Childers – A Rare Thriller for Collectors
Collectors of spy thrillers might struggle to build up a collection if they start with one of the classics, The Riddle of the Sands, by Erskine Childers. It was the last and only spy novel he wrote! However, not to have his book in your collection would be to miss a trick. It is credited with being the forerunner of adventure novels that are based on facts yet remain true thrillers.
Published in 1903, the book predicted the threat of war with Germany and called for British preparedness. The thriller was set within a plot of a yachting and duck shooting trip for two young men which turns into an adventurous investigation into a German plot to invade Great Britain. It is credited as a a precursor of factual spy novels such as John Buchan, Ian Fleming and Ken Follet.
He certainly knew the military facts of the time. His first book, In the Ranks of the C. I. V. describes his accounts in the Boer War whilst he was serving with the Honorable Artillery Company in Southern Africa. His long descriptive letters were sent home to his sisters. The public’s interest in the war was growing and the letters were published in book format to some success in 1902. Childers then went on to collaborate with his colleague, Basil Williams, on a more formal book, The HAC in South Africa, which described the history of the regiment’s part in the campaign.
However Childers must have known there was a novel in him working on a script for The Riddle of the Sands since 1901. He had been a sailing enthusiast for many years owning several vessels since 1893. He sailed extensively across the channel and even to the Baltic, Nordenhay and the Frisian Islands with his brother. These wide sailing experiences along the German coast plus his wartime forays provided essential factual material for his adventure novel.
The novel was published with wide acclaim and it has never gone out of print. The significance of the book is even more intriguing considering the context of the life and time of the author. The novel depicts patriotic characters who perform courageous struggles for king and country. Yet Childer’s mother was Irish and he had always been interested in the cause of Irish Home Rule. He took this up seriously after WW1. Although Riddle was an instant bestseller, Childers never wrote another novel. Instead he concentrated on military strategy manuals before entering politics and eventually becoming a staunch Irish nationalist smuggling guns to Ireland in his sailing yacht. He was executed by a firing squad in 1922, by order of the Irish Free State.
Childers describes the novel as “… a story with a purpose” written from “a patriot’s natural sense of duty”. It is certainly a book of significance. In 2003 many centenary editions were produced: the Observer included it on its list of “100 Greatest Novels of All Time” and The Telegraph noted it as the third best novel of all time. It remains a hugely influential book in the spy genre – and certainly one to add to any collection of first edition spy books!
To view our first edition of the book go here
Kipling’s Enduring Just So Stories
Rudyard Kipling has long been recognised as one of the most authentic writers during the British Empire of the early 20th century. Some of his works are clearly of their period yet the Just So Stories have endured the passage of time. They are as appealing to children today as they were when they were written in 1902.
The stories of how animals came to be as they are remain fanciful and intriguing. Each tale relates how the animal is modified from it’s original form by the acts of mankind, or some other magical act. For example, The Camel refuses to work and is given a hump as a punishment, allowing him to work for longer with less food breaks. The Whale swallowed a sailor, who then tied a raft inside the whale’s throat to impede further ingestion of men. The end result was a smaller throat for the Whale.
Kipling first attempts at this style of writing is evident in The Second Jungle Book of 1895 where he fantasizes how the tiger got his stripes in the story of “How Fear Came“. He no doubt developed the tales when he was telling bedtime stories to his daughter, Josephine or “Effie”. Kipling commented, ...in the evening there were stories meant to put Effie to sleep, and you were not allowed to alter those by one single little word. They had to be told just so; or Effie would wake up and put back the missing sentence. So at last they came to be like charms, all three of them,—the whale tale, the camel tale, and the rhinoceros tale. Tragically his daughter died of fever in 1899. Three of the stories were published in a children’s magazine. A few years later the stories were published in book form in 1902.
Kipling uses an amusing and grand style of language with playful invention of words. He includes a delightful poem after each story. The reader is addressed as Best Beloved engaging a feeling of intimacy with the audience – a technique which clearly worked as the book has appealed to children since it’s publication in 1902.
The book is illustrated with his own images and includes two woodcuts with each story. The images are remarkably fresh today. His skill may well have derived from inheriting some artistic talent from his father who was an artist and Principal at the then Mayo School of Arts, in Lahore, British India.
