Sunday, December 14, 2014

Michael Birch Collection Auction

Last weekend Sydney Rare Book Auctions sold the vast book collection of Australian academic, Michael Birch, in 700 lots, including many rare and interesting items of Wormwoodiana interest.  Here are a few:

About 60 issues of Pearsons Magazine from 1910 through to the 1930s went for $500.

 Four bound volumes of The Red Magazine, which published a lot of science fiction and weird fiction, comprising about 100 issues from issue one (1908) sold for $300.

About 20 issues of Weird Tales, estimated at $200-$500 sold for $325, while a lot comprising three issues of Terror Tales and seven issues of Horror stories went for $160.

 A number of Penny Dreadfuls and Penny Bloods went under the hammer.  A nice two volume copy of James Rymer’s Edith The Captive, or the Robbers of Epping Forest, published by John Dicks, sold for $180.

There were four lots that included Edward Lloyd Bloods.  The first included Prest’s The Maniac Father, Rymer’s The Lady in Black (with the signature of Melbourne book dealer John P. Quaine), and a volume containing Sylvester the Somnambulist and The Blind Beggar of Bethnal Green, sold for $80.  Another lot containing two Prest titles, Ela the Outcast and The Love Child, and Charles Lever’s St Patrick’s Eve, went for $550, while a lot of Prest titles – Ernnestine de Lacy, Gallant Tom and two copies of The Old House of West Street went for $400.  A copy of the Lloyd title, The Bottle, or the First Step to Crime, sold for $50.

A first edition, later issue of Dracula with the 16 page advertisements at the end, made $1,600.

Five novels by Bram Stoker, four of them in nice dust jackets, estimated at $100-$400, sold for $925

A second edition triple-decker of Jane Webb’s The Mummy achieved $2,300, while a four volume first edition (1818) of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey and Persuasion made $5,200.

A couple of Wilkie Collins triple deckers went under the hammer – No Name, volumes 1 and 2 lacking the front end paper, sold for $90, while Man and Wife, with the bottom part of a letter with his signature pasted on to the fep if the first volume, made $900.

The first Dublin edition (1794) of Ann Radcliffe’s Mysteries of Udolpho made $800, while a four volume edition published in 1799 sold for $120.

A nice 1st of Richard Marsh’s Tom Ossington’s Ghost made $55, while his scarce novel, The Devil’s Diamond (1893), estimated at $100-$400, did not sell.

A nice 1st edition of Gerald Kersh’s collection, The Horrible Dummy, sold for $30.

Five nice jacketed volumes of Christine Campbell Thomson’s Night at Night series sold for $2,000.

There were also bulk lots of vintage crime and science fiction paperbacks, dust jacketed crime novels of the 1920s and 1930s, Edwardian crime novels and Victorian novels that were picked up for bargain prices.


  1. Out of collecting curiosity, I wonder if any of this blog's contributors/readers would care to comment on the current market for books of "Wormwoodiana interest." This blog frequently sends me in search of works by featured authors, but my collecting is relatively recent and I am often surprised at the costliness of mere reading copies. Quality copies of writers such as Shiel and Machen are often out of reach, with desired books by Stoker and Marsh even more so. Is the market getting stronger? Should I pony up for the fine and rarer copies now or are prices likely to stabalize? I realize that these may not be easy questions to answer and speculation is not something many like to do, but I would love to hear the thoughts of other collectors.

  2. Books of "Wormwoodiana interest" would a pretty long shelf! I know I'm as much a fan of forgotten popular fiction as anything more refined and get a kick out of picking up a 1950s crime digest at a flea market for a couple of bucks. But I certainly think it's possible to pick up just about anything at a reasonable price long as you're prepared to wait - even the quality books. I'm not a cashed up collector, but managed to snaffle some nice things at the Birch auction, for example the small lot of Penny Bloods for $80. I bid on the later Penny Blood lots but was quickly left well behind. It's worth registering your wants on vialibri or ebay -- you never know what will turn up. Of course some things always desirable - the Shiel and Machen Keynotes series volumes, Ghost Stories of an Antiquary, The Outsider and Others, etc etc - but you can still pick them up fairly cheaply, especially of you don't insist on perfect condition. Some things continue to amaze me - R.R. Ryan novels in dust jackets continue to fetch a prince's ransom though common sense tells you they shouldn't command those prices. Same with anthology series like Not at Night and Creeps in dust jacket.

  3. I agree with much of what James said above. What Anonymous is complaining about it is just a symptom of internet bookselling and not really a reflection of the collector's marketplace. In general, the internet has fairly ruined the used book and collectible market since we are now inundated with hobbyist "booksellers" looking to get rich off of old books. But not many are getting rich I can tell you. Let one person write up a "rare" book and price it beyond its real market value and then four or five other copycat sellers will do the same listing their copy at the same price or perhaps just below. I have an interest in obscure crime and supernatural writers' work and none of their books should be priced out of the affordable range since 1. no one wants them other than me apparently and 2. no one has heard of them. That's not even taking into consideration a book's condition which many hobbyist sellers don't even pay attention to! Yet time and again I come across the only copy of a particular title being offered for sale and it's priced exorbitantly. Usually it's described as being in awful condition as well. I've grown used to it over the past fifteen years, but I still don't like it at all.

    Like James suggests your best bet is to put in titles and authors on a variety of watch lists on the internet. Also I suggest checking out eBay every now and then. I still find uncommon (sometimes genuinely rare) books for a steal on eBay. Many of the eBay sellers, in the US at least, just want to get rid of old books and have no interest in profit alone.

    1. OT(anonymous) here: Thank you both for your responses. To John: I am actually not complaining about hobbyist sellers, but members of ILAB and ABAA who specialize, at least partly, in early/obscure science fiction, fantasy, occult detectives, etc. They are often the only sellers who have copies of books I am looking for in Very Good or Fine condition and the prices are astronomical. Many of them seem to sit on the shelves for quite some time, but someone is buying them once in a while with deeper pockets than mine. I rely on hobbyist sellers, such as those on Ebay, ABEbooks, and Biblio for affordable copies in lesser condition so I can at least read the books. I do agree that many amateur sellers provide poor descriptions of condition, but I always ask for photographs if the book is more than a certain price. I also agree that hobbyist sellers sometimes ask very unrealistic prices for inferior books and I think they are basing their prices on those of the professional sellers. I wish I knew how professional sellers set a price for obscure books few people wish to own. As I become more serious about collecting, condition has become a greater concern. I remain perplexed...
      The watch list idea is a great one. Thank you. Auctions have always made me nervous and seem to be firmly in the realm of dealers, but perhaps I need to consider them. It is a treat to be able to discuss collecting with other collectors.

  4. P.S. John: Your blog is fantastic. I share your enthusiasm for Sax Rohmer, among others. This blog has yet again led to a great discovery.