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

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

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]


A Charles Morgan collection


Charles_Langbridge_MorganDiscovered in a catalogue of the late 1990s from the estimable dealer in autographs, David J Holmes, is a long description of a collection of holograph letters, typed letters, and post-cards from Charles Morgan (1894 – 1958 ), the English novelist and playwright who became a household name in the 30s and 40s. The price asked was $8,500.

Twenty years ago Morgan was out of fashion and unread, hence the relatively low price, which works out at about £18 a letter. In the same catalogue a letter of two pages from A. A. Milne would cost you $1,000, while one of similar length from Virginia Woolf is priced at $2,000. Today, while there will always be fans of Milne and Woolf, Morgan’s popularity has hardly improved, though apparently there are signs of a ‘revival ‘. However, in the world of literary biography quantity is everything. A single, if fascinating, letter from the creator of Pooh Bear would mean very little to a Milne biographer, and the same could be said for the Woolf letter. Continue reading

The First Edition and Book Collector (1924)

Sent in by jot watcher RMH (a man who knows a bad book magazine when he sees one) this neat analysis of why magazines fail. The Alan Odle cover and illustrations seem to be the only saving grace...

When a magazine folds after a handful of issues there are usually just a few reasons why:

1) The editor dies and no replacement can be found
2) The financial backing dries up
3) There are too few new contributions in hand
4) No-one buys the magazine.
5) The magazine is really not that good

In the case of The First Edition and Book Collector, which expired after just  two issues in the autumn of 1924, the latter was probably the reason. The only redeeming features of this real stinker of a first issue are Thomas Hardy’s first publication, a short story   that was first published in 1865, and some wonderful black and white illustrations by Alan Odle, a genuine heir to the mantle of Aubrey Beardsley. But even the genius of Odle cannot save this one.

Continue reading