Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Ice Cold in Alfriston



Outside it sounds as if there is a torrential downpour, but it is just the melting snow running off the roof of the barn. I have popped in to work to pick the orders and make sure that they are posted. It's a fag having to do a 16-mile round trip for a few packages, but my seller ratings depend on the speed of delivery.

Glancing at the orders, I notice that there are a several titles that have sold many times over the last year. The bestselling one used to go for around £5, but now fetches at least £15, so the demand must exceed the supply. I wonder why the publishers haven't reissued these books.

I have a pile of Pelicans in front of me. I love this series, particularly the ones printed during the 1960s and 70s, when they had witty, strking covers like this:


But the ones that amuse me most are those from the 1940s and 50s. The uniform cover designs aren't particularly exciting:

But I love the back covers, with their potted author biographies and wonderful photos:


There seem to have been two poses that were deemed appropriate for intellectual gentlemen like Sir Mortimer Wheeler: holding a pipe or head in hand:


Richard Wollheim

A. L. Bacharach (no relation to Burt, sadly)
 
 A defiantly pipeless and handless Roy Lewis, with a pensive looking Angus Maude
 William Baring Pemberton
Considering that author photos on books were relatively rare in those days, it's odd that Pelican went to such lengths to get these mugshots on such a dry old range of titles. Did they think that they reader would feel reassured by a photograph of a serious-looking chap in tweeds?

Perhaps it was to prove that Cecil Ffoulkes-Worthing was a real gentleman and not some bluestocking writing under a nom de plume, like George Eliot. Perish the thought!

On the rare occasions that Pelican threw caution to the wind and published a title by a woman, the photo nearly always seemed to depict a Margaret Rutherford clone.

Sadly, Pelican paperbacks are nearly always worthless. The huge print runs have meant that the supply will nearly always exceed the demand. My copies usually end up being recycled.

I'll be going home soon, as it's too cold to work here. At the moment the countryside looks like this:


It's nice if you're a small child, but I can't wait for the spring.

27 comments:

Séamas Poncán said...

Maybe you should try selling 'packs of pelicans'?
That Rome one looks cool...

Lucille said...

Even the small children are crying on the sleds being pulled down the road outside my house.

lucy joy said...

I like Pemberton's 'I cannot be bothered to gaze at the camera' pose very much.
I wonder if the photographer said "with or without the pipe, Sir? Look at my portfolio, I have a range of poses including with pipe or with hand. Wistful gaze essential"

I read an article about what your chosen camera pose says about your personality. Richard Branson came out badly; he has a tendency to grab the nearest female and grimace, childlike, often with his tongue out.

These photographs would look better if the subject jokingly pointed to their pipe, winking.

O, the snow. Rubbish this time, I hate it. Being stuck indoors with bored boys, all getting on each other's nerves. I'm sure I enjoyed it in 2010, but it looked better back then. And the boys weren't in school, so I didn't miss the peace!

Rog said...

Maybe the left hand is to illustrate the wedding ring in a "Relax, girls, he's married!" fashion. On second thoughts I think male wedding rings weren't around much at that time.

MikeP said...

Having bought (as opposed to collected) Penguins/Pelicans whatever for 50 years or so, I inevitably have a large collection, although successive clear-outs have diminished it a lot. But I now find I'm becoming a Penguin etc collector (no ISBNs), buying books that take my fancy for no reason other than it passed me by first time round, or I like the cover (eg the wonderful Penguin Car Handbook), or just because it's there. That can be the only reason why I recently bought a Pelican called Larger Birds of West Africa. Should I seek help?

Grey Area said...

By coincidence - I bought a stack of Pelicans and Penguin Originals today, all focusing on 'troubled youth', and associated issues - all with fantastic cover graphics and potentially amusing subjects, 'Contary Imaginations - A psychological study of the English Schoolboy" looks a hoot, as well as 'The Insecure Offenders - Rebelious youth in the Welfare State' - I think someone with an unhealthy interest in social division in the 1960's must have croaked recently, I'm very grateful to them.

Martin said...

Well, over here in Hampshire, the snowmen have been built, and now the smiles have been thawed from their faces. The sledges are wrecked and the slush has overgrown every verge. Roll on spring!

Flavia said...

A great shame to hear of Pelicans going off for recycling -- I get a lot of pleasure from my collection of the first 500. But I suppose I can see why, as mine were all acquired very cheaply and the content's mostly wildly out of date -- indeed that's a large part of the charm of some for them.

Brett said...

We were wondering, (here in Florida), how you were doing over there. It looks awfully cold.

I have many Penguins and Pelicans on my shelves. I wish I could say that I have read them all. But they will keep.

Annabel (gaskella) said...

One of the books I inherited from my late mother came in a brown paper cover. I took the paper off and it was a Pelican - but I realised instantly why someone had covered it... it is called 'The Physiology of Sex'! My most treasured Pelican was one that I had to read for university - The New Science of Strong Materials: or Why you Don't Fall Through the Floor by J E Gordon. It was actually fascinating (but then I am a Materials Scientist).

Karyn said...

While many of the Pelicans are out of date, there is still something wonderful about the insight they provide into a less-informed age. How wonderful to get to read a book by Macfarlane Burnet on viruses (A265), written when they knew so little about them – so that he describes the process of filtering to determine how small they are. Or The Waste Makers (A589) – describing planned obsolescence in the 1960s, before it really became the norm. If only there was more time: with my plan to read all the vintage Penguins I own, I will probably never get to read all the Pelicans, but it is something I regret.

Steerforth said...

Séamus - I've tried the pack approach with another series and it didn't work. I suppose I could try selling them by the shelf to people who want to make themselves look erudite.

