Thursday, March 31, 2011

Collecting Modern First Editions, Challenges, Subtlety, and Decisions, An Example with William S. Burroughs

One of the most common and competitive arenas of book collecting is the acquisition of Modern First Editions.  An acceptable definition of this pursuit is the collecting of first edition, first printings of fiction, published after 1900 in English.  Personally, I like to broaden the definition to include all forms of fiction (not just from the commonly accepted, literary elite) all non-fiction and all illustrated books (commercially) published after 1900.  Of course, as with any broad definition, the devil is in the details and executing a collecting strategy is ultimately dependent on the collector's goals, obsessions, interests, creativity and resources.

Developing a Modern First Collection can mean simply, acquiring as many examples as possible from a wide range of authors, or focusing on one author and building a complete collection of just that author's works in all first edition format, US, rest of world, paperback, pre-publication, special edition, illustrated editions.....  In either case the quest is essentially the same, acquiring the best example possible of the first edition, first printing of a given book.  Personally, I fail miserably in the focused collecting of a specific author since I am generally unable and unwilling to pay the premium for the rarest and scarcest titles and I have a wide range of interests.  That being the case, I do have an eclectic collection of Modern First Editions with clusters of first edition, first printings from the same author and examples from many authors across a wide spectrum of genres.  Since I collect mainly what I like to read, I simply try to adhere by my first principle of collecting, never buy any book unless it is a first edition, first printing.

The Holy Grail of Modern First Edition collecting, The Great Gatsby, Scribner's, 1925
$500,000 for a copy with a fine dust jacket!
Collecting Modern First Editions is a very complex and competitive game.  It is complex because figuring out which edition is actually the first edition, first printing is often difficult and the on-line catalog descriptions generally a minefield of confusion, subtle misinformation, misdirection and unnecessary complexity. It is competitive because acquiring the actual first edition, first printing requires finding a scarce book in the best condition possible for a price that matches your budget.  As an example of the quest I offer the challenges and confusion associated with collecting the first edition, first printing of the Cities of the Night trilogy by William S. Burroughs, 1914-1997.

William S. Burroughs 1914-1997
Heir to the Burroughs Adding Machine Fortune, author, addict, icon

I read Cities of the Night in 1987 while commuting daily via bus from Salem, MA. to Boston.  The weeks I spent reading the three books in the series were some of the best commuting reading I ever did!  While reading these novels I kept wondering if anyone else along my commute had experienced reading the elder Burroughs, at his best, writing about hangings, the CIA, a rogue virus, gay cowboys and nuclear war and the end of the world as only he could envision.  Ever since then I've been meaning to add a set of the first edition, first printings of the three books to my library.  This has never been easy and over the years, when casually researching the title, I realized that in this case, my standards may need to be modified to match the reality of the marketplace.

Cities of the Night was published between 1981 and 1987 in three volumes, Cities of the Red Night:  A Boy's Book, 1981, The Place of Dead Roads, 1983 and The Western Lands, 1987.  By the 1980's Burroughs was an established icon of the beat generation and the "turn on tune out" crowd equally famous for his writing and infamous for his behavior and lifestyle.  His earliest publications were inspired by addiction and written under the long term influence of drink and drugs and he remains an icon.  All are free to have an opinion on Burroughs and his books, regardless, collecting Cities of the Night is a fine example of the challenges when trying to acquire Modern Firsts.

Cities of the Red Night, by William Burroughs, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York, 1981(John Calder, London, 1981).  There were three variants of the first edition, first printing published by Holt which complicates any acquisition decision.  This does not mean that there exist three separate printings of the first edition but that the first edition, first printing was offered in three varieties.  Two limited edition sets are known, one numbered from 1-500 and signed by Burroughs on the limitation page(hardcover, slipcase, no dust jacket), one lettered set, A-Z, signed by Burroughs on the limitation page (hardcover, slipcase, no dust jacket), and the "trade" first edition, first printing, which includes a dust jacket and was the edition released to the general public.  I have never seen one of the lettered set offered for sale.  The acquisition decision comes down to a choice between the limited edition 1-500 slipcase edition or the trade edition. The limited edition, either numbered or lettered, is, by design, more rare than the trade edition.  A signed trade edition is more rare than an unsigned.  While condition is always important juggling your desire for a limited/signed edition, signed edition or a best condition trade first will ultimately determine what you pay and what you add to your collection, condition-wise.  Of course a Burroughs collector will need to acquire a copy of each variant as well as the London edition.  The price range runs from $5.00 for a poor condition trade first to $400 for a limited, signed and numbered, edition .

