Sunday, January 16, 2011

How Rare is this Book? Forrest Reid's The Kingdom of Twilight

An author's first novel is often his or her most sought after and valuable because, before a reputation is constructed, print runs are small and often, that first novel only become valuable in the light of later success. Perversely, in the price guides you will find Forrest Reid's second novel, The Garden God, usually listed as more expensive than the first, The Kingdom of Twilight. For example, in The Guide to First Edition Prices by R. B. Russell, The Garden God is listed at £800 and The Kingdom of Twilight at £300. The Garden God is thought to be the most desirable of Reid's output because its subject matter is the most explicit, because it holds an important place in the biography of Reid as it marks the book over which he argued with Henry James, and because the first issue is very scarce as it had to be altered very shortly after first publication. However, there are now a number of factors which mitigate against The Garden God retaining it's primacy of value not least of which is a new reprint by Valancourt Books and the fact that the second issue of the first edition is reasonably affordable still - Reid collectors are often readers first and collectors second, their interest is often, and admirably, in the text rather than the edition.
A couple of people in the space of a few months have made remarks to me which make me wonder just how rare this first novel is. Firstly, a visitor commented that he had heard there were only 80 or so originally printed. He had an authoritative source which I now can't remember. And then another friend, in passing, told how they owned everything ever written by or about Reid "save for the unobtainable Kingdom of Twilight." So, I began to wonder, just how many copies are there left in the wild?
If we take the 80 copies at face value there are ways to immediately cut down the number still extant. Worldcat shows about 20 copies in libraries worldwide but Worldcat is not universal so we might bump that to say 25. That immediately leaves us with about 55 copies.
We might also say at this point that it is a very poorly produced book. The flat, stiff backstrip on so thick a book is a disaster: it is nigh-on impossible to open the book in the centre without putting an intolerable strain on the hinges. In my copy, the paper over the rear interior hinge has been torn and it is possible to see that the webbing used to 'strengthen' the binding is actually rather feeble. Reid himself felt it was a fairly shabby production. We might assume that a fair number of our 55 have been lost to being broken or falling apart in the 107 years since publication.
It wasn't just the quality that Reid objected to. He disliked the novel itself and it is said that whenever he came across a copy, given a fair chance, he would destroy it (or sometimes make alterations!) So we might have lost a few more to the author himself.
As to how often it comes up for sale. I can find no auction record of it being sold as an individual book. Apart from my own copy I know of only one other offered for sale recently and that was sold very quickly at about £500 (although I don't know anything about its condition).
It's only a guesstimate but, if the original figure of 80 copies printed is correct, I'd be surprised if there are more than 20 left in private hands. But don't despair... I know this will gall some, but it is meant as encouragement, when I say that my copy was bought, about five years ago, on ebay, where is had gone more or less unnoticed... for about £40. So, it is possible!


James D Jenkins said...

I think the other reason the first edition of The Garden God is more pricey is the outlandish production (vellum cover with gilt lettering, etc). The Kingdom of Twilight is rare, though. Surprisingly, most of Reid's books are fairly hard to get ahold of at a reasonable price. I'd still like to get an affordable copy of The Bracknels...

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that the rarest Reid book is Brian Westby. It NEVER comes up.

Unknown said...

I have no chance of finding this book. I read Reid for his content and not because his books are rare and high priced. I have been lucky in my adaption to new technology and downloaded the lovely "Spring Song" and Pirates of the Spring" to my Kindle via the Internet Archive. The Tom Barber Trilogy I got years ago from GMP and the Garden God in the Brilliance reprint in paperback in 1994 or so. Brian Westby is one I would like to read and not found and And my copies of Apostate and Peter Waring are crumbling 1940s eds on horrible war time paper. Perhaps the nicest Reid book is my Tararus press ed of Uncle Stephen. Brian westby sounds a nice stoy and is one I would like to read.

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