Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Tennessee Williams Rocks the Rare Books Round Up at L.A. TImes Festival of Books

A fine copy in near fine dust jacket of the first edition of Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie was appraised at $10,000 by the members of the Southern California Chapter of the ABAA this weekend at its Rare Books Round Up - Free Appraisal booth during the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, the largest book event in the United States with attendance routinely at 100,000+ for the weekend.

Why the high appraisal? The copy was signed by Williams, plus each member of the original Broadway cast (including the immortal Laurette Taylor), as well as the composer of the original production's music.

Who, you may ask, composed the music for the original production of The Glass Menagerie and what's the big deal about the composer's signature to this copy? Two words: Paul Bowles, who, before embarking on his career as a novelist, was a successful composer of theatrical incidental music. A student of Aaron Copeland, Roger Sessions and Virgil Thompson during the 1920s-1930s, Bowles' first visit to Morocco - so closely associated with him through his writings - occurred in 1931 when, traveling with Copeland in Europe, Gertrude Stein suggested that they visit the North African country.

Upon his return to New York, Bowles rose to prominence as a composer of theatrical music, working for Orson Welles and John Houseman, and others, becoming the go-to composer for literary dramas of his era. He composed the music for plays by Saroyan, Hellman, Koestler, Werbel, and Rostand as well as productions of Shakespeare. By the early 1940's, he had also added respected music critic to his resumé.

This copy of The Glass Menegerie is, without question, the collector's dream for this book; they don't get any better.

Other noteworthy books were offered for appraisal, one of which is rarely seen: A first American edition, first printing, first issue, in the publisher's full sheep binding, of Huckleberry Finn. The bibliographical nightmare that is this book is well-known. Copies are usually seen in a mixed issue, so to have a "pure" copy is quite extraordinary. In the original green pictorial cloth binding, "pure" copies can fetch upwards of $50,000 - $75,000 and more. Less desirable in sheep, similar copies can go for $25,000 -$35,000. The copy presented for appraisal was, alas, in poor condition. Estimated value: $6,000-$8,000.

A fine copy of the signed, limited Presentation Edition of Charles Lindbergh's The Spirit of St Louis flew in below the radar, estimated value: $2,000-$3,000. And, finally, an inscribed, fine copy in very good dust jacket of Saul Bellow's The Adventures of Augie March goose-stepped up to the Rare Books Round Up booth. Bellow didn't sign very many books. Estimated value: $2000.

It has become axiomatic that the first life-sucking, brain-pan par boiling, walking on the sun sweltering weekend of the year in Los Angeles will occur during the Festival of Books. Providing further evidence of global climate change, this year visitors (and exhibitors, to be sure) to the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, held annually on the UCLA campus during the last weekend of April, were spared. With sunny skies and temperatures in the mid to high 60s, it was a two-day dream, particularly for the man who left the Festival with a million mega-watt smile, his copy of The Glass Menagerie carefully tucked into his briefcase.


Three brief notes for budding collectors, based upon routine appearances at the Festival of Books ABAA Rare Books Round Up: Never store your books in plastic storage bags, zip-lock or otherwise. If the publisher is Grosset & Dunlop, don't bother bringing the book for appraisal; it's a reprint. And that copy of Gone With The Wind? The copyright page has to state: "Printed May 1936" for it to be a first edition, first printing, and the dust jacket has to have GWTW listed as an upcoming book in the right column on the rear panel for it to be a first state DJ.

 Originally appeared in Fine Books & Collections on this date.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Dirty Secret of a Legendary Rare Book

Something happened to Maurice Girodias when he moved Olympia Press to New York during the late 1960s.

A bold and brave publisher in Paris but with a self-destructive streak, he would routinely scamper amongst cow-pies and deliberately splat a few; he was cavalier with business and casual regarding ethics. When he arrived in New York, he upped the ante by playing hopscotch in a mine field.

In September of 1969, Simon and Schuster published The Seven Minutes by Irving Wallace. This was Wallace's novel concerning obscenity and censorship, its plot centering upon a bookseller accused of selling copies of a fictitious obscene book titled, The Seven Minutes by J.J. Jadway. As part of his research, Wallace had interviewed Girodias, at the time the world's most notorious publisher with Barney Rosset of Grove Press a close second.

