Rare Book Monthly

Book Catalogue Reviews - May - 2013 Issue

A Spring Miscellany from Sotheran's

Sotheranssp2013

Sotheran's Spring Miscellany and Fleur Cowles' Library.

Henry Sotheran Limited, aka Sotheran's, has issued a Spring Miscellany 2013, Including a Supplement of Books from the Library of Fleur Cowles. Along with the library of Ms. Cowles, there are also several books that came from the library of the great movie actress Marlene Dietrich. This catalogue is truly a miscellany, with a great variety of material. Even the section dedicated to Ms. Cowles' library is a miscellany, as she collected a wide range of books. So, without further attempt to describe the catalogue, we will move on to describe a few of the items found within its pages.

Speaking of Ms. Dietrich, item 14 is her copy of Cecil Beaton Diaries 1922-1939. Beaton was a notable portrait and fashion photographer, which brought him into contact with many famous personalities of his day. Among them was Ms. Dietrich. They became good friends and admired each other's work. Beaton also kept diaries, which he generously published. Not everyone named in them necessarily appreciated the publicity. Ms. Dietrich didn't have to worry, as she does not appear in this volume. This copy has a posthumous bookplate of Ms. Dietrich's library, along with a letter of provenance from her grandson. This book has the stamp of the Cunard Steamship Company dated July 1961, along with a note written in Dietrich's hand - “Nyce B-58/Please return!” Evidently she did not return it to the Cunard library, but we will assume it was a gift to her for traveling with them. Priced at £398 (British pounds, or approximately $606 in U.S. currency).

In the first few years after the First World War, fought from the air with what was still the most primitive of airplanes, Winston Churchill was already foreseeing the horrors that advanced technology would eventually bring to warfare. Item 31 is a copy of his Shall we Commit Suicide? published in 1924. This is a first separate edition of the essay originally published in a magazine. Writes Churchill, “Might not a bomb no bigger than an orange be found to possess secret power to destroy a whole block of buildings nay, to blast a township at a stroke?” Welcome to the nuclear age, beginning in about 20 more years. Churchill goes on to say, “Could not explosives...be guided automatically in flying machines...?” Yes they could, as the development of guided missiles and drones has displayed. He also expresses his concerns about future developments in poison gasses and chemical warfare. £750 (US $1,142).

Item 140 is an unusually formatted book by children's author Beatrix Potter. She only used it twice. It is an accordion folded book, that opens up into a panorama of 14 illustrations and 14 pages of text. The format was popular, though unwieldy, and booksellers did not like it, hence it only being used twice. This one is The Story of Miss Moppet, the first U.K. edition, published in 1906. £1,200 (US $1,827).

This next item is filled with irony, and probably inspiration for its author: Fake! The story of Elmyr de Hory the Greatest Art Forger of our time. Mr. de Hory was about to matched by the author, Clifford Irving. De Hory was an artist who claimed to have sold a thousand forged artworks to various galleries around the world. Irving and de Hory became friendly with the latter asking Irving to write his biography. That he did, with this biography being published in 1970. Irving's next work would be one to top de Hory's forgeries. He set out to write the “autobiography” of the extremely reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes. Irving figured Hughes was so fanatically publicity shy that he would not even come out publicly long enough to denounce the fake. Irving did extensive research into Hughes life and was able to sneak in to archives of private material to learn even more. He then presented documents approving the project with Hughes' neatly forged signature to publisher McGraw Hill. The publishing house was fooled. It provided Irving with advances, and even larger ones to “H.R. Hughes.” Irving's wife set up a Swiss bank account under the name Helga R. Hughes. When Hughes found out, he came out of hiding long enough to conduct a telephone interview with journalists who knew him from before his reclusive days, and the Swiss bank determined the fraud. Irving was finally forced to admit the hoax and spent 17 months in prison for his efforts. This copy of the de Hory biography also came from the library of Marlene Dietrich, who as far as we know was an honest woman. It comes with an ink portrait of Dietrich inscribed to her by de Hory. Item 81. £750 (US $1,142).

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