A Maggs Catalogue for 1909

As we on Jot 101 have remarked before, the catalogues of antiquarian booksellers are often a reflection of the tastes or fashion of the time among collectors. Books which today might be downgraded for various reasons were once highly prized, especially in first edition form. Writers who were once the height of fashion are now almost forgotten, while firsts by ‘ classic ‘ authors, though often sought after over many decades, do not always retain their monetary value in real terms. The catalogue issued by Maggs Brothers in 1909, which we recently unearthed in the archives at Jot HQ, is a case in point. Although the craze for ‘modern  first editions ‘  had not really taken off , books by ‘ modern ‘ writers like  William Morris and Oscar Wilde were beginning to be seen as modern classics and were priced accordingly. Classic ‘ Romantic ‘ authors, like Keats and Shelley, have always kept their value, but the prices of  works by Charles Lamb have dipped in real terms since 1909, mainly due to the baleful influence of the critic Frank R. Leavis. The rise and rise of Jane Austen since 1909, mainly due to various TV and film adaptations, is probably unique among English novelists. In contrast compare the prices of work by George Meredith, then at the height of his popularity, but hardly read at all today.


Jot 101 Maggs catalogue 1909 cover 001


Books on certain sports have also become more sought after today. Not surprisingly, there is nothing on football or rugby, which were comparatively modern in origin, but plenty of rare material on cricket, horse-racing, angling, boxing and hunting. Of these only books on tennis and cricket, which are perhaps more popular today, seem to have increased in value.


With such a catalogue sometimes it’s good to play ‘Fantasy Book Buying ‘. This involves going back in time and seeking out bargains that one might have bought with our present day knowledge. Let’s start with Oscar Wilde. The great playwright and gay icon had only been dead for nine years, so wasn’t as appreciated as he is now. Continue reading

Wise words on values from an Edwardian book collector

Jot 101 The Private Library cover 001

A.L.Humphreys was a miscellaneous writer and bibliophile whose knowledge of books and book collecting surpassed that of most dealers and librarians. In The Private Library (1897 ) he has sound and revealing things to say, and although, as one reader has inscribed in pencil on the title –page of our copy, ‘ since 1897 many views expressed here have been superceded ‘, Humphreys is still worth reading.  One of his wisest chapters is entitled ‘ Book Values ‘. Here are some of the highlights from it:


‘…It would be impossible to tell all the causes which go toward determining the value of a book and which cause it to fluctuate in price. There is but one way to arrive at a reliable knowledge of book values, and that is to begin stall-hunting as soon as you leave school or college and continue until past middle age, absorbing information from stalls, from catalogues, and from sale-rooms. The records of prices at which books have been sold in the auction rooms, and which are regularly issued, are useless in the hands of an inexperienced person. To make up your mind on Monday that you are going to begin a career of successful bargain-hunting and book collecting is only to be defrauded on all the other five remaining days. Experience must be bought, and an eye for a good copy of a book, or for a bargain of any kind, only comes after years of practice…


According to Clement1), there are two sorts of rarity in books; the one absolute, the other conditional or contingent. There are rare editions of very common books. There are books of almost common occurrence in public libraries, which are rarely seen in the market. A book or an edition of which but very few copies exist is called ‘ necessarily rare;’ one which is only with difficulty to be met with—-however many copies may be extant—he calls ‘ contingently rare. ‘ Continue reading

The Prices of Books

Book prices title 001H.B.Wheatley’s Prices of Books (1898) is a real eye opener, not just for the prices realised by truly great and important books,  but also for those works which today would not fetch ( in real terms) anything like the sums that our Victorian forebears might have paid.


In view of the stunning Tate Gallery exhibition of works by Blaket hat closed recently, it’s a good time to look at some of his most significant books.


Songs of Innocence and Experience(1789). At the sale of Sir William Tite’s Library in 1874 a copy rebound in green morocco fetched £61. In 1882 a copy from the Library of William Beckford sold for £146.


Today a copy, even in poor condition, would attract a huge amount of attention. In 2001 Christies sold a copy for $941,000 in New York.


At the same Beckford sale a copy of Milton: a Poem fetched £230. Today, there doesn’t seem to have been a copy on the market for many years.


