Friday, March 25, 2011

Book Catalogues #5: A 1970s Burton Collection




In our ongoing exploration of old book catalogues, this is perhaps one of the most interesting I've picked up for a while. Published by Spink & Son Ltd., in 1976 it catalogues an astonishing collection of material by and about Sir Richard F. Burton. With three exceptions there are all of Burton's published works represented here: nearly all in first edition, often association or signed copies, some titles in several early editions. That in itself would be an astonishing collection - this catalogue contains also a second section of manuscript material, some of it not just unpublished but previously unrecorded.

Of course, it's always interesting to think about the way books have appreciated, or not, over time. From the illustrations above we see, for example, item 55: A New System of Sword Exercises - the first edition of 1876 and this one containing Burton's card. This is regarded as one of the great Burton rarities and in 1976, a hundred years after its first publication you could buy it from Spink for a mere £650. There are only four auction records since the year 2000, which show ordinary copies of the first edition selling for between £1,250 and £3,000. (A Zaehnsdorf bound copy managed nearly 5K), but God help you if you want to buy a copy retail - three first editions I found currently online are between £5,000 and £10,000. So, the 1976 copy is beginning to look like something of an investment.

What about item 37, the little green pamphlet published for the author by William Clowes in 1865. The Guide Book. A Pictorial Pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina? Well, not so many auction records for this one but two copies I've found in 1995 and 2005 for about £10,000-£20,000. If you want to buy a copy from Abebooks then you should be thinking of writing a cheque for either £12,000 or £25,000 depending on which of the two copies you fancy. The Spink copy? It was, after all "A strikingly clean copy": £475.

One more? How about that seminal piece of travel writing, First Footsteps in East Africa, issued by Longman in 1856. This is item 16 in the Spink catalogue and has a little bibliographical frisson to it. When Burton was in Somali country in East Africa he noted that infibulation was prevalent and so, having made copious notes as he travelled, he wrote them up as Appendix IV (much of it in Latin). However, his publisher got cold feet about that and the appendix was suppressed. The appendix is present in this copy and Spink speculates that perhaps only those copies destined for the author ever had the suppressed appendix, perhaps six, says Spink. Today, a good copy of the first edition at auction looks to be costing you a few hundred pounds, and it's not that uncommon either. However, in 2009 a copy was sold by Sotheby's with just the first leaf of Appendix IV and that raised £5,000. With that in mind the copy currently on sale by Buddenbrook's for about £15,000 in immaculate condition, in the same beautiful binding as the Spink copy and with the rare appendix, seems quite reasonable. In their description, Buddenbrooks note the information from the Spink catalogue and it strikes me, looking at the available images that it could even be the same copy - although Buddenbrooks don't say that it is. In 1976 you would have paid £750.
In an interesting footnote, when I looked up the catalogue itself on Abe, I discovered this very amusing copy which came from the estate of Philip Jose Farmer, the SF and fantasy writer. Farmer was well known as a big Burton fan, using him as a character in To Your Scattered Bodies Go. This copy includes Farmer's order for some substantial items from the catalogue.

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