Friday, January 27, 2012

Bayonets to Lhasa by Peter Fleming.

Bayonets to Lhasa by Peter Fleming.  Paperback Proof Copy published by Rupert Hart-Davis 1960.

As the title indicates, this book is not about peace loving adventurers seeking enlightenment high in the Himalayas.  The British expedition to Tibet that took place in 1903 and 1904, was led by a gentleman (?) by the name of Lieutenant Colonel Sir Francis Edward Younghusband and was a rather sad and sorry affair.  On paper it was intended to be a way of discussing problems the British were having with the Tibetans regarding the Sikkim-Tibet border.  In fact it ended up, or was an excuse for, a blatant invasion of Tibet and quite a few Tibetans were mercilessly slaughtered whilst defending their country (hence the bayonets in the title).  I’m no historian but this whole thing was not one of the highlights of the British Empires rule in this part of the world.  There’s a great biography of Younghusband entitled Younghusband: The Last Great Imperial Adventurer (Patrick French) which I read a number of years ago and to be honest, I didn’t end up with a very favourable opinion of Mr Younghusband… but that’s just my opinion. 

Peter Fleming didn’t write Casino Royale, Dr No or any of the other James Bond books.  They were all written by his little brother Ian.  Peter did write a number of books on various subjects including a small amount of fiction and some travel.  There’s a great book of his entitled News from Tartary: A Journey from Peking to Kashmir in which Peter traveled across China with Ella Maillart who wrote Forbidden Journey about the same adventure.  Both of these books are incredibly interesting partially due to the opinions and observation of each of them about the other.  From memory Ella was not overly impressed with Peter and Peter… well he hardly mentioned Ella at all and I can’t remember him having any opinion about her at all.  All of this of course has very little to do with Younghusband except that Peter and Ella did travel on the other side of the Himalayas at a much later date and they did go through Kashmir where Younghusband spent a number of years. 

This book was first published in 1961… hang on a sec… my copy was published in 1960. In other words this book predates the first edition.  What I have here is a Proof Copy as apposed to the first edition.  A Proof Copy is usually printed up as a test for the final print run.  This is intended as a way for the publisher, maybe the author and maybe anyone else involved with the book to pick up any errors and get an idea of how the finished product will look in print.  They are usually printed up cheaply, are often paperback (even if the final product is intended as a hardcover) and they often don’t have the illustrations, photographs etc that will eventually be included in the book, as is the case with this copy.  In other words if you’re a collector then this is something even more special/rare than a first edition as these are only printed up in small numbers.*

A quick look around on the interwebs confirms that this is indeed a rare item.  Unfortunately it does have some wear and various marks etc etc and I have described my copy on line as being in poor condition… as it is in poor condition (see scan above).  But it is rare and perfect for anyone interested in this particular incident in Tibetan history or interested in the “Great Game” … which is one of my interests and one of the reasons I, firstly, picked up this book and secondly, have read the Younghusband biography, the other Peter Fleming book and the Ella Maillart book.  

*For those of you who are aware of what a proof copy is, my apologies.  This blog is intended for a broad audience.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Six Little New Zealanders by Esther Glen.

Six Little New Zealanders by Esther Glen.  Hardcover book published by Cassell and Company 1947.

Here in Australia we are more familiar with our own home grown Seven Little Australians than with the Six Little New Zealanders.  The Seven Little Australians was written by Ethel Turner and first published in 1894.  There was also a well loved and popular 1970s TV series based upon the book, which is probably more well known now than the book itself.  This book is New Zealands own “Little” book, of which I have no idea how popular it is/was in New Zealand.  When I’ve mentioned this title to anyone here in Australia any comment is usually preceded by a blank expression followed by a raised eyebrow. 

Unlike the whole Pavlova fiasco, there is no dispute that I’m aware of as to which came first, as the New Zealand book was  first published in 1917.  Apparently the author had visited Australia at some stage before 1917 and had stumbled across Ethel’s work and decided that New Zealand needed an equivalent wholesome childrens book.  My cynical mind makes me think that she saw an opportunity to make a few bucks and what better way to do this than to rip off an Aussie… which to be fair to New Zealanders, Australians also do in the reverse (see Pavlova). The book did of course have an emphasis on the whole being New Zealand thing and what better way of doing this than by setting the story on a sheep station… maybe Esther didn’t realise that there are sheep stations here in Australia as well, although with my cynicism still actively engaged, it is possible that she intended the book to be as popular ($$$) here in Australia as the Seven Little Australians was… it wasn’t. 

I do like the way Esther has altered the plot significantly by having one less child… a clever manipulation (?).  Indeed it was the title indicating only Six blah, blah, blahs that attracted my attention as it triggered something within my brain immediately linking it to the Seven blah, blah, blahs.  Well done Esther, your tricky plot manipulation in this instance, has worked. There is a collector base for the works of Ethel Turner and her ilk and I recently mentioned this title to one such collector who hadn’t heard of the book but did indeed raise an eyebrow and express some interest. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Highway Bridge Design Specification by National Association of Australian State Road Authorities.