Girodias was tipped to the upcoming release of Wallace's book and its content. He was not happy about the way Wallace had handled the Girodias-based character of Christian Leroux, a sleazy Paris publisher who had been the "original" publisher of Wallace's fictitious The Seven Minutes by J.J. Jadway. So unhappy was he that Girodias had a book quickly written purporting to be The "Original" Seven Minutes by J.J. Jadway that the Wallace book was based upon.

Additionally, in a grand, single-finger salute to Wallace, Girodias wrote an inflammatory Preface, which told the "real" story behind The Seven Minutes, of how he got a hold of the original manuscript, and how rotten he thought Wallace's novel was. He added a blurb to the front cover of the book, too, just to make sure Wallace got the message:

"The Last and the Greatest Underground Erotic Masterpiece...On which Irving Wallace Based His Bestselling Novel."

Suffice it to say, Wallace and Simon and Schuster got the message and they were not amused. They took legal action against Girodias, and the court ruled that Girodias had deliberately produced a book guaranteed to confuse the public and do harm to the publisher and the reputation of the author.

Girodias was ordered to destroy all 150,000 copies of the book's print run. In practical terms this was done by tearing off the front covers to provide proof and pulping the now defaced books.

Thus this book, with its great backstory, has become one of the most rare and desirable books in all of erotic literature.

And so I recently decided to conduct a census to determine just how many copies of this exceedingly scarce book were still extant.

Amy Wallace and her brother David Wallachinsky report that there is one copy, perhaps two, boxed up and in storage along with other books and items from their father's estate. Irving Wallace's personal copy(s): Monster association!

A private collector has one intact copy. I'd heard about this copy but did not know the owner. In a bizarre coincidence, he recently found me in regard to another matter. We established a correspondence and soon, in relation to O7M, he wrote: "I got it mail order. When I was collecting Olympia Press/Ophelia Press I had set up a notification of all new listings, for those publishers, on When the listing for The Original Seven Minutes by JJ Jadway came up I bought it. It was years ago but I didn't have to pay much for it $15 or $20. Sorry but I can't remember the bookseller involved."

An amazing bargain; the bookseller clearly didn't know what he had and how rare it was.

The actual author of Girodias' The Original Seven Minutes by J.J. Jadway, Michael Bernet, reports that he has three intact copies, and one with the cover removed.

So, a total of  six copies accounted for. There may two or three other intact copies in the hands of former employees of Giroldias. So, we have a strong estimate of nine intact copies extant.

But, at the end of his note to me, Michael Bernet declared that "I had them before they were condemned, unlike Girodias's partner who stole them from storage."

Ah, the mysterious and mythical missing box. This apocryphal tale has been floating around for decades with no solid evidence of the magic box of fifty's actual existence.

Until now.

Continuing the census, I asked a fellow I've been acquainted with for twenty five years, an erotica collector of some repute and casual scholar who once interviewed Girodias, was a  part-time now an occasional dealer who has not and will never list through third-party aggregators, about how many extant copies of  O7M he was aware of. To which he replied:

"Girodias did not remember how many boxes were shipped before the Court Order, but Girodias did give a full box of 50 copies to his partner [Ah! Stolen or gifted? Another choice tidbit about this book]. When he died access to them passed to a person very close to me. I can attest that the box of 50 mint copies was gifted by Girodias. My first mint copy came from this box."

To which I replied, "Your first mint copy?"

His response:

"The late bookseller Seymour Hacker secretly purchased dozens of mint copies of the first edition of LADY CHATTERLEY'S LOVER from the lover of the deceased publisher. (Told to me by Hacker). For years he quietly put up a copy for auction every six months or so. This way he kept the price of the book in the thousands of dollars. It is enough for any one to know that I have at least one copy of 'Original Seven Minutes' in both mint and 'front cover removed' condition. It makes no economic sense to divulge how many total copies I have."

The ethical sense appears to be beyond him. This jus' ain't right.

