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Super Sets for your Bookshelves

Although a full bookshelf is always easy on the eye, a shelf filled with a complete set or collection can be stunning. Below are some of the most eye-catching examples of sets available on AbeBooks. There’s fiction, politics, art. children’s books, Penguins and spies.

A complete set of James Bond first editions: Published by Jonathan Cape between 1953 and 1966, Ian Fleming produced 14 Bond books. The publisher didn’t expect the first book, Casino Royale, to sell and printed less than 5,000 copies. Demand for 007 first editions is high and this set costs a whopping $100,000. They’d look stunning on anyone’s shelf – an instant talking point.

A complete set of Pan James Bond paperbacks: Don’t despair if you can’t afford the true 007 first editions, these Pan first editions are $99,000 cheaper. Completely different artwork, Bond is blonde on the front of Casino Royale.

A complete set of Swallows and Amazons books: For sheer coordinated beauty on a shelf, Arthur Ransome’s children’s books cannot be beaten. These are a mixture of editions and cost $570. Set in the Lake District, these classic stories involve a lot of messing about in boats. The first two books feature illustrations by Clifford Webb.

The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell: Four novels (a tetralogy) published by Faber & Faber between 1957 and 1960. The first three books describe three different perspectives on a single set of events and characters in Egypt. Look at the hand-prints on the spines. $2,750 for these first editions.

The Dance to the Music of Time series by Anthony Powell: Imagine having these on your shelves? Twelve novels published between 1951 and 1973. These are first editions and priced at $8,700. Inspired by a painting by Nicolas Poussin, the series, often comic, depicts English culture, manners and society.

Complete set of Strand Magazines featuring Sherlock Holmes: You are looking at literary history. The 56 Holmes stories and the two novels were first published in the Strand Magazine. Fragile and scarce, this set is priced at $85,000.

The lithographs of Marc Chagall: Complete in six volumes. This is the French language edition published between 1960 and 1986. The price is $6,500.


A complete set of Narnia first editions: Look at the spines. So many old friends from Jewel the Unicorn to Mr Tumnus. Published by Geoffrey Bles between 1950 and 1956 with memorable illustrations by Pauline Baynes. Children’s books take a beating usually – these are in near fine condition. $48,500.

A set of Churchill’s wartime speeches: Yes, politics can be colorful, especially when Winston Churchill is involved. A full set of seven British first editions, containing some of the most powerful words ever uttered by the politician, whose books remain highly collectible. $3,000.

A complete set of Andrew Lang’s fairy books: All first editions. Each one was named with a color, starting with blue and ending with lilac. They contain 798 stories of folklore, which Lang collected thanks to a lifelong passion for traditional storytelling. They were immensely popular and the artistic bindings definitely helped. This stunning set is priced at $16,000.

The first 10 Penguins: These are actually facsimiles. A complete set of original editions would a decent sum. This is the 50th anniversary box set from 1985. A bargain at $100.

The works of Picasso in 33 volumes: Known simply as the Zervos after the editor, this is the most trusted reference source for Pablo Picasso’s art. More than 6,000 pages with over 16,000 black-and-white images. $22,500.

Set of 11 English classics: Published in 1982 by Knopf with bindings that coordinate to create a Union Jack on your bookshelf. Set includes 1984, Wuthering Heights, Oliver Twist, The Moonstone, and Vanity Fair. A total bargain at $180.

Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy: You only need to glance at the spines to know it’s a book by Peake – the British illustrator and author who has a cult following. These are first editions and priced at $1,765.

Works of Roosevelt: 20 volumes from 1926/1927 published, by Scribner’s, and still in the original shipping crate, addressed to a person in Massachusetts. Never read. $2,200.


Seller profile: DTA Collectibles

DTA Collectibles offer a wide variety of comics, included horror

DTA Collectibles offer comics, pulps, and numerous paper collectibles such as movie posters, sports publications, original illustrations and vintage photographs. They even have some action figures.

David T. Alexander

David T. Alexander started the business, then called The American Comic Book Company, in Los Angeles. In 1989, he moved to Florida where he founded DTA Collectibles as a mail-order collectibles business. In turn, it evolved into an online business.