Highway Bridge Design Specification by National Association of Australian State Road Authorities. Hardcover book (no dust jacket) published by Association of Australian State Road Authorities 1965.

Building bridges is what this book is all about.  But it’s not to be filed in the self help or new age categories, as it’s not that sort of bridge.  DIY.  Mmmm, I’m not sure how many people would count bridge building of this sort as a hobby/home activity… but there’s bound to be someone out there into building bridges… highway bridges that is… not the other sort of which there are a plenty. 

1965 was a few years ago, so maybe what i really need to consider is DIY people that are into making historically accurate bridges of the 1960s… or maybe someone with a bridge collection (“This is my Australian Highway Bridge from the 1960s.”).  As I write all this, it’s getting harder to figure out who would be interested in this book.  Maybe I need to find books about building the other sort of bridges.

This particular copy has a number of penciled notes and even a whole extra page of extensive scribblings stuck into it.  It’s obviously been used and by the looks of it, seriously used.  No weekend bridge building here, this is the big stuff.  I like finding notes etc in technical manuals.  To me it’s an indicator that the book has served the purpose that it was printed for and wasn’t just a pretty book for the shelf.  Then again what if the penciled information is incorrect and someone builds a bridge based on someone elses incorrect comment about concrete strengths.  This could cause trouble. 

Saturday, January 14, 2012

New Directions in the Study of Meiji Japan, edited by Helen Hardacre, with Adam L. Kern

New Directions in the Study of Meiji Japan, edited by Helen Hardacre, with Adam L. Kern (Brill's Japanese Studies Library).  Hardcover book published by Brill 1997.

The cheapest copy of this title on the interwebs right now is… $250.  A bargain.  There are a few other copies at a similar price and then it climbs to a massive $459.  $250 and available from… Huc & Gabet (that’s me).  Mmmmm it may be a bargain, but it’s only a bargain when someone actually buys it and it’s at that point in time, that that someone saves the difference between this copy and all the other copies.  For the past 12 months this book has been available on line (the interwebs) at this cheap price and there has been no “someone”.  In other words, it ain’t sold. 

I have a whole book case packed full of these sort of books (ie unsold $$$ books) and as I mentioned about a year ago, these are books that I have parked on line awaiting a sale.  Recently I have started referring to this book case as the Book Case of Death in a reference to dead titles that are sitting on the shelf, lifeless and slowly decaying.  I’m happy to sell them at a reasonable price (meaning cheapest price) as is the case with this book, but I am reluctant to have a fire sale and just get rid of them at any old price.  I had a very rare book a few years ago, that had an online starting value of $500.  I ended up fire saleing it for $20… that’s a big difference.  At the time I figured that at least I now have $20 for it… but you know what, this sale has reluctantly stuck in my mind and now I am very wary and skeptical of these so called “rare” books.  Give me a $20 book that I can sell easily as apposed to the $250 book that will sit on my shelf whilst I get old. 

There is of course the whole question of whether on line values are realistic and whether I should just take what I can get and ignore what the interwebs tells me, which I guess is a bigger question than I can reasonably handle here and now in this blog entry.  So I wont go there.  But let me just say this, I do need to make money.

Anyway, New Directions in the Study of Meiji Japan has been available for sale from Huc & Gabet for quite a while and after a whole year I have decided to give it another go on ebay.  So far still no action and I gotta tell ya, I reckon its gonna be sitting in the Book Case of Death for a while longer.  In this instance, I’d like to be wrong.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Keeping Silkworms by Monnie Fenner.

Keeping Silkworms by Monnie Fenner.  Paperback book published by Greenhouse 1991.

This is the one and only book I have ever found on the fascinating pastime/hobby of Keeping Silkworms.  I haven’t really been looking for books on the subject, but this one sort of jumps out at you when you see it, as it is an unusual subject matter.  At least I thought it was unusual until I casually mentioned it to my mother who informed me that during the Second World War this pastime was actively encouraged and pursued by children in Germany of which she was one thereof. 

Cynicism is of course easy with a comment like this… you know what I mean.  The Nazi’s obviously needed silk, probably for parachutes and other things for their nasty war and decided what better way to get it than to get children to actively grow and harvest silk worms… and they can do their school projects on them as well.

So that’s the darker side of this fascinating hobby.  People were breeding (etc) Silk Worms long before Adolf and it’s good to see that people are still continuing the activity without some guy yelling and gesticulating at them.  

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Fairfield: A History of the District by Vance George.

Fairfield: A History of the District by Vance George.  Hardcover book published 1991.

Some of you may have noticed an unashamed egotistical pride in some of my blog entries.  Usually this is in regards to my ability in picking a great/interesting book from the mountains of rubbish books that I peruse through.  The truth is I only write about my successes and I try to avoid writing about my failures.  In an effort to be slightly more balanced and a little more humble, I want to tell you about one of these failures.

