P L Travers Letter

Early January 2016 and I was just getting around to seeing if there was anything worth cataloging in the last box of books from I dont know where which had been residing under my desk for I don’t know how long. I espied the Mary Poppins on the cover and thought “probably worth a fiver but a nostalgia trip nonetheless.

Imagine the excitement when I discovered the book is not only signed by Travers but contains a letter from her dated 1965. In it she thanks a Mrs Raymond for sending photos of a Sleeping Beauty castle which she hopes to mention in her book on the subject. (About The Sleeping Beauty was later published by Collins in 1975). I just love the line”alas I work on it very slowly because of all the chores I have in connection with the film” i.e Disney .

1964 Mary Poppins from A to Z , First Edition with signed letter

1964 Mary Poppins from A to Z , First Edition with signed letter


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Georgian Books

Whether you have a normal interest in books or an extreme addiction then I can recommend the most perfect place to have coffee in central London is the British Library cafe. Forming the nucleus of the British Library’s original collection, the library of King George III is housed in a magnificent glass tower that spans 6 floors. You can sit right next to the precious glassed tomes sipping your coffee, and just imagine what it must be like to own even one such leather bound treasure.

The King's Library Tower

The King’s Library Tower

The current Georgians Revealed exhibition runs until 11th March 2014 and should appeal to anyone interested in garden design, fashion history, social history, architecture and oh books. What I particularly like was the display of miniature children’s books from the Infants Library (in 17 parts 1800) next to the giant botanical folio The Temple of Flora 1799-1807, as the Georgians appreciated books for Show. The other favourite were the cross sections of the Designs for the Pavilion at Brighton 1822 by Humphry Repton (prior to the work being commissioned by Nash) showing the extravagant Music Room once populated by the Prince Regent.

The Music Room by John Nash

The Music Room, Brighton Pavilion

The modern visitor could easily consider the chinoiserie completely over the top in terms of ornateness. It certainly is, but what I love about the illustration is the Georgians depicted in all their finery within it, the pastels of the gowns and reds of the jackets blending it all into a glittering occasion. It reinforces that this was a politically incorrect era, when the contrasts between rich and poor were at their most extreme; the average annual disposable income of a peer was £2800 and the average annual wages of a maid were £3. (note 1)

Two Featured Books from the Weston Library.

And so onto two special books from the late Georgian period I wish were mine. The first is “A Dictionary of Natural History, Or Complete Summary of Zoology etc printed by Charles Whittingham in 1802. With two columns of tiny text that you need your reading glasses for, there are 35 hand coloured plates, each with three animals. Includes the now extinct Dodo, described as “a large unwieldy bird, a helpless and unresisting creature incapable of of defence of flight. Its body is large and heavy, covered all over in large grey feathers.” What makes the illustrations all the more remarkable is that this book is more then 50 years before the first photo was taken, all the images taken originally from line drawings.

The Dodo
1802 A Dictionary of Natural History : The Dodo

 When I first saw “Scenes in Africa for the Amusement and Instruction of Little Tarry-At-Home Travellers” by the Rev Isaac Taylor I did a double take. Surely a book depicting a slave chained to a palm tree is meant for adults? Wrong. The clue is in the word Little.

1820 Scenes in Africa

1820 Scenes in Africa

The map facing the title simply describes South Africa as “Regions Unexplored” and is pinned to the first blank end paper, signed by the original owner “Calcott Stokes the gift of his Mama 1822; James Calcott Stokes given to him by his brother Calcott on his birthday 1831. ”

1820 Madagascar  Slave family being led to ship

1820 Madagascar
Slave family being led to ship

There are many images of slaved being led away ; the description for the above reads ” men, women and children are thus led to market to be sold as cattle. A few long leaves about the middle, or on the shoulders is thought clothing enough for wretches reduced so low in society” The picture beneath it is titled “crocodile seizing a bullock” it is likely the artist has never seen a crocodile which is the size of a gigantic sea onster many times the size of a cow!There are similar giant serpents and a hawk the size of a plane. It makes a pretty scary geography book for a young reader, but nonetheless does condemn slavery. Sweet dreams !

Note 1. “The Beau Monde” by Hannah Grieg, Oxford University Press 2013.

