Sunday 26 January 2014

The Man With the Gilt-Stamped Gun: When a £100 James Bond First Edition Is Worth £10,000

The Jonathan Cape UK first editions of Ian Fleming's James Bond books are some of the most collected of all modern firsts. Even though Fleming's prose has in places become frankly somewhat dated, in both style and sensibilities (Judi Dench's M would no doubt call Fleming himself a 'sexist, misogynist dinosaur', let alone his creation), the physical books remain beautiful objects, and classics of design, especially the ones with dust jackets by Richard Chopping.

While a mint set of all 14 books as first edition, first state copies in jackets will set you back tens of thousands of pounds, there are slightly more affordable ways of building up a set that will look the same, thanks to later impressions and even modern facsimile editions of the early books.

Anyone entering the dangerously seductive world of Bond collecting will soon become immersed in the mass of arcane trivia which surrounds the first editions, and their all important 'first states': the very first copies off the presses, minus the subtle changes which were often made even during/within a first print run. Got a first edition of You Only Live Twice which says 'May 1964' on the copyright page? Then it's a not a true first. That just says '1964'. If you want a proper, first state edition of Live and Let Die, then you need one where the dust jacket has the illustrator's credit missing. Technically, the Book Club printing of From Russia With Love, not Jonathan Cape's, is the 'first impression' of that novel, because the Book Club actually used a set of sheets printed, and then rejected by Cape for being of too poor quality. They actually have the Cape imprint on the title page, but copies of this Book Club edition are worth a fraction of the 'true' Cape first. 'Go figure', as Bond would certainly not say.

As the popularity of the Bond books increased, so did the first print runs. While the first, 1953's Casino Royale, was only 4,728 copies (many of which went to libraries), the penultimate book The Man With the Golden Gun in 1965 had a whopping 82,000 copy initial printing. It's hardly surprising then that firsts of Golden Gun are still plentiful, and can be had for under £100 in very good nick. If you ever come across a copy in a charity shop or boot fair though, always slip off the dust jacket and check the front board. Like Charlie and his ticket, you're looking for a glint of gold...

While it's the most common of all the Fleming firsts, it has possibly the rarest 'first state'. The first few copies off the presses – and no one knows the exact number, though it's said to be only in the hundreds  – had a golden gun stamped onto the front board, like this:

Due to faults in the process, or the fact that it just cost too much (sources differ), the gun was dropped for the rest of the printing. So, if you can find one, you've got one of the rarest Bond books of them all, worth upwards of £10,000 in fine condition. This 'really fine' copy is £15,000! You could buy an actual gun made of actual gold for that, surely...

It's not from the film of Golden Gun, but to finish, this is for my money the best Bond one-liner of them all...

Saturday 18 January 2014

The Forgotten Novels of Robert Shaw

(Strap in folks, as it's a long post this week, but there's a treat at the end...)

In 2014, the name Robert Shaw is remembered, pretty much, for one thing: he's the guy who played Quint in Jaws. You might add in his roles as Red Grant, the double-hard assassin in From Russia With Love, Mr Blue in The Taking of Pelham One Two Three and Lonnegan, the gangster who gets stung in The Sting, but even movie fans will struggle to name many more of his films: he made loads, but most of them have not lasted the test of time.

The same can be said, sadly, for Shaw's novels. Not through lack of quality: Shaw was a prize-winning 'literary' novelist of some note, but his reputation as a writer – which at one time far outstripped his fame as an actor – has faded into obscurity, not least because all his books are out of print, and have been for years.

Shaw's Wikipedia entry does at least give a summary of this aspect of his career:

In addition to his acting career, Shaw was also an accomplished writer of novels, plays and screenplays. His first novel, The Hiding Place, published in 1960, met with positive reviews. His next, The Sun Doctor, published the following year, was awarded the Hawthornden Prize in 1962.
Shaw then embarked on a trilogy of novels – The Flag (1965), The Man in the Glass Booth (1967) and A Card from Morocco (1969); it was his adaptation for the stage of The Man in the Glass Booth which gained him the most attention for his writing. The book and play present a complex and morally ambiguous tale of a man who, at various times in the story, is either a Jewish businessman pretending to be a Nazi war criminal, or a Nazi war criminal pretending to be a Jewish businessman. The play was quite controversial when performed in the UK and the US, some critics praising Shaw's sly, deft, and complex examination of the moral issues of nationality and identity, others sharply criticising Shaw's treatment of such a sensitive subject. The Man in the Glass Booth was further developed for the screen, but Shaw disapproved of the resulting film and had his name removed from the credits.
Shaw also adapted The Hiding Place into a screenplay for the film Situation Hopeless... But Not Serious starring Alec Guinness. His play Cato Street, about the 1820 Cato Street Conspiracy, was produced for the first time in 1971 in London.

