Sunday, 15 December 2013

Hidden treasures in book collections

David Cranmer, who writes short stories, edits and publishes the in-demand webzine, Beat to a Pulp, and blogs at The Education of a Pulp Writer, recently wrote about the discovery of an 118-year old treasure in his possession—William Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice published in 1895. It’s definitely the find of the year as far as rare books in the hands of individual readers are concerned.

I don’t remember the last time I discovered a book of great literary value, buried in a trunk in my attic. Of course, I wouldn’t. I don’t have a trunk. My modest collection of books is stacked in cabinets and on shelves at home and in office. I usually give away the books as soon as I read them though I hold on to the ones I know are rare and hard to find, such as Sudden, the series of ten western novels by Oliver Strange, an Englishman who wrote about the wild west without once crossing the Atlantic, and a few original paperbacks under The Executioner series about Mack Bolan, the one-man army created and written by Don Pendleton before ghostwriters took over.

So which are some of the earliest published books in my collection? I made a random survey of the books I’d immediate access to and found nine in all and out of these the one with the highest vintage tag was The Hell Raisers, a Raw-Action western by Lee Floren (Tower Publications, 1947). The cover of the paperback says “They lived by their guns in a land where death was a way of life.” The original title was Saddle Pals. Lee Floren also wrote as Matt Harding.

My hardback copy of The Tudor Edition of William Shakespeare: The Complete Works, Quatercentenary Edition, belonged to my paternal grandfather and was published in 1965 by The English Language Book Society, also known as The English Library. It has an introduction and glossary by Peter Alexander, a Shakespearean scholar and academic and then Professor Emeritus of English language and Literature, University of Glasgow.

Old Ramon (Pennant Student Edition, 1966), by Jack Schaefer, the author of the famous western novel Shane, is a moving tale of a boy, a man, and a mighty desert. The 110-page paperback has black and white illustrations by Harold West.

The first paperback edition of Through the Wheat by American journalist and novelist Thomas Boyd (1998-1935) is considered one of the finest American novels of World War I. My Award Books Military Library edition, published in 1964, gives the reader a picture of the horror and glory of the Great War.

The oldest book in our Agatha Christie collection is What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw!, a Cardinal edition published by Pocket Books, Inc. in 1958. The novel was serialised as Eye Witness to Murder. This tattered copy has a facsimile of Christie’s signature and a strip advertising Lloyd C. Douglas’ famous novel The Robe on the back cover.

While I have partly read The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shirer, the one book I read from start to finish in less than half a day was Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of Adolf Hitler (Scholastic Inc., 1961), the complete story of Hitler’s beginnings, his triumphs, and his downfall told in 188 pages. I have no idea why I’m still holding on to this book; perhaps, it’s for the cover.

Two titles originally published in the sixties are Carter Brown’s The Brazen and Had I But Groaned. I liked the opening line of The Brazen—“I was just sitting there in the bar minding my own business, when this guy dropped dead at my feet—and the blurb of Had I But Groaned—“An old Hag, a gorgeous Witch, and one ripe Virgin—about to be sacrificed. What more do you need for a swinging Sabbat?”

I haven’t read all of these books yet, not even Shakespeare’s Complete Works entirely, but I’m going to try and see what other early books I can come up with. Who says you got to read all the books you own?

Do you have any original or early editions of books?




















Note: The covers displayed above are the ones that adorn the books I mentioned.

17 comments:

  1. Neat stuff from your collection! I have a couple of Victorian-era copies of Shakespeare plays, but I never thought of them as having much value. As Shakespeare goes, there were about a billion editions around by then. I'm much prouder of a first English edition of Jules Verne that I have, as it's from the author's lifetime.

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    1. Kelly, thank you. I don't think I've anything as old as that; at most, a couple of novels dating back to the early 20th century. I usually don't give a thought to buying vintage books. I do, however, have several early and original issues of comic books from Classics Illutrated, Dell, and Gold Key. I'd be proud of a first edition of a Jules Verne book too!