The Place of Dead Roads, by William S. Burroughs, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York, 1983(John Calder, London, 1984).  In this case, there were 300 numbered and signed copies released with the slipcase minus the dust jacket, no mention of a lettered edition and two variants of the trade edition, one with full brown cloth and bronze print and one quarter bound in an orange-brown cloth, spine titled in metallic silver, light brown textured paper-covered boards released by Holt.  There is no data on whether the full brown cloth or quarter bound with metallic silver were bound first but it seems that the more complex quarter bound would be more desirable.  As always condition and author signature impact the price.  In this case, prices range from $8.00 to $414 for a limited signed and numbered edition.

The Western Lands, by William S. Burroughs, Viking, New York, 1987 (Picador, London, 1988).   With the third, and final, installment of the trilogy, there is only one version of the first edition, first printing.  Which version of the trilogy to collect now seems to be dependant on whether or not you can stand to have a mismatched trilogy on your shelves.  Or, I guess, you could decided to acquire the the limited edition, signed and numbered edition of the first two, and one each of the trade edition and even a signed copy of The Western Lands!  In any event, acquiring the third book will cost anywhere between $8.00 and $290.

I have not included prices for the pre-publication, galley proof, review edition of each title.  In many cases when collecting Modern Firsts you will run into the pre-publication version printed and bound by the publisher and sent to media outlets prior to release of the actual book for review purposes.  Traditionally these review copies have been created prior to final proof reading and final changes by the author and are not truly the finished work but in some cases are considered very collectible.  Personally, I have enough trouble deciding on which version of the actual published book to buy and never pay attention to pre-publication versions.

I still need to decide how I will eventually act to acquire my set of the City of the Night trilogy.  After doing the pricing today, I am seriously considering simply acquiring one each of the reasonably priced trade first edition, first printing.  I do not collect signatures and what I really want is simply a nice set of the trilogy on my shelves!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Collecting What You Enjoy Reading, Contemporary and/or Classic Novels in First English Translation

I have an interest in novels translated into English since many times a novel originating in Italian, for example, may provide more insight into current Italian culture than any other source will. I buy a significant number of novels in translation and could actually claim to have a serious and growing collection of novels in first English translation.  This is an accidental collection arising from my fundamental reading habits and not a collection I seriously try to expand, as a collection.  But since I do enjoy reading foreign novels in English translation it is a collection that grows and sometimes I try to strategize the collecting of such titles. 

One approach is to pay attention to what novels in English translation are being nominated for annual awards and prioritize buying and reading those books.  Such a strategy often results in reading wonderful novels that over time may become in demand collectible editions!  Yesterday, while browsing the book section of  The Christian Science Monitor, I came upon an article featuring the 10 novels announced as finalists for the 2011 Best Translated Book Awards sponsored by Three percent- a resource for international literature at the University of Rochester.  I spent some serious time browsing through the Three percent web site and suggest that anyone interested in keeping abreast of the latest news concerning books in translation begin following that site.

I am interested in reading 5 of the 10 finalists and it is easy to order a first edition, first printing.  These are all being published in paperback format so care will be needed when reading and eventually storing them in my library.

The Literary Conference, by César Aira, translated from the Spanish by Katherine Silver (New Directions)

The Golden Age, by Michal Ajvaz, translated from the Czech by Andrew Oakland (Dalkey Archive)

The Jokers, by Albert Cossery, translated from the French by Anna Moschovakis (New York Review Books)

On Elegence While Sleeping, by Emilio Lascano Tegui, translated from the Spanish by Idra Novey (Dalkey Archive)
Georg Leatham:  Physician and Murderer, by Ernst Weiss, translated from the German by Joel Rotenberg (Archipelago)

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

On War, Carl von Clausewitz, Choosing A Collectible Edition and/or a Reading Copy

The business of war seems to be doing well during these challenging economic times.  Why, war all the time?, is a valid question with many possible answers.  The most popular books of war are generally about war strategy and winning, thanks Machiavelli and Sun Tzu!  Less popular but more comprehensive is On War, by the 19th century Prussian soldier and scholar, Carl von ClausewitzOn War offers the most complete and modern philosophy of war in print, covering not only strategy and execution, but also war as government policy.  Absorbing von Clausewitz requires commitment and dedication (reading and translating 19th century German is extremely difficult) but his philosophy of war continues to impact serious thinking in military, scholarly, and one hopes, political circles!

