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.

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