To view more Georgian books please click here  Garden City Books Weston Library 

To view more on The Georgians Revealed Exhibition click here Georgians Revealed Exhibition  


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Design Ideas For Your Home

Design Ideas For Your Home Inspired by the National Trust, by Alison Dalby

If you like visiting National Trust Houses and/or are considering revamping your home and/or like well illustrated books this is for you.

It begins with showing interiors by style ; Georgian townhouses, arts and crafts period, art deco and modernist with just sufficient synopsis of the history and origins without it becoming an essay.

It then guides you through by colour theme, from blue and whites, greens, yellow, orange, red, red and white, pink and white, black, white and neutrals.It is not the object to appeal to an infinate variety of tonal effects but rather to demonstrate colours as they were used by period, and designer. I found it easy to associate yellows with Regency period and of course the stunning sunbursts of yellow as used by Sir John Soames for the drawing room at Wimpole Hall. Blue and white as a combination has been popular throughout the ages and is demonstrated in a Georgian bedroom, drawing room, bathroom, Victorian dining room through to some of the Trusts’ holiday cottages.

Then follow sections on pattern,texture, lighting, accessories, collections and displays. The layout of the book is a particular strength in that unlike other interior design books it doesn’t rely on a rigid format of room by room or colour by colour ideas; it has a remarkable ability to present overviews from a period or style and then to telescope into a specific feature such as lighting, presenting a glass or picture display. Throughout there is a balance between the ornate and large scale historic properties (such as Wimpole Hall, Knole and Wightick Manor)  to the smaller scale and more modern interiors (such as Shaws Corner, and over a dozen holiday cottages) Neither does it go down the “create the look” route where a particular pattern of fabric and matching shade of paint are then shown together with suppliers, prices etc; rather it has a comprehensive list of suppliers at the rear as it assumes the discerning reader will want to conduct their own further research , and right from the beginning suggests the importance of testing and sample s once you have found an inspiration.

It is a densely and well illustrated book (with over 200 photographs) and is testament to the fact that a design book can be lavishly produced without being a coffee table book or coffee table. It is small and portable such that it can be put in the handbag to take to the fabric dealer/auction house.

The downside? well being an extreme bibliophile with a modern house overflowing with books I would like to have seen more modern ideas for storing books as well as library furniture/accessories shown in situ such as ladders, bookends, and of course the obligatory shelves of Penguins organized by colour of spine.

Hence my favourite page is page 143 which shows a modern, uncluttered bedroom as designed by Erno Goldfinger for no 2 Willow Road. Painted white with a black carpet, white bedspread. No other furniture or colours apart from the bed ……and the adjacent WALL of books…sweet dreams!




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State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

State of Wonder and Bel Canto

By the author of Bel Canto, set deep in the Amazon waterways where a new fertility drug has been discovered amongst the local Lakashi tribe , and is being developed by the domineering Dr Annick Swenson.

Years pass and virtually nothing in the way of progress reports is fed back to her sponsors Vogel Pharmaceuticals who know she’s alive and that’s about it. Anders Eckman is sent to investigate but just a few weeks in is reported as having died of a fever by Swenson .

Enter one Dr Marina Singh, Anders’ ex colleague and by chance a former pupil of Swensons, before a Caesarean operation went horribly wrong and she was compelled to change medical career direction. Her task is firstly to locate Swenson , find out the more precise nature of Ander’s death and report on the drug’s progress.

She must first stop over in Manaus, and encounters Mr & Mrs Bovender who act as gatekeepers/caretakers to Swensons’ flat and are very deliberately obtuse about her whereabouts, Marina has to worm her way into their favours to find out more.

It is in Manaus that like Bel Canto, the theme of opera emerges. In Bel Canto Roxanne Coss is one of the main characters who is taken hostage along with her co performers and audience. She has help to negotiate practice time with her accompanist and is allowed to send for a batch of music from outside. For a few hours each day of the seige everyone benefits from the utter beauty of her voice. In both books the opera is treated as the epitome of human civilization , and in State of Wonder it is used effectively as a contrast to show human existence at the most basic end of the scale in the jungle.