Thus, The Original Seven Minutes is not a scarce book. With at least fifty mint copies extant, it is not even a rare book. With that many mint condition copies, a premium can't be placed on condition; almost every copy is brand new. Any copies in less than mint condition are the true rarities and, theoretically, should turn condition issues on their head.

The paucity of surviving copies in the marketplace of the first edition of O7M and their price is the result of the deliberate creation of an artificial shortage.

Making the Market

"Common sense tells us that the only way to increase the value of diamonds is to make them scarce, that is to reduce production" (Ernest Oppenheimer, diamond miner and marketer whose business would be swallowed by the De Beers cartel).

Until recently, De Beers completely controlled the international market for industrial- and jewelry-grade diamonds. Far from what we've been led to believe, diamonds are not rare. With the exception of large, multiple carat stones of exceptional clarity, color (meaning no color at all), and brilliance, diamonds are common. It was De Beers' paramount marketing strategy to control the price of diamonds by withholding their supply from the markerplace.

It is one thing for a rare book dealer to buy up as many copies of a genuinely rare book as they can acquire to set the market price. I have done this myself when, finding that there were only three copies of a certain book being offered worldwide on the Internet, I bought them all. I "made the market" for a book that was quite rare and, for a number of reasons, had been previously unknown to collectors of this particular genre of literature and possessed a degree of importance. Years later and long after my dealer involvement in that genre of collecting, that book remains quite rare with only a copy or two surfacing every now and then.

It is quite another thing to deliberately sell copies of a reputedly scarce book at an exorbitant price when you know that the book is actually common because you have access to four dozen or so from a private, clandestine stash and want to prevent your stratospheric price from nose-diving into Earth at Mach II, which would be a virtual certainty if the secret got out.  The operative plan seems to be to sell the last of the remaining copies on the day of death. Only afterward, while the dealer's carcass rots, when collectors begin to talk to each other - as like-minded collectors always do - will they discover that they've been had, big-time, that, far from being the coolest collector on the planet with a mint copy of a legendary rarity, they're just another collector with a book that everyone has; that the mint condition book they were told was scarce beyond belief in any condition and paid well into four figures for is actually worth, at best, $50-$100.

At that point, the only recourse left to the collector will be to visit the cemetery and autograph the dealer's grave in yellow. 

Thumbnail image for Seven Minutes[1].jpg                 The reprint, OPS/3                                                     The controversial first edition, OPS/1     
Girodias lost a fortune when he was ordered to destroy all copies. But he made up for some his losses by issuing another edition of The Original Seven Minutes under the title Seven Erotic Minutes, without the offending Preface, without the J.J. Jadway byline, and without the wrapper blurb associating the book with Wallace's. With the news of the box of fifty copies of The Original Seven Minutes, that reprint may now be rarer than the original edition.

It may come to pass that more than 59 collectors will want to add the book to their collection. At that point, another generation down the line, the book may become scarce in the marketplace again. But it will be true scarcity, not bogus, as this example of professional misbehavior demonstrates.


My thanks to Stuart Fanning for providing images of the two earliest editions of Girodias' Seven Minutes.

The facts concerning the case of Wallace & Simon and Schuster v Girodias/Olympia Press are drawn from the Introduction to Patrick J. Kearney's A Bibliography of the Publications of the New York Olympia Press (Privately Printed, Santa Rosa, 1988).


Originally appeared in Fine Books & Collections on this date.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Kafka On Twitter

4:26AM : Troubled dreams. No sleep. Toss, turn. Aches, pains. What is happening 2 me?

5:03AM : I feel like I'm sleeping in a carapace. I'd kill for a Tempurpedic mattress.

6:01AM : I awake from troubled dreams into troubled life. Oy, again?

7:12AM : Is it me or is my entire family slathered in insect-repellant? And when did Black Flag get into the scented candle business?

7:34AM : I hear my parents talking about me as if I'm not here. What's a "roach motel?"

7:46AM : WOTFS!*

8:07AM : "U can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar," Pop says, intent unclear. Whatever, I'm starving and a nice, fat Diptera Psyhcodidae sounds pretty good 2 me; I've always dug 2-winged head-cases and now I'm simply ravenous for them. But 4 breakfast?

