Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Areas of Collection

The current issue of The Book and Magazine Collector has a fascinating article about New Paths in Book Collecting which was a seminal collection of essays published in 1930 which suggested a number of completely new and untrodden areas of book collecting. The book turned out to be prescient. One of the areas it was suggested that you might want to try was detective fiction which, up until then was simply not even defined as a genre let alone collected as avidly as it is today. Victorian Yellow Backs were another area identified as potentially enjoyable and profitable. Also, this must be the first place, in the chapter on collecting American First Editions, that the idea of a book collector being interested in 'ultra modern' books was suggested. The Book Collector article goes on to discuss the New Path approach: building a collection that no one else has built before. Next month apparently, the author of the article will suggest nine new areas in which to start work. I have been musing all afternoon on what New Path collection I could launch into but for the time being inspiration escapes me. Instead I thought I would share some thoughts I've had on what areas of collecting might make a reasonable return in years to come.

2nd World War Poetry.

Not an untrodden path I admit, but I think there's still room for improvement. Prices for first editions of First World War poetry are already high in many cases, but there's room for the collector of modest means to create a decent shelf or two of Second World War poetry and I have a hunch that those prices might start rising in the forseeable future. For most of the time I've been alive there has been an almost unhealthy focus on the countdown of First World War Veterans with 2009 seeing the UK count go from 3 to zero. Amongst all that I think the fact that Second World War veterans are now in their late eighties and nineties has been overlooked and it won't be long before they too are an endangered species. There's room too in such a collection for specialisation: based on service (Navy, Army, RAF) for instance, or on Theatre of War. WW2 submarine poetry might be a little limiting but I just have this feeling that WW2 poetry might be on the up.

Anglo-Catholic Books.

Lots of scope here but I suggest the general subject because Anglo-Catholicism in the UK at least is pretty much dying on its feet (or on its knees I suppose) but that only makes the faithful remnant more fervant and there is a very strong market for Anglo-Catholic liturgical material in particular in the US.

A collection of Ango-Catholic liturgical books would be quite an expensive undertaking unless you are friendly with a lot of old priests who can be convinced to will you their own bookshelves. The standard volumes in such a collection would have to be the various manuals which might be gathered under the heading 'pimp my liturgy': books like Ritual Notes and Anglican Services, which explain in excruciating detail how to make the Book of Common Prayer work like the Missal, the Alcuin Club liturgical manuals would also be a must and then you would be onto various prayer books and altar copies of various rites. But liturgical books are not the only facet of Anglo-Catholicism which could be gathered together into a collection. There's always the great originals, collecting the works of Newman and Manning et. al. and then onto other major figures like Edward King if you like your authors episcopal or perhaps the auto/biographies and writings of the great slum priests of the Nineteenth century who probably deserve more credit than they'll ever get for dragging the UK towards a liberal democracy where social care is a universal right.

But I also wonder if the most fun would be had with a collection of fiction which features Anglo-Catholic characters and settings. It probably wouldn't suprise you to know that many of these are also novels about homosexuality in one way or another. From A. N. Wilson to Susan Howatch, the field is a surprisingly large one.

When I say 'etc' at the end of that list I mean it: I'm sure there must be many more which fall into this category. For me, the category is 'books my dad used to read', but it feels as though there ought to be some way of bringing all those writers together into some kind of group that I can't quite put my finger on at the moment. The first and most famous books of some of them are already very expensive and highly sought after but by hunch is, that in the next 20 years or so the 60s/70s/80s books of these writers, currently averaging about £10 each secondhand in very good condition with jackets, will become much harder to find. Also, I think there's a job for someone in forging them together as a group of writers: perhaps something along the lines of those whose experience of fighting in or growing up during the war was then used as fodder for thriller writing - that doesn't quite work for the whole group but there might be something in it. It strikes me that, although not necessarily for those on a budget that John le Carre, Dennis Wheatley, and Frederick Forsyth might also be loosely associated with this group.

Faber and Faber Jacket Design.

Collecting a particular publisher for the quality and qualities of their book design is an established strategy now that Penguin collectors have come out of the closet and begun to rave about their enthusiasm, publish books, start collector's clubs and so on. Regtular readers of this blog will know that I, rather idosyncratically, have a collection of yellow-covered Gollancz sci-fi, largely for its typographical brilliance. Faber & Faber is, of course, another great British publishing house reknowned for its book design work. Even the very early manifestations of the company, Faber & Gwyer, showed a little more interest in the design of the outside of the book than there contemporaries, but it was in the late 1920s when Faber Diredtor Richard de la Mare took the helm that the design direction was set for nearly a century. The first artist to make an impact with cover designs for Faber was Barnett Freedman (whose jackets I've accidentally started a small collection of) but the list of artists who worked for Faber in those early years reads like a who's who of the British neo-romantic movement: John Piper, Rex Whistler, McKnight Kauffer, Gilbert Spencer, Graham Sutherland, Eric Ravillious, Paul and John Nash, Ewdard Ardizzone Reynolds Stone, Daivd and Jones and Eric Gill all worked with Faber & Faber in those early years. The pictorial work was supplemented by a real interest in new type faces and soon evolved into a Faber 'style'.

Another major, though largely unknown influence was Berthold Wolpe who joined the company at the beginning of the war and was in charge of the design of the firm's jackets for nearly thirty years. It was Wolpe, with a background in typography and lettering, who devised and used the Albertus type to such effect. He was followed in the 1960s by Shirley Tucker who respeted the house style but brought a slightly more modern touch to bear from her background at Penguin.

Clearly, Faber is no fine press producing five to ten books a year, the completist collector probably shouldn't apply for this particular gig. Equally, because of the callibre of author that Faber has worked with, many of their books, especially with their jackets, are already worth hefty sums on the secondhand market. I still can't help thinking though that there is real scope here for an intelligent, design-savy collector to put together something very special.

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