Many of the stories have been made into films and musicals. For example, the Just So Stories were adapted as a 1984 musical, called Just So at the Watermill theatre in England. Also a French-British animated co-production of Just So Stories was produced in 2008. It is testimony to Kipling’s talent of writing and illustration that a rare first edition book is still in demand today and remains a collectable item. As Kipling said, Hear and attend and listen; for this befell and behappened and became and was: O my Best Beloved, when the tame animals were wild, and children are still listening.
William Golding books inspiring light.
“At the moment of vision, the eyes see nothing.” writes William Golding in his novel of The Spire. A book which deals with the construction of the 404-foot high spire and is loosely based on Salisbury Cathedral. Indeed visitors to the tallest tower in Britain have carefully trod in semi- darkness. That is until a volunteer guide, Robert Stiby, paid with his own money to have new lights installed inside the ancient scaffolding of the tower. Visitors are now able to marvel at the medieval structures. What has this story to do with book collecting you might wonder? As a bibliophile it is a reminder of the endurance and interest of classic authors.
William Golding (19 September 1911 – 19 June 1993)
Golding remains a recognised novelist, playwright and poet being ranked third on The Times list of “The Greatest Writer since 1945”. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1983 for his most famous work, The Lord of the Flies. Golding wrote many fine novels yet it is this book which he is most remembered for.
Fine copies of the classic, The Lord of The Flies, remains attractive to collectors of modern first editions. Indeed it could be argued that “A collection of modern fiction would never be complete without it” (Connolly, 136). As always the main factors affecting the appeal of a first edition book is the condition and the dust jacket.
The first UK edition of The Lord of The Flies published by Faber & Faber in 1954. It features the iconic jungle artwork on the dust wrapper. The children trapped on the island blend into the wild, jungle environment around them.
The US edition was published a year later in 1955. It was not popular and sold around 2,383 copies before quickly going out of print. This makes it a rare find. The dust jacket of this edition has a more dense foliage and darker colouring than the British publication.
When writing The Lord of the Flies Golding sought to “…illuminate the human condition in the world of today”. Almost as an echo to the past Canon Edward Probert, chancellor of Salisbury Cathedral commented on the new spire lighting. He states that, “…what was once clothed in darkness is now illuminated…”
To see more modern first editions and copies of William Golding books go here.
Rare and Antique Books have recently acquired four signed Kinglesy Amis books from the Dr Philip Murray Collection. It is a great opportunity to remind ourselves of the obsession of book collecting, or biblomania. Murray gamely recognises that it “is the only form of collecting other than kleptomania that has a medical name attached to it”. He is clearly qualified to make the statement because as well as being one of Ireland’s leading book collectors, he is also a doctor.
Murray’s interest in books started at a young age in his home of Tipperary, Ireland. He collected the Dandy and Beano comics. His interests quickly led onto more literary works as he ventured in the many bookshops of his university city of Dublin. His passion for book collecting continued during his time abroad. Murray sought specialist catalogues, literary festivals and many, many second hand bookshops in his travels. Much of his joy was also in the befriending of authors along the way.
Murray amassed an impressively rare collection of twentieth century literary fiction and poetry. Over many years he built up an extensive range of books by some of Ireland’s most significant poets and novelists. Also including the best of British, American (North and South) and European authors. Names such as C.S. Lewis, Roald Dahl, Beckett, O’Flaherty, J.B. Keane, McGahern, Kingsley Amis, Arthur Miller and many more litter his book collection. Murray’s quiet determination in sending first edition books with self addressed envelopes to authors enabled him to gather an enviable collection. A case in point is the ‘The Whoseday Book’ which contains the signatures of all but twelve of its over 360 contributors. Authors were inclined to add personal dedications which add to the charm and value of his collection. Seamus Heaney even submitted an original poem for his copy.
Murray has recently sold much of his compilation to relieve his family of disposing of such an enormous and significant collection. Around 2,200 books were handled by Dublin Fonsie Mealy Auctioneers in July 2016. These included Literature prize winners, Seamus Heaney, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Patrick White, attracting world wide interest and high prices.
Dr Murray describes the excitement of his “obsession” in his book, “Adventures of a Book Collector” ( Currach Press, 2011). Many a bibliophile may well relate the the joy of finding a gem of a book. The thrill of the chase is one feeling that many a book collector will recognise, even if the finding is now often in online purchases rather than in dusty corners of a book shop. The comradeship of discussing the merits and pleasures of a special book is a special experience. Murray explains it beautifully. “When I started collecting books, I wasn’t to know that it would turn into a lifetime pursuit and would give me such pleasure in both reading some great books and making many valued friendships”. Holding a book that Murray gathered for his collection allows a moment of reflection on the joys of this crazy obsession, Bibiliomania!
