Monday, 26 October 2015

Lisping Booksellers and La Belle Affemblee

Earlier this year I stumbled bought two odd volumes of Haywood’s La Belle Assemblée. I located the first (below) in a general search of eighteenth-century books on eBay—which surprised me, way since I have a number of searches which run continuously on eBay that should have picked it up and sent me an alert. It took a moment to realise why none of my searches had worked: the book was listed as La Belle Affemblee!

Since just about everyone reads the long esse and an eff the first time they see it, it should have occurred to me before to go looking for lisping versions of her titles. But it hadn’t. So I did a search for Belle Affemblee and found another odd volume straight away. What amused me about the second one was, while the first seller was obviously an enthusiastic amateur, the second was sold by “World of Rare Books”!

You’d think, that a specialist “rare book” dealer—who has sold 37,656 items on eBay, has over one hundred and twenty thousand books presently listed, including over five hundred eighteenth-century books—could distinguish an esse from an eff. But that would be a no.

However, “World of Rare Books” did know exactly how much to charge for it: an excessive amount, but not so excessive that I wouldn’t buy it. That I bought it at all, as a duplicate no less, says something about my present priorities. (And, possibly, that there really is a sucker born every minute.) Here is the description:

Brown leather hardback with gilt lettering and decoration to spine. Prelims missing. Internal hinges cracked. Wear and tear to pages with some losses. Heavy use marking, foxing and tanning present. Some pages creased. Text remains clear and legible throughout on yellowed pages. Illustrated. Binding has weakened due to hinge cracking. Heavy scuffing, edge wear and use marking present with sunning to spine. Bumped and torn corners.

I believe this is called lowering buyer expectations. I wish I could say that this was the ugliest Haywood volume I have bought, but it isn’t, not by a long shot. (this one might be, or possibly this one.)

* * * * *

Returning to the first Belle Affemblee—which had an old diary cover sticky-taped over the original full calf binding (so, also ugly)—I am grateful to the vendor (Billy), who bought this camouflaged volume, without realising it, in a huge box of books at an estate sale in West Virginia. Not only is there a battered Caesar Ward and Richard Chandler trade card pasted onto the front fixed endpaper (below; compare this to my other copy here)—which suggests both that Ward and Chandler may have been the original vendors of the volume and that it was sold, bound, with their trade card in place—but there is also some provenance and reading records in this volumes, which are gold for my present research.

A faded note has been tapped onto the front free endpaper; it reads:

To John from Cystlina Feb. 1953 | [I] bought this book over | from England when I | returned after 11 months | absence”

“John J. Jones, Malden WVA” and “John J. Jones — Malden, W Va. | Telephone WA53-838” are stamped on the endpaper and in the middle of the volume. There are also two dates, which appear to indicate where John (?) had reached with his reading, when he picked up the book nine years later: “Sep 29, 62” (on page 194) and “Dec 27, 62” (page 198). And, as you can see on the title-page at the head of this post, John (?) worked out that his book was 234 years old in 1966, which he updated to 238 years in 1970.

It is not clear whether it was, but it is certainly tempting to conclude that the huge box of books Billy bought was, from the estate of John J. Jones, of Malden, West Virginia. It is also not clear whether it was, but it is certainly tempting to conclude that it was, John who (read and) annotated this volume. But whether or not there were other owners since Cystlina in 1953, John is certainly the most important for my purposes. So, if anyone reader knows anything at all about John J. Jones, Cystlina or even Malden, West Virginia—the Wikipedia entry here is not particularly informative—I’d be grateful if you could drop me a line.

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