AbeBooks Home

Pages & Proofs

A book blog from the staff at AbeBooks.co.uk

Advanced Search Browse Books Rare Books Textbooks
Advanced Search

Murder mystery mail! Enjoy the Agatha Christie stamps

The Royal Mail announced it would be releasing a series of Agatha Christie stamps with “hidden secrets” to mark the 126th anniversary of her birth. The six stamps are devoted to her mysteries, and include her debut The Mysterious Affair at Styles and the classic Murder on the Orient Express.

The Guardian says:

Each design includes microtext, UV ink and thermochromic ink. These concealed clues can be revealed using either a magnifying glass, UV light or body heat and and provide pointers to the mysteries’ solutions.

Browse our Agatha Christie Collection.

Original Pauline Baynes drawing for Prince Caspian sells for £5,000

Sold for 5,000, this original drawing from Prince Caspian

I’ve lost count of the number of times I have read Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis, and this image of the Pevensie children and Trumpkin crawling through the woods under a rain of arrows is ingrained into my memory. I am not the only person with fond memories for this Chronicles of Narnia book – somebody just paid £5,000 ($6,662) for the original drawing by illustrator Pauline Baynes via AbeBooks. Look at the notes surrounding the illustration.

Baynes (1922-2008) illustrated more than 100 books, notably for Lewis and his fellow Inkling JRR Tolkien. A number of other original drawings from Prince Caspian are also available for purchase.

Find copies of Prince Caspian

Find more original drawings from Prince Caspian

Browse our C.S. Lewis curated Collection

The best of Instagram life becomes a book

Image by @_juliafox_

So there’s now a book about the best photographs on Instagram. Life on Instagram features images selected by Jim Stoddart, art director at Penguin. The photo-sharing network was launched in 2010 and now has more than 500 million users. For many users, Instagram is their essential app on their smartphones. Almost 100 million pictures and videos are posted each day so I wonder how Jim whittled down his selection. This image of a lady in a bath robe armed with a rifle caught my eye. Even if it’s staged, this a great shot. There are many more beautiful and thought-provoking images.

Find copies of Life on Instagram

Rejected by mainstream publishers, Black Rock White City wins Miles Franklin award

Black Rock White City by AS Patric

An obscure novel, rejected by the major Australian publishers, has won Australia’s Miles Franklin award, the country’s top literary prize.

AS Patric’s Black Rock White City is published by independent publisher Transit Lounge and not particularly easy to find right now, but that will change in the coming weeks.

Black Rock White City tells the story of migrants Jovan and Suzana’s resettlement in Melbourne after they flee war-torn Sarajevo and endure the death of their children. It describes life in the Australian suburbs and deals with displacement.

When Patric is not writing, he is a bookseller in the St Kilda bookshop in Melbourne.

The author told the Sydney Morning Herald:

“Generally speaking, if you look at what the Miles Franklin has been given to in the past, it hasn’t often represented multicultural perspectives yet multiculturalism has been a very significant part of Australian life and culture for decades.”

What does scaramouche mean?

Ever wondered what Freddie Mercury and Queen were singing about in Bohemian Rhapsody when you hear ‘Scaramouche, Scaramouche. Will you do the fandango?’

Sold for $3,000/£2,250 – Scaramouche by Rafael-Sabatini

I thought exactly that when I saw AbeBooks had recently sold a 1921 first edition of Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini for $3,000/£2,250. What does Scaramouche mean? Or rather, who was Scaramouche?

Scaramouche is a clown from traditional Italian ‘Commedia dell’arte’ theatre where characters usually appear in masks. Scaramouche often wears black and ‘Scaramuccia’ translates into English as skirmisher. He’s a bit of a rogue and a buffoon.

The Scaramouche character was popularised in the 17th century and Regency era actor Joseph Grimaldi and his son J. S. Grimaldi both went onto play Scaramouche numerous times. Scaramouche also appears in Punch and Judy puppet shows.

Sabatini’s book, a popular adventure novel in its day, is a swashbuckler set in the French Revolution featuring plenty of sword fights. Just look at the dashing dust jacket illustration by Harold Cue. The hero of the novel, a fugitive, takes shelter in a theatre troupe playing Scaramouche.

There were two adaptions of this movie, a 1923 adaptation starring Ramón Novarro, Lloyd Ingraham, and Alice Terry, and another in 1952 starring Stewart Granger, Eleanor Parker, Janet Leigh, and Mel Ferrer.

Sabatini went on to publish a sequel to Scaramouche in 1931, called  Scaramouche the Kingmaker. He wrote more than 30 novels and his other bestsellers included two notable pirate stories, The Sea Hawk from 1915 and Captain Blood from 1922.