The DTA Collectibles website includes a tour of its warehouse, which is worth seeing. They currently have more than 125,000 items listed for sale on AbeBooks and browsing their inventory is an education in popular culture.

David took a few moments out of his busy day to answer our questions.

AbeBooks: How did you become a professional comic and magazine dealer?

David T. Alexander: I started buying, selling and trading comic books in the late 1960’s.  It started as a part-time hobby and slowing morphed into a business placing ads in Marvel comic at the time and eventually opening several retail stores in southern California. Upon moving to Florida in 1989, we went 100% mail order and now sell exclusively online or in person at conventions.

AbeBooks: What do you love most about selling comics and magazines?

David T. Alexander: The treasure hunt for undiscovered collections and rare and obscure issues is one of the most fun aspects of dealing in collectible comics and magazines.

AbeBooks: What is the most prized item in your inventory? Why?

David T. Alexander: This changes constantly but right now it is our Amazing Fantasy #15 the first appearance of Spider-Man!

AbeBooks: What’s the one collectible you covet most? Why?

David T. Alexander: It has to be Action Comics #1 the first appearance of Superman.  We have been lucky to have several copies pass through our hands over the years. It is the comic book that started it all! It introduced the concept of the super-hero to a wide audience and started a revolution in American popular culture.

AbeBooks: What’s your most memorable moment as a comic/magazine dealer?

David T. Alexander: There are many!  One that stands out was uncovering a warehouse of stored inventory from a newsstand that had been operational since the 1930s.  Seeing paper grocery bags filled up with multiple copies of unsold comic books from the 1940s to the 1960s was a sight I will never forget.

AbeBooks: And of course, who is your favorite author or illustrator

David T. Alexander: Jack Kirby hands down! They don’t call him “King” for nothing.  (Editor’s note – Kirby worked for Marvel and DC, and created
the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, and the Hulk.)


Sizing up miniature objects

In Miniature by Simon Garfield, a book about size, perspective and detail

Simon Garfield is the author of In Miniature: How Small Things Illuminate The World – a study of miniature things and the people who create them. In the latest AbeBooks podcast, Simon discusses model trains (and Rod Stewart), miniature villages, flea circuses, matchstick models of ships, tiny books, little portraits and so much more.


The first great photography craze

Before Instagram, selfie sticks, disposable cameras, Polaroids, and box brownies, there were carte de visites – small photographic albumen prints, mounted on card, which were wildly popular during the Victorian era.

Also known as CdV, carte de visites followed the early pioneering photographic techniques such as daguerreotype and ambrotype, which were expensive and difficult to reproduce. Cartes de visites were born from calling cards, which bore the owner’s name and usually an emblem, and were presented to the host during a social visit. Homes often had a tray near the door for collecting calling cards.

In 1854, Paris photographer Andre Adolphe Disderi patented the 2 1/2″ x 4″ carte de visite format. They  were created by using a sliding plate holder and a camera with four lenses. The technique spread to the photographic studios in the great cities of the world. Carte de visites were extensively used in the American Civil War era as families sought mementos before loved ones left for war. Queen Victoria had numerous albums filled with images of her extensive family.

Small and inexpensive to produce, cartes de visites became the international standard. They were collected, exchanged and placed in family albums. Most carte de visites were taken in studios but some adventurous photographers took them outdoors in early examples of photojournalism.

For many people, posing for a carte de visite was the first time they had been photographed. Smiles are almost completely absent. Some people look ill at ease. Most photographers posed their subjects as if they were being painted for a grand oil painting. Look past the stern expressions and you will see Victorian fashion, various accessories and props, uniforms, and hair styles and epic facial hair.

From 1860 until the end of the century, carte de visites were immensely popular. But people didn’t just want pictures of themselves or loved ones, carte de visites of celebrities were also in demand. Images of politicians, authors, explorers, sports stars and other people of note were widely circulated. Eventually the larger cabinet cards replaced CdVs as the technology behind photography continued to advance.

A Selection of Carte de Visites

Bottle Corker

This undated photo was taken in Birmingham in the Midlands. We assume a bottle corker was someone who put corks into bottles rather than removed them.

