Thursday, September 30, 2010

Collins Illustrated Pocket Classics

About two and a half years ago I put up on the blog some photos and details of a great little edition of Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage. It was the illustrations, by Helen Monro, that were of particular interest. In the intervening period, a number of people have written comments on that post, largely asking if I knew anything more about the series or about particular copies they had. I have been rather remiss about answering those queries and, as another one was posted just the other day, I thought maybe it was time to revisit the series.

In truth I don't know a great deal about them, but judicious use of The British Library Catalogue, Abebooks, Ebay and other sites has given me at least a rough overview. It's a bit complicated. It appears that Collins Illustrated Pocket Classics were first published from about 1905 to 1925. If you find these in your local bookshop you are unlikely to find them with jackets - although I believe they were issued - and they conform pretty much to the standard of pocket-sized books of the day, a direct attempt to complete with the Everyman Books published by J. M. Dent. If you set out to buy one online though, be sure to ask the vendor to confirm it is the 'pocket' version, because there have been, at various points, the same titles published as Collins Illustrated Classics and Collins Classics. In fact Collins appears to have been fairly promiscuous with the classics throughout the first half of the Twentieth Century.

The Red Badge of Courage, however, and as we shall see, some of the titles mentioned by people commenting on my original post, comes from the mid 1950s when it appears the Collins reissued and, I think, in some cases, issued some new 'classics' which they put into dustjackets like the Red Badge but which might have been Yellow or Blue, or other colours perhaps that I haven't yet come across. So, let me see if I can answer any of the questions from the original post.

There's a Dumas novel in this series (at least I think it is #511), THE QUEEN'S NECKLACE, which has an introduction by famed thriller writer Dennis Wheatley (who often acknowledged his debt to the French author). I've never actually seen a copy, but I'd love to get one for my DW collection someday.

-Jim D.

Hi, Jim, I'm sorry I didn't get back to you about this at the time. As it happens I think I now have a copy of this and I'll get in touch privately to see if you are still interested. However, it appears to be part of the 1950s reissues: the British Library has it at 1957. It would seem that the Wheatley introduction was new for that edition as there is an earlier (c.1920) Collins Illustrated Pocket Edition which had an introduction by A. T. Baker.

Anonymous said...
Hi I have found a copy in this series Tom brown's school days with a blue dust jacket, I am trying to date it. Can anyone help. Red boards. Illustrated byFrank Mckenna. collin. States been producing this series for over 30 years . I cant find another online to date or value.Any help would be great

This is slightly trickier, without seeing a picture. I can find 1950s copies but these seem to illustrated by someone called Will Nickless. I can find the older-looking dateless copies illustrated, as you say, by Mckenna but, all the copies of those I can find suggest a kind of faux leather covering. Possibly you have a copy from the original series, c.1910, with an original dustjacket. As to value? I don't know of any pocket edition title really being worth any more than 10GBP, even with a jacket.

Anonymous said...
I have Charles Dickens' "David Copperfield Illustrated by Bloome...any idea of the age? looks 1870ish

This one is a bit easier. I think you may have committed a typo for the artist's name, it was W. H. C. Groome. The British Library Catalogue suggests that this was No. 1 in the series and also part of the Collins Illustrated Dickens. First issued in 1907 and then reissued in 1925. The 1907 edition would appear not to have a printed date of publication and, since you are unsure, I guess that's what you have.

Amy C said...
I have Miscellaneous Essays by Lord MacAuley it's number 119 in the series. When were they published?

Well, given the subject matter I would guess this is one of the earlier period titles, perhaps about 1910, because I can't imagine MacAulay's writings being popular enough to reprint in the 1950s ( I may be wrong) but unfortunately the British Library Catalogue data does not include the date the book was sent to the Library. When you are in the library, you can see that every book is date stamped with the date it was received. Although this date should be treated with care because there will be instances of delay, and sometimes many years delay after publication, when a book has no publication date, it can be a helpful indicator. Online, however, it's impossible to discover this date so I can only give you my hunch.