Lucille - Yes, it's amazing how quickly they go from elation to dispair when it's really cold.

Lucy - Branson's a knobhead, as we used to say at school. One of the reasons I'm in favour of keeping the monarchy is that if we had a president, we'd end up with someone like Branson as head of state.

Rog - No, real men didn't wear wedding rings in those days.

MikeP - If I lived in a house that was larger than a broom cupboard, I'd be tempted to do the same. The traditional Penguin paperback is a beautiful object to have on a shelf.

Richard - I've just been going through the collection of a sociology professor, which included dozens of Pelicans. I felt a great admiration towards a man who had read so much and a sdaness that all that knowledge disappeared when he died.

Martin - We have freshly cut Isles of Scilly daffodils in the home to try and get in the mood, even if we're still less than halfway through winter.

Flavia - I predict that once ebooks have saturated the market and people see physical books as decoration rather than something to read, Pelicans will be in demand again.

Brett - I've just thrown out another batch of books that I know I'll never read. It's a painfull process, but I've decided to remain debt-free in a small house rather than buy a dream home I can't afford, so shelf space will always be limited.

Annabel - The range of titles astounds me. This was a series that assumed that its readers were intelligent and didn't patronise them (apart from, perhaps, The Intelligent Woman's Guide to Radiation).

Karyn - I'm already impressed that you read a Penguin a week. If you moved on to Pelicans, you'd go from blogging superstar to megastar.

flyingscribbler said...

My 'Language in the Modern World' Pelican has a handless Simeon Potter on the back cover. The eyes are serious, but there's a wry smile trying to get out. Imagine my disappointment when I found that my 'A Pictorial History of Nazi Germany' provided no image of Erwin Leiser on the back! Fear not, he's been moved to the inside front cover and...tah dah! he is proudly holding a smart pipe.
I've had a fun few minutes checking my Pelicans for mug shots anyway....always pleased to find new ways to procrastinate.

helenalex said...

There's a good bit in the second Clive James autobiography about him briefly having a job with Penguin, making sure the author photos were of the correct person.

James Russell said...

Happy New Year Steerforth - I can tell winter is your favourite time of year! Bookishness and cold don't go very well together, do they? I suppose because reading and writing don't involve a lot of moving around. Perhaps you should start a one-man book-aerobic class in your shed.

I think all authors should have a Mortimer Wheeler photo, with pipe and stare. Men and women.

Not that contemporary author pics are any less comical. It would be interesting to see what you find in the New Books skip...

Flavia said...

Limited shelf space isn't entirely a negative. I'm in a similar situation, and relish the fact that my holdings are getting better and better rather than larger and larger. The 'rejects', after consumption (like you I'm rather haunted by the fact that the mind I'm stocking is evanascent) are donated to my local bookshop, where they seem to sell on quite readily.

Steerforth said...

Flyingscribbler - I have to say that I do mourn the demise of the pipe. A pipe not only lends gravitas, but also gives you a few seconds to think of an answer to a difficult question.

Helenalex - I wonder how many times they'd got it wrong before that role was created?

James - I always have my leotard and cassette tape of 'Gonna Get Physical' on standby for the day when I'm in the mood for some aerobics, but somehow it just never seems to be the right time.

Flavia - I quite agree - quantity not quality. I'm getting rid of a lot of cheap modern paperbacks to make room for a few expensive art and photography books.

Flavia said...

"Firmly gripped between the teeth, the pipe should convey an impression of mature and deep reflection. It can also be used to keep the hands occupied and to cover any awkward pauses in conversation Cigarettes fulfil the same function but in a more lighthearted manner. A man without a pipe or cigarette may be compared to a woman without make-up." R. Broby-Johanson, 'Body and Clothes', Faber 1968 (a translation of 'Krop og Kloer', Gyldendal 1966)

David said...

If the books aren't worth anything, couldn't the covers (front) be framed and sold? As you say, some of them look very striking.

Steerforth said...

Flavia - How true. Perhaps it's time to take up a pipe. I needn't put any tobacco in it.

David - Two years ago I bought some mounts with that very idea in mind, but that was as far as I got. Other things got in the way. When my business is on a firm footing, I'll hopefully have the time to experiment with new ideas.

Dale said...

"One of the reasons I'm in favour of keeping the monarchy is that if we had a president, we'd end up with someone like Branson as head of state. "

But dear Steerforth, if he retained the Windsors' PR machine and public engagement MO once President, you would never know how big a disaster he might be. Limit the public contact, control the press releases, and have a big Good News Machine on permanent transmit...

It's worked for them!

Steerforth said...

Dale - You're probably right, but prospect of people like Richard Branson or Tony Blair becoming head of state gives me nightmares. I feel happier with the incorruptable dullness of the Queen than the embarrassment of a George Bush or Nicholas Sarkozy.

zmkc said...

The pipe's so vanished from the world that our children will simply accept that it's true when they see: 'Ceci n'est pas une pipe'

Steerforth said...

Or even "Ce qui est une pipe?"

hydatius said...

Forgive me if this has come up before, Steerforth, on the subject of the wonderful 60s and 70s Pelican book covers, but the contemporary record label Ghost Box is doing some wonderfully retro things with their album covers, creating some haunting homages to that typography and imagery. Album covers can be scrolled through here: http://www.ghostbox.co.uk/catalogue.htm

Steerforth said...

Hydatius - A perfect website for a child of the 70s and some great Radiophonic-esque music as well. Thanks!

Séamas Poncán said...

What about boxing them off to Africa or somewhere where people don't throw out books? In the US, we get a tax deduction for charity - not sure if all y'all do...