Acquiring an appropriate edition of On War, in English, should be done carefully.  The first English translation was completed in 1872 by Colonel J.J. (James John) Graham (1808-83), and published by N. Trübner, London in  1873. This was not a very successful publication and only a few hundred copies were actually printed at the time.  The complete Graham translation is available on-line.  Later, a revised and somewhat edited version of the Graham translation, under the direction of F.N. Maude, was released and remained the primary English language edition until 1976.  While it would be interesting to acquire a copy of the 1873 edition it is a rare day when one is available.  The revised edition appeared in 1908 published by Kegan, Paul (London) in three volumes and a couple of copies are currently for sale.

The best English Language translation was published by Princeton University Press in 1976, a revised edition with enhanced index, appeared in 1984, and a paperback edition in 1989.  On War, by Carl von Clausewitz, Edited and Translated by Michael Eliot Howard and Peter Paret, 717 pages, 1976, Princeton University Press, is the edition to own.  The 1976 edition does merit collectible status as there are not many copies available and if you want a first edition of this definitive translation in your library, you should act quickly!  With careful handling the 1976 edition could also serve as a reading copy.  If your are looking simply for a reading copy, I would suggest either the Princeton University Press paperback or the Everyman's Library edition published in 1993 and universally praised as the most useful edition of the Howard/Paret translation (includes a nice chronology but the pagination is different from the PUP edition so citation challenges arise).

It is my hope that everyone interested in war, going to war or managing war, cease fire, stop commenting, and first, read On War.  Since that could take some time perhaps a period of sustained peace would provide ample opportunity to better develop a philosophy of war such that war would become a rare reality rather than a constant state of affairs.     

Monday, March 28, 2011

Mildred Pierce on HBO, Collecting James M. Cain, Great American Noir/Crime Author

I'm hooked and will continue watching the new HBO mini-series, Mildred Pierce.  While frustrated by the slowish pace of Parts 1 and 2 and wanting that horrible child Veda to die, the teaser of future episodes was enough to capture my attention.  I admit to being a Mildred Pierce virgin.  I don't recall ever seeing the classic 1945 film staring Joan Crawford in her only Oscar winning role and when I noticed the reference to the 1941 novel, Mildred Pierce by James M. Cain in the credits, I figured researching the book and author was in order.  I'm glad I did as Cain is a very collectible, noir/true-crime, American author of the 1930's, 1940's and beyond.  He also wrote The Postman Always Rings Twice, a  novel that shocked many when published in 1934 and was the basis for the 1946 film staring Lana Turner and Josh Garfield and Double Indemnity, a novella published in serial format in 1936 and the basis for the 1944 film staring Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck.  I've never researched the books associated with classic film noir before but the wide open ocean that is book collecting offers endless routes and always surprising discoveries!

James M. Cain (1892-1977) was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland,  He was at times a journalist, with support from the great Baltimore man of letters, H.L. Mencken, moved to Southern California in the 1920's and tried his hand at screenwriting, writing novels and short stories.  He was a controversial author, at times considered a master American writer, associated with the true-crime movement and often mentioned along side Dashiel Hammett and Raymond Chandler.  Cain's life was full of intrigue, broken hearts, multiple marriages, financial success and ruin.  His screenwriting career was not that successful and his journalism career cut short when William Randolf Hearst essentially blackballed him.  Cain was an active author throughout his life but his novels, adapted for the screen, remain his most well known work.

If you are interested in collecting James M. Cain a good place to start would be with Cain:  The Biography of James M. Cain, by Roy Hoopes, Holt, Rinehart, New York, 1982.  A minor investment that will provide a complete bibliography and education about all things Cain.

Mildred Pierce, by James M. Cain, Alfred Knopf, New York, 1941.   This is a scarce book with only a few copies of the first edition, first printing available with prices ranging from $300 to $2000, dependant on condition.  The story of a successful business woman and her tragic life story, set during the Great Depression, and her perfectly horrible, narcissistic daughter.  A violator blurb on the film poster from 1945 sums it up well, "The kind of woman most men want-But shouldn't have!"

The Postman Always Rings Twice, by James M. Cain, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1934.  This is a very expensive and scarce, collectible book, Cain's first published novel.  There are few actual first edition, first printing copies available with the original dust jacket.  A novel of violence, sex and murder, it was banned in Canada and Boston!  There is no Postman in the novel, which was originally titled Bar-B-Que by Cain.  The story of adultery and murder was a popular theme at the time and this novel, his first, was rejected by 13 publishers but became a bestseller at the time of publication and made Cain a literary lion.

Double Indemnity, by James M. Cain, first published in serialized form in the magazine, Liberty between February and April, 1936 and first available in book form in Three of A Kind:  Three Short Novels, A Career in C, The Embezzler, and Double Indemnity, by James B. Cain, Alfred Knopf, 1943.  A rare but relatively affordable collection and the first appearance of Double Indemnity in book form.   I have been unable to track down any individual issues of Liberty Magazine with the novella and I imagine these are very hard to find and expensive to acquire.  The classic tale of murder for teh insurance.

