Voewood Rare Books celebrates the fourth, not of July, but Catalogue Four. They are a British bookseller so they wouldn't celebrate that other fourth anyway. What is in this collection? Well, that's a hard question to answer, so I will let them offer a response themselves: “As will be clear from this catalogue we deal in rare books and manuscripts across a wide range of periods and subject matters from the heart of mainstream culture to the fringes of the counterculture. Almost nothing is off limits.” Couldn't have explained it better myself. Here are a few sample selections.
The title of this book is more familiar than the name of its author. The title is The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Acton Bell. This, naturally, is a first edition, three volumes published in 1848. Later editions used the author's actual name, Anne Bronte, but this is from when the Brontes were still using fake names, all last name Bell, each with a first name of indeterminate gender. The fear was that a book by a woman would not sell as well as one by a man, so they each used fake names that could be interpreted as being that of a man or woman. Indeed, the page opposite the title says, “Opinions of the Press on Mr. Bell's First Novel.” It worked. Only 500 copies were printed, and 200 of them received a new title page and became the second edition. Many reviewers found the book coarse and revolting, even Anne's sister Charlotte thinking it a mistake, but its honest portrayal of subjects such as alcoholism and mental health led to a reassessment of the earlier criticisms. Item 8. Priced at £25,000 (British pounds or approximately US $30,685).
This item pertains to a small, but strange incident in Beatles history, not known to most people but it is to those who have followed their history closely. For a brief period, the life of a troubled young man from California intersected with that of John Lennon, and it reveals the generous side of a man who at times could be prickly and ungenerous. It also is a story that is both touching and frightening, especially now knowing how Lennon died. The young man's name was Curt Claudio. He had been an outstanding student, attending the University of California at Davis, when he got into drugs. He got deeply into them and it messed up his mind terribly, from which he was never quite the same. Claudio began writing Lennon, convinced that the lyrics in Lennon's songs were meant specifically for him. He wrote several times, telling Lennon he was coming to see him, that he needed to talk directly to him. One day he did just that. For a couple of nights he hid in the bushes behind Lennon's house. One day when he was being escorted out, Lennon and Yoko Ono emerged from their house and called Claudio over to speak. Lennon explained that his songs couldn't possibly be about Claudio. They were about himself and his own feelings, except for love songs which were about Ono. They were not filled with deep hidden messages, just the kind of thoughts everyone has. Specifically to Claudio's question about the strange rhymes in Dig A Pony, Lennon explained they were meaningless, just playing with words and sounds, much of it written by Ono. After the discussion Lennon and Ono invited Claudio inside, fed him and sent him on his way. On one level, Claudio believed Lennon, but on another he couldn't quite come to grips with it. He was too damaged. There is no sign Claudio ever contacted Lennon again. While this story is touching, it isn't so much in light of Charles Manson's interpretation of Paul McCartney's lyrics in Helter Skelter, or a decade later when another obsessed, seemingly harmless fan assassinated Lennon. So what does all this have to do with Voewood? Item 28 is a collection of eight telegrams Claudio sent Lennon from America in 1971, not surprisingly strange in content, concluding with “Somebody tell John I'll be at Gatwick the 18th wearing ¾ length brown sheepskin coat.” There is a film about Lennon and Ono which includes a couple of minutes that were taken during this encounter. Claudio is wearing the overcoat described in his final telegram. Price on request.
As long as we're on '60s musicians, this comes from the quintessential musical event of the decade. Of course, that is Woodstock. Item 24 is a flyer announcing the Woodstock Music & Art Fair presents An Aquarian Exposition in White Lake, N.Y. 3 days of Peace & Music. The dates are Aug. 15-17, which was 1969. The Beatles weren't there but just about everyone else was, or it seemed that way. Voewood notes that one of the listed bands, Iron Butterfly, didn't show. Off in the Garden of Eden, perhaps. It also mentions an art show, crafts bazaar, and work shops, none of which is remembered. It says “water and restrooms will be supplied” without mentioning in inadequate numbers. Then again, who could have anticipated how many people would come? What was supplied in generous quantities was mud. £750 (US $920).
Here is a literary magazine that I'm quite certain you have never read. The name is The Companion, circa 1830, and you may be saying no, I've seen that. Maybe, but this is not the same one. There was a regularly published magazine of the same name on which this one was obviously based. This is a manuscript, unpublished journal, written in several hands. There may be no other copies extant. The only other identifier is under a glued piece of paper is the name Charles Wilkinson and date 1830. The paper is watermarked 1828 and the other Companion was published only in the year 1828. The first one is dated September 12, the others unnumbered. There are 12 in all. It contains original short stories, essays, poems, parts of plays. The authors are unnamed, using only initials. There are titles such as Voyage to Fairyland, Charles Deloraine: A Tale of the Pretender, and De Warren – a dramatic fragment, set in the 15th century. There is no sign any of these was ever published. You could likely copy it and claim authorship and no one would be the wiser. Item 10. £1,950 (US $2,392).
Charles Darwin wrote several books concerning evolution after On the Origin of Species, but none specifically mentioned “evolution.” That word to describe the process he discovered did not appear until a decade later. It first appeared in this book, The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex, published in 1871. This book speaks of evolution specifically dealing with humans. The two volumes have the ownership inscription of Clements Markham. Markham was an explorer, geographer, naturalist and writer. He was primarily responsible for organizing the National Antarctic Expedition of 1901-1904 which launched the career of Antarctic explorer Robert Falcon Scott. Item 30. £4,750 (US $5,828).