8:26AM : I'm so lonely I could scream. But I can't. I used 2 be able 2 say, "I slit a sheet, a sheet I slit and on that slitted sheet I sit" 3 times fast w/o mistakes but now I can't even express a phoneme much less a syllable.

9:03 : Fight w/Mom. The network of pheromone trails I laid down on walls, floor, ceiling and her side of the bed has upset her. Was it necessary 2 scour all with bleach? How does she expect anyone to find me?

 9:05AM : I've left home. It was that or becoming slime on the bottom of Mom's shoe. Y does she hate me so much?

11:14AM : I crawl these means streets in search of social intercourse. I've given up on the other. How would you feel if your partner tried 2 kill you with a sharp axial appendage during afterplay?

11:15AM : Where do I find these nut jobs?

11:19AM : Under rocks.

11: 20AM : Note to self: avoid rocks, sleep under stars. Scarlet Johansson would be nice.

12:04PM : Oh joy! Oh rapture! I have found a colony of like-bodied folks just like me. But I sense something sinister afoot or, more accurately, a-sticky pad

12:59PM : I'm being followed. I can't see anybody but I know, I can feel them.

1:23PM : They're out there, I know it.

1:47PM : They're hanging on my every thought. Constantly. Sucking the goo from my brain and swallowing it, one tiny bolus after another after another. Why, oh why am I being tormented so?

2:13PM : Whoops, my mistake: I'm sending out signals through the rabbit ears on my head. Mea culpa! I loathe myself but only halfway. Sure, it's not enough but half a loathe is better than none.

2:28PM : I'm trying, I'm trying!

2:43PM : Success! I now completely abhor the very thought of me.
Why? President Obama has 100,000,000 hits on Google; me, none. I am such an underachiever I don't even rate the underachiever Top Ten.

3:41PM : Must stop thinking. Thinking leads 2 thoughts and we know what thoughts lead 2: signal broadcasts!

4:19PM : Still being followed. My followers have grown into an army but who the hell are these strangers and why are they bugging me?

4:21PM : Alright, already, I'm sorry: Why am I bugging them?

4:52PM : Multi-lensed eyes: I can read so fast, now! I run across the lines of text and just absorb them. I read War n' Peace in 4 minutes flat. Fell asleep between the lines and almost missed the short, French guy's retreat. (Comprehension has suffered).

4:57PM : ...Attention span, 2. Often, I begin 2 read and the next thing I know I'm wandering all over the page, aimlessly. My textual orientation is all mixed up.

5:11PM : Yikes! First edition of Der Verwandlung (1915) selling for $14,000; Der Prozess (1925) for $1800. I earned bupkis. Where were these damned book collectors when I needed them?

5:12PM : Identity crisis! I have become a bookworm.

6:03PM : I engage in marginal worming, not affecting text. But the word "paranoia" looks tasty; I smell dessert.

8:17PM : "Funny, you don't look chewish" - just what are you trying to say, what do you mean, who told you to say that?

9:32PM : Having completely digested five of ten volumes of the complete works of Poe (Tamerlane Edition, limited to 300 numbered sets printed on delicious Ruisdael hand-made paper), I have now distended to 1000 times my original, post-human size.

9: 55PM : Having completely digested the final 5 volumes of Poe, I am now back 2 my original, human size. I look remarkably fit and am feeling my old self again.

10PM : Suicidal ideation!

10:16PM : Someone is trying 2 kill me: Me. I'm out to get me. Or am I being irrationally afraid, perceiving threats where none exist? Is that a gun in my pocket or am I just sad 2 see me?

10:18 : My followers - Can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em. I need my audience to affirm my existence. I'm a 'skeeter on a scum pond.

10:59PM : Rumblings in the boiler room; time 2 lose the Poe.

11:03PM : Hey, get outta here, all 10,000 of ya, wherever you are. Can't you see I'm trying 2 take, uh...Just leave. Now.

11:04PM : Another 5,000 followers. What am I, Mr. Popularity?

11:06PM : Was it as good for you as it was for me? I love Poe.