Collecting Cain is a challenge.  His novels are great examples of the crime fiction genre of the 1930's and 1940's and those adapted for the big screen universally considered classic.  Since the first edition, first printings of his big three are scarce and expensive if you really want a collection of Cain you may need to go after the other 17 novels he published or build a collection of first edition paperbacks!  I'm just glad I know more about his writing now and hopefully, I'll enjoy the rest of the 2011 Mildred Pierce mini-series.

Friday, March 25, 2011

A New Collection Craze Begins, The Inaugural Lynd Ward Graphic Novel Prize, Duncan the Wonder Dog, Searching for a First Printing

I wrote about the graphic novels of Lynd Ward in reference to the Library Of America release of his complete novels in two volumes previously and am preparing a collecting guide to Lynd Ward for a future posting.  This week, the inaugural Lynd Ward Prize for Graphic Novel of The Year was announced and the winner is Duncan the Wonder Dog: Show One and an award of honor was given to Set To Sea.  May the Lynd Ward Prize collecting frenzy begin!

Duncan the Wonder Dog:  Show One, by Adam Hines, 400 pages, ISBN 0977030490, AdHouse Books, Novemeber 9, 2010 is sold out everywhere, available as a digital book, open for viewing online until the second printing is available and is now an in demand, and pricey, collectible printed book.  While you certainly may order a new copy of the print edition, expect to wait a few more weeks for the 2nd printing to be available. A few copies of the first printing are for sale with prices ranging from $188 to $225 plus shipping.  The first printing will always be more rare and expensive than the planned second printing but since this book is 400 pages and technically expensive to produce the 2nd printing, over time, should hold value and even may increase in value years from now. 

If you are close to brick and mortar stores that have good stock of comics and graphic novels you may be lucky and find a copy of the now rare first printing still in stock. If you want to start a graphic novel collection with this title or get in on the ground floor of collecting the Lynd Ward Prize books, start searching because there must be at least a few copies still around, maybe!  Duncan The Wonder Dog:  Show One, is the first release in a planned 9 book series.  It will certainly be easy to plan ahead and pre-order books 2-9 as they are announced and that may be a good idea as the creator, Adam Hines, seems to be the real deal.  In November 2010 PW published a nice interview with the author that offers insight into his creative process and his technique.

Copies of the first printing of Set To Sea, be Drew Weing, 144 pages, ISBN 1606993682, Fantagraphics Books, August 2010 are still available and seem worthy of an order since this is the first honored book in the Lynd Ward Prize.  I noticed that Amazon only had 19 copies left when I placed my order this morning and I expect that this too, will become scarce and more expensive within the next few weeks!

I do encourage everyone to, at least, visit the free online edition of Duncan The Wonder Dog:  Show One as the images display mastery of the graphic novel format and the content is simply amazing.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Orhan Pamuk On Collecting, Collecting Orhan Pamuk Nobel Prize for Literature 2006-Of the Heart and Soul of Istanbul, Turkey and the Islamic World

I noticed a video interview with the 2008 Nobel Literature winner, Orhan Pamuk, on BigThink and enjoyed hearing Pamuk talk about the psychology of collecting, the foundation for his recent novel, The Museum of Innocence.  Pamuk, in the interview, suggests that once you have four or five related items you have the beginnings of a collection and since I have 4 Pamuk books, I seem to have a Pamuk collection underway and it wouldn't take much to expand it.

Pamuk's Nobel Prize was awarded for his writings arising from Istanbul, his home town and " the quest for the melancholic soul of his native city has discovered new symbols for the clash and interlacing of cultures".   I love Istanbul and Turkey and enjoyed two wonderful trips to explore and experience both modern and ancient sites.  Istanbul is truly where East and West collide, interact and evolve.  In English translation Pamuk does indeed offer deep insight into the people and places of his native land.

Establishing a Pamuk collection is fairly easy to do.  Since he is a modern author his publications in English translation are available is oeuvre includes 6 novels, one collection of essays, and four works of non-fiction.  When building a Pamuk collection acquire the best copy available as condition will determine value over time.  Since I first acquired Pamuk to read Pamuk, I have to remember to carefully store the dust jacket when actively reading and to take care during my reading!  I want to read the four novels I do not own and will probably focus on acquiring those first.  If you are simply interested in Pamuk and would like to start slowly, I suggest beginning with his memoir of Istanbul and his novel, My Name is Red.