Stuart Granger and Eleanor Parker in Scaramouche on the cover of French cinema magazine, Mon Film

Nick Skelton’s show jumping gold sparks rush for his forgotten autobiography

The Rio 2016 Olympics appeared to have zero effect on bookselling until a 58-year-old from Warwickshire won a gold medal for Great Britain.

The stories behind superstars like Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt, and Mo Farah are well known, but Nick Skelton is not a household name. He is a veteran equestrian, who has competed since the 1970s.

Only Falls and Horses by Nick Skelton

Skelton’s obscure autobiography, wonderfully titled Only Falls and Horses, was the top search term on AbeBooks.co.uk on Friday and Saturday after Skelton won gold in individual show jumping in his seventh Olympic Games. All copies available on AbeBooks.co.uk have now sold.

He first competed in the Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, in 1988 before many of his teammates on the current British team were born. Skelton is Britain’s oldest gold medalist since 1908.

His autobiography was published in 2001 by a small publishing company called Greenwater, which appears to no longer exist. The book is, of course, out-of-print. I strongly urge someone to update and republish this book as Skelton is a larger-than-life character.

Skelton broke his neck in a fall in 2000 and retired from competition after being told he would never ride again. He recovered.

He is no saint.  As a 21-year-old, he was knocked unconscious, in a fight, by veteran show jumper Harvey Smith. He also brawled with his mentor and former employer Ted Edgar, a key figure in British show jumping, in a Gothenburg hotel.

Skelton had a hip replacement in 2011 but rather than fade into retirement he struck gold at the 2012 London Olympics in the team show jumping event. He was named an OBE in 2012.

Now he’s gone a step further and won individual gold, and clearly there is an interest in his remarkable life and career.

Bookseller Q&A: World of Rare Books

Michael Laundon, Managing Director of World of Rare Books

Michael Laundon, Managing Director of World of Rare Books

AbeBooks recently caught up with Managing Director of World of Rare Books Michael Laundon to talk all things bookish. Sister company to World of Books, WORB was founded in 2012 and focuses on rare and antiquarian books from the pre-ISBN era. Naturally, Michael had some interesting stories for us. From providing a special book to a Nigerian tribe, to returning a long-lost childhood treasure to Australia, this Sussex-based bookseller is living up to their name. Read the Q&A to learn more about the fascinating world of rare book selling.

AbeBooks: What do you love most about selling books?

Michael: I love finding homes for the most unusual books the most. It thrills me to sell an obscure book on Geology when the only online alternative is a reprint. One such story was a book we had on the ancient Ibibio People of Nigeria – we sold a very rare book about a particular tribe to a chap who wanted to collect the book in person. When he arrived at World of Rare Books HQ we quickly realised he had traveled all the way from Nigeria and was part of the tribe. The book was so precious to his people that they wanted him to collect it in person rather than having it sent via the postal service!

World of Rare Books

Vintage Penguin paperbacks from World of Rare Books.

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

Michael: Currently my favorite showpiece is Anglo-Saxon Magic by Godfrid Storms. I love this book because of the bizarre nature of it, and I find it interesting to read about history in the context of how far society has moved on – in this case, how there is no requirement for using a leech to cure a sore throat! I also think it represents our stock nicely – it’s an interesting, unique, and fun book.

AbeBooks: What is the most interesting book you’ve come across?

Michael: Too many to mention, however, it always sends shivers down my spine when holding a famous first edition in my hands, especially when researching how to spot the printing errors to define the validity of the copy you have. An example I can give is the now sold first edition of Pickwick Papers with the famous printing errors.

World of Rare Books classics

Beloved classics from World of Rare Books.

AbeBooks: What’s the oddest thing you’ve found in a book?

Michael: I think it has to be a bullet shot into the actual book! Most frustrating thing is probably crayon marks in the illustrations of classic children’s books!

AbeBooks: What’s your most memorable moment as a bookseller?

Michael: Many years ago, we sold an old children’s annual from the ’60s to a customer in Australia. A few weeks later we received a phone call from the same very excited customer – she was looking for her favorite childhood book, which is what she purchased…literally! When she received the book she realised the book had her name in the front and all the puzzles were filled in by herself as a child! The most interesting thing here is she had never been to England. The book had somehow exchanged hands and managed to travel across the world to England where it ended up with us 30 years later and resold to its original owner. Let’s just say it made everyone’s day!

AbeBooks: And of course, what’s your favorite book?