11:22PM : "Get one yourself" is not an appropriate response to "get a life."

11:59PM : The world is closing in on me. I can't take it anymore. I wriggle up the steps, all six feet, one inch of me, stand up tall, wipe the loam off all of my svelte segments, and ring the doorbell.

12Midnight : "Hi, Mom, it's me, Franz. I'm home! Set a few extra places at the table. I've brought all 15,000 of my followers home for dinner. Aren't you glad to see me? Mom? MOM!?"


*Writhing On The Floor Squealing

Originally appeared in Fine Books & Collections on this date.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

O Solé Mimeo

One of the highlights I experienced at the 2009 New York Antiquarian Book Fair was  finally meeting Jed Birmingham, who I've been corresponding with over the last few years in connection with our mutual interest in William S. Burroughs, and his Burroughs-devoted website, Reality Studio.

Jed and his editorial partner, Kyle Schlesinger, have just published Number 2 of Mimeo Mimeo, their magazine devoted to artists books, fine press printing, and the mimeo revolution. For those who missed the mainstream media's scandalously absent coverage of this particular insurrection, Mimeo Mimeo documents how poets and writers, upon the technology's introduction, empowered themselves with the means to print and publish their own and others' work through use of mimeographed journals, and how current poets and writers are revisiting the mimeograph as an expressive medium, whether for the particular charms that mimeographing can bring to their work or in rebellion against the computerized print process, or both.

Issue 2 has a fascinating article by James Maynard about poet Robert Duncan and the mimeographed magazines he published between 1938 and 1941, Epitaph, Ritual, and Experimental Review, as well as an insightful essay about TISH, the mimeographed literary newsletter published 1961-1969 by students at the University of British Columbia. The Duncan mimeographed literary magazines, respected then and to the present day, have become quite desirable and collectable. Peter Howard of Serendipity Books, is offering a copy of Ritual#1 (April, 1940) for $600. Waiting for Godot Books is offering a copy of Experimental Review #3 (September, 1941) with pieces by Anais Nin, Henry Miller, and Lawrence Durrell for $75. All the pieces within Mimeo Mimeo 1 & 2 highlight Jed and Kyle's understanding that the Mimeo Revolution is an attitude -- a material and immaterial perspective on the politics of print, an issue particularly acute in the digital age.



In 1876, before the light bulb lit up in his head, before he pioneered the first practical phonograph, before he invented a functional motion picture process and a zillion other practical devices, Thomas Edison invented the mimeograph, elegant in its simplicity: Cut a stencil, push ink through the holes onto paper, and repeat.

200px-1889_Edison_Mimeograph.jpg Chicagoan A. B. Dick improved the process using waxed paper. The A.B. Dick Co. released the Model 0 Flatbed Duplicator in 1887. Later refinements replaced the original flatbed press with a rotating cylinder and an automatic feed from the ink reservoir. Deluxe models included an electric motor. Cheaper models, using a hand crank, were also available.

By now, many readers of a certain age no doubt have a sweet, intoxicating aroma wafting within their sense memory that harkens back to school days and fresh off the mimeo machine test papers and handouts. School Daze: putting the test right up close to one's nostrils, taking two or three deep inhalations, feeling lightheaded, then getting down to business - inserting "Maybe" for True or False questions, and filling in blanks with answers not found amongst the multiple choice options. Like ex-junkies recalling their first shot, many people who attended school during the 1930s through mid-1960s vividly and fondly remember those mimeographed papers with purple ink whose odor lifted us a millimeter or two off the floor.

The problem, however, as I've just recently discovered to my horror (being completely wrong for over forty-five years is humbling if not humiliating)), is that those papers were not copied on mimeograph machines, which do not duplicate with purple ink or produce a distinctive smell.

Conjuring The Spirit Duplicator

Not a contrivance for charlatans to divest the bereaved and gullible of their savings, nor a Victorian occult device for creating dopplegangers on-demand, it was the spirit duplicator or "ditto machine" or"Banda machine" and not the mimeograph that was responsible for providing duplications in schools and libraries nationwide until Xerox technology completely supplanted  older, low tech duplicating processes. The hectograph, another duplication system, followed the mimeograph, and then, in 1923, the spirit duplicator was invented. The best-known manufacturer in the United States of spirit duplicators was the Ditto Corporation of Illinois, hence the "ditto machine," a most appropriate name for a copying device. "Mimeograph" became a generic term used for all the early low-tech duplicating machines, hence the confusion.