Recently I experienced an overwhelming feeling of success and achievement in unearthing this particular title.  So great was this feeling, that I even contemplated doing a little victory dance whilst holding the book high in the air swiveling my hips and shouting “Yes, Yes, Yes”.  Fairfield is an inner suburb of Melbourne which is here in Victoria.  In other words a history of Fairfield has some local relevance and one would assume is 1/ of incredible interest, 2/ popular and 3/ much sought after, particularly to those who are interested in inner city histories.  Outer suburb histories for some reason, are less popular*.  I guess there’s less history on the fringes of cities whilst the closer you get to where a big city began, the more history there is.  Therefore my thinking is: Fairfield = Inner city history = Much sought after.

The book is a hefty tome and is a title that I had never seen before… it’s uncommon… at least it’s uncommon within my knowledge.   I was with a few other booksellers at the time of this unearthing, and proudly displayed my find and from memory they were impressed as well and why wouldn’t they be, this book has everything going for it.  So I get it home, still feeling the pride, still wanting to dance and look it up on line to get an idea of an approximate value and… it’s NOT worth the big $$$ that I intuitively felt that it should be worth. 

Let me recap before I continue.  This is an uncommon book on a subject that should be a surefire seller worth the big $$$.  So what’s the problem?

This book isn’t a history of Fairfield, Melbourne.  It’s a history of Fairfield, Sydney which is not an inner suburb of Sydney.  As I mentioned above, outer suburb histories are a little harder to sell and a history of Fairfield, Sydney (located 29 kilometres west of the Sydney central business district) is just that little bit less desirable (possibly a lot less desirable) than a history of Fairfield, Melbourne (6 km north-east from Melbourne's central business district) and I guess the online value of the book is probably the best demonstration of this. The book is of course of interest to anyone who is interested in Fairfield (Sydney), but I have a feeling that if it had of been a book about Fairfield (Melbourne) it would have been of more of interest / sold by now.  In other words, the book is not what I thought it was.

So my dancing shoes have been packed away and my unashamed egotistical pride has been deflated.  Yes readers, for every “The New Hotdog Cookbook” there is a “Fairfield: A History of the District”.  I will continue to search for that elusive (maybe non existent) history of Fairfield, Melbourne as you never know, one day the dancing shoes may once again be contemplated.

*Based on personal experience.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Anglers Knots in Gut and Nylon by Stanley Barnes.

Anglers Knots in Gut and Nylon by Stanley Barnes.  Hardcover book published by Cornish Brothers (no date, probably 1940s).

Perfect fishing weather here in Victoria at the moment… at least I think it is.  Actually I have no idea whether it is or not.  I do know that I saw someone fishing the other day which in itself is not necessarily an indicator of perfect fishing weather.  I guess it is perfect if you don’t want to stand or sit on the edge of a river (or ocean) in the middle of winter in the pouring rain.  What I’m implying here is that I have no idea at all about fishing.

As a young boy I went fishing a number of times and never caught anything… although I might of caught a cold once.  Standing around skewering worms on hooks and dragging up sticks and weeds was not an enjoyable experience for me and this activity/pastime is not something that I have pursued later in life.  There are of course those that have a great passion for fishing.  My brother is a keen fisherman and my ex brother in law was also a keen fisherman, but for me, fish that has already been caught and gutted is the way to go.

This book looks at the art of knot tying in relation to fishing.  It’s a bit of a cross over book as it considers in detail the difference between various knots tied with gut and nylon.  There's quite a bit of text and these wonderful illustrations/diagrams:

“(The author)… has performed a series of experiments in the laboratory, testing not only the various knots used by anglers but also the materials, gut and nylon, when used under angling conditions. As a result of his bench tests, he gives advice as to the knots which can be used safely with nylon, and indicates which knots, satisfactory with gut, are unsafe with the more slippery and elastic monofil. The author has applied the lessons learned on the bench to practical angling on lake and river, and gives the results of his own practice. The knots discussed are illustrated by diagrams in colour. Those which he regards as being particularly important in nylon are illustrated in detail and their history, when known, is recorded. An attempt has also been made to give a name to each knot, and there is indicated the corresponding term which sailors use for their knots in rope and twine. To the novice, the catalogue of knots and the detailed description of how to make them, should be of the greatest help. To the expert in gut who has been discouraged by repeated failures with nylon, the reason for his break may be made clear.”

I like the reference above to the “laboratory”.  For some reason I'm picturing an image of a man sitting on a river bank mucking around with knots and absolutely no image of people in a sterile room with white coats on.

No doubt there are fishermen out there who still haven’t switched to nylon and I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that they probably won’t switch at any time soon*.  This book was originally written for those people resisting the change which happened quite a while ago.  Is it still of interest?  No idea.  I’d like to think it is, but “I have no idea at all about fishing”.  Despite this lack of knowledge on this subject, I do think this book will be of interest to someone, somewhere… maybe the guy I saw fishing the other day, my brother or my ex brother in law?

*I'm not even sure that nylon is what contemporary fishing line made of.