The White Castle, Orham Pamuk, Carcanet , Manchester, 1990 and George Braziller, New York, 1991, translated by Victoria Holbrook.  This was Pamuk's first novel translated into English and it is expensive to acquire with prices ranging from $295-$2500.  I have linked to a list of 23 copies for sale but beware, the copies for less than $295 are 2nd printings!  I keep hoping to simply stumble upon a copy for short money while attending various book fairs or visiting, off the grid, used book stores because I really don't want to spend $295 for a first edition/first printing.  The novel tells the tale of an 17th century Italian merchant, captured by pirates, sold into slavery in Istanbul and his Turkish servant master who is eager to learn about scientific advances in the West.  (Read a review from The New York Times, 1991)

The Black Book, Orham Pamuk, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, New York, 1994 and Faber and Faber, London. 1995, translated from the Turkish by Güneli Gün.   Pamuk's second novel in English translation, there are only 17 copies available with prices ranging from $125 to $750.  Pricey but if you can find an individual who simply owns a copy offer them $75 and see what happens.  A mystery at heart where everything and everyone one in Istanbul becomes a clue in a lawyer's search for his missing wife.  (see review).  The Black Book was published in a new translation in 2006 and published by Vintage, New York and Faber and Faber, London, 2006 in paperback.  It would be wise to grab a copy as over time this will become more important for any Pamuk collection.

The New Life, Orham Pamuk,  Farrar, Straus & Giroux, New York, 1997 and Faber and Faber, London. 1997, translated from Turkish by Erdağ M. Göknar.  There are 29 copies available ranging from $50 to $1000, the $50 copy may not last long!  Pamuk's 3rd book translated into English is the story of a magical book that transforms the reader's life.  A story of love, the search for happiness and evolving and changing cultural traditions. (PW summary).  

My Name is Red, Orham Pamuk, Alfred Knopf, New York, 2001, translated from the Turkish by Erdağ M. Göknar (Faber and Faber, London, 2001 softcover, first edition, translated by Benim Adım Kırmızı).  In this case, target the Knopf edition first since for whatever reason, Faber decided to release the London edition of this widely praised and best selling novel in softcover which over time, will never hold up as well as the original hardcover.  This tale of intrigue, coming modernity and clash of cultures during the early days of the decline of the Ottoman Empire beginning in the 19th century was released during the 9/11 tragedy was my first introduction to Pamuk.  This is a complex novel but well worth the effort to read and understand. (An insightful review from October 2001).  Knopf published an Everyman's edition in 2006 which includes an introduction by Pamuk and coincides with his Nobel Prize award.

Snow, Orham Pamuk, Alfred Knopf, New York, 2004, translated from the Turkish by Maureen Freely and Faber & Faber, London, 2004.  After the impact and success of My Name is Red, Snow was released to a much wider audience and with 80 copies available, there are plenty of first edition, first printings for sale with prices as low as $30 with a high price for a signed copy at $750.  In this novel Pamuk explores the tensions with the Muslim world of Istanbul between the religious and secular traditions.  (An interesting review at the time of publication by novelist Margaret Atwood in the New York Times)

The Museum of Innocence, Orham Pamuk, Alfred Knopf, New York 2009, translated from the Turkish by Maureen Freely, Faber and Faber, London, 2009 and Knopf, Canada, 2009.  It is not surprising that this recent release is the most affordable of Pamuk's novels, translated into English.  36 copies are available ranging from $10.00 to $260 for a signed copy of the Canadian first edition, first printing.  It always make sense to act quickly if you are on a budget as more recent publications are always available at a lower price.  (See review)

A couple of Pamuk, non-fiction titles follow.

Istanbul:  Memories of a City, Alfred Knopf, New York, 2005 and Faber and Faber, London, 2005 translated by Maureen Freely (The London edition preceded the New York edition but that really does not matter just pick one to start with).  This is considered a modern masterpiece and it both an autobiography and biogrpahy of a city.  Pamuk offers insight only a native can offer concerning the past and future of Istanbul and Eastern and Western culture.  32 copies are available but some may not be the first printing with prices ranging from a low of $10 to a high of $440.  (A review by noted bibliophile and author, Alberto Manguel)

The Naive and Sentimental Novelist, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 2010.  Based on his Charles Eliot Norton Lectures presented at Harvard University this will become more scarce over time but for now, a few copies for little money are still available.