1965 advertisement for the Ditto Corp. spirit duplicator

The Dead Media Project provides an excellent primer on the subject:

"The spirit duplicator master consisted of a smooth paper master sheet and a 'carbon' paper sheet (coated with a waxy compound similar to that used in the hectograph) acting 'backwards' so that a wax compound (we'll call it the 'ink') was transferred to the back side of the master sheet itself. The master could be typed or written on, and when finished the 'carbon paper' was discarded. The master was wrapped around a drum in the spirit duplicator machine. As the drum turned, the master was coated with a thin layer of highly volatile duplicating fluid via a wick soaked in the fluid. The fluid acted to slightly dissolve or soften the 'ink.' As paper (preferably very smooth or coated) pressed against the drum and master copy, some of the 'ink' was transferred to make the final copy. A spirit duplicator master was capable of making up to about 500 copies before the print became too faint to recognize."

Wikipedia has a worthwhile, well-researched and solid entry on the spirit duplicator that provides insight into the "ink" used:

"The usual wax 'ink' color was aniline purple, a cheap, durable pigment that provided good contrast, but ditto masters were also manufactured in red, green, blue, black, and the hard-to-find orange, yellow, and brown. All except black reproduced in pastel shades: pink, mint, sky blue, etc. Ditto had the useful ability to print multiple colors in a single pass, which made it popular with cartoonists. Multi-colored designs could be made by swapping out the waxed second sheets; for instance, shading in only the red portion of an illustration while the top sheet was positioned over a red-waxed second sheet. This was possible because the pungent-smelling duplicating fluid (typically a 50/50 mix of isopropanol and methanol) was not ink, but a clear solvent."

It pains me to report that inhalations of solvent alcohol and methanol have no psychotropic effect whatsoever. The "high" we remember was the placebo effect at work, the suggestion of intoxication all that was necessary for it to be experienced.

Along with the free market as the safest, best social and economic problem-solver known to man, another myth blown to smithereens.


Mimeo Mimeo is not available in an online edition, nor by subscription. Copies can be ordered through Cuneiform Press or Small Press Distribution.

Copies ($10 each) may also be bought directly from:

Kyle Schlesinger
214 North Henry Street #3
Brooklyn, NY 11222


One of Robert Duncan's friends and co-editor of Ritual was the painter Virginia Admiral. Admiral would marry New York abstract expressionist painter, Robert De Niro, Sr.; their son is the actor, Robert De Niro. Robert De Niro Sr. played a small role in the clandestine underground for erotic literature during the late 1930s-early 1940s as part of a group of literary luminaries who wrote erotica on commission to support themselves as they were coming up or during lean times. I'll be telling that story in an upcoming post. Keep watching the skies...

Originally appeared in Fine Books & Collections on this date.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The 2009 New York Antiquarian Book Fair: The View From Twin Peaks

After packing books, traveling, checking-in to a hotel with an unfamiliar and uncomfortable bed, awaking jet-lagged, haggard, with lower and upper back muscle kinks, or with a serious case of post-cross country driving fatigue, then unpacking books and setting up, most dealers start the Fair exhausted, this writer included, and it's downhill from there. As a consequence, one begins the Fair in a twilight dream state prone to hallucinations, mild to major, and a peculiar sensitivity to events generally associated with the occult, surrealism, or Rod Serling. But maybe that's just me. Probably.

The Fair opened last Thursday evening, a private showing to benefit the Morgan Library. This year the benefit was not as crowded as in prior years, no doubt due to the Madoff Effect and the general economic thrill-ride to hell leaving the well-heeled worn-heeled, their Baroni suits with frayed collar and lapels. The only benefit they were truly interested in, apparently, was that which TARP funds might reap. Clearly, the mega-bonuses were being saved for a rainy day. Yet though it rained in New York that night there was no concomitant shower of simoleans inside the Park Avenue Armory, specifically within the Armory's Wade Thompson Drill Hall where the Fair took place.