To see more books of Dr Philip Murray’s collection go here
Remembering the First World War
The memorial for The Battle of the Somme have been a remarkable and sobering reminder of the fall out from war. The battle took place between 1 July and 18 November 1916 on both sides of the River Somme in France. It was one of the largest of World War I. More than 1,000,000 men were wounded or killed, making it one of the bloodiest battles in human history.
The UK has seen many events to mark this tragically important historian event. A local commemoration to mark the date was The Shrouds of the Somme. The artist, Rob Heard created 19,240 shrouds to represent the 19,240 soldiers who died during the first day of the battle. They are arranged in rows on the ground as a way to physicalise the number of dead and to illustrate the enormity of the rare horror.
The 19240 Shrouds of the Somme project describes the process. “Each figure is associated with a name so that each soldier is individually acknowledged and remembered. Rob works his way down the list, crossing off one name each time a soldier is created as he reflects on their individual experience. He creates the figures unaided, cutting and hand-stitching their calico shrouds, covering and binding them in a ritual of creation, remembrance and personal introspection. As each soldier is wrapped they take on their own form, twisting and bending into their own unique shape – not only representing the dead – but death itself. The sight of the figures both individually and collectively presents a poignant and provocative experience for the viewer, providing a moment for reflection within themselves about the physical reality of the war, in approximately 1:6 scale.” It is a poignant and emotional piece of work.
The BBC also repeated the film, The Wipers Times, which was first broadcast in 2013. It tells the story of Captain Fred Roberts discovery of a printing press in the ruins of Ypres, Belgium in 1916. With the help of ex-printer Sergeant Harris and with his friend Jack Pearson as his assistant, he sets up the satirical, Wipers Times. The name “Wipers” being the soldiers’ slang pronunciation of the town Ypres. Full of gallows humor the paper was poignant, subversive and very funny. Enemy fire nor authority and gas attacks halted the production of the magazine. It proved to be a huge success with the troops on the Western Front. It was, above all a tribute to the resilience of the human spirit in the face of overwhelming adversity. In his spare time Roberts also managed to win the Military Cross for gallantry.
For more information about The Shrouds of the Somme go here
To see a copy of The Wipers Times go here
C. S. Lewis (1898-1963) A Remarkable Life
The William Nicholson’s play “Shadowlands” is currently touring the UK portraying the remarkable romance between C.S. Lewis and an American called Joy Davidman. It provides opportunity to be learn more about the personal life of the bachelor academic and author and to be reminded of the works of C.S. Lewis. His books have been translated into over 30 languages and sold over million copies. The interest in him and his books does not seem to wain.
Born in Ireland, as a youngster Lewis had an interest in anthropomorphic animals, mythology and Norse legends. These early interests developed into studies of theology, poetry, and academic to name a few of his talents. He went onto hold academic positions in Oxford and Cambridge University. He is probably best know for his epic series, the Chronicles of Narnia, of which The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950) is the most popular.
The Narnia books are some of the most sought after books by collectors. The works are all more valuable in their original state rather than rebound, particularly if the dust-jackets are well preserved. First editions of the Chronicles are often kept as a complete collection although individual volumes can achieve hundreds, sometimes thousands of pounds, especially if they are signed. For example, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, first edition (1950) signed by the author, sold for £17,000 in October 2010 at the Bloomsbury Auctions. Or a price of £4,200 was achieved for The Last Battle, The Bodley Head (1956), first edition with dust-jacket, signed by the author at Sotherby’s in July 2007.
Lewis’s other notable works of Mere Christianity and The Ransom Trilogy are also popular and rare to find in good condition with their dust jackets. The Heritage Auctions achieved a sale of $5,676.25 in April 2007 for The Ransom Trilogy, first editions (1938, 1943, 1945), in a dust-jacket.
C. S Lewis completed works remain valuable and collectable items. Yet it is charming to also see that the personal effects of this remarkable man are also valued. A collection of unpublished correspondence between C. S. Lewis and his wife Joy, sold for £4,025 in April 1966. Lewis achieved exceptional success in his literary career and Shadowlands shows that he achieved much in his personal life too.
To see more works of C. S. Lewis go here.