We all liked the location, the Amazon being a place we’re unlikely to visit. The details of living conditions are a world away for the normal reader, diet wise they seem to live off peanut butter and tinned apricots, Marina has her suitcase misappropriated by the Lakashi tribe and survives on 2 smock dresses,borrowed underwear and a toothbrush. Washing is done in the murky brown river, and evenings see them besieged by plagues of insects before checking whether your sleeping hammock contains reptiles of the serpent variety.

Both the leading characters are female but are complete opposites in terms of personality. Swenson aged early 70’s , the renound professor who puts her quest for scientific truth above all other considerations . A forceful success, she manipulates those around her to achieve her own ends and appears to consider herself and the importance of her work almost beyond question; she is accountable to herself and her project.

Marina is 40 something and does her best to keep her first failed career in obstetrics forgotten. Insecure she seeks a father figure in her relationship with the chairman of Vogel Mr Fox, who is 20 years her senior, and there is some ambiguity around her feelings for Anders , who is a similar age and married with three school age boys.

Both in Bel Canto and State of Wonder Patchett creates a real sense of immediate drama, of lots happening at once and of plot mechanics that could have very different and uncertain outcomes. It is this uncertainty that creates suspense; in Canto the tension builds towards the final outcome at the end of the siege. In the jungle there are many ways the story could go : will Marina find a new love? will she find the truth about the drug, what will be Easters’ fate if she leaves with him or will she stay and take over the drug project ? And all along we suspect something sinister has happened to Anders, add to this an horrific battle with an Anoconda and having to ultimately confront her own demons when she has to deliver 2 unborn children, one alive and one dead.

Although Dr Swensons’ character was not liked the situation surrounding the drug’s development provoked a mini philosophical discussion: Vogel stand to eventually show a large return on a massive investment for the fertility drug who’s chief beneficaries would doubtless be older western women, as against the development of the malaria vaccine which would be helping other local tribes for not insignificant investment and little return.(Interestingly Patchett does not go down the route of comparing an empirical case.)

The main gripes against it by a couple of bookies were that it asked too much of the imagination but we have found a dissention of opinion a good outcome as it provokes a good discussion. Here it was deemed not very likely that a major drug development project would be allowed to continue with unsatsifactory communications (no phone in particular), also that the story began to become surreal as it was revealed that the Lakashi women had extended fertility as they nibbled bark from special Martin trees…..also that by eating certain Rapp mushrooms this allowed them to see God.

Interestingly the hostess said she enjoyed Bel Canto but that State of Wonder would be the book she “evangelised” about. Although I preferred the outcome of State of Wonder I would evangelise about Bel Canto as being just soooo extremely different to anything else I’d read.

Having said that it was a compelling read, all bookies present had completed it. It makes me not particularly want to go to the Amazon as it all sounds too hostile and inhospitable. But I love that Patchett decided that the group of scientists would have reading time, and what do they read? Charles Dickens of course from a battered set of Swensons’..But it does make me want to experience opera at least before I die ..



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Andy Pandy’s Jump-Up Book

If you are aged between 30-60 years of age then chances are you will have grown up with Andy Pandy and his puppet friends Looby Loo the rag doll and Teddy. Originally aired on BBC’s Watch With mother in 1952, its popularity took hold from just 26 episodes in black and white that were repeated until 1970, and then new colour episodes were filmed in the 1980s.


Who could forget the hit childrens’ classics Andy Pandy’s Coming To Play, Here We Go Looby Lou and Time to Go Home, all sung in the most proper Queen’s English. Maybe you know that one of the puppeteers was Audrey Atterbury, mother of one Paul Atterbury, the 20th century expert on the Antiques Roadshow on whom the Andy puppet is said to be modelled. Well he certainly has a noted preference for vertical stripes, I think I’d fall off the sofa if he appeared in anything but a striped blazer. Perhaps he is covertly reminding viewers of his heritage.



The Jump-Up Book is a pop-up with story text by Maria Bird and illustrated by Matvyn Wright. Published by Purcell it is undated (comments welcomed on date) but its likely to be 1950’s. Each of the 16 pages has enough text for a bedtime story, or is short and simplified enough for an younger child to try reading. Andy, Looby and Ted show round their home, feed the pet rabbits, help with the harvest, make paper crowns, play at circus, make sandcastles, play at shops and then say goodnight from the picnic basket. Its all good wholesome stuff, and of course its imperative (either for the sake of continuity or very politically correct sunscreen not sure which) that Andy is bedecked in full romper suit, tri-corn woolly hat and shoes even on the beach.