Eric Gill: St Sebastian

For a little while, (about two years in fact) I was adding to a blog of images of St Sebastian, but I haven't put anything up there for a long time now and I don't intend revitalising it. So, when I came across this image of St Sebastian by Eric Gill that I had never seen before, I thought I would post it here.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Book Catalogues #1

Bookseller's catalogues are pretty much an extinct media, at least in print form. I have, over the last few months happened upon a few caches of them at auction or private sale and, as a result, I now have some six or seven hundred of the things, of all ages, on all subjects and from any number of different booksellers both modest and grand. Every once in a while I shall be posting images from this collection (and please do enquire if you would like to buy anything you see in these posts) because, to me, they are a fascinating thing, both for their contents and for the place they have as 'book ephemera' in the history of book selling.

Nowadays, go into almost any bookshop in the country and you will see the proprietor staring at a computer screen cataloging books. But it won't be on a word processor with a view to sending the text to a printers, it will be straight into the cataloging software of Abebooks. There are still, booksellers being a naturally old-fashioned breed, those who do produce printed catalogues but often this is done as much for the sales of the catalogue itself as for the sales of its contents, even these booksellers would much prefer to send you the pdf version of their print catalogue. Of course, the greatest resource these catalogues provide is bibliographical, whether that be from the descriptions and facsimiles of the first edition of Milton's Paradise Lost in the Henry Sotheran catalogue (@ £200 in 1907), or any one of the over 14,000 entries in Larry Edwards 1970s catalogue for the Cinema Bookshop, either way, to a collector, the right old book catalogues can be an invaluable resource.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Bernard Leach: My Religious Faith

Regular readers will know that whilst I am very definitely about the books, my husband, R, is a potman - I mean a ceramics nut, not an imbiber of dubious substances. So it's nice when an item like this appears which takes in both our fields of interest.

This is an interesting thing, an 8pp letterpress printed booklet on handmade paper with a Japanese style 'stab' binding. It is titled on the inside, 'My religious faith at the close of 1953" and begins, "To my friends," which could be our first indication of rarity. Bernard Leach was the father of British studio pottery at St Ives but learnt much of his craft studying in Japan. He was a strong advocate for the bringing of East and West closer together and so it is no surprise that the religious faith he is talking about in this text is as a Baha'i, a syncretist, oriental inspired faith.

For the bookdealer though, establishing the rarity of a particular item is important to being able to put a price on something. The availability of online library catalogues is a boon to this process. I can tell you immediately, for example, that The British Library does have a copy, but COPAC, tells me that most of the other major research libraries in the UK don't, including the V&A who would be an obvious place to look for this item. Strikingly, we can also discover quite quickly that The US Library of Congress doesn't have a copy. There is also a worldwide library catalogue called OCLC or Worldcat which, although not the easiest thing to use, so far has yielded just one other copy, and that in New Zealand! On the whole, we are getting the impression that this is quite a rare object. There is a Leach museum in St Ives and they are currently being very helpful, making enquiries on my behalf about this title in the hope that some of the archives they are connected to might have a copy. The Internet also makes it possible to check auction records much more easily that in the past and so, although one has to pay for the privilege, through sites such as American Book Prices Current, that this title hasn't been up for sale as a single item at any point.

All this then has to be melded with what we know of the collectibility of Leach and prices for his other work. A quick search of Abebooks reveals a few salient points. We have signed letters by Leach on sale for £100-150. Signed copies of some of his conventionally printed and published books (usually by Faber and Faber) might go for around the £200. There was one book which is particularly relevant, Drawings, Verse and Belief was first published in a limited edition of 500, signed by the author. It isn't a direct comparison because it was subsequently reprinted so the text is very available; it was a much longer text too, book-length; and the limitation of 500 is, we are beginning to suspect, a lot larger than the number of My Religious Faith ever printed. To come to a conclusion about price, all these things have to be weighed together.

One of the things I sometimes do to get a sense of the collectibility of a particular person or subject is to do a few Ebay searches around the name or topic, but clicking the 'completed listings' box means you can see what has sold. I use this as a fairly broad brush approach, the Bernard Leach items that have sold on Ebay for example are pots, books and catalogues and there's no comparable item ever likely to be sold but scrolling down the page I get a good sense that things related to Bernard Leach do sell and it's clear that people are interested and keeping an eye out for good items.

