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Collectible Memorabilia from Fidel Castro’s Communist Cuba

Original 1st. edition. A wonderful book about Cuba and its history, geography, revolution, daily life, education, science and culture, with superb images taken by the French photographer and photojournalist Roger Pic (1920-2001).

1961, Original 1st. edition. A wonderful book about Cuba and its history, geography, revolution, daily life, education, science and culture, with superb images taken by the French photographer and photojournalist Roger Pic (1920-2001).


Rarely has there been a more controversial and polarizing political figure than Fidel Castro.

On Thursday, November 24th, my mother-in-law arrived to stay with my family for two weeks. She is a Cuban woman who was born and raised in Cuba, and lived there until the early sixties, when a series of terrifying incidents relating to the political climate of the time made it dangerous and impossible to stay. Along with her husband and her first young child, she fled to the United States, eventually settling in Miami, Florida like so many other Cubans.

On Friday, November 25th, we learned Castro had died. There had been close calls before – Castro’s declining health had deteriorated to the brink previously, with people worldwide awaiting news of his death, but he always recovered. This time, however, he died, at the age of 90.

Fidel Castro ruled Cuba from the 1959 overthrowing of Fulgencio Batista all the way up to 2008 (officially 2006) when his younger brother Raul took over. When news of his death broke, friends from Miami called my mother-in-law and woke her to tell her the news. There were Cubans in the Miami streets, they told her, banging pots and pans, yelling, laughing, singing. Whole families flocked to 8th Street to gather at Miami’s world-renowned Cuban restaurant, Versailles, and be together.  There were signs reading “POR FIN!” (Finally!”).  It was news they had been waiting a very long time to hear. To them, a corrupt, oppressive dictator, the man who had ruined their beloved country, had finally died. And for them, even with communist Raul Castro still in power, it felt celebratory.

Not everyone shared the sentiments, however. Just as we see t-shirts emblazoned with the stylized image of Che Guevara’s face in coffeeshops across the globe, so are there people for whom Fidel Castro symbolized the promise of something better. Many saw him as a visionary, a brave revolutiuonary, fighting hard against the evil and unstoppable tide of capitalism. They saw Castro as idealistic and Cuba as a hopeful experiment. To many, his death represents the loss of a fearless and brilliant political mind.

Nobody disputes the life of Fidel Castro made a profound impression, not only on Cuba and her people, but on the global economy and the political stage in general.  Whether celebrated or reviled, he will certainly not be forgotten. His death marks the end of a culturally and economically significant rule – only Queen Elizabeth II is a longer-ruling world leader alive today.  Some of the Castro-related collectible items for sale on the site sold over the weekend, but for those curious to explore or eager to own a piece of history, have a look below at some collectible books and memorabilia from early Communist Cuba.

Moscow, Ediciones Pravda, 1963. Hardcover with dust jacket in very good condition. 191 pages with black and white photographs

Moscow, Ediciones Pravda, 1963. Hardcover with dust jacket in very good condition. 191 pages with black and white photographs


Income tax return document, signed twice by Fidel Castro

Income tax return document, signed twice by Fidel Castro



A collection that includes three signed and inscribed books, two inscribed photographs and an autograph note in English signed by Fidel Castro.

A collection that includes three signed and inscribed books, two inscribed photographs and an autograph note in English signed by Fidel Castro.



This rare two-page manuscript, entirely in the hand of Fidel Castro, contains text in Spanish on the recto and verso of a single leaf, with cross-outs and marginal notations. Possibly containing his notes for a speech at the United Nations.

This rare two-page manuscript, entirely in the hand of Fidel Castro, contains text in Spanish on the recto and verso of a single leaf, with cross-outs and marginal notations. Possibly containing his notes for a speech at the United Nations.



1971 Certificate of the Workers' Central Union of Cuba (Central de Trabajadores de Cuba) for the schoolboy Esteban Cisneros Cruzata for having participated successfully in a competition for the emulation of historic dates. Signed Fidel Castro

1971 Certificate of the Workers’ Central Union of Cuba (Central de Trabajadores de Cuba) for the schoolboy Esteban Cisneros Cruzata for having participated successfully in a competition for the emulation of historic dates. Signed Fidel Castro



An Avid Collector at China in Print

We recently wrote about the China in Print fair which took place this month in Hong Kong. A variety of leading international dealers exhibited at the fair showcasing some of their most interesting items.