But the best feature for me are the illustrations, which are just plain in your face vibrant, with primary red, yellow and blue featuring which in turn help children to learn their colours. They play outside in idyllic countryside and its always sunny. There are no time limits, distractions, litter, transport or adults. In short its a world just for children.

Its a 20th century classic which Paul Atterbury can be proud of.



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Beginner’s Guide to Schwitters

Back in December my parents generously gave me a National Art Pass as a present to celebrate a big birthday , and yes I still have problems admitting just how big the birthday number was/is. So armed with new Pass in February I visited the PreRaphaelites Exhibition at the Tate, pictures of such fiercely intense colours, symbolism and emotional power; how could you not be totally engaged with each and every one? Elbow space rating 3/10 as each room was crammed with visitors and strict time-ticket entry system in operation.

The Exhibition of works by Kurt Scwhitters next beckoned and looked as though it would take me well out of my comfort zone as far as artistic appreciation goes. This normally requires the presence of my exuberant and all knowledgable eldest daughter to guide me through anything remotely resembling “modern art”.

So the potted history of Kurt Schwitters: a German 1887-1948. The mini free guide explains that he coined the term “Merz” in which he believes that all conceivable materials can be used for artistic purposes, and technically the principal of equal evaluation applies to all materials. A perambulator wheel, wire-netting , string and cotton are factors which have equal rights with paint.

The Nazis didn’t take too kindly to his work and labelled it degenerate, which was what led him to flee to Britain (from German occupied Norway) whereupon he was interred to the Isle of Man to a camp for exiles. After his release a year later he became involved in the London Art Scene and in 1945 moved to the Lake District until his death in 1948.

[table “9” not found /]

The greatest proportion of his work is collages which is reflected in the exhibits. As an ex- quilter of “Crazy” quilts (some more crazy than others lol) I immediately took to these. I love the complex layering and placing which although appears random is masterful; he creates new spaces and shapes in between the pieces he has positioned. He often starts with a base layer of picture (or in one case a board game) and then places subsequent pieces over the top ; just leaving a fragment of the original showing. I love the ethos of recycling; we see tickets, portraits, paper, card, netting, feathers, buttons, words, phrases, and the odd ping pong ball. He fuses and blends togther seemingly disparate materials like cardboard, metal and netting in the same work. The totality manages to evoke a period or expression, reminiscent of pop art.

Have to say I did erm quicken my pace through the sculptures section and and even more quickly moved through the sound installations. It was only later in the inevitable brief look round the shop I got very excited to find he was a writer of short stories as well as poetry.The following is an extract from “The Flat and Round Painter”

“Then the wind came and blew Her Majesty the Queen away, and the painter observed this display with anxious eyes. The Queen wobbled and bubbled in the air, and swayed and waved just as the air under her waved and swayed. Suddenly she grew quite thick round the middle, blew herself up , burst and fell in two pieces” Well you can’t blame the chap for the odd piece of subversive text after being incarcerated on the Isle of Man for a year can you now? and how prophetic of him to envision a Queen flying through the air…now where have I seen that image…..

But the collages win for me;my overiding impression is that they could all be book/dustjacket designs; or the odd illustration. In their time they must have been avant guarde & extraordinarily different . My philosophy is “do things differently” no matter how seemingly banal whether its doing the Tesco shop on a different day , learning something new, applying for a new job or simply doing what you normally do but in a different order. It keeps you fluid and your brain alive. This exhibition fitted the bill, was definitely different ,and oh the elbow rating 9/10 …timed entry described officially as “relaxed” proper room to breathe and soak it all up. Highly highly recommended.

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Book Review : The Glass Room by Simon Mawer

Set in Czechoslovakia in the late 1930’s , the story is anchored around the Glass House, a masterpiece of innovative architectural design, and its changing owners/occupants on the cusp of World War 2.

Many thanks to “bookie” Mel who identified that the house is actually based on the Villa Tudendhat in Bruno, designed by Miles Van der Rohe.