It has already been remarked in a recent post that the grasping Birmingham bookseller Edward Baker was only prepared to pay 25/- for Blake’s debut poem Poetical Sketches,which was not illustrated, but is possibly rarer than most of his subsequent illustrated works.


Robert Browning

Of Browning’s first publication, Pauline: A Fragment of a Confession (1833) only eight copies were thought to exist at the close of the nineteenth century. One with an inscription by the author made £145 in 1896. Though Browning is deeply unfashionable today, the emergence for sale of one of those eight copies would attract attention, though it’s anyone’s guess how much it would make. Continue reading

More gleanings from Ian Fleming’s 1946 book catalogue

The catalogue issued in 1946 (previous Jot) by the directors of Elkin Mathews Ltd of Takeley, Elkin Matthews book catalogue 1946 001near Bishops Stortford, probably contained descriptions of books and manuscripts by one of the directors, Ian Fleming, an avid book collector. It’s tempting to imagine the future creator of James Bond trawling through some of the items in the catalogue in search of likely material.

We don’t know what language skills his fellow directors, B. K. Muir and C. H. Muir had, but we know that before the Second World War Fleming attended universities in Munich and Geneva to work on his language skills and visited Moscow in 1933 while   working for Reuters. It is likely that he was responsible for translating some, if not  all, of the foreign language manuscripts being sold by Elkin Mathews.

First, he may have examined a letter from the disciple of Karl Marx and founder of the Social Democratic Party, A. Bebel (1840 – 1913), which was written in German in 1893.In it Bebel complains that ‘since the abolition of the ban very few intellectuals and university folk have joined the party, or if they have done so, have abandoned it later on, out of fear or for reasons of social ambition’. He attacks the evolutionary socialist Rodbertus, who was opposed to Marxism and the University- Socialists.

This  letter of ‘great importance ‘ was priced at 9 guineas.

There is also a holograph MS of Maxim Gorki’s “From my Diary” consisting of 12 folio pages in Russian and priced at a bargain £40—more than a  month’s salary for a British University lecturer in Russian in 1946.

You could also buy a letter from the Swedish Nobel prize winner Selma Lagerlof ( who she ?,Ed ) for £2 10s,a ‘ very fine letter ‘ from the Nazarene painter J.F.Overbeck dated 1852 for 10/- less and ( a real bargain, this) ten letters from the German impressionist painter Liebermann, a victim of Nazi prejudice, for £2 15s. A single letter from the gifted German draughtsman A. von Menzel, to which were attached ‘ ‘three fine pen-and-ink drawings’, could be yours for £20. Continue reading

A fascinating book catalogue of 1946

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


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


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


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

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

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

Book bargains in 1908


Baker's bookshop advert 001Before we report on the bargains available in May 1908 at Edward Baker’s Great Bookshop in John Bright Street, Birmingham (contrast it with Birmingham City Centre today, where there is not a single second hand bookshop ), let us examine what Mr Baker was prepared to give for top-end first editions in 1907 as advertised in The Bookman for May of that year.

For firsts of Keats’  Lamia and other poems (1820), Endymion (1818) and Poems (1817) Mr B. was prepared to shell out a measly £3 per item. We don’t know what his mark up was, but today Lamia would cost you £15,000 and Endymion£12,000.   For Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1866) 25/- was offered. A good copy of that book today is priced at an eye watering £37,000 in abebooks. For Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice(1813) and Sense and Sensibility (1811) he’d give you 15/- per novel, which was 10/- less than he’d offer you for Andrew Lang’s Ballads and Lyrics of Old France (1872). Even second and thirds editions of the Austens would today cost you around £10,000 each. As for a first of  Lyrical Ballads(1798),  without doubt the most iconic item of Romanticism in English Literature, Mr Baker was prepared to offer a whole £2 !! That’s £1 less than he would give you for George Meredith’sPoems  (1851). But there’s worse to come. For that most extraordinarily rare debut collection by William Blake, Poetical Sketches (1783), you’d receive a paltry 25/- , which was 10/- lessthan he’d give you for Swinburne’s Atalanta in Calydon(1865. This is sheer madness.