All this is well and good but I think the defining thing for me about this 'book' is actually its appeal as an object. Bookdealers and collectors are often accused of valuing the book as an object above the text and there's always going to be some truth in that: this is a time when that it unapologetically true. The oriental style of paper and binding tied to the East-West Potter, the Baha'i devotee and craftsman are what make this such an appealing thing.

Friday, September 24, 2010

A Conan Doyle Quest

Actually, this is a quest I have decided not to pursue... I keep a scrapbook of snippets about books and authors which are entertaining, diverting or potentially profitable: things worthy of a little extra research. I have been going through old issues of the boys magazine Chums recently and this item is from the edition of March 21, 1894.

When Dr. Conan Doyle, the popular writer was a lad of sixteen he was sent to a school in Germany. There were a number of other English boys at this particular establishment, and the future author of "Sherlock Holmes" found an outlet for his budding literary genius in the editing of a little school magazine with the somewhat dangerous motto - "Fear not - and print it." In consequence, however, of a trenchant but somewhat libellous leader from the pen of the fearless young editor, on the injustice of reading boys' letters before they were delivered to the addressees, the publication was vetoed by the collegiate authorities, and expired prematurely.

This is the kind of thing I love. I don't have a Conan Doyle bibliography to hand to see if this piece of juvenalia is known and listed there already. Nor do I have a biography of Conan Doyle to hand to check-out the story and find the German school - but that is where I would start - were I about to take this on as a case for the Callum James Literary Detective Agency and attempt to track down this perhaps unrecognised piece of writing. Unfortunately, a congenital lack of facility with the German language made me think that perhaps this was a case for another.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

George Bernard Shaw, Stalin and Emphemeral Printing

This is the kind of thing that really floats my boat: a major figure, an ephemeral publication. In this case a 14 page pamphlet printed in big, inky letters on folded newsprint paper in 1941 by Russia Today. The pamphlet includes copies of a correspondence that appeared in The New Statesman begun by a letter from Shaw in which he was accused of being too approving of Stalin. The most amazing thing is simply the survival of this scrappy little item, whole and complete and only a little browned (less browned than it appears in the scan above).

It also gives me the opportunity to blog two other sweet little Shaw items which fell from a mixed lot a while ago. The catalogue of the exhibition that the National Book League mounted in honour of Shaw's 90th birthday in 1946. What's particularly nice though is that the catalogue still contains the owners season ticket to the exhibition.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

An Eric Gill inspired Crucifix

We picked up this crucifix at this weekend's antiques fair. I was drawn to it particularly because it is so very reminiscent of the modelling of Eric Gill. I am by no means an expert in Gill, I couldn't even say if he actually worked in bronze, being primarily a stone-carver, but I suppose it's possible. I'm also aware that since Gill, every religious representation in relief or full 3D, has been more than just informed by his work, up to and including the churning out of religious clip-art for inclusion in church newsletters. But this piece struck me as being very directly influenced indeed. I have had a rootle through some of my books of Gill's engravings and printed images and the two below are just two of many which all have strong elements which are reproduced in the crucifix: he often portrayed the crucifixion with arms high up not outstretched, the long loin-cloth on the crucifixion of St Luke (below) is very like the garment on the bronze, I have found others where the INRI cartouch is vertical and almost identical to this one. I doubt any real connection could ever be proved but it's a lovely thing nontheless.


The last time I went to Longleat was with my American friend Thev, when she visited during the summer - so, not so long ago. But it was great to go round with R and, despite his initial misgivings, I'm pretty sure he really enjoyed it. These are all his pictures as I was doing the driving.