Soccer Player

An unidentified Scottish footballer/soccer player. The photo was taken by John Spence of Bridge Street, Musselburgh. Circa 1880.

Australian Soldier

Taken in Sydney in 1863, the uniform appears to be that of the New South Wales Volunteer Artillery.

Mother and Baby

This was taken in the English seaside town of Torquay circa 1880. Interesting to see that the design of the baby carriage (aka the stroller) has come full circle

Kit Carson

This 1862 carte de visite shows Kit Carson (seated) and Edwin Perrin. Carson was a frontiersman and a Wild West legend in his own lifetime. Here he is pictured in his Union army coat. Perrin led the 1st New Mexico Volunteer Infantry in the American Civil War.

General Custer

George Custer in his Union uniform in 1865. The photo is printed from a negative taken by Matthew Brady, who was best known for his Civil War photography. Custer, a Civil War hero, was killed at the Battle of the Little Big Horn in 1876.

Man with Top Hat

This gentleman from Palermo in Italy, circa 1870, looks like a true man about town in his immaculate clothing, dapper cane and stupendous top hat laid to one side.

Alexandre Dumas Pere & Adah Isaacs Menken

Adah Isaacs Menken was the highest paid actress in the middle of the 18th century. While performing in France in 1866, she had an affair with author Alexandre Dumas, which caused a scandal as he was more than twice her age. Her only book, Infelicia, a collection of 31 poems, was published several days after her death.

Hans Christian Andersen

The Danish author of The Little Mermaid and The Snow Queen poses for a carte de visite. A keen traveler, Andersen died in 1875.

Victor Hugo

An 1874 carte de visite of Hugo. He published his last novel in 1874, Quatre-vingt-treize, about the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution.

Boy and his Toy Horse

Circa 1880s and taken in Liverpool, the smartly dressed boy is also holding a riding crop.

Little Artists

Booted and suited, two smartly dressed boys from Naples. Circa 1860.

Lady Reading

This Italian lady is completely focused on her book. Circa 1860.

Soldier and Wife

Circa 1890, this carte de visite was taken in Bury St Edmonds. The two stripes show that he was a corporal. He’s smoking while she holds a book and looks decidedly uncomfortable.

Italian Solider

This military man from Bologna looks completely at ease.  Circa 1890s.

David Livingstone

“Doctor Livingstone, I presume?” This is the explorer David Livingstone, who was famously found by fellow explorer Henry Morton Stanley in 1871 near Lake Tanganyika in Africa.

Three Priests

A trio of Catholic priests in Rome circa 1870. Two are following instructions and posing for the shot but the third isn’t cooperating. Looks like a scene from Father Ted.

Sultan of Turkey

Abdul Aziz Khan was the 32nd Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, and reigned between 1861 and 1876. A formidable looking man.

William Makepeace Thackeray

Taken in London, undated.  William Makepeace Thackeray was a novelist famous for writing Vanity Fair.

Edward VII

Taken in September 1863 when he was the Prince of Wales, Edward is wearing full Highland dress. Abergeldie Castle is close to the Queen’s Scottish home of Balmoral.

Randolph Churchill

Winston’s dad. Randolph was both Chancellor of the Exchequer and Leader of the House of Commons during his Tory political career.

Swiss Costume

Circa 1870, a lady in traditional Swiss dress.

Water Carrier

A Venetian water carrier around 1870.

Facial Hair

This gentleman from Torino has outstanding muttonchops. Circa 1870.

Dad and Kids

It must have been a cold day when this father posed with his warmly wrapped up children.


From Guernsey with love, Annie Barrows interview

Author Annie Barrows is the guest on the latest AbeBooks podcast. Annie is the co-author of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, one of the most popular novels of the past 10 years.

Annie Barrows

Published in 2008, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society has been published in 37 countries and in 32 languages, and been adapted into a movie on Netflix. The novel is an epistolary story, told mostly via letters, set in World War II Guernsey during the occupation by Nazi Germany. It’s a book that shows the enduring power of literature in the most trying circumstances.