Avid collector, Gautam H has kindly shared a recap of the fair and has highlighted some of the more interesting items he came across when visiting China in Print.

10 Jewels from China in Print by Gautam H.

November 18-20, 2016 in Hong Kong, saw the 5th edition of China in Print. It is the foremost fair of rare books, maps, prints, photo albums and manuscripts on China and Asia one will come across.

In museums you can find priceless objects you can look at.  In the occasional auction on Asian print, you will find great stuff as well. But it is very difficult to come across a collection like this from exhibitors all over the world. You can hold, look and caress them to your hearts content.  It is a priceless combination of museum quality books & objects that you can buy and take home immediately!

Here are 10 jewels from it.  The descriptions are adapted from the catalogues of the exhibitors.

1. A watercolour album on the Opium Wars


This amazing collection made by an unknown Chinese artist has 36 water colours depicting aspects of the Opium Wars. The figures are clearly made from the Chinese viewpoint. For example most British soldiers have orange-red hair (sounds familiar?!), and merchants wearing top hats. It is mainly propaganda, depicting fictitious Chinese victories. For those interested in Canton, 35 of the 36 depict scenes from there. They are quite large (1 foot by 2 feet) and are of astonishing beauty.

From Asia Bookroom in Macquarie Australia.

2. Sun Yat Sen and Mao


This is the first English edition of the famous “Little Red Book”, one of the handful signed by him.


A letter handwritten by Sun Yat Sen on 24 June, 1897 to the Russian revolutionary, journalist & writer, Felix Volkhovsky. Beautiful, clear handwriting, something alas we see little of today.

Written in the year of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, after the end of the Sino-Japanese war of 1894-5 that China lost, it presages the upheaval that would be the Boxer Rebellion in 1900.

From Antiquariat Inlibris in Vienna

3. A map of the famous Spice Islands – what started Western exploration and expansion in Asia.


There no such place called the Spice Islands. It was term coined by Western explorers who came in search of the islands where nutmeg, mace and cloves were first reported. Today, they a part of Indonesia. The map however, made from the Western viewpoint, is of great interest as it sparked colonial expansion into Asia. It is also a beautiful sight to behold.

From Daniel Crouch Rare Books in London

4. Horsfield’s Zoological Researches in Java, and the Neighbouring Islands


Sounds a bit boring, right? It has stunning illustrations, including species unknown to the Western world in the 19th century. Many are by the famous William Daniell.

Thomas Horsfield was an American, who, attracted by the richness and natural beauty of Java, came back to serve with the Dutch East India Company. When the British took over Java in 1811, an enduring friendship started with Sir Stamford Raffles, the founder of Singapore. He published this beautiful book in 1824 during his long stint there.

From www.lokmanbooks.com in Hong Kong

5. A Travel Journal


This is set of journal of travels over 30 years in China, Japan, Java, Sumatra, Sri Lanka and Egypt. It’s type-written, full of pasted pictures and beautifully bound in a set of 7 volumes.

From Peter Harrington in London

6. Kublai Khan Printing Block for paper money


This is from about 1287, a century before the first known Western printing. It was during the reign of the great Kublai Khan, for circulation in China, Burma, Siam (Thailand) and Annam (Vietnam).

This was in use when Marco Polo visited and is probably the block for the paper currency he said was in use. The text on the block includes a warning that counterfeiters would be decapitated, and the denouncer would get all their property and 5 ingots of silver. Firm deterrents and clear compensation in those times!

7. Prints depicting the battles of K’ien-Lung, Manchu Emperor of China 1735-95


The greatest of expansion of Chinese territory occurred in Emperor K-ien-Lung’s reign. He added huge tracts of Central Asian to the west of what was then China. The Emperor asked his commanders to make drawings of the campaign. These were later painted on silk, and based on these, Jesuits in his service made fresh drawings.  Blocks of these Jesuit drawings were made in Paris under the supervision of Charles-Nicholas Cochin. This is one of the 200 sets of prints made from these blocks for the Emperor’s personal use. Given that the burning of Summer Palace in 1860 ordered by Lord Elgin destroyed many, this is a very rare set.

