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Building a Collection - Introduction

· Fine Book Collecting,Beresford Egan,Nova Scotia,Cookbooks,Aubrey Beardsley

In my mind, there is only one rule when it comes to building a collection and this was covered in
my 7th Musing back in September 14, 2019 “Collect What You Like”. There are no other rules other than those you set for yourself. But there are some tried and true approaches and there is plenty of jargon in the book business. I will introduce some of that today. Then over the next two weeks, I will illustrate my approach to building my Beresford Egan collection. Next week will cover the basic items in the collection and the following week will cover the spice that makes a collection special. I will concentrate this musing on building a collection focused on an individual, but the principles are the same if you are collecting on a period of history, an event, or a subject such as Canadian Cookbooks.

The collector defines the collection and sets the parameters and goals. It could be Canadian Cookbooks: 1900 to 1920. Or nineteenth century Nova Scotian Cookbooks. Or Cookbooks published in Cape Breton. The choices of a collection are limitless. You could follow a well trodden path and collect the first editions of Ernst Hemingway. Or you could create a unique collection on the seaweeds of Halifax County.

One of the choices you might want to make is whether to “Follow The Flag”. If the author is Canadian, you collect only Canadian first editions. Sounds easy but if you want to collect the author’s first editions you may have to expand your interest to American first editions. Many, many Canadian authors have had their books published in the United States first, or even only. Personally, I have taken different paths depending on the author. My J. P. Donleavy collection has both the British and American first editions. He was an American ex-pat living and writing in Ireland. As my readers will know, Donna Leon is my hot author right now. She is American but has lived in Europe for decades and her Guido Brunetti series is set in Venice. So, I followed the flag for the first five of her books. When I came to find the sixth title there was not one published in the United States. I had to get the first British edition and that is when I figured out that her choice of publishers is in Britain. Gotta be flexible. Now I just acquire her British firsts. If I want purity should I go back and acquire the first five titles that were published in Britain. Or maybe just those that were published with different titles. Should I not have both? My call but I will concentrate on getting books 8 through 29 first. My rule.

The issue of changing titles is pervasive, confusing, and very common. Mostly driven by copyright and publisher rights. Most of Canadian writer Jack Whyte’s books have different titles in the United States. Here is a good local example. Evelyn M. Richardson wrote a family history of their keeping a lighthouse off the southern tip of Nova Scotia. This book We Keep a Light was published by Ryerson Press, Toronto in 1945. The same book was published in 1954 by Macrae Smith Company, Philadelphia with the title We Bought an Island.

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If you are going to become a serious collector, you should become as knowledgeable as possible about your subject. Apart from a few specialist book dealers, most collectors know more about their area of collecting interest than the dealers. If there are author biographies or bibliographies read them or selected ones if there are many. In your lifetime you could not read all of the books written about William Shakespeare. Some collectors focus on works written about someone like Shakespeare.

You might want to decide on how deep you want your collection to go. In the book trade there
are what is known as “A” items, which would be works written by that person; “B” items which
might be contributions to anthologies; “C” items which could be contributions to periodicals and
so on. The definitions vary author by author.

Collecting the works of an illustrator is similar to collecting the works of a novelist, except the “A” items are books solely illustrated by the artist. Arthur Rackham would be a good example. A caution, that I have mentioned before, is that if you collect the works illustrated by an artist you will be competing with those who collect the works of the writer.

Collecting the works of a writer/illustrator gets more complex and this is the Beresford Egan scenario. In fact, Egan was much more than a writer/illustrator, which adds layers of complexity and fun to the collecting challenge. I will end this musing with Wikipedia’s description of Egan, as an appetizer for the next two musings!

Beresford Egan (1905–1984) was a satirical draughtsman, painter, novelist, actor, costume designer and playwright. He was born in London but raised from the age of five in South Africa, where he was educated. He returned to London in July 1926 after spending two years as a precocious sports cartoonist on the Rand Daily Mail in Johannesburg.

He quickly established himself in the artistic and literary atmosphere of London. He not only illustrated the works of other writers, but also his own novels. He wrote three plays, composed "Latin Quarter" and appeared in the dying days of British music hall as The Great Daleno. His art was highly influenced by Aubrey Beardsley and many of his illustrations were in an erotic vein.

Egan is remembered as one of the rare original British exponents of art déco. He was one of the most famous people of London's bohemian scene for nearly five decades. His career graph was phenomenal, beginning with The Sink of Solitude, the dazzling debut which was a satire on the banning of Radclyffe Hall's controversial novel The Well Of Loneliness (1928). That book marked the beginning of a prolific phase of around six years during which Egan created numerous illustrations and book covers for works of Aleister Crowley, Pierre Louÿs and Charles Baudelaire. Egan was also a writer, and wrote a couple of novels, which he embellished with his wonderful illustrations. He also made illustrations for the monographs made by his wife Catherine Bower Alcock.

Following military service in WW II, he acted occasionally in films, including four for director Vernon Sewell.

He died in London in 1984.

Till next week.