Collecting as many as possible from the list above will form a fine foundation for a collection.  If you become very interested in Pamuk there are a few other books in English and, of course, a completist collector would acquire his first editions in the original Turkish!  Reading Pamuk is often challenging but well worth the effort especially in this time of turmoil throughout the Middle East becuase Pamuk offers unique insight into the place that is Istanbul, was the center of the Ottoman Empire and will always be a significant part of the Islamic culture whether past, present or future.     

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Book Appraisal, A Surprising Discovery in My Library, Yves Tanguy, Surrealism

Appraising the value of a book is often an adventure and sometimes very surprising.  When less than fully engaged in productive activity I waste time searching for books I'd love to own but know I can't afford.  Today, while trying to motivate myself to write, I became distracted after reading a review of a recently published biography of the 20th century artist, Modigliani, and wandered into a search for books involving my favorite surrealist artist of all time, Yves Tanguy.  The search results gave me pause! 

Yves Tanguy Photo by Man Ray
I start such a general search by simply searching for keyword "Yves Tanguy" and rank the list from highest to lowest price.  I am always amazed by the high ticket items and after carefully browsing the 1st thirty or so entries beginning at $45,000 I descend to the $3,000 level, where I start to recognize some of my forever wants.  There, I see a cluster of copies of  Four Poems of the Occult, Yvan Goll, illustrated by Fernand Léger, Pablo Picasso, Yves Tanguy, first English edition, with color border decorations and initials by Malette Dean, hand typeset and printed, The Allen Press, 130 copies printed, 100 for sale to the public, 1962.  This is a longstanding want and I check periodically to make certain copies are still available, the price is stable and if there just so happens to be a bargain copy for sale (not yet).  Once I confirmed that Four Poems of the Occult is still waiting for me, I return to browsing.

Continuing my descent down the list I noticed a book I do own, Yves Tanguy and Surrealism, Edited by Karin Von Maur, with essays by Susan Davidson, Konrad Klapheck, Gordon Onslow Ford, Andreas Schalhorn, and Beate Wolf, 252 pages, 318 illustration, 162 in color, published by Hatje Cantz Publishers, Ostfildern-Ruit, Germany, hardcover with dust jacket, 2001, listed for sale in the $700 range. This is a wonderful book and provides not only a significant catalog of Tanguy's art and complete bibliography of all books associated with Tanguy, but also interesting biographical essays.  I consider this a must own book and a fine foundation for a Tanguy or surrealism book collection. 

Yves TanguyThe Rapidity of Sleep (one of my all time favorites!)

That book listed at $700 was a surprise and I quickly did a search on just that title and only that one copy was for sale.  I decided to check Amazon (see link above), to see if by chance I bought my copy there, which I did, and to see if copies at the original price are still available, they are not.  I bought the book new on July 1, 2002 and paid $31.50 plus shipping.  Amazon does list three more copies for sale, priced from $600 to $2000! I decided to try searching a larger rare books database which aggregates results from numerous sources and discovered additional copies listed for sale between $600 and $1300.  I also learned that the hardcover was actually preceded by a softcover edition to accompany the exhibition celebrating Tanguy's 100th birthday at the Stuttgart Staatsgalerie.  The softcover carries a 2000 copyright date and is available for about $35. 

Via my LibraryThing catalog I know that 14 other members own a copy and via WorldCat, I can deduce that there are approximately 256 copies of the English language edition and 13 copies of the German language edition held by libraries throughout the world.  I would guess that the Publisher probably started with a print run of 1000 hardcover copies in German and 5000 hardcover copies in English so this really does not merit categorization as a rare book but it does merit collectible status.  It does make sense to me that there are few copies available today since anyone who loves Tanguy would own and cherish a copy.  The only reasonable explanation I can offer for the price is simple supply and demand.  The available copies are priced to attract a certain buyer who truly needs this book to complete a general surrealism or specifically Tanguy book collection.   The pricing seems fundamentally crazy to me, but then again, I simply collect and never sell so pricing is sometimes a mystery.

Yves Tanguy Through Birds, through Fire, but Not through Glass , 1943
As a book that will live in my collection forever, I appraise the value at $400.  It may take 10 years or more for the copies priced $600-$2000 to sell, if they ever do and I bet I could make a $400 offer to any of the sellers and they would agree, so I'll value mine at $400 as a replacement cost valuation.  I also bet that this value drops over time as more copies turn up in the rare and collectible book market!  Rare and collectible book appraising is more an art than a science and this surprising valuation confirms a general rule of book collecting--collect what you love not what you think will rise in value.  I had no idea in 2002 that this $35 investment would appreciate as it has, I simply wanted the book for my library.