From Shapero Rare Books in London

8. Watercolours presented by Joachim Bouvet, to Louis XIVs grandson, the Duke of Burgundy on his marriage to Marie Adelaide of Savoy


Louis XIV, the famous “Sun King” sent Jesuit priests to China in 1685. One of them, Joachim Bouvet, returned with this amazing set of watercolours depicting the court, including Emperor Kangxi shown here. The book is superbly bound with the arms of Louis XIV.

From Librairie Camille Sourget in Paris

9. Souvenir of Albert Smith’s China. Something very different.


What is this you ask? Strange looking thing, but it is very intricate. It is a set of 30 panorama’s folding into a single triangular sheet with the rose on top. Has views of Canton, Hong Kong, Singapore, China and Egypt.

Albert Smith was one of London’s greatest showmen. He climbed Mont Blanc and travelled to China, entertaining crowds in the Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly. This set was produced for him to depict his travels titled “Mont Blanc to China”.

10. My Treasure Box


This is a marketing catalogue from the 1930’s that can teach us a thing or two.  It is from a female Chinese arts dealer in objects.  The introduction guarantees that the objects will be from the dynasty stated! And also refers to good foreign exchange rates. Another unique piece I have not come across in my 10 years of trawling the world’s antiquarian stores.

After my 3rd visit to China in Print and I intend to keep returning. It has an amazing collection and one meets old friends from the trade. And makes new ones.

It is set in the Hong Kong Maritime Museum on the waterfront, with superb views of Kowloon ahead, and Hong Kong island behind. One sees many of these views a hundred or two hundred years ago, leaving us wondering at the progress of modern Hong Kong.

Shake off holiday stress with these Christmas coloring books for adults

Let’s face it, the holidays are a stressful time for adults. Kids get to have all the fun, while everyone over the age of 18 worries about family gatherings, shopping, cooking, and weight gain. Adults, we’re here for you. We’ve gathered 10 remedies for holiday stress – in the form of coloring books, of course.

Johanna's Christmas by Johanna Basford

Designed to stave off lengthy conversations with your weird uncle.
 Order Johanna’s Christmas

Winter Magic

The perfect alternative to hiding under the covers when the kids just. won’t. stop.
Order Winter Magic

A Christmas Carol: A Coloring Classic

The mall got you down? Fear not, Dickens is here.
Order A Christmas Carol: A Coloring Classic

Christmas to Color

Pairs well with wine.
Order Christmas to Color

A Million Christmas Cats

The perfect remedy for long lines and pushy shoppers.
Order A Million Christmas Cats

Vive Le Color! A Christmas Coloring Book

Flight delayed! Good thing you brought your pencil crayons…
Order Vive Le Color! A Christmas Coloring Book

The Magical Christmas

Reprieve from your seven year old who won’t stop practicing Jingle Bells on the piano.
Order The Magical Christmas: A Coloring Book

Christmas Magic Coloring Book

Pants don’t fit? Forget about it with a little coloring zen.
Order Christmas Magic

Very Merry Coloring

For your parking lot PTSD.
Order Very Merry Coloring

Color Your Christmas

Relax, the kids are finally in bed.
Order Color Your Christmas

“It Can’t Happen Here” sales soar as book buyers rush for reassurance


A thoughtful Sinclair Lewis in a signed photo available on AbeBooks

Why have sales of Sinclair Lewis’ 1935 dystopian novel It Can’t Happen Here suddenly spiked, leaving some retailers with no copies on the shelves? Well, they say truth is stranger than fiction – but what if fiction just gets there first?