Annie speaks about how she came to be listed as co-author along with her aunt Mary Ann Schaffer. We also discuss historical research, and how the novel has affected Guernsey’s tourism industry, and book clubs around the world.

Annie is also the author of various other titles for adults and children. Her Ivy and Bean series stretches to a dozen books that have been delighting young readers around the world since 2006. She has a degree in medieval history and a masters in creative writing, and has worked as an editor for the publishing house, Chronicle Books. Annie’s website offers a wealth of information about her career.

Find copies of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Lily James stars in Netflix’s adaption of the Guernsey novel Pic: Kerry Brown/Netflix

Talking wine with Natalie MacLean

We’re talking wine in the latest AbeBooks podcast. Award-winning wine critic Natalie MacLean joins us to discuss the wonderful world of wine, from the most famous vineyards to wine in literature, $15 wines versus $30 wines, tasting in the digital age, pairings with food, and much more.

Natalie (pictured) is the author of two books about wine – Red, White and Drunk all Over, which is about many areas of the wine business from critics to vineyards and wine shops, and Unquenchable, where Natalie visits the world’s vineyards producing affordable wines and reveals the stories behind these businesses. Natalie is drawn to the people behind the wine world and both books could easily fall into the memoir or travel categories.

In our interview, we learn that Natalie loves literature with wine references, such as The Cask of Amontillado by Edgar Allan Poe – a tale of revenge, wine and catacombs.

Her website is a huge resource for winelovers, full of reviews, ratings and recommendations. Natalie has also recently launched the Unreserved Wine Talk Podcast where she interviews notable people from the wine business, and talks candidly about her experiences in wine. Also Red, White and Drunk all Over is now available as an audio book.

She’s truly bringing wine to a wider audience by avoiding jargon, focusing on affordable wines and telling background stories about the wines being poured into our glasses.

Natalie mentions seven Unusually Great Food and Wine Pairings in the interview and you can find out more here – champers and potato chips anyone?

Unquenchable, Natalie’s book about affordable wines

Talking Dust Jackets: An Interview with Martin Salisbury

Martin Salisbury’s book on iconic dust jacket design

The author of The Illustrated Dust Jacket 1920-1970 reveals why he loves artwork from this era.

A former illustrator, Martin Salisbury is a professor of illustration at the Cambridge School of Art in the Anglia Ruskin University in the UK. He is the author of a book called The Illustrated Dust Jacket 1920-1970, which showcases many of the great cover illustrations in modern publishing and the stories behind their creation. Martin’s also written another book called 100 Great Children’s Picture Books, but today we are talking about dust jackets.

AbeBooks: Your book, The Illustrated Dust Jacket, covers 50 years of design but is there one particular decade that is more important than others?

Martin Salisbury:  “The 1920s was the time when dust jackets were most influential because that’s when publishers were just starting to realize the potential of the dust jacket as a marketing tool rather than a protective wrapper.

“My personal favorite decade is the 1940s, the immediate post-war years. It just seems like the most creative period. It’s been called the neo-romantic period, but after all that austerity there seemed to be a craving for art, and literature, and poetry, and beauty. Some people criticize that period for being slightly in-ward looking. But there were many great designs and paintings during those years.”

AbeBooks: How did you discover the techniques and mediums used by each illustrator to produce their jacket art?

Martin Salisbury: “Having trained as an illustrator in the 1970s and worked as an illustrator before I got involved in education, the print processes, the techniques and the media are things I am very familiar with. I can recognize the processes from experience. My books are printed by offset lithography but going back in time people were using letterpress printing where artists had to print each color as a separation so there was a much closer relationship between artist and printer. Today, the illustrator can create their artwork in any media, be partly digital, and there is no real need to work closely with the printer. Anything can be printed. Some artists are now limiting themselves to two or three colors and returning to the more organic look. It’s a reaction to the overtly digital aesthetic.”

AbeBooks: Out of all the jackets you’ve seen and considered, is there one jacket that is your personal favorite?