Second hand copies of all the novels are all still around in their various UK and US editions for the curious, though some are getting harder to find as first editions in 'collectable' condition – not that Shaw has become a 'collected' author. Presumably there are some signed copies out there somewhere too, though there are none online at present. I can find no evidence that the novel of The Man in the Glass Booth made it into paperback in the UK, or that A Card from Morocco had a paperback edition anywhere (and is thus his scarcest book, apart from perhaps the play text of Cato Street), but the first three novels were all Penguins, with some rather lovely covers, especially The Sun Doctor's Wicker Man-esque one. Here's a cover gallery with images from around the net, ending with those Penguin editions:

Chatto & Windus UK first edition of his first novel, which became a film starring Alec Guinness.

Possibly the US first edition, or a later UK reprint.
Ace US paperback.
Chatto & Windus UK first of the second novel, set in Africa.

US first from Shaw's American publisher, Harcourt, Brace.

UK Reprint Society edition of the third novel, the first of a trilogy.

Chatto & Windus UK first of his most famous work, though it was Shaw's own play adaptation, and subsequent film, which are better known. 

UK first of Shaw's final, and scarcest novel.

US first.

Here's the copy of the Chatto and Windus UK first of The Flag that's currently on the shelves at Withnail Books. The press quotes on the back cover show quite how highly he was regarded.

I'm not sure what the linking elements are of the 'trilogy' of novels are, if any, though the blurb of The Flag, which is based on the true story of Conrad Noel, the Red Vicar of Thaxted, announces that the trilogy is called 'The Cure of Souls', so perhaps it is just thematic. I intend to read them all eventually (having just started The Flag) so I'll report back once I've tracked down copies of the others...

But why should anyone wanting to read these well-regarded novels by a still-known 'name' have to be forced to root around second hand shops and online to find them? Why are they out of print? Shaw's chaotic lifestyle may provide a clue. Here's the blurb to The Price of Success, a biography of Shaw (which, ironically, is itself now out of print):

Internationally known for his many film roles, particularly in Jaws, The Sting, and A Man for All Seasons, Robert Shaw was well respected on stage too, working with Vanessa Redgrave, Peter Brook, Peter Hall, Harold Pinter and the Angry Young Men at the Royal Court. Moreover, he was a writer himself, author of five award-winning novels and a play that ran in the West End and on Broadway. But Shaw was a driven man. Plagued by his father's suicide when Shaw was only eleven, he was almost insanely competitive, with more than a penchant for booze and expensive cars. He was also driven by a need for children of his own: four by his first wife, four by his second, actress Mary Ure, whom he 'stole' from John Osborne, and a ninth by his third wife. His extravagance led him into trouble with the tax man and thence into unwilling exile, living in Orson Welles's house in Spain before it 'accidentally' caught fire, damaging some of the artefacts from Citizen Kane. This biography of a troubled and talented man is made special by the unusual insights of the author - Shaw's friend and agent during the last years of his life. No other biographer is so well equipped to tell the real inside story of the working life of an international star, the deals, the tax fraud, the films that were made, the films that weren't, the parts that were offered and those that were refused - all bound up with moments of frightening intimacy, as when Shaw has to be prevented from overdosing after the death of Mary Ure on the first night of her West End comeback. Against a background of the film and theatre industries, drawn from first hand experience, John French's book offers a vivid and unique insight into the self-destructive life of a man who could have been - and very nearly was - a major talent.

Shaw died suddenly, and unexpectedly, of a heart attack aged only 51, in 1978. Given the picture painted above, it would not surprise me if his affairs were not exactly in order when this happened, and with nine children (ten actually, as he'd adopted one more) and possibly no will... well, good luck to any publisher attempting to do a deal with 'The Estate of Robert Shaw' to bring his writing back into print.

Before he died, Shaw had been working on a new novel, The Ice Floe (a reference to the Inuit tradition of senicide, where people too old to be of use are set adrift on a floe). It was never published, but a few lines were included in an entertaining interview Shaw gave to People magazine in 1977. Here's that excerpt, and the following paragraph from Robin Leach's article:

Mrs. Avery had propped a pillow under the head of her dying elderly friend and looked up through the barred windows of the old peoples' home psychopath ward...Dear God this home is filled with weeping old men and weeping old women ...They are ignored, they are a burden to everyone...Couldn't even children love them? Are they just spectres to be shut up? Dear God, why is it that Jesus Christ did not sanctify old age by living till he was 90? 

