coming eventsComing Events

September 5

LOC Book Festival

September 10

Christies

September 10

Bloomsbury

September 11

Skinner

September 17

Swann

September 22

Bonhams

September 30

Sothebys

Find More Events in the FB&C Calendar

In the News

Draft Lyrics of Bob Dylan Song Estimated at $235,000-$314,000

In 1962, in a small room above the legendary Gaslight Folk Club in Greenwich... read more

Lewis & Clark Expedition Is Subject of New Library Publication

Commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson, the 1804-1806 expedition of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark... read more

AntiquarianAuctions.com #45 Highlights, Running Aug. 27-Sept. 3

AntiquarianAuctions.com is an online auction site dedicated to the sale of rare and out-of... read more

Ransom Center to Acquire Archive of Kazuo Ishiguro

AUSTIN, Texas—The Harry Ransom Center, a humanities research library and museum at The... read more

ISA’s Online Learning Center Now Offers Core Course in Appraisal Studies

Chicago, IL (August 2015)—It's never been more convenient for those interested in a career... read more

The Folio Society and House of Illustration Announce the 2016 Book Illustration Competition

London—The Folio Society and House of Illustration continue the search for the next big... read more

Armenian Literary Tradition is Subject of LOC E-Book

In 1512, Hakob Meghapart (Jacob the Sinner) opened an Armenian press in Venice, Italy,... read more

Important Beatles Collection Coming Up at Heritage Auctions

NEW YORK—The first recording contract ever signed by The Beatles, which put the Fab... read more

Follow us on TwitterLike us on Facebook
Auction Guide
Advertise with Us
2015 Bookseller Resource Guide

Alphabet Soup

A is for Adjutant

A Military Alphabet, Bloomsbury Auctions, London, $585

When Surgeon-Major F.E. Scanlan was not too busy at the operating table, he found time to throw down his scalpel and apply those skilled surgical hands to the palette instead. Scanlan’s A to Z, being Twenty-six Notes on a Soldier’s Trumpet, published in 1876, is a scarce and charming alphabet book illustrated with chromolitho plates. Here we see the opening plate: “A was an Adjutant, Ride a Cock Horse.”

A little spotted and bearing the large ink inscription of a former owner, but still in the original boards, a copy seen in a Bloomsbury Auctions sale of March 25–26 sold at £408 ($585).

D is for Down and Out

Orwell on the Streets—and in the Fields, Bonhams, London, $10,295

An archive of letters addressed by the young Eric Blair (George Orwell) to his friend Dennis Collings in the early 1930s included a couple relating to the experiences he would later use in Down and Out in London and Paris.

Sold at £7,200 ($10,295) to dealer Rick Gekoski was a letter about sleeping rough in Trafalgar Square. On a glacial night, Orwell wrote, he and his companions had been woken and made to stand up at frequent intervals by the police, but around four in the morning someone managed to get hold of a big pile of newspaper posters to use as blankets.

“Ere y’are mate, tuck in the fucking eiderdown. Don’t we look like fucking parsons in these ’ere surplices?”

Orwell also relates the sorry plight of the local prostitutes and tells of a weeping woman whose client had scarpered without paying her sixpence fee. Of the dozen or so women of the square’s night-time population of around 200, half were prostitutes, “but prostitutes of the unemployed... . 6d is the usual fee, but in the small hours when it was bitter cold they were doing it for a cigarette.”

Another dispatch from the field—quite literally—was a letter sent from the Kentish hopfields, where Orwell was again posing as a tramp. Sold at £4,800 ($6,865) to dealer Chris Jonkers, the letter describes the atrocious living conditions endured by hop-pickers: “4 of us live in a tin hut about 12 feet across, with no glass in the window, letting in the rain and draughts on all sides, and furnished only with a large heap of straw.”

Experienced pickers could gather 20 bushels a day, earning a modest sum, but Orwell, on his only full day, managed only half that number, and that “...by half killing myself.”

“Hopping,” he tells Collings, “…is a bloody swindle & only goes on because there is a large supply of casual labourers, ready to do almost anything, & the East Enders rather like a trip to the country.” *

* It occurs to me that a couple of explanatory notes might be useful for U.S. readers. Sixpence was roughly equivalent to a dime, and the East Enders to whom Orwell refers were the poor working classes of London’s East End. Their labours in the hopfields often served as a holiday as well!

F is for Frankenstein

The Reviewer’s Copy, Anderson & Garland, Newcastle, $52,090

Today’s readers, among them teenagers (and parents!) who, almost two centuries later, tackle Frankenstein as a set text for English exams, may struggle with the 18-year-old Mary Shelley’s style. Older and wiser heads may wonder at an understanding and grasp of ideas beyond her years, but the Rev. Robert Morehead, one of the first to review Shelley’s book, had other reservations.

Dean of Edinburgh, and from 1817–26 editor of the Edinburgh Magazine, he disliked Mary’s flaunting of the “established order of nature as it appears, both in the world of matter and mind.” He was more comfortable with Jane Austen and two months later, reviewing Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, he contrasted Jane favourably with Mary for her concentration on the ordinariness and verisimilitude of her characters.

That very review copy of the 1818 first edition, the three volumes, bound as one in period calf, lacked the half-titles and advertisements and there was spotting throughout, but firsts of Frankenstein are rare beasts, and those shortcomings were in some way compensated for by its unusual provenance. It made £36,425 ($52,090).

Some reviewers had been far sterner than Morehead in their dismissal of the book, but Sir Walter Scott, in Morehead’s principal rival, Blackwood’s, wrote “…upon the whole, the work impresses us with a high idea of the author’s original genius and happy power of expression.”

What price, I wonder, would be put on Scott’s review copy—if indeed it still exists?

Page 1 | 2 | 3 | Next