Vintage photos from the fair

This is a selection of photos bought at the Shepton Mallett Antiques Fair over the weekend. It's interesting how differently stallholders rate this kind of stuff. On the whole, unless there is a very good subject, I don't like to pay more than £2-3 for a Cabinet photo and yet routinely I come across ridiculously ordinary photos priced up at £5-10 for no apparent reason. Other dealers don't really understand photos or paper ephemera and when they get some they might put them out on their stall for a pittance and they need to be snaffled imediately. Anyway, for one reason or another, these were a few that caught my eye this weekend.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


Excuse the brief cessation of hostilities here on the blog: R and I have been away for a couple of days in Glastonbury. Primarily this was to attend the Shepton Mallett Antiques Fair, and there will be plenty of items from there to blog later in the week, but we did take a moment to make the ridiculously steep climb up Glastonbury Tor to soak up the mystic vibes.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Daniel Barkley

I am currently enchanted by the work of a Canadian artist called Daniel Barkley, of which the above is only a sample. He has a large and fascinating selection of work in his online portfolio. If the phrase, 'psychological landscape' was ever going to have currency it would be for these paintings. Although the nudity is raw and straightforward, these are much more pictures from the inside of a human mind than of the outside of a human body.

His website talks about secular interpretations of biblical and mythical subjects and, yes, obviously I can see that but, I have to say that in doing that secular interpretation he seems to me to have created the kind of world that exists in dreams where mist and whiteness cloud the edges of vision: where nudity and dirt, strange contraptions and fierce relationships all twist around one another: where the main elements are air and water and we feel at any moment the whole world might dissolve.

I just can't keep away from the website at the moment.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Teleny & Camille

I am effectively re-blogging this after seeing it on Band of Thebes (which is a blog that should be on the favourite's list of any gay or gay-friendly person with even a passing interest in literature). The controversial 1890s text, Teleny, or The Reverse of the Medal, has been reworked into a graphic novel. The Youtube video above is by the artist, Jon Macy, himself and I love that he has chosen such atmospheric music to go with the images from the book. Teleny was originally published by Leonard Smithers and there has been intense debate about its authorship ever since. There is a swift and constant change of style in the text and so it is conjectured that it may have been written as a 'round robin', being passed among friends, each writing a new section taking up from where the last left off. I have no expertise to offer an opinion on the matter but this is why Macy styles his work as 'based on a novel by Oscar Wilde and his circle'.

The book can (and should) be ordered from Northwest Books directly.

I have been trolling through volumes of the boys' magazine Chums in recent days and found this snippet from 1894 (note a year before the trial) about Oscar Wilde:

OSCAR WILDE, when a boy at school, did his best to live up to his surname. On one occasion his father told him that a whole page of a letter from his headmaster was filled with accounts of his misdeeds, and asked him what he proposed to do. "Turn over a new leaf, father" was the reply.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Vintage Swimming in Austria

Meet my new friends Gunther and Herbert who feature in a photo album I bought today of carefree days in Austria in 1937 before the Anschluss. Strangely, there is, at the front of the album a couple of pages of photos of the crowds and carriages on the Embankment in London during the Coronation procession in the same year.

Old Patterned Paper

There is actually quite a lot to learn about the history of patterned paper and, despite my numerous excited mutterings on this blog about how wonderful this or that piece of patterned paper is, I don't feel like much of an expert. However, these two I thought worth sharing. I'm sure that both are contemporary to the books they are wrapping. The first, on The Queen's Wake by James Hogg was published by Nelson in Edinburgh in 1844. It reminds me a lot of the woodblock printed papers produced by my current Edinburgh favourites, J & J Jefferies.
The second is wrapped around a musical score from 1757, a beautiful thing in its own right but the paper is a paste paper, that is, paste coloured with pigment is smeared over a stone or glass surface, a comb is then used to create a pattern in the paste and then the paper is pressed to the paste and comes away with an impression of the pattern made. I saw a number of examples of this kind of paper in the Correr museum in Venice a year ago.
The fact that it has, indeed, been a year since my last trip to Venice means that it has also been a year since R and I got married. Our first anniversary is today. We have actually been together more like 15 years but it is still true that when he smiles or laughs, my heart lightens....