Martin Salisbury: “There are many. The Illustrated Dust Jacket is full of personal favorites and many of the reproductions are from books I own myself.  There’s one that stands out, the jacket to Time Was Away published in 1948 in the UK and designed by John Minton, an artist who I have somewhat of an obsession about. The design falls into the neo-romantic period. It’s a gorgeous wrap-around cover that evokes travel and in this instance it’s a travel book about Corsica.”

Martin’s book highlights artists such as Victor Reinganum

AbeBooks: There are a number of travel books featured in your dust jackets book.

Martin Salisbury:   “Yes, previously travel wasn’t as accessible to ordinary people so the power to evoke another place is key. Time Was Away – that’s a line taken from a Louis MacNeice poem. It’s about the languor of being in a faraway place. You also see it in cookery books when they were trying to show where the recipes were coming from, trying to be exotic I think.”

AbeBooks: Perhaps you can explain how dust jackets changed from being plain wrappers that were often thrown away to being pieces of art used to market books?

Martin Salisbury:  “The dust wrapper term has clung on but originally they were just that – wrappers in the shop. They would serve to protect the book until the point of sale and then be thrown away. Towards the end of the century, wrappers would have some typography, occasionally printed decorations, and then in the 1910s and 1920s they started to become these wrap-around artistic jackets and they became the norm.”

AbeBooks: Do you ever come across beautiful vintage jacket designs that you’ve never seen before and that stop you in your tracks?

Martin Salisbury: “Fortunately, yes, but it’s becoming less and less frequent. I visit secondhand bookshops and book fairs. One still stumbles across somethings. Sometimes I recognize the artist and sometimes I don’t. Recently I came across a beautiful little book called The Last of the Dragons from 1947 by A. de Quincey and illustrated by Brian Robb, who used to be head of illustration at the Royal College of Art, a wonderful artist. I snapped it up for a mere £5. It seems to be very scarce. It’s a great joy to come across something you’ve never seen before.”

The first edition of Fitzgerald’s classic novel

AbeBooks: Are dust jacket illustrators always credited?

Martin Salisbury:  “Usually, but in the early years it was more common for artists not to be credited. However, sometimes you’d see that the artist had sneaked a signature onto the cover itself. Every now and again, there’s a cover where it’s impossible to find who did it.

“There have been many examples of uncredited artworks. For instance, the cover of the first edition of Tender is the Night by F Scott Fitzgerald, a beautiful South of France Riviera scene. I came across a copy at a book fair in London and opened it up in the hope of seeing the illustrator’s name but the only thing I saw was the price tag which was £18,000. I was so terrified that I put it back and I still don’t know who the artist is.”

AbeBooks: What are your thoughts on modern dust jacket design?

Martin Salisbury:  “We are in a golden age again. The UK has seen a surge in hardback book sales, led the children’s book market and we are seeing beautifully designed books. They had to become more and more beautiful to compete with the screen. Jackets are embossed and spot laminated. A lot do hark back to that mid-century period and people are using printmaking techniques like linocuts and wood engravings which are in vogue again, even if they are artificially created digitally.”

AbeBooks: What about jacket design in places like Germany and Russia during this period? There must have also been some influential designs in these countries?

Martin Salisbury: “Eastern Europe and Russia has a fantastic history in book design but it often was constructivist in design or Bauhaus themed, while my book focused on more pictorial designs. The Eastern European traditional is a lot more abstract, and harsh in a way but very beautiful. The Weimar Republic was an absolute high point – there’s a wonderful book by Taschen called The Book Cover in the Weimar Republic, but again more graphic than pictorial.”

AbeBooks: And finally what are you reading now?

Martin Salisbury:  “An extremely obscure book – based on the jacket design, which has been sitting by my bed for a very long time. It’s called Caribbean Nights by William J Makin and the jacket design is by Leslie Holland. It was published by Robert Hale in 1939.  It has the most beautiful exotic patterned design. It’s the memoirs of Makin when he was setting up a newspaper in Jamaica, it’s a mix between a travel book and a memoir. Absolutely fascinating.”