My research on Tanguy and surrealism also alerted me to an annoying situation, I own a copy of Surrealism and the Sacred:  Power, Eros, and the Occult in Modern Art, Celia Rabinovitch, Basic Books, New York, 2002, and I can not locate my copy and must now start searching my library because it too, is more expensive now than when I acquired my copy upon publication.  I really hate it when I lose track of a book!  

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Ancient Grafitti, Rome, Mommsen, Modern Grafitti, Brassai

I recently mentioned Theodore Mommsen's A History of Rome in a posting and a week or so later, while browsing the March 20, 2011, Sunday Boston Globe, noticed an article titled, Titus Wuz Here:  Ancient graffiti begins giving up its secrets.  I immediately started reading and was expecting to see a reference to Mommsen and maybe, even a reference to Brassai, who I first wrote about earlier this year.  For this book collector anytime graffiti is mentioned, these two need to be featured. 

Ancient brothel graffiti advertisement. If your foot is smaller than this, don't bother!
While I enjoyed the article and insight, essentially a review of a recently published scholarly study of ancient Roman graffiti,  I became annoyed with the tenor, "ancient graffiti begins giving up its secrets"? Ancient graffiti has been giving up secrets since the graffiti was first created!  Just the title of the article alone speaks volumes to a tendency today, to arrogantly imagine and often believe, that we are better and know so much more than those that came before.  Unlikely, as this brief article from Australia's Reader's Digest proves

Both Mommsen and Brassai, in the mid 19th and 20th century respectively, created defining explorations of graffiti because graffiti has always been a source of insight into the thoughts, customs, concerns and opinions of common people everywhere.  An interesting source for all things modern graffiti is

For the book collector both Mommsen and Brassai offer wonderful book collecting opportunities concerning graffiti.  In Mommsen's case, his 19th century database of Roman inscriptions remains a core research tool for scholars and students of the ancient world.  Sponsored by the Royal Prussian Academy of Sciences, now part of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities, Theodore Mommsen formed the Corpus Inscriptionum in 1853 and published the first collection of inscriptions from the ancient world in 1863.  The Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum was a massive publishing project originally producing 70 volumes followed by an addition 13 volumes and new inscriptions continue to be included.  If you are interested in collecting all the volumes you will need serious shelf space and great patience as at this moment I can only find 2 volumes for sale.  One of the those volumes includes my ancestral heritage (maternal) from ancient Samnite lands, now the Abruzzi-Molize region of Italy.  The original set of volumes were published in Berlin, G. Reimer.  Luckily, there is current on-line access to the database of inscriptions via the official web site and a site that publishes English translations of the Greek and Latin inscriptions.

The 20th century photographer, poet and writer, Brassai, also created a fabulous record of graffiti.  His book, Graffiti:  Text and Photographs by Brassai, Belser-Verlag, Stuttgart, 1960,  Éditions du Temps, Paris, 1961, 2nd edition, including a Preface by Gilberte Brassai with writings by Brassai on graffiti including the previously unpublished essay, Le Procés des Graffiti, and a poem, Flammarion, Paris, 1993.  The first English translation of Brassai's Graffiti was published by Flammarion in 2002 and remains available today.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Collecting Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Tales of a Wayside Inn, The Legend of Paul Revere's Ride

US Postal Service Longfellow Stamp, 2007

"Listen, my children, and you shall hear/Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere...." is the opening of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's classic poem of America's call to arms and of the legendary ride, warning that the British are coming.  Certainly not accurate history but the poem remains a cherished piece of American cultural history.  While some may forget about the events of April 19, 1775; the dawn battle at the Old North Bridge in Concord, MA, the shot heard round the world, and the retreat of the British regulars through Lexington towards Boston, Longfellow's poem honoring Paul Revere's legendary ride will forever celebrate the birth of a nation.  Historical accuracy aside, if so many learn of ancient Rome through Shakespeare, Longfellow's poem may always remain a simple introduction to the first hours of the American Revolution.

Longfellow's poem was originally published on December 18, 1860 in the Boston Evening Herald newspaper followed a few days later with publication in the Atlantic Monthly Magazine and three years later in his famous collection of poems, Tales of A Wayside Inn, Ticknor and Fields, Boston, 1863 (Routledge, Warne and Routledge, London, 1864) as "The Landlord's Tale".  There are copies available of both the Ticknor and Fields edition and the Routledge, Warne and Routledge edition (it would be fun to have a British first edition!).   The Ticknor and Fields edition seems to be available in three states.  The first state included a publisher's catalog where Tales of A Wayside Inn is listed as forthcoming, without a price.  The second state included a publisher's catalog with the title listed in the advertising with a price.  I have seen mention of a first edition without the publisher catalog and I would need to access a few research guides to verify that copies of the first state were actually printed without the catalog.  Most available copies are in sad shape as is to be expected for a book that was very popular when published and probably read over and over again.  Some copies have been rebound in leather to honor the collection where Longfellow channeled his best Chaucer (and perhaps Rabelais) to offer a set of tales told among a small group of travelers at the Wayside Inn, which still exists today, in Sudbury, Ma.