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Things that Fall From Books #4: Bookmarks

One thing a book dealer is never short of is bookmarks. Every new box of books yields a confetti-like shower of bookmarks of all sort and conditions left by previous owners. For my part, I hoover them up and put them to one side until I have a decent pile, and then sell them as a job-lot to one of the small army of bookmark collectors who haunt the internet looking for goodies. My latest haul of 130 bookmarks is going online this weekend and the above is just a small sample of the one's that caught my eye.
The full 130 contain bookmarks made of paper, leather, plastic, acetate, silk, fabric, and metal: some are new-ish, some are vintage: some are printed, some painted, some stitched or woven, hand or machine-made: there are bookmarks from bookshops (quite a lot of those), insurance companies, churches and road-safety campaigns. Just a bit of fun.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Harry Harrison - Winter in Eden - Bill Sanderson

A few days ago I posted some great illustrations from a science fiction novel by Andre Norton. In the course of the same clear out I came across a couple of Harry Harrison's Eden novels and found another set of very enjoyable illustrations, this time designed to look all the world like vignette woodcut prints like those you might find at the top of the chapters in some natural history book. They have that look so strongly that it can take a moment to realise that in many of them, there are strange and alien creatures depicted. These are all from the second of the Eden novels, Winter in Eden (Grafton: Collins, London, 1986) and the illustrations are by Bill Sanderson.

Raven No. 12 The Pedestrian Uncle

If you come to this blog on a regular basis, and I am surprised but flattered to know that that there are many people who do, then if there is ever a short hiatus, as there has been recently, you might surmise that I have been working on a new book. In particular, the Raven series take a fair amount of work and so I tend to hole up for a few days and get through it. Well, the announcement for Raven 11: The Pedestrian Uncle went out today. I'm pasting the blurb below but it's not really possible to get across in that format, the fascination of this monograph. Robert Scoble has unearthed a true original in Rolfe's uncle whose wild self-promotion and exaggerated lifestyle is a real treasure of Victorian eccentricity.

Raven Twelve: The Pedestrian Uncle
by Robert Scoble

One of the more puzzling aspects of the way Frederick Rolfe related to others was his compulsion to embroider what he told them of the details of his life, hinting at his colourful antecedents and record of impressive accomplishment. The family into which he was born was in fact entirely respectable and worthy, but its very ordinariness seems to have dissatisfied him, and he constantly sought to represent his earlier life as having been more interesting and remarkable than it actually was.

In his latest addition to the Raven Series, Robert Scoble reveals that Rolfe had an uncle who was an even more accomplished fantasist than he was. William Henry Patten Saunders had been married to Rolfe's Aunt Augusta, but by the time of Rolfe's childhood had embarrassed the family so irretrievably that his name was no longer mentioned among them.

'Captain' Patten Saunders, as he took to calling himself, was one of the most accomplished impostors of the Victorian era, convincing the newspapers that he was a renowned scholar, decorated soldier and champion athlete. These claims were ultimately exposed in the press as utterly bogus and fanciful, but the Captain was undeterred, moving seamlessly on to further preposterous impersonations.

Successive biographers, unaware of Patten Saunders's existence, have missed his part in Frederick Rolfe's story. Like his uncle, Rolfe turned to fiction as a part answer to the wounding injustice of a scathing press exposure, and it is tempting to speculate that it was from the Captain's life story that young Frederick learnt the power of public relations and the advantages to be gained from exaggerating his accomplishments.
There hasn't been much other news of late because of the concentration on book-making but I am currently very excited by the fact that the TV series Merlin is about to start again on BBC1. I know that makes me sound a little sad but I am, frankly, more than a little bit in love with Colin Morgan who plays Merlin and the trailers I've been seeing on BBC1 on a regular basis for the last week or so have been making the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.
And talking of recent obsessions, music has, in the last year or so, become a huge part of my life again, after an absence of a decade. I am writing this whilst listening to a more or less constant loop of Seth Lakeman and Mumford and Sons. If you have ever enjoyed a little folk-rock in your time then I can recommend either. Lakeman is about as talented as it gets, singer and fiddler (often at the same time) and songwriter he sings old Cornish legends and has, of late, had more recognition through a big fat Mercury award (but I was there before that I promise you). The latter group, Mumford and Sons are just phenomenal. Their first album is an amazing concoction in which they manage to shift from inspirational joy to screaming rage in about two bars of music and then back again. Hard to describe but I read one reviewer who said that they play like a group who know they're onto something special and I can't really think of a better way of putting it.
I'm rambling... I'm off to bed...
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