In relief we turn to some of the bargains that your great grandfather might have acquired in Mr Baker’s emporium had he visited it in 1908. We have omitted those titles that have appeared in previous Jots on Mr Baker’s bookshop.

All are first editions unless otherwise stated.

Oscar Wilde, Dorian Gray (privately printed 1890).  25/-                  Today £3,700

Charles Dickens, Joseph Grimaldi, two vols (1838)   £3. 10/-           Today £600

Aubrey Beardsley, The Story of Venus and Tannhauser(privately printed) 25/-  Today £300

Malcolm’s History of Persia, 2 vols, large paper 1815  £3 3/-     Today  £3,500

Barrington’s New South Wales, 1803  30/-                                   Today  £2000

Farmer’s Twixt Two Worlds, 1886  15/-                                         Today £350

  1. M. Whistler, Ten O’clock, 25/- Today £450
  2. B. Sheridan, The Rivals, £15 15s Today £850

Mrs Gatty, Book of Sundials, 25/-                                                 Today £285

Happy the grandson or granddaughter who might have inherited such books ! [RR]


Iris Murdoch as a book collector

IMG_5189Found – a receipt from the late booksellers Eric and Joan Stevens for books sold to the novelist Iris Murdoch in 1966. There is also a request in her hand  for anything by, or on, Pushkin. Iris Murdoch was very keen on Russian literature, especially Dostoyevsky, but she did not write about Pushkin – although her husband John Bayley wrote Pushkin: A Comparative Commentary which was published in 1971. This request may have been for him.

Her order is certainly eclectic- some religious, even mystical work, (Radhakrishnan and Swedenborg), a geezerish prison memoir, not at all her style – Frank Norman’s Bang to Rights and a book on the Samurai (‘Bushido’). Peter’s My Sister, My Spouse is about Lou Andreas Salome ‘A Biography of the Woman Who Inspired Freud’ (also Nietzsche and Rilke) – an important and much loved  writer and psychiatrist.  Penn’s  No Cross, No Crown is William Penn’s work on Primitive Christianity from 1669, probably not a first edition at 10 shillings, although the Stevens were always very reasonable in their pricing.

Other works ordered include  a Baedeker for the Rhine, possibly for a holiday. It its still fun to visit Europe with an old Baedeker. Schopenhauer is dealt with fairly well in her later work Metaphysics as a Guide  to Morals. Kropotkin fits in with her interest in Russian life and literature. Hale’s Famous Sea Fights is a mystery, possibly light reading or a present for a friend.

The Stevens’  had other famous writers as clients, including Anita Brookner and Geoffrey Hill, from whom they also bought many books. Iris Murdoch’s considerable library eventually went into the book trade, but not to Eric and Joan.

A working copy

I thought I would record this dogged description of a ‘dog’ (booksellers slang for an unsaleable book.) I have forgotten what the title was but as I recall it was not at all valuable even in decent condition, and certainly not rare.  The best that could be said of it is that it was a ‘working copy.’ Why the seller persisted with his or her description is a mystery. At least they did not end the description ‘else fine.’ Most sellers would put it in the recycling bin, surely  no charity or thrift shop would accept it:

A few library marks…First 2 leaves barely attached. Front inner hinge tender. Green cloth fraying at tips, scuffed. Scattered, light pencil marks mostly to margins. Light spotting to endpapers. Ex-Library. Rebound in modern, library-style binding. Serious tears to 3 of the 4 folding maps, 1 repaired with tape, 1 with careful stitching. Short tear to 4th map. Water stain to lower portion of text block. Foxing throughout.  Twenty-Fifth Thousand. Brown cloth, lightly faded on spine, embossed decoration and gilt in center of front boards. Both volumes have amateur repair to frayed tips and spine ends, spines glued to text blocks, moderate foxing and soil to leaves. Last signature in vol 1 tender. Owners’ names on front endpapers: 16 plates, some starting to detach. 25 short tears to margin of text, some repaired with tape or showing residue from tape. Inner spine tender. Former owner has covered the cloth and front paste-downs with a clear, adhesive backed plastic cover. Green cloth is a bit grubby, spine lettering rubbed.  Folding map has 1 short tear to margin. Scattered foxing. Binding tender. Lower half of backstrip missing. Full spine and board corners reinforced by clear tape. Boards soiled, title page more so. Lacking half-title and frontis. …Volume 2 has a serious chip to top of spine…

Photo below is of some distressed books glimpsed at Warwick Castle.