Looking after your book collection
When it comes to rare and antique books condition is crucial so it’s important to look after a book collection carefully. Here are a few tips in how to preserve your treasured books:
Keep your books upright on a shelf – unless they are large folio sized and then it’s best to lie them flat. Be careful not to lean books which may warp them so use other books or book ends to support the books – but not too jammed together! Take care when removing books from the shelf so the spine is not pulled away first. This is especially true if the books are a little fragile to start with.
Check that the temperature of the room is constant – any extremes of hot or cold, wet or dry may cause problems with mould from fungi, drying out of fine leathers or bleaching from sunlight. Hot radiators or damp corners are obviously to be well avoided as is a “sunny spot”! The ideal temperature of the room should be within the range of 16 to 19 degrees centigrade and humidity within 45 – 60%. Preferably both temperature and humidity needs to be constant and not variable. Measuring the temperature and humidty can be done with thermometer of a portable electric thermohygrometre or hygrometre if needed.
All books should be handled and stored with care, in order to preserve their good condition or to prevent existing damage becoming even worse. Remember that modern first edition books printed from the mid-19th century onwards are often printed on mechanical ground wood pulp paper, which often has a high acidic content and can quickly become discoloured and brittle if not kept in the right conditions. A specialized clear jacket cover can be helpful to protect valuable dust jackets and avoid finger marks. Caution is required when eating and drinking around fine books! A note too about keeping books together – don’t use elastic bands to hold groups of similar books as these will dry out and become brittle – much safer to use a cotton tape. Needless to say sellotape and rare books do not go together!
Books that are left on shelves for a long period will collect dust and this could encourage the growth of mould. Cleaning a dusty book is best done by carefully brushing a closed book’s pages with a soft dry paintbrush – brushed away from the book shelf to clear the dust away. As well as dust collection silverfish or bookworms may infiltrate a fine book collection. These can be identified by the traces of larvae droppings called Frass which is usually found under the spines of books.
There is a large difference between light dusting to clean a book and repairing a broken hinge or page tear! If your book has a problem with it carefully think before embarking on a restoration project – is the value of the book worth less than the restoring bill? If so then it’s probably not a great idea unless the book has sentimental value. It’s worth remembering that restoring a cover is not to make the book look new again, but to make it look good for its age.
Repair jobs are tempting – how difficult can it be to simply glue back loose pages! But of course, badly repaired bindings, hinges or covers will devalue a first edition or rare book. Seek a reputable restorer and they may well be able to treat additional damage, spotted or stained material to reduce further erosion from dirt and oils. Leather covers can have restored color and luster. Cloth covers can be cleaned with water-less methods and in some cases cloth can be recolored. However do check that any washing will not shrink dust jackets. Bindings can be repaired by sanding down boards, gluing spines and attaching free pages to the cover before a final finishing of the cover – all not to be done lightly so a job for a skilled professional.
Remember the condition of books is crucial so a first edition book with no damage is more valuable than a copy with missing pages and weak bindings- or even worse a badly repaired edition!
Rare and Antique Books at the London International Book Fair
Last weekend (27 & 28 May), Rare and Antique Books exhibited at the PBFA London International Book Fair – ILEC Conference Centre. These are our highlights of what was a successful two days.
Firstly it’s fair to say that, as booksellers, book selling is what it’s all about, so on that front it was a success. We sold two Ian Fleming first edition books, Diamonds are Forever and From Russia With Love. Both sold fairly early on so a good start to the Friday, having already put two books aside for Pom Harrington of Peter Harringtons.
We were also pleased to say that a Japanese buyer had arranged in advance to take a look at our early edition of Beatrix Potter’s, Peter Rabbit, who subsequently bought it, as well as our signed, limited edition of Arthur Rackham’s Book of Pictures.
We sold an early edition of Bram Stoker’s Dracula to an American buyer, a third edition of Dickens’ Oliver Twist and a few others too, so a good fair for us.
Such fairs are also an opportunity to acquire rare books and modern first editions, and we added some crackers to our stock. We specialise first edition Lewis Carroll books, so jumped at the opportunity to add a French first edition of Alice in Wonderland – titled Aventures D’Alice au pays des Merveilles, dated 1869; a rare edition and one that will be listed shortly on our site.
Among our other highlights of rare books purchased was an original first paper cover edition of Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson, with the date hand changed by the publisher from 1885 to 1886, and a beautiful first edition copy of Bram Stoker’s The Lady of the Shroud. Both too will be listed very soon.
With respect to the modern first edition highlights, we acquired a fine first edition, second impression copy with it’s original jacket of George Orwell’s Animal Farm and a first edition, first impression of Graham Green’s The Third Man, again with its jacket.
