Wednesday 31 July 2013

Arrested Development, circa 1890

Lots of interesting old things coming across my desk this week, of which more anon, but this photo really caught my eye. It's credited to J H Hogg, a photographer from Kendal, so it was taken in the Lakes in the 1890s at a guess. Would you mess with these guys? I bet their story would be every bit as entertaining as that of the Bluth family...

Friday 26 July 2013

A T. E. Lawrence Bookshelf

A T. E. Lawrence (of Arabia, for the uninitiated) email list I subscribe to recently ran a link to a photo of a shelf of Lawrence-related books in a secondhand bookshop in Portland, Oregon. The moderator of the list mentioned that he'd be delighted if other dealers did the same, so I'm happy to oblige.

Withnail Books has a fair selection of Lawrence-related titles (mainly thanks to my own collection getting somewhat out of control). Some are medium rare, some not so rare, but currently none of the books in these photos are listed for sale online. If anyone spots something they're after, feel free to drop me a line at, and I'll get back to you with a price and some more photos.

Wednesday 24 July 2013

The Strange Case of the Signed Robert Galbraiths, Or, The Latest J.K. Rowling collector frenzy

The revelation (via a sworn-to-secrecy lawyer's wife's friend it turned out) that debut author Robert Galbraith was actually J. K. Rowling had fans, collectors and dealers alike scurrying to snap up the remaining first edition copies on the market. I've not seen a definitive report of how many copies were printed in that first run, though it appears from the ISBNs on the indicia page that there were both hardcover and trade paperback copies, the latter presumably for the travel bookshops, though it's not clear if that initial paperback run was actually printed, as I've not seen any for sale on the secondary market (of which more in a minute...).

I've seen it mentioned that there were 1500 first edition, first impression copies printed, but that could just be because it was initially reported that, before the news broke, only 1500 copies had been sold. The UK Bookdata figure for recorded sales pre-unmasking was only 500 (though that does not include all online sources, typically). Given that it was an author 'launch' title aiming for the 'summer reads' round-ups, with a nice quote from Val McDermid on the cover, my guess is that there were between 5,000 and 10,000 copies printed, but who knows, maybe it was under 2,000. Once the story hit though, several enormo-reprints were rushed through. All the later printings have the original, made-up biography of Galbraith replaced on the back flap with a mention that the name is a pseudonym for Rowling.

However many copies were in that first impression, a lot of them have ended up on eBay, where copies are already changing hands for upwards of a thousand pounds. Unwary buyers are also paying silly money for copies billing themselves as FIRST EDITION, but then mentioning that they are copies from 'early printings', so not, I assume, necessarily the all-important first impression at all! Imagine what the person who spent over £500 on this copy is currently feeling like...

The real stars of eBay at the moment though are the *signed* first editions of the book...

(Photo from eBay)

These copies are currently selling for between £2000 and £3000... 250 were signed pre-unmasking for Goldsboro Books, a shop in London's book collecting mecca Cecil Court that specialises in signed firsts of genre fiction. Thanks to this story in the Evening Standard, we know the signed Galbraiths are the real thing (though it's not made 100% clear if it was Jo herself wielding the pen), and that the Goldsboro boss is a nice man for giving his staff a copy each!

Meanwhile, the collectors' feeding frenzy continues online. I wonder where the price for a 'signed' Galbraith will top out? For two and half grand, you could buy yourself several signed Harry Potters... but then the people buying these probably already have a bunch of those.

Oh, and before anyone asks, no, I don't have one of these for sale. Sadly.

Saturday 20 July 2013

Saki Dust Jackets Redux

As final preparations are made for the 'formal' opening of The Little Shop (tm) on the 21st (do come along if you're in the area), here's a quick update entry on something from the previous incarnation of this blog. Any longtime readers will know that I get all of a flutter when it comes to rare Saki dust jackets. New readers can bring themselves up to speed with the entries hereherehere and here, but hold onto your hats, it's pretty exciting stuff. Pure bibliographical Viagra, as someone once almost said.

A while back I was contacted by a reader who ended up buying the copy of When William Came mentioned in that last entry, but also had, from another source, scans of a better copy of the dust jacket — which he kindly shared with me. See, I'm not the only one out there who's interested in this stuff.

So here, for the first time on t'internet, feast your eyes on the full DJ of Saki's great pre-WW1 satire...

Wednesday 17 July 2013

Augustus Carp, Esq. — The funniest unknown book in the world?

According to the legendary Robert Robinson, it is indeed "The funniest unknown book in the world", and in the opinion of Robinson's Call My Bluff helpmate, the equally legendary fruit and nutcase Frank Muir, it's "One of those little masterpieces which seem to pop up from nowhere."

To no less an august personage than Anthony Burgess the book is simply "One of the great comic novels of the Twentieth Century."

I'll let the blurb from the back of the 1980s Penguin edition sum it up:

"In an age when every standard of decent conduct has been torn down, here is a man to place a higher example before the world. Churchwarden, Sunday-school superintendent and President of the St Potamus Purity League, Augustus Carp Esquire is the unflinching opponent of Sin in all its manifestations. Glorious in his mediocrity, assiduous in exposing the faults of everyone he meets, resolute in the pursuit of goodness and his own advancement, the dimensions of his piety are matched only by his girth."

I love this book, though it's been a while since I've read it. High time to dip into its unique charms once again. It's often compared with the much better known The Diary of A Nobody, and while it's true that it is in what Anthony Burgess called "the tradition of native deadpan comedy" it's a bit more, well, bonkers than the day-to-day life of Mr Pooter. The names are better too: as well as Augustus Carp, Esq., we meet the hirsute Ezekiel Stool, fishmonger Alexander Carkeek ("a Northern Caledonian of the most offensive type") and the Rev. Eugene Cake (author of improving fiction such as Gnashers of Teeth and Without Are Dogs).