Martin Stone and the Forgotten Shelf

Found-- Martin Stone's Forgotten Shelf book catalogue no. 5: Modern Literature Fantasy and Detective Fiction - November 1982. The macabre cover was hand-coloured by impecunious students and the image from the cover taken from a Marcel Schwob novel Coeur Double (Paris, 1891.) Martin, now an expat in Paris, is still going strong but has not done a catalogue since the 1980s. The dedication reads..

Thanks should go to Mr. D. Attoe of Wapping and Mr. Robin Summers  for sterling excavation work in the compiling of this catalogue. A tip of the hat also to Iain Sinclair of Albion Village Books for light shed in some obscure bibliographic corners and to Skoob Books for the use of congenial office facilities beyond the boundaries of the East End.

There follows a poem by David Attoe, now a US expat and at that time poet, book collector and Ford Madox Ford expert. He later published a novel Lion at the Door (Little, Brown, 1989) which had a great succes d'estime, even carrying a blurb from Thomas Pynchon.

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Catalogue chat / Time Slip

Poster for Tom's Midnight Garden
(Leeds Children's Theatre)

Found in the Peter Haining hoard a rare book catalogue from about 1990 with an introduction ('Chat Dept.') by the cataloguer. This was J. J. Rigden (Books) of Kent, dealing mostly in fantasy-- if still around he would be pushing 90. These 'chats' by dealers are much prized. A dealer once told me that when he omitted them sales went down and there were protests…this one is a classic of its kind:

The onset of autumn.. the approach of Christmas.. the inevitable rise in postal costs.. This leads us nicely on to a point we must make clear. We always despatch your parcels by the cheapest possible rate. Since we live in a mad world, this sometimes means first class letter rate, rather than a parcel rate.

Over a wet Bank Holiday weekend, we watched a children's fantasy on T.V. Time Slip always a popular subject, now incorporated with sci-fi. Many famous authors have written around this theme, both adult and children's. My first remembered introduction to it was listening in the 1930's to Saturday Night Theatre. The B.B.C drama players put on some wonderful plays J. M. Barrie's "Mary Rose" made a great impression on me. My first introduction to Barrie apart front eh magical Peter Pan of course. Another play that filled me with horror was W. W. Jacobs "The Monkey Paw". Two themes that occur over and over again in children's stories, time slip and three wishes. Always in the three wishes stories the last wish has to be used to 'undo' the first two! (Well, I say "always".. someone will come up with a three wishes story that proves me wrong!) If time slip is a theme that interests you, have you read Alison Uttley's 'Traveller in Time', Lucy's Boston's 'Green Knowe' stories, Jane Curry' s' The Daybreakers', 'Moondial'.. I think this was by Helen Cresswell, quite recent so to in the reference book). These are some of the lesser known titles on this theme. Tom's Midnight Garden everyone known about. Stories so much more believable than the film just shown.. 'Back to the Future'.

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A Bibliomaniac of the Boulevards 2

Jules Bollly (merci)

The five volume  auction catalogue of Boulard's vast collection showed up in auction at Christies New York in 2005. It made $5750. It does not appear to have ever left the book trade - possibly book dealers are almost the only collectors for them - and the exact same set is now on sale online at $20000. Christie's catalogue entry is below. It should be noted that Boulard was also a distinguished translator - the French Wikipedia list many of his works (they put the size of his book collection at a mere 500,000.) He translated works from English (including much Dr. Johnson) Italian, German and Latin and also translated from French into German. During the revolutionary period publisher's note him as 'Citoyen Boulard.' Lawrence S. Thompson in his Notes on Bibliokleptomania, without much evidence, writes that Boulard "...had 'itchy fingers' whenever he saw a volume that could not be bought and excited the acquisitive instincts in him." Another interesting note of Thompson's is that '…when the collection was auctioned off in 1828-1833, it played havoc with the Paris market.' One wonders how long it took to recover and if such a thing could happen again in these less resilient times (for books) - if another Boulard style estate emerged out of Los Angeles or London with half a million good books the effect could be seismic…especially if, as happens, yet another collection emerged shortly after.   Nodier (that man again - note his mention of underbidding) gives this eyewitness account of the perils of bibliomania:

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A Bibliomaniac of the Boulevards 1

Max Sander's article Bibliomania, freely available from Northwestern University School of Law Scholarly Commons, yielded the gripping tale of the murderous monk/ bookseller Don Vincente (see recent jots) . He talks of other crazed collectors including the English bibliomaniac Richard Heber who filled 8 houses with books, but for all his acquisitiveness was a discerning collector. The sale of his books took 184 days. The following collector, Boulard, was very much of a quantity man and may have accumulated more books than any individual in the history of the world - 800,000 by some accounts and half that by others… the sale of his books took 248 days.150,000 were sold as scrap. Sander writes:

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A Bibliomaniac Serial Killer 2

Charles Nodier

Last part of this thrill-packed  piece on murder, mayhem, obsession, vengeance and book collecting. Slight doubt is cast on this (incredible) event. The story has inspired a wealth of articles and books from Flaubert right up to Basbanes. However, in 1928 a book appeared in Spain written by bibliophile and author Ramon Miquel I Planas (1874-1950) seeking to rectify the story of Don Vincente and arguing that the anonymous article in  La Gazette des Tribunaux (Paris 1837which had informed the world of the murders had no basis in fact. **Planas argued that the article had been written by French occultist (Priory of Sion) author and librarian Charles Nodier, (1780-1844), most known for his influence on the French Romantics. He found that Don Vincente’s crime does not appear in any local newspapers of the time, that there was no monk by the name of Fra Vincentes at Poblet at the time of its closure, and that the local ‘colour’ does not ring true. Planas's theories have also been later disputed..but if Nodier was  the original author, it should be noted that it was rumoured that he had killed a man for outbidding him at auction during one of his trips to Spain.

The account, indeed, does have a slight air of legend about it - especially the part about each victim returning with alacrity  to the shop to report a missing leaf…booksellers will tell you that often  a missing page is not discovered for years. What does ring true is the murderous anger of the person outbid (almost as deadly as the ire of the person who has been relentlessly bid up to way beyond the price that they had intended to pay. Pace Nodier.) The fetish / obsession about uniqueness is also familiar in rare bookselling lore..The bookseller  'unwilling to part with all but the cheapest of his stock' and who keeps every good book he ever gets (or prices them so high that only a very rich madman would buy ) is also an all too familiar type in life and legend and one who is still with us online and in the cloud…

** This part is in the debt of the ARCA Crimes against Art blog where there are more info and links/ footnotes on the case.

A Bibliomaniac Serial Killer 1

Furs et Ordinaciones, Valencia 1482

This is an oft told tale of book madness and murder. It has elements that ring true and also mythic elements. It inspired the young Flaubert's 1838 novella Bibliomania. This version comes from the unrecorded scholar Max Sander's article Bibliomania,   freely available from Northwestern University School of Law Scholarly Commons. It was published in a criminal law journal in 1943. Sander, a 'scholar specialising  in bibliographical-iconographicaI research work' gave his address as The Huntington Hotel, Pasadena, California. See part two for an update and queries on this story...

...As a young man, Don Vincente was a monk in the Cisterciens cloister Poblet near Tarragona, and because of his passion for books he was made keeper of the cloister's valuable library. During a political disturbance of the time the cloister was pillaged, and there was good reason to believe that Don Vincente had been familiar with the plunderers. It was hinted that he had shown them the place where the cloister's gold and silver treasures were hidden, in order to secure precious books for himself. Be that as it may, he went to Barcelona and opened a bookshop with a remarkable stock of rare books, which was patronized by all collectors although he almost never sold a really important item. His frugal livelihood and small business expenses could be covered by selling cheaper stock. He was never seen reading a book; only to own them and look at them, to turn over their leaves was of interest to him. When he had a chance to buy a precious book, he was obliged to sell something more substantial from his beloved stock, but even then the buyer almost had to wrench away his acquisition before Don Vincente reluctantly parted with it.

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