One April 19, 2011 it will be the 150th celebration of Patriot's Day, after the original publication of The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, and perhaps just the motivation I need to arise well before dawn and trek to the Old North Bridge to honor the birth of our nation!  Well, probably not, I've been meaning to do so for near on 16 years since I moved to Stow, MA where in 1775, the Stow Minutemen reacting to the general alarm, mustered in the dead of night and left for Concord around 4AM.  Perhaps, this year, I'll simply go about what I do best, acquiring a copy of the newspaper issue, The Atlantic Monthly issue and the first edition of Tales of A Wayside Inn.   

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Houghton Shahnameh, The Whole Is Greater Then The Parts but Sometimes the Parts are more Marketable--Book Destruction for Proft Shahnameh Part 3

Following up on my earlier postings on The Shahnameh of Ferdowsi, (here and here) I return to a very troubling example of the destruction of a "one of a kind" book for profit.  The Shahnameh or Persian Book Of Kings, is a masterpiece of Persian (Iranian) literature.  First put to paper by Ferdowsi in 1000AD, the most beautifully illustrated version of the epic poem considered a masterpiece of Persian and Islamic illustrated and illuminated book arts, was created in Tabriz between 1520 and 1544, commissioned by the first Safavid king of Iran.  It is known as The Shahnameh of Shah Tahmasp.  The provenance of the book is well known and has a tragic ending.

Shortly after completion of The Shahnameh of Shah Tahmasp, the book was gifted to the new Ottoman Sultan, Selim II and sent to Istanbul around 1568.  Amazingly, the book remained at Topkapi Palace until the beginning of the 20th century.  The book included 759 folios of text and 258 paintings, the fine paper decorated with splashes of gold.  With the end of World War I and the fall of the Ottoman Empire, somehow, The Shahnameh of Shah Tahmasp became part of the private library of Baron Maurice de Rothschild, Paris, who died in 1957.  At that time, the American collector and patron of the arts, Arthur A. Houghton Jr, acquired the manuscript from the Rothschild estate. 
Houghton, Jr. who was a master rare book collector, did a tour of duty as the curator of rare books at the Library of Congress, and was President of the Metropolitan Museum of Arts in the 1960's.  When Houghton Jr., acquired The Shahnameh of Shah Tahmasp for reasons that confound me, he began gifting and selling individual pages to collectors and museums.  Upon his death in 1990, only 120 illustrations and the binding of the original remained in his estate and they were sent to auction with an asking price of $20 million, if kept together.  The world economy was troubled during 1991 and 1992 and the auction house eventually traded the manuscript to the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art in exchange for De Kooning's Woman III.   Prior to this exchange, individual illustrations from the book were regularly setting records at auction, with closing bids at over $700,000 per page.  I guess the case could be made that selling individual pages enabled more Museums and collectors to own a piece of history but I remain disgusted by the destruction of a unique, precious book.
Houghton, at least, commissioned the publication of a facsimile of the complete book before he destroyed it.  The Houghton Shahnameh was published in 1981 for the Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University by Harvard University Press in two volumes, introduced and described by Martin Bernad Dickson and Stuart Cary Welch.  Volume II is a facsimile reproduction of The Shahnameh of Tahmasp.  Of the 750 copies bound, 600 copies were offered for sale to the public.  Very few copies are for sale at this time and I can identify only three, here and here with prices ranging from $1995 to $4500.  A single facsimile illustration was included with each copy of the Houghton Shahnameh with a note suggesting that the separate page was suitable for framing so the facsimile would remain in-tact.     I consdier myself fortunate to have a family friend who owns a copy and I am excited to have an opporetunjity to study the facsimile.  But I will remain sad about the tragic destruction of the original.

At this point, I have to admit that I own various single pages of old books and indeed, 6 are examples of Persian/Islamic illustrated pages.  I also own a few single pages of Piranesi pages depicting ancient Rome.  In my defense, these pages were separated from the master work years ago, not from priceless editions and in the case of the Persian/Islamic pages, perhaps not even original but printed book pages, aged and colored during the 20th century, one never can be sure!   The tragic destruction of The Shahnameh of Tahmasp does cause one to pause and consider the fate of other masterpieces of the books arts, sold in part.