The vision of the fictional architect Rainer Von Abt is to “enclose space with glass”. Other features a flat roof, no load bearing walls at all, the whole thing hung on a steel frame. Where uprights pass through the interior “steel will be as translucent as water. Light will be as solid as walls and walls as transparent as air….the whole will merge seamlessly into the garden”. You can just see the onyx wall where each evening at sunset the rosy light strikes the wall and lights up the natural gold streaks and tones in the stone.

The story starts with the commissioning of the house by the fabulously wealthy Victor Landauer and his wife Liesel, owner of the Landaur motor company. The young married couple have their first child Ottilie whilst the house is designed and built under the watchful eye of their architect Rainer Von Abt. Their second child Martin is born, and their lifestyle includes hosting and attending concerts, frequenting cafes , and seeing a lot of their close friends Hannah and Oskar. Both Victor and Oskar are Jewish, which impacts later in the story.

As the Landauer Company have offices in Vienna Victor is frequently away on business trips, where he feels no guilt at all about hiring the services of a young prostitute called Katarin , whom he starts to see on a regular basis. She is a single mother, eeking out her existence as a seamstress and Victor surprises himself by falling in love with her.

Meanwhile Hannah has an affair with a concert pianist Nemec, and at the same time we get the feeling she wishes her deep friendship with Liesel could be something more.

The Second World War begins to impact, with Katalin and her daughter Maricka fleeing from Vienna, where they conveniently happen to end up in the Landauer House where a charity function is being held to help incoming refugees. Victor sees her and so does Liesel, who then insists she become the children’s nanny. So it is that Katalin, Maricke, Lisel, Victor, Ottilie and Martin end up living in the Glass House together and Victor is able to continue his relationship with Katalin.

Victor makes escape plans, for them all to flee to Switzerland, transferring the business into his parents names and his assets into Swiss accounts. Here the book naturally subdivides into their lives after they’ve fled, as compared to the precarious existence of Hannah and Oskar remaining behind.

Hannah and Liesel continue their friendship by correspondence; in which we first learn that the Landauer House has been requisitioned by the Nazis for their Biometric Testing Centre. Headed up by a young Scientific officer called Stahl, their mission is to be able to identify Jews from physical characteristics. Many civilians are rounded up and are weighed, measured and photographed naked so that data can be produced and correlated back in Germany. Hannah has an affair with Stahl to her cost, when she finds out she is pregnant by him she is sent away presumably to a camp, to emmerge at the end reunited with Liesel.

At the end of World War 2 we skip around a decade to where the Glass House is being used as a centre for physiotherapy for children and a new love story emerges which again is anything but normal.

What Our Bookgroup Thought.

Of the 9 “bookies” present 8 had either finished or nearly completed it. We all liked the backdrop of Europe at the outbreak of the War, and the long time line that was played out. The contrast of what happened to the very wealthy family before and after they fled was also different; Mawer chooses not to revisit the horrors of the holocaust and the general feeling is that the War is going on elsewhere in the distance. Having said that he does create very sinister tension, when Katalin and Maricke are taken away after having their papers checked whilst fleeing on the train to Switzerland. Stahl is quite the evil Nazi monster, using his research files to select his next romantic liason.

We also liked that it is written in small sections; makes it easy to pick up and read on the way to work etc. It is also worth noting that it is illustrated with line drawings at the start of each chapter, as miniature architectural views of the house.

However we were all of the opinion there was something unsatisfactory about the writing firstly in that the plot looses some credibility with too many coincidences. Most notable of these was when Katalin tuns up as a displaced refugee at the Landauer House and is taken on as housekeeper/nanny by Liesel. Although Katalin is left as a loose end and we don’t hear what happens to her, Ottilie and Maricke happen to bump into each 30 years later as tourists at the Landauer House.

The other aspect we didn’t like was what one bookie referred to as “gratutious lesbianism”..Hannah as active bisexual prays on Liesel and later Zzendka the young dancer. Put simply there isn’t a conventional relationship in the book with which to temper or balance the extremes of these characters; and in those times there are no broken relationships presented.

Overall : a very good read; a mixture of architecture, World War2 and exotic relationships. If you like “Fountainhead”by Ayn Rand you’ll like this.