But it’s not really just about being a bookdealer. We met many interesting people, marveled at the specific and niche subject matters some punters collect books about (and there are some really unusual ones!!), made new friends and had some fun. Two days very well spent.
Being from Exeter, we even got home in time to watch the recording of our home rugby team – The Exeter Chiefs playing in the final of the Rugby Premiership at Twickenham. So proud too!
Starting off a book collection.
A question often asked is “Where do I begin with book collecting?” There is no straightforward answer but firstly you have to love what you collect! Starting off a book collection begins with finding an area of interest and keeping focused – it is very easy to get distracted with tempting book offers and chasing elusive editions! Honing down the topic can simplify the process and reduces the draw to go “off piste”.
There are many routes to establishing a fine book collection – here are a few paths that collectors often get started with:
“Author” Collector: These collectors focus on building up a wide number of works from a specific author, perhaps only first editions. Over time the joy can be in acquiring better quality versions of the books. Alternatively the collection can extend to reprints, foreign translations, special editions and magazine appearances of the author. The “Author” could also be an illustrator, for example, collecting all the illustrated books by Arthur Rackham.
“List” Collector: Using an established and well-known literary list, like the winners of the Man Brooker Prize,ng. Or perhaps all the James Bond films? This collection is typically the first editions of these works and can include reprints or other important editions of the authors.
“Niche” collection: Choosing an an obscure but interesting topic makes for a special collection. Topics can be wide ranging and assembling these editions will truly reflect the personality and interest of the collector. The advantage of this type of collector is that there is often less competition for the books – how many people will be seeking books on say the subject of African Insects?
“Artistic” collection: These collectors will focus on books that have an ascetic appeal. They could be illustrated editions, finely bound or have dust jackets of particular artists. Often this type of collection can be a starting point and can extend to building up a wide range of artifacts. For example, collecting illustrations of work of Pauline Baynes (best known for her Narnia series) may extend to her other images in magazine covers, dust jackets, maps and posters. These types of collections will often have the added value of looking attractive so represent art in themselves.
Of course it is rare to find a pure collector of just one of the above, as more often they’ll be made up of a little of all the types. (That tendency to go off piste is very alluring!) Whatever is collected the mantra of all book collectors is “Condition, condition, condition” and establishing a set of fine editions can take some time, not to mention money! It is better to have smaller set of fine quality books than a larger number of poorer quality books. Researching your topic is advisable using the wealth of information on the web and in books. Bibliographies of chosen authors can be essential in extending knowledge. Book dealers can be of a real help too – and making use of the established organisations that promote trustworthy and reliable book sellers is invaluable – as is attending reputable book fairs.
So where is best to buy from? The easiest option is to visit your local antiquarian bookshop and spend pleasurable minutes or even hours studying many an old book. Bargains can best be found on websites like Ebay but beware potentially less than scrupulous sellers. They may not be accredited by associations such as the ABA, the PBFA or the IOBA and, whilst this is by no means always the case, subsequently may describe books poorly or even dishonestly. They may place fascimile dustjackets on books without telling the buyer or massively inflate prices with high ‘Buy it now’ price tags to give the impression the book is worth considerably more than the market rate. Ebay have tightened their rules and process more recently with the buyer’s best interests in mind, so if you’re unhappy with a book, you can now request a return and, as long as the description was dishonest, Ebay will force the seller to refund in full.
Bargains can, of course, be picked up at car boot sales but if you are focused on a specific subject, it can appear like looking for a needle in a haystack! Sometimes a bookshop might have a good deal on book held in stock so it is always worth a look. Similarly traditional antique auction houses can now invariably be viewed online, thus opening literally the whole world to an auction which would previously have only operated on a local level. This is a double-edged sword of course as it can push the price up but good prices are often achieved too.
Then there’s the internet and online offerings, which have transformed the way we buy rare and antique books like never before. Many traditional ‘bricks and mortar’ bookshops have now added website to their means of selling, so finding that special book you’ve always wanted can be done quickly and easily. It is best to buy from online book dealers who are accredited for the reasons mentioned above and always check their returns policy, so you don’t get caught with something you wished you hadn’t bought. Generally, a quick Google search for a specific book title or author will then display numerous specialist booksellers holding exactly what you are looking for.
To go back to the original question, if you are asking yourself “where to begin building up a book collection” you probably already have a vague idea of what you might be interested in and just need to go ahead and enjoy!