Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Is This the World's Worst Copy?

by Stephen J. Gertz

It's not often that a rare book dealer will offer a volume by leading with its worst foot forward, heralding its condition defects with a headline that dares you to buy it for £650 ($1,010) - or at any price.

Item fifty-one in Peter Harrington Rare Books Catalog 76, a copy of the first U.S. edition of Christopher Isherwood's Goodbye to Berlin (NY: Random House, 1939), is described as "boards severely worn with loss of size across their extent, spine defective, a few light spots to edges, contents very slightly toned. A poor copy."

But this copy of Goodbye to Berlin, Isherwood's semi-autobiographical novella concerning his years in Weimar during the early 1930s (adapted for the Broadway stage by John Van Druten in 1951 as I Am a Camera and, later, for the musical, Cabaret, in 1966), has a major plus.  It is inscribed by Isherwood to prolific author and co-founder (in 1946, with George Ballanchine) of the New York City Ballet, Lincoln Kirstein (1907-1996). 

"Lincoln Kirstein has long been acknowledged as one of the most important influences in the development of American culture in the 20th century. A towering figure, both literally and figuratively, his passion, erudition, and dedicated advocacy embraced the worlds of dance, film, music, painting, photography, architecture, literature, and sculpture (New York City Ballet).

Kirstein wrote over 500 books, articles, and monographs on the arts as well as criticism, poetry, novels and a number of historical and autobiographical works.

"He was one of those rare talents who touch the entire artistic life of their time. Ballet, film, literature, theatre, painting, sculpture, photography all occupied his attention" (Clement Crisp).

In 1984, President Ronald Reagan presented Kirstein with the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his contributions to the arts:

"Lincoln Kirstein is an author and entrepreneur who has honored and delighted Americans through his enormous contribution to ballet in our country. Through his commitment, two major institutions of American dance, the New York City Ballet and the School of American Ballet, were created and flourished. Developing and fostering appreciation for the arts have always depended on the energy, creativity, and commitment of individual citizens. Lincoln Kirstein stands tall as one of a select and treasured few in the world of American art" (President Ronald Reagan, Presidential Medal of Freedom presentation citation).

Lincoln Kirstein and Christopher Isherwood met in 1939, when Isherwood, a British citizen, came to New York to  settle in the United States before ultimately moving to California. Isherwood immediately fell in with Kirstein's wide circle of friends within the arts community. They remained close friends until Isherwood's death, in Santa Monica, CA, in 1986.

Condition: morbid. Association: magnificent. Is this really the "World's worst copy?" Better this warm, severely worn copy with its inscription and association than a cold, perfect copy without them. The fact that it is the only copy currently in the marketplace further mitigates it decrepit state.

Hats off to the cataloger at Peter Harrington Rare Books for élan, and to proprietor, Pom Harrington, for giving the okay to this startling, intriguing, and amusing example of reverse merchandising psychology.

Image courtesy of Peter Harrington Rare Books, with our thanks.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Subscribe to BOOKTRYST by Email