Saturday 28 July 2012

Is this one of the rarest dust jackets in the world?
Saki, Beasts and Super-Beasts, in DJ

I've been on holiday, hence the lack of posts recently, but before resuming normal service, here's a post about a book that is NOT for sale. I can't sell it, because I don't own it, but believe you me, if I did own it, I'd never sell it. I missed out on buying this particular copy by a matter of hours, and it's entirely possible I'll never see its like again.

Suffice to say that I'm a very big fan (and collector) of the work of Hector Hugh Munro, the author better known as Saki. If you're unfamiliar with him, his Wikipedia entry will bring you properly up to speed, but the brief version is that he wrote brilliant, funny and shocking short stories, often about genteel Edwardian society colliding with the unexpected and the supernatural, which are at their best as good as anything Oscar Wilde and PG Wodehouse ever wrote, and have influenced everyone from Noel Coward and The Goons to The Mighty Boosh. He's never gone out of print, and his collected works fit handily into one volume. (There's also a rather nice little book of uncollected pieces too.) He's out of copyright, so if you want to sample his work online, try this, or this, or this. He's well worth discovering.

Anyway, I collect Saki. Alas, when it comes to him, I'm the kind of collector who has long since passed the stage of simply getting first editions of a writer's books. I have entered the dangerous twilight world of acquiring 'interesting' editions, association copies, and - the really lethal area - first edition copies that are 'better' than the ones I already have. So, I have an alert set up on ABEbooks for any new Saki firsts that are listed. One morning a little while back I opened my emails to find an alert for a Bodley Head first edition of Saki's short story collection Beasts and Super-Beasts. An American dealer had listed it for a reasonable price, but what's this? Complete with pictorial dust jacket?

In nearly 20 years of collecting, I had never even heard of this edition of the book having a dust jacket, let alone seen a copy with one for sale. This dust jacket is, yes folks, 'unknown to bibliographers'.

I clicked through to buy it, pronto, but of course it had already gone. I evidently wasn't the only person who knew quite how rare this was. There was no visual with the listing, but I really wanted to see this jacket. I emailed the dealer, who was kind enough to send me some photos. So here, for what I think must be the first time on the Internet (and with the permission of the lucky purchaser), is the dust jacket for the Bodley Head edition of Saki's Beasts and Super-Beasts.

A cheeky looking society gent with a monocle, apparently in conversation with a wolf. Perfect.

Beasts and Super-Beasts was first published in 1914, by The Bodley Head, but this copy (or at least, this dust jacket) must be from a later printing, as the back includes an advertisement for the 1919 posthumous Saki collection, The Toys of Peace. Perhaps the first printing in 1914 did not have a dustjacket (there was a war on, or about to start) and a jacket was added to a later, post war impression, when The Toys of Peace came out, a book which had its own pictorial jacket (also vanishingly rare, but I did know of its existence, and there are a couple of copies on ABE, for a hefty price):

So there you go. For someone like me, that counts as exciting stuff.

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