Rare Books LA – the new face on the book fair scene

A new book fair is about to make its debut. Rare Books Los Angeles occurs on February 1 and 2 at the Pasadena Convention Center. It is organized by Brad and Jen Johnson, the husband and wife bookselling team behind Johnson Rare Books & Archives. They also run a bricks and mortar bookshop in Covina on the outskirts of Los Angeles.

More than 100 sellers, including many of the world’s top antiquarian dealers, will be offering rare books, prints, photos and ephemera at Rare Books LA.

“Our guiding principle is to be inclusive,” said Brad Johnson, “And to bring in a lot of trades that are allied to the rare book business. We are working closely with the International Fine Print Dealers Association and a consortium of mostly Los Angeles-based specialists in classic photography. There’s always been a lot of overlap between their worlds and the book trade, and we thought it would be a great opportunity to get everyone under one roof.”

If you wish to visit Rare Books LA, then it’s at the Pasadena Convention Center on Friday 1 Feb from 2pm to 8pm and Saturday February 2 from 10am to 6pm.

A ticket costs $20 on the Friday, which is good for both days and proceeds benefit the Huntington Library, and tickets will cost $10 on the Saturday.

However, there is an online promotional code for AbeBooks customers which entitles you to a 50% discount on tickets to the fair. Just use ABEBOOKS when prompted in the checkout process.

More details and tickets can be found at rarebooksla.com

Listen to our podcast interview with the Johnsons where we discuss Rare Books LA plus their bookshop dog (Elke), heavy metal books, Wayne’s World, acting, menus, vintage board games, and Hugh Hefner’s library.

The Johnsons…. organisers of Rare Books LA

And yes, we do mean heavy metal books, which is a particular passion for Brad. Frustrated that books and ephemera about the punk era gets all the attention, Brad is on a mission to discover and highlight key moments in the 50-year history of heavy metal through books and other printed matter.


Scott Baker Wallace, avid collector of Agatha Christie

Scott Baker Wallace, devoted collector of Agatha Christie books and objects

Meet Scott Baker Wallace from Victoria in Australia. Scott is a devoted collector of Agatha Christie books and also other objects associated with her detective stories. In our latest podcast, Scott describes his adventures in collecting and the places he’s visited along the way.

Christie wrote 66 novels, 14 short stories and the world’s longest running stage play. More than a billion copies of her books have been sold.

We all think we know something about Agatha Christie, who remains the world’s most famous writer of detective fiction. However, you’ll find Scott takes Agatha Christie knowledge to another level. Enjoy the interview.


Podcast interview with Rebecca Baumann

Rebecca Baumann enjoys collecting HP Lovecraft books

We interview Rebecca Baumann in the latest episode of AbeBooks’ Behind the Bookshelves podcast. Rebecca’s day job is Head of Library Public Services at the Indiana University’s Lilly Library in Bloomington, Indiana. The Lilly contains one of North America’s finest collections of rare books and manuscripts. However, we are discussing Rebecca’s personal book collection of crime, science fiction, horror and what she describes as “smut paperbacks” from the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, which can also be labelled as pulp. Rebecca has a deep fascination with books that are unusual and weird. We think you’ll enjoy the interview, which takes us from the vaults of Indiana University to HP Lovecraft’s New York and the modern-day book fairs of London.

Some of the books mentioned by Rebecca include:

Helen’s Story by Rosanne Rabinowitz – a modern retelling of Arthur Machen’s classic novella The Great God Pan.

Mrs Caliban by Rachel Ingalls – a lonely married woman encounters a gigantic frog-like creature recently escaped from a sadistic laboratory.

At the Mountains of Madness by HP Lovecraft – in the Antarctic, an expedition uncovers strange fossils and a lot of terror.

The King in Yellow by Robert Chambers – a masterpiece of weird fiction.

The Checklist of Fantastic Literature  (see image below) – the first bibliography of science fiction, fantasy and weird books in the English language with more than 5,000 books listed.

Death of a Sadist by RR Ryan – the tale of a young man who admires art so much he loses his soul over it.

The Pale Ape by M.P. Shiel – a collection of supernatural fiction first published in 1911.

The Auctioneer by Joan Samson – the ways of a small town are suddenly undermined by the systematic demands of a magnetic newcomer.

A superb dust jacket design