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  2. I like the Sudden cover; my favorite of the bunch. You've got me curious about the oldest books on my shelves. One in the running would be Harper's Book of Facts, published in 1895. It's something of a desk encyclopedia, with some material you wouldn't expect to find, like lists of train accidents with the most fatalities.

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    1. Ron, I'm glad you mentioned the SUDDEN cover. I like the covers of all the 15 westerns, 10 by Oliver Strange and five by English writer Frederick William Nolan who wrote them as Frederick H. Christian. His portrayal of Sudden, the Texas outlaw, and his adventures were faithful to those written by Strange. SUDDEN is my favourite western. I think I should find an e-version of HARPER'S BOOK OF FACTS online. It sounds like author Irving Wallace's THE BOOK OF LISTS of the eighties.

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  3. What an interesting post, Prashant. I quite like your collection and am now curious about vintage books that I own. Need to clean my shelves.

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    1. Neer, thank you. This post was inspired by David Cranmer. I'd like to know about the vintage books in your own collection and whether any of them mean more to you than others. As I keep harping, in my case it'd be the SUDDEN series and a few comics.

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  4. Thanks for your great information, the contents are quiet interesting.I will be waiting for your next post.
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  5. So cool to see these covers. I read the Rise and Fall of Hitler too, but under a different cover, and the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich is a masterpiece to my mind.

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    1. Charles, thank you. I often decide to read THE RISE AND FALL OF THE THIRD REICH in one sitting but I just can't. So I read it like an encyclopaedia. I don't know how much I've read, though. I agree, it is a masterpiece.

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  6. I have a first edition of DAUGHTER OF TIME by Josephine Tey but I rarely even look at what printing a book is. I guess I should before I give them to various charities.

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    1. Patti, I don't consciously look for first or earliest editions of books though I do look at the year of printing out of curiosity. One doesn't come across first editions easily in my neck of the woods, as the used or secondhand books market is scattered across the country, like Delhi to the north, Calcutta to the east, and Bangalore to the south. The one in Mumbai has all but vanished.

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  7. You have a really rich mixture of titles there Prashant - I suspect I have some muster mysteries from the 1930s on the shelves but probably the oldest is a book of essays by Ruskin from the late 19th century - I shall have to investigate though!

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    1. Sergio, thank you. I'd love to read about the early books, including mysteries, in your collection. I haven't read anything by John Ruskin or anything by other social and political thinkers of the 19th & 20th century. Time and fiction don't permit that luxury.

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  8. I don't own any vintage books but I do collect first edition hardcover crime fiction/mysteries but none that early (more contemporary). I find your collection quite interesting, Prashant. I used to go to a lot of these resale shops and just dig through their collections of books and you'd be surprised what people get rid of or throw out. I love the vintage covers of these books though. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Keishon, thank you. I'm glad you liked this post. The books I displayed here are not exactly vintage although they may be hard to find in my part of the world. The SUDDEN novels are certainly vintage as Corgi stopped reprints in the eighties and now there is a huge demand for the early editions of these popular western hero. A new publisher has recently launched new editions but they are nowhere close to the Corgi issues with their superb illustrated covers. I hope you showcase some of the first edition hardcover crime fiction and mysteries in your collection.

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  9. Nice books and post Prashant, I don't think there is anything too valuable in my collection. I think I have Peter Straub's Floating Dragon in a first edition hardback, but I've not read it yet. Plenty of books on my shelf that are hard to find, which doesn't necessarily equate to value.

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    1. Col, thank you, appreciate it. I don't think any of the books in my collection have any value save for the SUDDEN series and probably the first editions of THE EXECUTIONER: MACK BOLAN series. I haven't read Peter Straub's FLOATING DRAGON so I hope to read your review someday and also have a look at your first edition hardback. I believe first editions are big business in the West where collectors buy them but not necessarily read them.

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