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January 2005




Susan Sontag, writer, born 16th January 1933, died in New York 28th December 2004.

Regarded as one of USA's leading intellectuals her greatest literary impact was as an essayist, with her 1964 study of homosexual aesthetics 'Notes on Camp' establishing her as a major new writer.

Calling herself an "obsessed moralist", she was the author of 17 books and a lifelong human rights activist. She wrote best-selling historical novel 'The Volcano Lover' (1992) and another historical novel 'In America' (2000) won the National Book Award.


The Man Booker International Prize

A major new literary prize is being launched, which will extend the scope of the Man Booker Prize for fiction internationally. The prize is worth £60,000 and will be awarded in mid 2005.

The Man Booker International Prize will recognize one writer for their achievement in fiction. The prize will be awarded once every two years to a living author who has published fiction either originally in English, or generally available in translation in the English language.

Nominations are invited from the public although there is a rider that "it may not necessarily influence the judges, but if you have a really good reason why someone should win, let the world know about it". Names can be submitted at their website.


eBay 'Second Chance' scam

The Antiques Trade Gazette reports that the latest scam on eBay is on high value sales where the underbidder is contacted 'purportedly by the seller' with an offer to buy, 'the winning bidder having pulled out' of the sale.

On the occasion they report the underbidder at $4200 knew the winning bidder, had already discussed the sale and knew that they would not have 'pulled out'. The matter was reported to eBay who were slow in responding but replied later:

"Any transaction that does not involve using the ‘Bid now’ or ‘Buy it now’ buttons on eBay is considered an off-site transaction. We reviewed your report and found that although the message you received was made to appear as if it had been sent by an eBay user, it was not."


Fore-edge Paintings by Stephen Foster

Discovering a fore-edge painting is always a pleasant surprise. When I first started my bookselling apprenticeship, it was one of the first things I was told to look out for (along with interesting bookplates, and ephemera tucked into the books).

If you have not come across fore-edge paintings, let me first explain what they are.  If you are holding a book in your hand, then the fore-edge is the long edge you can flick through, or fan out. Fore-edge painting refers to any painted decoration of this fore edge. The artist slightly fans out this edge, it is secured or held in a vice, and decorates it with a painted view, or portrait or historical scene. In earlier examples, the painting was applied, and then the fore edge was gilded (gold leaf is applied). In later examples, a book with an already gilded fore-edge - usually a fine leather binding - has the painting applied after it is bound. In both cases, when the book is returned to its closed state, the painting is concealed by the gilding; fan out the edges, and the painting reappears.


Here is a little movie file of some fore-edges being fanned to reveal their paintings. You can view this 1MB .mov file if you have the QuickTime plugin. It comes courtesy of the Horace W. Sturgis Library at Kenneshaw State University, Georgia (USA) but we have copied it to our server to save their bandwidth!


The Italian Renaissance is, as with many things, where it all really started (although medieval examples exist). Often quite simple, floral decorations, heraldic designs or motifs, these were generally painted directly onto the fore-edge rather than later ‘fanned’ edge, sometimes with a gold background. These were not uncommon in 15th and 16th century Italy. But the term is now largely used to refer to the British examples of this art. Disappearing pictures start to appear, as it were, on mid 17th century English bibles and common prayer books. By the latter part of the 17th century, very fine works were being produced.


However, the pinnacle of this art was in the late 18th century revival and popularisation of the art by the bookbinders and booksellers Edwards of Halifax. They produced exquisite paintings on the edges, as well as beautiful ‘Etruscan calf’ and painted vellum bindings. London Society was wowed by the beautiful volumes, and the Edwards And Sons shop in Pall Mall is mentioned by Fanny Burney (also known as Madame d'Arblay), the 18th century London socialite who wrote an extensive diary as well as various novels. 

The practice of fore-edge painting became widespread, and continued through the 19th and into the 20th century. Demand has always outstripped supply, and this meant that decorating the fore-edge continues to this day. These later examples tend to be applied after the book is bound and the fore-edge gilded, but they are still beautiful and surprising things.

Themes vary, with landscapes, portraits, historical subjects, sporting and erotic images all being used. There are also ‘double’ or two-way paintings, with views visible when the book is fanned either way. I once saw a volume that showed mountaineers scaling a peak, and both the top and bottom edge had also been used to show the peak, and the base camp.


Original examples are very hard to find and a good provenance will make these very expensive items. Late 19th and 20th century examples can be found for a few hundred pounds, with the quality of both the binding and image setting the price.

Where to find them?  Well they could be found on almost any book with a gilded fore-edge - poetry, history, travel, classics, bibles are some to look out for. There are many poor amateur examples, that can disappoint, and many pleasing modern examples. So when you see a bookseller picking up a leather bound book and fanning the fore-edge, even though he’s not often actually looking for one, he knows that if it’s there, that is the way to reveal the secret.

Further examples of fore-edge paintings can be seen at:
Horace W. Sturgis Library, Kenneshaw State University, Georgia and
University of Florida Rare Book Collection


December Auction Round Up

First to Sotheby's, New York in early December and a manuscript copy the famous Christmas Poem, 'Twas the Night Before Christmas, inscribed by the author Clement Clarke Moore failed to find a buyer despite the appropriateness of the season, and a pre-sale estimate of US$2-300,000.

