Sunday, 1 November 2015

Limitless opportunities for collecting Haywood?

Two years ago last month, Vic Zoschak from Tavistock Books penned a blog entry “Eliza Haywood, Overlooked Authorial Pioneer”—which has been reposted by ILAB (International League of Antiquarian Booksellers) in the “Collecting Tips” section of their “Reading Room,” under the title “Collecting Rare Books and First Editions—Eliza Haywood, Overlooked Authorial Pioneer” (see here and here).

Zoschak’s article advises that “collectors can build an expansive and diverting personal library around [Haywood’s] many works”; and concludes: “Haywood offers limitless opportunities to build a rich collection. A truly prolific author, Haywood could keep the dedicated completist busy for a lifetime! And her fascinating relationships with other authors offer numerous directions to extend a collection.”

As (possibly) the only active collector—and (certainly) one of the few collectors ever—of Eliza Haywood, I find this promotion of Haywood collecting rather astonishing. Zoschak is both endearingly naïve and amusingly cynical: naïve for reasons I’ll explain shortly, cynical, because Tavistock Books has an Eliza Haywood item that has been priced by simply doubling the market price, then doubling it again, then spruiked by writing an essay on the joy of collecting the works of etc. etc.

The item concerned, is not a first edition but, as a uncommon reprint, has some interest to the collector and therefore some value. Firsts of the work concerned (the Memoirs of Utopia) are worth approximately USD1000–1500, so a Dublin edition might be worth USD500–750; but the Tavistock price is ca. USD2000. It was listed in January 2013 and, despite the call-to-collect published in October of the same year, remains unsold. It joins the set of The Invisible Spy being sold by David Brass Rare Books, which has been online at USD6500 for the last five years.

The failure of dealers such as Brass and Tavistock to sell Haywood items at these speculative prices suggests that the market for Haywood items remains small, and limited to only a few of her works. My prediction is that demand will not significantly increase in under a decade, possibly two, but that speculative pricing will make ABE and ILAB a graveyard for unimportant and wildly over-priced books unless such dealers decide they actually want to actually sell books.

(I discussed “Collecting Eighteenth Century Literature,” the second-hand market for Haywood and rise of speculative pricing in this 2011 post.)

Which brings us back to “endearingly naïve”: I take it that building “an expansive” and “rich collection” of “Rare Books and First Editions” by Haywood, suggests building a collection containing a significant percentage of her seventy-odd works, including at least some of her best-known works. Speaking as someone who has been attempting to do this over the last twenty years, my advice is: forget it. It can’t be done. It is a fool's errand.

The most successful Haywood collector of all time and, without-doubt the richest, was Sandy Lerner, who collected nineteen Haywood items between 1990 and 2004 as a part of a larger project at Chawton House to promote research into the writings of English women before 1830. (Chawton House have subsequently added four.) It is certainly a useful collection in its context (as a part of a larger collection of writings by English women before 1830), but it is neither “expansive” nor “rich”—lacking, for example, first of The Female Spectator, Betsy Thoughtless and Love in Excess—nor is it comprised entirely of “First Editions.” If a woman who retired on ca. $85 million in the late 1980s (see here)—wealth sufficient to endure the malice** and cupidity of gouging dealers—was unable to build “an expansive and diverting personal library around [Haywood’s] many works” as Zoschak’s article advises, then you have to ask, who can?

The key word here is personal: only very long-lived and rich institutions, which already have some key Haywood works, might have a chance to build “an expansive” collection. Going no further than the most obvious title: Betsy Thoughtless. There has not been a first of this title sold in living memory but it is not uncommon in institutions. A library already holding Betsy Thoughtless might hope to add lesser titles to it (like Jemmy and Jenny Jessamy).

An assiduous, individual collector, however, might wait a lifetime and not see a copy, or wait fifty years and miss out on it, or not be able to afford it. And Betsy Thoughtless is only uncommon in trade; of all of the Haywood firsts it one of the most common—the one to survive in the largest numbers in institutions. If it becomes sufficiently valuable, a small institution might be tempted to sell a copy ... but might is not much of a foundation to build a collection on!

Also, there are probably more than a dozen Haywood titles that are very, very unlikely to ever appear on the market, because the only surviving copy or copies are in large institutions that will never sell them. An assiduous, individual collector will never obtain firsts of titles like Fatal Fondness, The City Jilt and The Distress’d Orphan. No matter how long they live; no matter how much money they have. Even a long-lived and rich institution can only hope to get a couple of these early works, meaning that even institutions can never expect to have a truly expansive collection, if they do not have a very good one already.

So my advice to anyone reading Zoschak’s article is, as I said, forget it: opportunities are not “limitless”—as claimed—and, at present, are largely limited to encouraging speculative prices on insignificant works and editions. (Which is, of course, the endearingly naïve and amusingly cynical aim of said article.)

** or the “knavery” of the seller, in this translation of Richard de Bury’s The Philobiblon.

No comments: