, collections of short pieces, books he wrote introductions for, and pamphlets plus reprints, English editions, and translations—275 volumes, not counting periodical appearances…’

In a previous blog on White as a collector we have seen how admiration for a writer, such as Housman, could become an overweening obsession bordering on mild insanity. This confession concerning Marquand only confirms this view. Continue reading

Book Collecting on a Professor’s Salary 1

Jot 101 A.E.Housman pic

Found in a copy of The Private Library for July 1965 at Jot HQ archives is an account by an American professor of Journalism and American Studies called William White of his adventures in book collecting spanning three decades. The six writers in which he specialised as a collector were Housman, Hemingway, Marquand, Emily Dickinson and Nathaniel West, and if his account is to be believed he seems to have been a scholar-collector of rare persistence and dedication.

Not for him the Caxtons and Renaissance incunabula that occupied the energies of collectors like Paul Getty. White wasn’t interested in beating other wealthy men to acquire beautiful or ancient rarities. He deliberately chose writers who weren’t particularly fashionable and therefore expensive, though it could be argued that Hemingway and Dickinson might fit into this category. The remaining four writers, however– two English and two American– were comparatively inexpensive to collect. Though he doesn’t make it clear whether he collected the works of these writers because they were cheap to collect or because he was particularly interested in their work.

White begins his account by discussing his collection of Housman (above). We learn that he became interested in the poet and scholar soon after he died. His first purchase was the boxed edition of A Shropshire Lad and Last Poems dated 1929 from the private Alcuin Press in Chipping Campden, which as a graduate student in California he paid for in instalments. The price in the late 1930s was $17.50. Pretty soon White had contracted the collecting bug, which he justified by rightly arguing that there was only one way to do serious bibliographical research: ‘own the books’. Even allowing for White’s bibliomania, the description of his Housman library after thirty years of collecting is mind- blowing: Continue reading

Collected books that appeared a hundred years ago. No 1) The Red House Mystery by A.A.Milne

Jot 101 Red House MysteryMost readers know A. A. Milne as the creator of Winnie-the-Pooh, Eeyore, and Tigger, but four years before these characters appeared Milne published his one true detective novel, The Red House Mystery (1922).

By 1922 the forty-year old had become best known as a playwright and writer of screenplays for the cinema, as well as being  a prolific contributor to Punch, where his gently humorous style gained him many fans. Thus the appearance of The Red House Mystery must have been welcomed by a growing number of his admirers as something of a novelty. Here was a comic writer trying his hand at a genre that was becoming increasingly popular in what later became known as ‘The Golden Age’ of crime fiction.

Milne’s debut proved immediately popular. The well known critic Alexander Woollcott even went so far as to call The Red House Mystery ‘one of the best mystery stories of all time.’ The action was set (where else?) in a country house party hosted by Mark Ablett and attended by a handful of minor characters. At some point Robert, Ablett’s black sheep of a brother, who was living in Australia, turns up and before long is found shot dead in the head. Another guest, Tony Gillingham, appoints himself a latter day Sherlock Holmes and with the help of his friend as Dr Watson, this pair of amateur sleuths get to work on what appears to be a very puzzling crime indeed.

Milne was a graduate in mathematics from Cambridge and so it comes as no great surprise that at the centre of the book is a logic puzzle, but Raymond Chandler, who twenty-two years later was to demolish the raison d’etre of the Red House Mystery in The Simple Art of Murder, had serious reservations regarding the credibility of the plot. To him the novel was:

‘ an agreeable book, light amusing in the Punch style, written with a deceptive smoothness that is not as easy as it looks . Yet however light in texture the story may be, it is offered as a problem of logic and deduction. If it is not that, it is nothing at all. There is nothing else for it to be …’ Continue reading

The Complete Philanderer by Rex Stout Part two.

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Method continued

9) Play the extremes. Either melt here, overwhelm her with a wistful tenderness that would thaw the arctic, or go 100% bestial. It is often effective to switch from one extreme to the other, but requires practice. The happy medium is not worth a damn.

Raw Material.

By this Stout is referring to the type of ladies to search out and where to find them.

‘ I appreciate that many of you will be limited by the available supply, but in cities of over 100,0000 population a wide range offers itself, and even in smaller communities it is surprisingly what can be uncovered by a roving intelligence and an active spirit. The main thing is good leads. It is of course unethical to get them by display ads in the newspapers or by using sandwich men or throwaways, but it is also unnecessary. A little ingenuity and persistence will keep you going. Some hints:  In New York, work the better bars, and when you see a good one spill a sidecar on her dress and insist on paying for it. In Chicago, haunt the railroad stations, for all the best material reaches instinctively for a time-table upon arriving at the age of consent.

Some practitioners, when working up raw material and testing a lead, give very little consideration to any other element  than the Receptivity Quotient. Such a man is not, properly speaking, an amorist at all; he is merely a careerist. Sooner or later he will find his sensibilities blunted, his ability to synchronize permanently lessened, and his heart going back on him. In the long run, year in and year out, you will find that in appraising raw material it will produce the deepest satisfaction and the highest type of success to adhere rigidly to the AAA standards: Continue reading