"The Armory was built by New York State's prestigious Seventh Regiment of the National Guard, the first volunteer militia to respond to President Lincoln's call for troops in 1861. Members of what was known as the 'Silk Stocking' Regiment included New York's most prominent Gilded Age Families including the Vanderbilts, Van Rensselaers, Roosevelts, Stewarts, Livingstons and Harrimans. Built as both a military facility and a social club, the reception rooms on the first floor and the Company Rooms on the second floor were designed by the most prominent designers and artists of the day including Louis Comfort Tiffany, Stanford White, Herter Brothers and Pottier & Stymus. The Armory's 55,000 square foot drill hall, reminiscent of the original Grand Central Depot and the great train sheds of Europe, remains one of the largest unobstructed spaces of its kind in New York. A marvel of engineering in its time, it was designed by Regiment veteran and architect Charles W. Clinton."

Though the latter-day Greedy and Gulled Age Silk Stocking regiment marched in louche-step around the hall in close order, they had holes in their socks, feet blistered by current events. Very sad. I was offered an apple by one of the recently fallen but though it was deeply discounted from its $250,000 asking price, I had to decline; my mother taught me to always have a dime for an emergency phone call and I needed it, no matter that a phone call hasn't cost a dime in decades and phone booths are history.

After doing the N.Y. Fair and the Morgan Library benefit for years, old, familiar faces are seen. Fashion designer Mary McFadden was in attendance, still defying age and 20-20 vision, her hair a shade of black not occurring in nature but matching her outfit and overly Mabelline'd eye-liner and lashes, her facial structure and derma surgically preserved as a living death mask, her skin a shade of white generally associated with Dracula's daughter, here Dracula's grandmother. We're talking Morticia Adams with a Louise Brooks bob. She was accompanied by her ninety-one year old paramour, Marquette de Bary, who didn't look a day over eighty-five.

And She was there, again, parading the aisles. She being a tall drag queen, her pate covered with a huge platinum blond wig styled ala Vidal Sassoon on steroids. She wore a tight, hips and enhanced-breast enhancing Valentino-red dress with straps that highlighted her daddy-was-a-fullback shoulders, and stilettos that reached for the Hubble telescope. I will pass over her make-up job. Suffice it to say, My Fair-To-Be-Charitable Lady was a sight to behold, a parody of alluring womanhood. In fairness, this person is a noted and knowledgeable collector of art books with an excellent eye and though my mother taught me to always play in traffic, talk to strangers and accept candy from them, I've yet to strike up a conversation with this individual.

The Fair finally opened to the public on Friday. Dealer expectations for trade and public sales were very low and were met. One dealer, a British firm with a long and noble history, sold a total of one book during the entire weekend, a $3,000 volume. Their profit margin barely covered the cost of a glass of orange juice on their hotel's breakfast menu. Expensive books forlornly sat on shelves. It was reported to me that some dealers with high five-figure books were offering discounts up to 50% yet still had no takers. Few dealers were selling books at their posted prices, with most adjusting for grim reality and plane-fare back home. The action, such as it was, was in the $2500 and below range, and dealers who had interesting material at a price did alright, particularly if their booths were located to the front and middle of the Armory floor. If you were on the side aisles down toward the end of the hall, you'd have been better off if your booth was located in Ulan Bator. While I haven't checked the official figures, attendance seemed to be down from last year

2009 New York Antiquarian Book Fair, Park Avenue Armory, Saturday April 4th, 1PM. Or so it seemed.

From The Big Book of Rare Book Trade Jokes, appropriate to this year's Fair:

• One morning on the way to opening up, a rare book dealer is walking down the street where his shop is located. There's a long line of people snaked up the block and around the corner. He follows the line to its origin, which miraculously begins at the entrance to his shop.

"What's going on," the shocked dealer asks the first person in line.

"All of us who've ever said to you, 'Let me think about it,' and then left have actually returned to buy a book."