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Book Review : The Lives of Frank Norman

Now you see this is what happens when you’re meant to be cataloging a book. You just take a quick squizz through a few pages to get the gist of the thing in order to be able to describe it properly. Occasionally this extends to a few more pages, than a chapter or this case….the entirety.

I’d never heard of this geezer Frank Norman who just 2 months outside of his 5th stint in the nick starts to write his memoirs. As he lived the majority of his adult life within the sound of bow bells it has its own glossary ; a unique blend of cockney  and prison slang.

The cover artwork of photo portrait chopped into 4 segments cleverly mirrors the 4 distinct mini biographies which make up the contents. “Banana Boy” documents his time spent in Dr Barnado’s Homes from the ages of ? very young to 14; Stand On Me is his time spent as a destitute in and around London in continuous trouble with the police until his eventual arrest and imprisonment which is “Bang to Rights”. The final twist in the tale is his overnight rise to fame with the publication of his memoirs and the highly successful production of his play “Fings Aint Wot They Used T’B which became a play with music by Lionel Bart.

It is at times poignant and harrowing. He describes the moment he is taken away screaming in a taxi to the Bedford orphanage (from his wealthy and elderly guardian Lady W of Onslow Square) and from then to Kingston and Goldings in Hertford where he condemns his classification as “backward”..” Barnado’s worst crime was their blatant underestimation of the intelligence of just about every boy and girl in their care”. At the age of 14 he was not deemed suitable for carpentry or other “trades”so was put to work cleaning the toilets and kitchens, very often one immediately following the other.

At 16 he is semi released into the big wide world whilst still under Baranados’ Guardianship. He is put to work on a tomato farm where most of the day he is “arse deep in horse manure” then leaves to try factory work as a Perforator of Talcom Powder Tops Head Press Operator, expected to produce 25 tops a minute. After a short time he decides to escape this Dickensian existence and finds a few seasons work with a travelling fairground.

After a barney with the boss’ misses he winds up in London and spends the next few years as a “Soho Bum”, dossing wherever he can and beginning to become involved with minor crimes of “nicking a tool” (car theft) , gets his face slashed by a rival protection gang, ends up being caught for “Kite Flying” (forging stolen cheques).

One of the most heart wrenching scenes is when, just after he has been convicted for a three 3 year sentence he has to say goodbye to his girlfriend and is given just 10 minutes. “I felt the tears welling up inside me. God please don’t let me cry”.. Did she know then that this was to be the last time that I would hold her in my arms like this?”

Finally he is released, gets a job as a van driver and starts writing. After Bang to Rights is written he is befriended by Raymond Chandler who asks to write a foreward, in what was to be the last year of his life. He describes Evans as having ” a clear eye and swift observation and the power to put these qualities on paper and make you feel and see with him. There is no dammed literary nonsense” And Chandler recognizes his resilience in referring to his many prison stretches “a five times looser……we would say he is badly handicapped. Frank Norman has the courage to overcome this handicap”

What impresses me most is how he easily he befriends people throughout his life and however temporary, his friendships see him through the bleakest of situations, from his friends from Barnado’s Pedro and Ginger, to Bill, Betty, Velma and finally Billie to name but a few. He doesn’t appear to want any pity from the reader, but doesn’t invite judgement either.

If you like period fiction from the likes of Graham Greene, H E Bates, Nellas’ War etc then this period biography (from 1936-1960) is one of the best I have read and contains a large dosage of social history. Its power is in its ability to bring you up short, reflect on your own existence and be humbled by his.


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Why You Should Buy Vintage Penguins on Abebooks

As a specialist seller of vintage paperbacks I am constantly frustrated by just hard it is to compare book prices on a comparable basis between Amazon and Abebooks.

Once upon a time Amazon was mainly used to sell modern second hand books which had an ISBN number; hence all newish books are easily identifiable by this unique identifier. It is increasingly becoming the case that more vintage books (prior to the ISBN system in 1970) are being listed for sale on Amazon, and without adequate descriptive controls. Any trader who sells more than 40 items a month can create a new “page”/Entry to list a book even though a similar but not necessarily identical one may exist already.