It Can’t Happen Here is a dark, partially satirical novel written by American author Sinclair Lewis, chronicling the rise to power of a charming, well-liked senator named Berzelius “Buzz” Windrip in the United States. Windrip campaigns on, and is eventually elected on, a platform promising to restore the United States to its former glory and greatness. Yes, he promises to make America great again, and his charisma, strength and promises see him comfortably defeat his opposition.  Sure enough, upon election, Windrip’s fascism and authoritarianism come to the forefront as his presidency moves forward with anti-immigration policies, silencing  and imprisoning his detractors, and other classic fascist power-moves. As the new America continues to unfold, citizens are left wondering what went wrong. The book was written in 1935, two years after Adolf Hitler’s appointment as chancellor of Germany, and during the Nazi party’s rise to power.

it-cant-happen-here-firstWith America’s presidential election being won by Donald Trump earlier this month, sales of the book have risen sharply as people revisit the novel and its now-familiar themes. I suspect sales are due to droves of Americans, suddenly very eager to discover how Sinclair’s story ends.

Sinclair Lewis (1885-1951) was a prolific novelist, with 24 titles under his belt all told, as well as countless short stories. He was the first American to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, five years prior to the publication of It Can’t Happen Here, which remains his best-known book.

It isn’t the first time a book we were sure was science fiction has proved eerily true given enough time.

Ray Bradbury’s unforgettable novel Fahrenheit 451 details a bleak world in which people are consumed by media. Citizens are utterly addicted to screens and out of touch with nature and other people. News is heavily curated, biased, and delivered in brief, quippy sound bites. In 1953, the book seemed nightmarish and laughable. In 2016, when it is common to drive past a group of people, standing together but all staring down at the glowing screens in their hands, it is less so. Books are still beloved (thank goodness), but the prevalence of Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat et al make the other plot lines of the novel suddenly plausible, and suddenly here.

Maybe life imitates art, just later.

If you’re curious to read It Can’t Happen Here yourself, AbeBooks has many copies remaining, whether you’re looking for an affordable paperback, or a hardcover first edition.

Video: 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Your Favorite Fairy Tales

For more grisly truths about ancient tales, read our latest feature, The Gruesome Origins of Classic Fairy Tales.

China In Print – Asia’s Premier Rare Book, Photograph and Map Fair


The 5th annual China in Print – Hong Kong Rare Book, Photograph and Map Fair opens Friday 18th and AbeBooks is pleased to be a sponsor of this premier fair.

With a focus on Asian printed material, visitors will have the opportunity to see a wonderful collection of rare books, manuscripts, maps, photographs and other pieces of ephemera. According to fair organizer, Bernard Quaritch Ltd, ABA ILAB, “the books, and other works on paper, which are offered for sale at the fair are exceptionally rare, museum-quality pieces. Important examples of printed and manuscript works on China and its history, both visual and textual, will be exhibited. There will also be seminal works on subjects ranging from world literature to history and politics, many in beautiful bindings or with interesting provenances. Some are signed by historical figures, or belonged to them.”

A host of leading international dealers will be exhibiting including AbeBooks’ sellers: Asia Bookroom, Cavendish Rare Books, Daniel Crouch Rare Books, Inlibris, Lucius Books, Oldimprints.com, Peter Harrington and more. Some of the more interesting and valuable items being exhibited at the fair can be seen on the chinainprint.com/exhibits page.

The three day fair will take place in the beautiful Hong Kong Maritime Museum, in the Special Exhibitions Gallery. The fair takes place Friday November 18 to Sunday November 20th and admission is free. For more information about the China in Print fair, please visit www.chinainprint.com

Items of particular interest at the fair include:


Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung. Beijing, 1966. First English edition, signed by Chairman Mao alongside his portrait.


Watercolours of Street Scenes in Peking. 50 watercolours mounted on album paper.


Gospel of St Luke in Wenli.  Malacca, 1825. First large-type edition of this translation by Robert Morrison, the first Protestant missionary to China.


 Rare Chinese Opium War Watercolour Album. 36 watercolours in a large Chinese traditional handmade dark blue silk covered album.


Illustrations of China and its People 1873-1874. A Series of two Hundred Photographs, with letterpress descriptive of the places and people represented.


La Cuisine Chinoise 1925. Rare original edition of one of the first Chinese cook books in French language.

Fans swoop for Leonard Cohen books, but which one to buy?

Sold for $2,000 by Raptis Rare Books, Palm Beach, Florida – this first edition of Leonard Cohen’s debut novel, The Favourite Game

Fans of Leonard Cohen have been converging on AbeBooks.com since the news of his death, searching for books from the Canadian singer-songwriter’s original career as a poet and an author.