"These may be the best sentences I have ever written," says author Robert Shaw of this excerpt from his upcoming novel, The Ice Floe. He researched the book between movies and plays by inspecting the squalid conditions in old peoples' homes around New York City. "I want the truth out," he says. "If I never write anything else again, I've asked valid questions in a lovely prayer." (A compulsive writer, Shaw often helps revise his movie scripts: "Most of the material is third-rate. I try to make it second-rate.") 

Ah yes, revising movie scripts. According to this obituary, Shaw actually once said, "When they write my obituary I would like them to say, 'He was an author who wrote one book that will last and he was also a remarkable actor'." As it turns out, while he is certainly still known as a remarkable actor, the piece of writing he will be best remembered for is not one his books. Though his exact input is still noisily debated to this day, there's no doubt that Shaw had a large hand in the final draft of this speech. And what a speech, one of the most famous in all of cinema...

UPDATE: The Little Shop now has a complete set of UK first editions of Shaw's novels, and a copy of the supernaturally rare play text Cato Street, for sale (to be sold as a set only). Get in touch if you're interested...
UPDATE TO THE UPDATE: This set has now sold.

Saturday 11 January 2014

Pricing An Elmore Leonard Rarity: Escape From Five Shadows UK First Edition Hardback, Robert Hale, 1957

When Elmore Leonard died last summer, most obits mentioned that he started his writing career as an author of Westerns, before moving on to the crime novels he will be best remembered for.

After his debut The Bounty Hunters in 1953, and 1954's The Law At Randado, the third of these Westerns – Leonard's third novel – was Escape From Five Shadows, a gritty tale of wrongful imprisonment and, well, escape, set in what this enthusiastic review calls a "stinking dead end part of Arizona". The reviewer goes on to praise the "remarkable picture of the old Arizona West that Leonard paints for the reader. The smells of horse, leather and dust get in your nostrils." Sounds great.

Leonard was around long enough, and had/has enough of a dedicated following, to have become a 'collected' writer. While even signed first edition copies of his later novels can be found for reasonable amounts, hardcover firsts of those early Westerns command serious figures. While they did most of their business as paperbacks, short runs of hardcovers were printed, mainly to go into libraries. As a result, most copies that have survived are ex-library, with all the stamps/pockets/missing endpapers that usually entails. Such are their rarity though, and so sky-high are the prices of unadulterated non-library copies, that ex-library copies are nevertheless collected, and even they go for several hundreds of dollars.

A Houghton Mifflin 1956 hardcover first edition of Escape From Five Shadows will currently set you back from $400 for an ex-library copy to $5,000 for a near fine copy with laid-in author signature (ie a signed bit of paper which has been added to the book to enhance value; it's not a book Leonard physically signed himself).

Even rarer than that US first edition is its UK equivalent, again printed in very, very small quantities (probably only a few hundred), mainly for libraries, by Robert Hale in 1957.

The only copy of the Hale edition for sale online anywhere as far as I can see is this one. It is in good shape, it's not ex-library, and it's signed to the title page. A superior copy then. The seller, Royal Books Inc of Boston describes it as:

"A very presentable copy of what is, in our experience, perhaps the author's rarest title, much more difficult than the already-scarce American edition published by Houghton Mifflin. Leonard's third novel, a Western, the only copy we have ever seen."

The asking price? A cool $6,500.

So, how to price the copy of this same edition which has recently arrived at Withnail Books? It was acquired from a collector (along with many other books of which more anon, including a little cache of early Leonard paperbacks, many signed), so it is not a 'charity shop find'. The collector had owned it long enough that he'd forgotten what he paid for it, and anyway, that price would be long out of date.

What's it worth today? Well, as always with 'modern firsts', condition is key. This copy is in what its author would probably describe as 'beat up' condition. It's ex-library. It has stamps, it's missing its front free endpaper (and possibly its half-title, if it had one; it's hard to tell) and the binding has cracked inside. But... it has a pretty much complete unclipped dust jacket (albeit with a library label on the spine and a bit of card reinforcing the back), and it 'displays well' as the bookseller lingo goes. Plus, it's very, very, very rare. This is currently your only choice if you're a Leonard completist without a spare $6,500.

Obviously, this copy is not worth anywhere near $6,500. But again I wonder, what is a fair asking price? At the end of the day, it's worth what somebody is prepared to pay for it. I have an idea of what that might be, but for the next couple of weeks... I'm open to offers. Drop me line at if you're interested, or would like a list of the other Leonard titles I have for sale, which, like this book, have not been listed anywhere yet. Below are a bunch of photos of the copy, and I have yet more angles should anybody wish to see them.

I should mention that the lighting used to take these photos made everything come out rather yellow: the whites are whiter and the reds redder in 'real life'.

To finish, any excuse to be able to reprint this (thanks to Mashable for the jpeg):