• How do you retire from the rare book business with a million dollars? Start with five million.

• Definition of a rare book shop: Where old books go to die.

Saturday and Sunday brought another interesting person to my -  and everyone else's - attention. She was a short woman, circa 60+, who  appeared to have stepped out of 60's counterculture comix: An aged, hippie chick with natural, parted down the middle semi-frizzed hair past her shoulders; beaded bangles and leather bracelets on her wrists, poured into a tight, spaghetti-strapped floral mini-dress that just barely covered once generous now stingy breasts and extended to just millimeters below the female gift to mankind, her thighs and caboose strong and bountiful if no longer sturdy, forelegs ensheathed in funky, knee-high leather boots. In short, R. Crumb's wet dream.

There were, to be sure, three highlights at the Fair this year.

A first edition, first printing, first issue copy of H. Rider-Haggard's King Solomon's Mines (1885) surfaced. The bibliographical points to the extremely rare first issue of King Solomon's Mines are simple, revolving - as these things often do - around the date of the advertisements found at the rear. It's a scarce, low-five figure book, David Brass reporting that in over forty years in the trade he'd seen only three first issue copies. So, what's the big deal about King Solomon's Mines, the basis for six film adaptations, at least two of which were really bad movies? It is, simply, the prototype for the modern adventure novel, that's all; a major book, and the genesis of the Lost World genre of literature.


The biggest book to surface at the Fair was a first edition, first printing copy of Kenneth Graham's The Wind in the Willows in dust jacket. In dust jacket: alert the media. Like The Great Gatsby, fairly easy to obtain without dust jacket with prices hovering between $8500-$12,000, the price for a first edition copy of The Wind in the Willows with the dust jacket in just about any condition skyrockets into the $100,000+ stratosphere.

The final highlight was the brownies offered by Lux Mentis, Ian Kahn's firm from Portland, ME. These were not just any ordinary brownies. Rich and chocolatey, they were topped with very tasty, firm vanilla icing that sported the visually satisfying, full color and cool Lux Mentis logo illustration. I have no idea how this is accomplished but I presume by some sort of black magic or offset-icing lithography by Betty Crocker. By this one sweet giveaway and Mr. Kahn's predilection for minute to minute Facebook status updates that have made me more aware of his daily life than my own, Portland cements its reputation as an up and coming book town to be reckoned with.

I end this impressionistic account by relating a foreboding incident that occurred upon deplaning in New York. While waiting at the baggage carousel, I spotted someone who looked familiar but due to acute post-transcontinental flight derangement I did not immediately recognize. Standing next to a baggage skycap neatly dressed in a clean, dark suit with crisp white shirt and tie, the man was a shamble of wrinkled, ill-fitting and worn pants, white shirt buttoned at the collar that appeared to have been slept in for week, sport jacket that for politeness could best be characterized as loose construction fit from better days, three-day beard, eyes puffy enough for him to be charged for excess baggage, with a deeply cragged face and a shock of near-white hair that seemed to be attempting a desperate flight from his scalp. I know this guy, I thought, but who is he? Samuel Beckett's ghost? Then he opened his mouth, and I knew. Now, in retrospect, everything about the 2009 New York Fair falls into place.

Though the Log Lady was not in attendance, Special Agent Dale Cooper wasn't waxing eloquent on the virtues of a good slice of pie and a nice cuppa joe, Laura Palmer's dead body was not found in a dealer's booth wrapped in clear plastic sheeting, there were no reports of surreal dreams involving a one-armed man named Mike, no one wore blue velvet or compulsively huffed on a bottle of nitrous oxide, and the Elephant Man was a no-show, the strange, dream-state quality that permeated the Fair was assured by the portent of the shabby man all alone at night in J.F.K. airport's baggage claim zone, the man who Mel Brooks once characterized as "James Stewart From Mars," and who haunted the Park Avenue Armory like Eraserhead haunted (and halted) my desire for a child.

I presume that David Lynch made it to his hotel that night without detour to the Lost Highway.

ehhead1.jpgPortrait of the writer, post-2009 New York Antiquarian Book Fair


Originally appeared in Fine Books & Collections on this date.
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