It appears many fans are unsure which book to buy as the most popular search term on AbeBooks since Cohen’s death has been simply “Leonard Cohen.” This isn’t entirely unexpected as Cohen’s writing was mostly published in the 1950s and 1960s, and has been overshadowed by his musical influence. He shifted into music in 1967.

beautiful-losers-by-leonard-cohenBeautiful Losers, Cohen’s second and final novel, is currently the bestselling book on AbeBooks. It was published in 1966 and the plot is set in Quebec, Cohen’s home province. It’s a love triangle written in a complex way featuring all sorts of 1960s symbolism and ample sex that made it rather controversial at the time.  This book is sometimes credited with introducing Canadian literature to post-modernism as the story lacks a coherent timeline and does not follow the traditional structure of a novel.

Book of Longing is our second bestselling book since Cohen’s death and this comes from the other end of Cohen’s career. Published in 2006, this collection of poems was Cohen’s first poetry since Book of Mercy, which was published in 1984.

Fans of Cohen’s writing are also purchasing Let Us Compare Mythologies, the author’s the first poetry book, which was published shortly after he left Montreal’s McGill University in 1956. Only 400 first edition copies were printed and just three copies are available via AbeBooks at prices in excess of $10,000. A new edition was reprinted in 2007.

The most expensive Cohen book to sell since his death is a signed first edition of The Favourite Game, published in 1963, which sold for $2,000. Raptis Rare Books from Palm Beach, Florida, made the sale. Cohen wrote the novel while living in London and Greece, and it’s semi-autobiographical in nature.

One of the oddest Cohen items being offered for sale is his Westmount High School yearbook, Vox Ducum, published in 1951.  The graduating student’s bio includes:

PASTIME: Leading sing-songs at intermission

AMBITION: World Famous Orator

The yearbook reveals Cohen was president of the student council and very active. He starred as Julius Caesar in a production of Death of Julius Caesar and was the producer of another show, God Save The King. The seller is offering the book at $3,500.

Leonard Cohen’s Westmount High yearbook from 1951

The Strange Story of the Sea Monk

The Sea Monk as shown Pierre Belon’s De Aquatilibus

In the middle of the 16th century, a strange creature was found off the coast of Denmark.  No-one is quite sure how the discovery came about or how it came to be debated by Europe’s brightest thinkers. But what followed was a combination of Chinese (or Danish) whispers combined with the Renaissance version an urban (or maritime) myth.

The result was the birth of the sea monk legend.

At this time, the world and its wide range of wildlife was opening up to explorers and also naturalists eager to document these exciting new discoveries. There was such a market for books about natural history that authors were unconcerned about not actually seeing the creatures they were describing.

An illustration of the sea monk from De Natura Aqualtilium Carmen by Francois Boussuet

The sea monk looked like a monk that had just washed up on the shore. Half man, half fish, entirely sea monster. Sounds like a wonderful way of selling books.

Three legendary natural historians took the plunge and documented this marine cleric. Pierre Belon wrote about the sea monk in 1553 and then Guillaume Rondelet a year later. Swiss naturalist Conrad Gesner included it in Historiae Animalium, one of the first books on modern zoology. Although Gesner’s book was a serious attempt at recording the natural world, be aware the unicorn does make an appearance. Gesner’s interpretation of the rhino was copied straight from Durer’s famous woodcut, which in turn had been inspired by a sketch by someone else.

A later account said the sea monk had “a human head and face, resembling in appearance the men with shorn heads, whom we call monks because of their solitary life; but the appearance of its lower parts, bearing a coating of scales, barely indicated the torn and severed limbs and joints of the human body. At the order of the king this abominable creature was immediately buried in the ground, in order that it should not, as the new and unusual generally does, provide a fertile subject for offensive talk.”

Japetus Steenstrup, a 19th century Danish marine biologist, argued it was a giant squid. Others said it was a ‘Jenny Haniver’ – a dried out carcass of a ray or skate that looks like an evil gremlin. Another study says it was an angelshark. Sea monsters went on to become an important illustration tool for mapmakers, which only adds to the fun.

The sea monk debate continues today, which rather shows the influence of this particular legend.

