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.
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.
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.
The collecting of modern firsts seems to have begun alongside the rise of the modern etching as an investment opportunity in the early years of the twentieth century. However, while the Wall Street Crash of 1929 succeeded in almost singly handedly destroying the market for etchings, the taste for modern firsts persisted for years afterwards and may even have benefited from investors turning to book collecting from etchings.
The Bookman, arguably the most wide-ranging and luxurious magazine available to a middlebrow literary readership at this time, regularly devoted several pages to all kinds of book collecting, including the vogue for modern firsts. It is revealing to discover just how tastes in modern firsts have changed over the past ninety years. Today, the best works of Modernist giants, such as Yeats, Joyce, Eliot, Pound, Virginia Woolf and Lawrence are sought after. Back then, the emphasis seems to have been on contemporary fiction. In the Christmas edition for 1930, for instance, the writer discusses the merits of the many catalogues he has received from dealers. Among them is one from Bertram Rota ( ‘ very readable and educating it is in these days of lowish prices ‘) and from this some highlights are selected.
‘ I note a good collection of Brett Young’s works, including a copy of “ The Dark Tower “ for £3 10s., some seventeen items of Hugh Walpole’s works ( “ Maradick at Forty “, 25s.) and many works of J.B. Priestley…’
In another catalogue it is noted that J. M. Barrie’s “ Window in Thrums “ was priced at 16 guineas and A. E. Coppard’s Adam and Eve and Pinch Me could be had for 6 guineas. Continue reading →
Found among papers at Jot HQ a typescript of a tribute by Anthony Rota to his fellow antiquarian bookseller George Sims at his memorial service in November 1999. Rota also wrote Sims’s obituary, which can be found on the Net.
Many successful rare book dealers are interesting people—more interesting than, say your average auctioneer or art dealer. One thinks immediately of Eric Korn, who was a schoolmate of Jonathan Miller and Oliver Sacks, and who after giving up a Ph D on the biochemistry of snail hearts, became a bookseller almost by accident ( see previous Jot). Late in life he became an acclaimed columnist for the TLS and a fixture for many years on Round Britain Quiz. If Rota is to be believed George Sims was this sort of bookseller.