Part one of the manuscript

Part two of the manuscript

The manuscript of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas

The failure to find a buyer for such a desirable piece, the only manuscript copy in private hands, may rest in part on the fact that authorship of the poem, properly titled A Visit From St Nicholas, is disputed. The claims of the Livingstone family that their ancestor, Henry Livingstone Jr (1748 - 1828) was the real author were recently boosted in Donald Foster's Author Unknown: On The Trail of the Anonymous (Henry Holt, 2000).

Two and a bit of the seven - The House of the Seven GablesNot to be outdone, Christie's, New York sold the oldest known copy of Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter for US$545,100 on 15th December, despite a pre-sale estimate of only US$2-300,000 for the 144 page printed proof. The proof, containing over 70 corrections which may be in Hawthorne's own hand, was donated to the Natick Historical Society in 1886 and had lain, forgotten, in a drawer for much of the following 118 years. Hawthorne lived Salem, Massachusetts where the house which supposedly served as the inspiration for his famous novel, The House of the Seven Gables, has been transformed into a museum celebrating local vernacular building and craftsmanship as well as the life and works of Hawthorne. (The house in which Hawthorne was born in 1804 originally stood in Union Street, Salem, but has since been moved to a site adjacent to The House of the Seven Gables. It is open to the public.)

 Master and Commander


The continuing popularity of Patrick O'Brian's Jack Aubrey and Steven Maturin historical novels ensured strong interest in Dominic Winter's Modern Firsts auction on 16th December with and near fine copy of the first book in the series, Master and Commander, reaching £500 against a pre-sale estimate of £200 - £300. There was equally strong interest and even stronger bidding for a first edition of Orwell's 1949 classic, 1984, which exceeded the pre-sale estimate by a factor of ten. The hammer fell at £2,050.

Other highlights of the sale included a set of firsts of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings which closed at £3,600; and a complete set of Jonathon Gash's Lovejoy novels - 22 volumes, all firsts, which closed at £700. A surprising number of lots, some featuring the works of authors who usually appeal to collectors such as Agatha Christie, Philip Pullman and Oscar Wilde, failed to find buyers.

The Roald Dahl charity auction held at Christie's, London, on 13th December, raised a little over £84,000 for the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre, which will open in Great Missenden in June next year. The auction included a treasure trove for Dahl collectors which included original artwork by Quentin Blake and Gerald Scarfe which sold for £2,800 and £5,000 respectively. 

Also included in the auction was a unique collection of photographs of Dahl and his family, including Dahl in his school uniform in 1925 (sold for £1,000 against a presale estimate of £750); a charming shot of Patricia Dahl with the Dahl children under her skirts (sold for £7,500 against an estimate of £1-£2,000) and a photograph of Henry Moore taken by Dahl himself in 1975 (sold for £2,000). 

Dahl in school uniform

Henry Moor by Dahl

Patricia Dahl and children

Dahl in school uniform

Henry Moor by Dahl

Patricia Dahl and children

Photos above courtesy Christie's Images Ltd, 2004


 The Wordsworth Trust 'Weekend Arts and Book Festival'

A residential course of lectures and workshops organised by the Wordsworth Trust takes place at the Thistle Hotel 21st-23rd January 2005 on the shores of the lake at Grasmere, just a hundred yards from Dove Cottage, the Wordsworth Museum and the Jerwood Centre.

The Festival will be chaired by Dr Robert Woof. Although the lecturers are experts and connoisseurs, the aim of the Festival is to reach out to a general public. There will be special visits to the Wordsworth Museum and the Wordsworth Library. The full residential fee of £280 covers accommodation, breakfast, lunch, dinner, lectures, workshops, surgeries and and access to the Wordsworth Museum and the Jerwood Centre. Further details.


Internet alert leads to conviction of map thief

Peter Bellwood, a 50 year old landscape gardener from Colchester in Essex was gaoled for four and a half years at Swansea Crown Court on 22nd December. He had confessed to specimen charges of the theft of 50 antique maps valued at £70,000 from the collection of the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth, of 105 that the library said were missing, most of which have not been recovered.

The thefts in Wales were discovered after Danish authorities said they wanted him in connection with the theft of 16th and 17th Century maps valued at £100,000 from Danish Royal Library in Copenhagen, releasing onto the internet closed circuit TV coverage of him caught in the act of removing them. The Welsh library staff checked their records, realised that he had visited the National Library and subsequently found that many of their rare maps were missing.

It appears that several other European libraries, including the Royal Library of Stockholm have also had visits from Bellwood. The library that initiated the search for him hopes to recover some of their loss and extradition proceedings have been started by the Danish authorities.


 Reading Bookfair Diary Dates

The 'new' Reading Bookfair will be held on:

  • Sunday 13th February
  • Sunday 8th May
  • Sunday 14th August
  • Sunday 6th November 

...with up to 20 exhibitors at The Parish Hall, School Green (off the B3349 Hyde End Road), Shinfield, (one mile from Junction 11 of M4, leave on A327 to Shinfield), 10.00am to 4.00pm, free car parking and light refreshments.


Next Month: The feature for February 2005 by Hessay Books


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