Donald Trump vs Hillary Clinton – who wins in rare book sales?

Hillary Clinton’s Living History and Donad Trump’s The Art of the Deal

After the bookish glory of Barack Obama’s bid to become president in 2008, books have barely been mentioned during the battle between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. In 2008 and 2009, AbeBooks sold more 50 copies of books written by Obama for prices in excess of $1,000 – one signed copy of Dreams from my Father even sold for $12,500.

Both Trump and Hillary Clinton have written (or had ghost written for them in Trump’s case) books but neither particularly appeal to collectors looking to own a small piece of political history.

Trump versus Clinton. Who wins on expensive sales? Hillary Just…

The Art of the Deal by Donald Trump – sold for $1,399

A signed first edition from 1987, purchased in March 2016.

Living History by Hillary Clinton – sold for $1,575

One of 1,500 signed copies, purchased in August 2016.

So how do Trump and Clinton compare to past presidents? Not well…

With the American election less than a week away, collectors are more interested in items from presidents whose legacies are assured.

This week a document (see below) signed by John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert on June 28, 1961 sold for $11,400 on AbeBooks. The humble document confirmed the appointment of a certain Harry C. George Marshall as a marshal in Eastern Illinois. Signed copies of JFK’s Profiles in Courage have sold for $4,000 and $6,000 in the past.

A document signed by JFK and his brother Robert Kennedy

An American Life by Ronald Reagan – sold for $6,325

Leather-bound special edition of Reagan’s autobiography, including photos, cassette and stamped with the presidential seal.

The Rough Riders by Theodore Roosevelt – sold for $8,250

A signed first edition of Roosevelt’s account of his experiences as colonel of the US cavalry, the ‘Rough Riders’, during the Spanish American War.  Another signed first of this book sold for $8,125.

A lottery ticket signed by George Washington – sold for $9,000

Anything signed by Washington is collectible.

The Road to Justice: Three Major Statements on Civil Rights by Lyndon B. Johnson – sold for $3,750
A 55-page pamphlet published in 1965 including “The American Promise”, “To Fulfill These Rights”, and “The Doors Open”.  This copy was signed by Johnson to author Leo Rosten.

Discover how Brazil looked in 1840 thanks to this historic print

The view of Salvador around 1840

A beautiful piece of panoramic artwork displaying an historic view of Salvador in Brazil’s Bahia state has sold for $8,000 on AbeBooks. This revealing print, created around 1840, shows how the city looked in the middle of the 19th century. Today, Salvador has a population of well over two million people and skyscrapers dominate its coastline, but in 1840 the landscape featured trees and green space, and was dotted with white colonial-style buildings, ranging from homes to churches.

The picture is credited to Johann (or João) Steinmann, a Swiss artist, who was hired by the Brazilian Government in 1825 to work as its official lithographer, which is a printmaker. He continued to capture dramatic views of Brazil on his own account after the conclusion of his contract with the Government. He returned to Europe in 1833 and published a book called Souvenirs de Rio de Janeiro.

The print is a hand-colored aquatint, 197 mm x 1000 mm, and a close-up of the centre section can be seen below.

Underneath the print, the main buildings portrayed are identified as Eglise de la Conception, Le Palais, Maison de L’Opera, Convent des Benedictines, Eglise St. Pierre, Convent Jerusalem, Consul de Hamburg, Eglise des Affites, Consult Anglais, Consul Francois, Jardin public, Fort Gamboa (Forte de Sao Paulo da Gamboa), and S. Victoire.

Bahia is a state located north of Rio de Janeiro. The first European to reach Salvador was Gaspar de Lemos, a Portuguese explorer, in 1501. The city was originally established as a fortress called São Salvador da Bahia de Todos os Santos (Holy Savior of the Bay of All Saints) in 1549 by Portuguese settlers.

Salvador is one of the oldest cities founded by Europeans in the Americas and it served as Brazil’s first capital, soon becoming a major commercial port.

A close-up of a section of the Salvador print

Today, the Salvador coastline looks like this (see below) with skyscrapers filling the Vitória neighborhood.

Modern Salvador seen from the sea (Photo credit: Flickr/Avinash Achar)

See the 1840 print on Flickr (good if you have a large screen).