The book was published anonymously in May 1924, had at least one reprint around 1930, but was then neglected for decades, until in 1966 Burgess prevailed upon the original publishers, Heinemann, to reprint it, with his new Introduction.

Later came the Penguin edition, which kept Burgess's contribution as an Afterword, and added a new Intro by Robinson. This edition also reinstated the original illustrations by 'Robin', which for my money are essential. You can see Augustus himself, in the full flower of his Southern Metropolitan Xtian manhood, above. Here's Ezekiel Stool:

'Robin', it turns out, was actually a Miss Marjorie Blood. She contributed to Punch regularly, but about a year after illustrating Augustus Carp, she joined the Order of the Sacred Heart, and became Mother Catherine at Roehampton Convent. You couldn't make it up.

But who actually wrote the book?

Stuck to the front free endpaper of the rather rare first edition copy I currently have on eBay is an article from The Age, dated November 11th, 1950, by 'I.M.' which discusses the authorship of the book being attributed to the politician and writer Augustine Birrell. An interesting idea, but the real author was revealed by Anthony Burgess (in his Introduction to Heinemann's 1966 reprint) to be Sir Henry Howarth Bashford Kt, M.D., F.R.C.P., who was Chief Medical Officer to the Post Office, Medical Adviser to the Treasury and Honorary Physician to King George VI. He wrote other books, under his own name, though none have had the staying power of Mr. Carp. Sadly, he died, aged 81, in 1961, so he just missed out on the outpouring of much deserved praise the Burgess-led revival brought his way.

There's a rather good photo of him over at The National Portrait Gallery website. Don't ask me why, but he looks like he was a giggler.

Augustus Carp has seen various editions over the years (including ones from the Folio Society and Prion) and is still in print, but first editions appear to be very scarce. The aforementioned copy is the only one I can find anywhere for sale online at the moment. Presumably it once had a dust jacket, but I've never seen any evidence of what it would have looked like... another candidate for one of the rarest dust jackets in the world, perhaps?

Sunday 14 July 2013

A Little Shop, or How to Open a Secondhand Bookshop By Mistake

As the tenth incarnation of someone I admire once said, "I love a little shop." In these days of internet-shopping-from-your-sofa-while-tweeting-and-watching-TV, it's a refreshing change, I think, to occasionally go outside and have a poke about in an actual shop. Perhaps not even looking for anything in particular, but just giving yourself the chance to spot something you might fancy. Something you never knew you wanted.

Over the years, I have been very good at doing this, particularly with books, both new and old. Did I leave the house planning to buy a book from 1931 called Psychic Adventures in New York? I did not. (But could you put a book with that title back on the shelf?) Did I really need that new edition of a book I already had in half a dozen other editions? Nope. But, look... it's got a pretty cover, with matt laminate and debossing and stuff.

I love bookshops, and I really, really love secondhand bookshops (and indeed second hand and second-hand bookshops). At some point a few years ago, I'm not exactly sure when, I started buying the odd book not so much because I personally wanted it, but because it was a 'good buy'. The kind of thing I could, ha-ha, salt away for when I had my own secondhand bookshop. This was just a vague intention, a pipe dream, at first, and was basically an excuse to buy more books: 'They'll be stock one day...'

Shelves in my house began to fill up, many of them two deep with books. Then I married a wonderful lady, who also had lots and lots of books (some of which she had written herself). Before I knew it, the books needed A Very Expensive Cupboard which wasn't even in our house.

My intentions started to get less and less vague. The 'they'll be stock' joke became less of an excuse, and more like an active plan, especially when a friend offered the possibility of a space with the two holy grails of a little shop: reasonable overheads and a location with the chance of decent year-round footfall.

To cut a long story short, I find myself in Penrith, preparing for the official opening of an actual little shop. Given that we're in the glorious Lake District, where Withnail and I went on holiday by mistake, and I have opened a bookshop sort of by mistake, it had to be called Withnail Books. It's located in The Brunswick Yard, an antiques and architectural salvage centre where you can find everything from a set of copper pans to a pair of 18 foot high chapel doors (though actually the latter sold yesterday), as well as an amazing selection of Persian and Afghan carpets. It's the kind of place you can lose yourself in for a while. As one customer said to me today, "I only meant to pop in for 5 minutes as I was passing, and that was an hour ago."

Though I have been open, in stealth mode, for a week or so, the preparations are continuing for the 'official' opening on the 21st July. The first order of business was preparing the room. A couple of years ago, when I first saw the place, it was full of lovely old furniture for sale, and looked like this:

Once it was cleared out, we auditioned carpets. This one won:

Then insulation and stud walls went in, and shelves, utilising an old orchard ladder, went up (thanks to joiner extraordinaire Paul, who is *the* man to contact if you ever want a Geodesic Dome by the way: his website is here).

Then lots more shelves and bookcases (a certain author of my acquaintance may recognise some of them), a kick-arse ex MOD desk... and then a lorryload of books arrived.

Eventually we ended up with a bookshop... It sells books ranging from a couple of quid to over a hundred, and might just have that title you never knew you were looking for (Psychic Adventures in New York is still available). It also has a lovely smell of books, and you don't get that with a Kindle.

So, next time you're spending a delightful weekend in the country near Penrith ("Penrith!"), do pop in and say hello. Both me and the chap who runs Brunswick Yard are called Adam, so there's only one name to remember...

If you're not in the area, feel free to check back here now and again if you're interested to read about life in a secondhand bookshop, and to find out about the books I'll be selling online. (As of today, I've just put up the first batch, plus a nice old Star Wars jigsaw for good measure.) I'm also on Facebook and Twitter, @WithnailBooks.