Abe’s Superior Search Function.

Suppose we want to buy a particular orange penguin ; Ernest Hemingway’s Men Without Women (Short Stories) which was published in Penguin in 1955. On Amazon the best I can do in the entry bar is to search on “Men Without Women Ernest Hemingway Penguin” and then manually look though all 16 separate entries until I find four that have 1955 in brackets after the title. Then its a case of going into each of the four to look at the prices and condition. The first one I hit on under 1955 says “1960 reprint”… it takes a good ten minutes to wade through until I find one I’m happy with. An analysis of 100 Vintage Penguins (below) found that on average for each title on Amazon there are at least two Entries per title hence Amazon is riddled with poorly labelled duplicate listings; wo betide the buyer who misses a bargain because he’s lost the will to carry on searching !

In Abe you have the benefit of the vastly more sophisticated Advanced Search Facility. All sellers use a similar screen to enter up to 24 fields of information per book in order to comprehensively describe each and every book. Hence I can in one hit specify that I want a specific book, title, publisher and within a specific date of publication i.e 1950. Voila in one search the full list of 10 copies are displayed. Other fields to filter on are First edition/dust jacket/signed and a keyword such as a name of an illustrator.

Better Availability.

You are more likely to find a specific edition of a Penguin on Abe than Amazon; in the analysis 63% of titles were found on Amazon vs 74% on Abe; and more copies per title were available on Abe giving a greater range of conditions and prices.

More Consistent and Sensibly priced books on Abe.

For the 63 titles listed on Amazon the average pricing from Acceptable upwards was £9.41-£22.84. For the 74 on Abe it was £5.15-£15.83. There are some cheeky sellers on Amazon ; one case being “Explosives by John Reid” ; an early 1942 Pelican on sale at a mere £300.

Multiple Orders

Most Sellers should offer postage (and maybe other discounts) if asked nicely when approached directly for multiple orders. Over the last two years Abe have developed their pictures facility , such that up to 5 can be displayed per book. This makes it easier to create mini catalogues such that you can see all available stock for a particular author/titles from one seller.

To conclude Amazon is for good for books with an ISBN number, or for standard editions of older books where the large quantities of stocks available will guarantee a sensible price. But Abe is for the discerning collector, the special big birthday gift or the investment.

Don’t read on for how I got to the numbers or the numbers. On the other hand if you’re also a seller or collector of Vintage Penguins you may like to know where the gaps are and what first editions are fetching on both channels.

100 Vintage Penguins

The list is compiled from the Penguin postcard box set “One hundred book covers in one box” (all except 2 which I’ve sent to clients already). Hence it is not the first x numbers (which would bias the list towards older stock) and dates range from 1935-1982. Most are first editions but not all; whatever the date of the cover specified on the reverse of the card is the one searched on.

On Amazon where hundreds of entries have emerged I have kept the search to the first two screens. On Abe I have limited it to UK only. No further attempts are made to comment on condition ; that maybe the subject of a later post.






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Book Review : The Moment by Douglas Kennedy

Set in West Germany in the early 1980’s before the Wall comes down, this is the story of the extraordinary love affair between Thomas the successful American travel writer and Petra, the exiled translator from East Berlin.

The Moment

Gradually the grim tale of Petra’s past unfolds, amidst the bleak and totally believable setting of East Berlin with the officious border controls at Checkpoint Charlie, the endless grey buildings that take drab to a new level, and the sinister feeling that someone somewhere is watching you.

All too soon their love is severed when Thomas is manipulated into denouncing Petra to the CIA; both remain emotionally traumatised for the rest of their lives and both suffer acute loss as a result. As Kennedy says ” passion that never gets rooted in the day to day becomes mythic”.

And so what did our Bookgroup make of it?

well 9.5 of 10 members had finished all 650 pages; (the remaining half of one book having been dropped in the bath) which is a reflection that is was generally well liked. We all felt it was a well crafted plot with complex characters and moral dilemmas, but none of us liked the character of Thomas, who was deemed arrogant, and wearing far too many turtle neck sweaters. (This character interestingly is based on Kennedy by his own admission). Despite its length it has a good pace and offers a credible glimpse of what life was like behind the Wall, which was and is history within living memory.

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