Michael: War of the Worlds by HG Wells – yes, it pained me to sell a first edition of this a few years back that I should have purchased myself!

Les Phipps, Joy Ridley, and Michael Laundon of World of Rare Books.

Les Phipps, Joy Ridley, and Michael Laundon of World of Rare Books.

Rare comic featuring Superman’s debut sells for £730,000

Superman-Action-Comics-ArchivesA 1938 edition of Action Comics No. 1 sold for £730,000 (that’s $956,000) yesterday.  Written by Jerry Siegel and illustrated by Joe Shuster, the 13-page story describes Superman coming to Earth, rescuing an innocent woman from the electric chair, stopping an episode of wife-beating and going out on a date with Lois Lane. The famous cover of this historic comic features Superman lifting a car above his head.

Only around 100 copies are known to exist. It could be argued that this comic marks the start of the superhero genre and is the Holy Grail for comic book collectors. If you don’t have close that much money, I recommend Superman: Action Comics Archives Vol. 1, which offers reprints of the first 20 Action Comics.


Welsh National Opera turns In Parenthesis war poem into a bestseller

The Welsh National Opera’s interpretation of In Parenthesis has sparked interest in David Jones’ modernist poem about World War I. The book has been the top search term on AbeBooks.co.uk during July and is now a bestseller… 79 years after it was originally published.

The poem was published in 1937 and won Hawthornden literary prize the following year. It recounts of the experiences of a private travelling from England to the front and an assault on the German trenches during the Battle of the Somme in 1916.

In Parenthesis by David Jones

TS Eliot, who worked for Faber & Faber, the original publisher, said: “I am proud to share the responsibility for that first publication. On reading the book in typescript I was deeply moved. I then regarded it, and still regard it, as a work of genius. Here is a book about the experience of one soldier in the war of 1914-18. It is also a book about War, and about many other things also, such as Roman Britain, the Arthurian Legend, and diverse matters which are given association by the mind of the writer.”

The WNO performed the opera from May 13 until July 1. However, the WNO has posted a performance online which can be viewed for free during the next six months. There are also series of videos about In Parenthesis and a dedicated website.

Born in Kent to a Welsh father, Jones (1895-1974) was a watercolour painter and a poet. In World War I, he enlisted with the Royal Welch Fusiliers in 1915 and his experiences included fighting in the battle for Mametz Wood during the Somme offensive.

He was also a talented wood engraver and produced illustrations for Golden Cockerel Press, whose publications are adored by book collectors. His artwork can be seen in The History of Pompey the Little (pictured below),  The Chester Play Of The Deluge, and Gulliver’s Travels.


Find copies of In Parenthesis

June’s Bestselling Signed Books

June's Bestselling Signed Books

We here at AbeBooks love a good read, especially when it’s signed by the incredible author that wrote it. From epic family sagas to scientific discoveries, our bestselling signed books list has something for everyone this month. What signed book will you add to your collection?

1. Homegoing: A Novel by Yaa Gyasi
A novel of breathtaking sweep and emotional power that traces three hundred years in Ghana and along the way also becomes a truly great American novel. Extraordinary for its exquisite language, its implacable sorrow, its soaring beauty, and for its monumental portrait of the forces that shape families and nations, Homegoing heralds the arrival of a major new voice in contemporary fiction.

2. The View From the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman
Insightful, incisive, witty, and wise, The View from the Cheap Seats explores the issues and subjects that matter most to Neil Gaiman, offering a glimpse into the head and heart of one of the most acclaimed, beloved, and influential artists of our time.

3. The Girls by Emma Cline
An indelible portrait of girls, the women they become, and that moment in life when everything can go horribly wrong – this stunning first novel is perfect for readers of Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides and Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad.

4. Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler
Pulitzer Prize winner and American master Anne Tyler brings us an inspired, witty and irresistible contemporary take on one of Shakespeare’s most beloved comedies.

5. Barkskins by Annie Proulx
From the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award-­winning author of The Shipping News and Brokeback Mountain, comes her masterwork: an epic, dazzling, violent, magnificently dramatic novel about the taking down of the world’s forests.

6. The Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee
From the Pulitzer Prize-winning, bestselling author of The Emperor of All Maladies comes a magnificent history of the gene and a response to the defining question of the future: What becomes of being human when we learn to read and write our own genetic information?

7. The City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin
You followed The Passage. You faced The Twelve. Now enter The City of Mirrors for the final reckoning. As the bestselling epic races to its breathtaking finale, Justin Cronin’s band of hardened survivors await the second coming of unspeakable darkness.

8. LaRose: A Novel by Louise Erdrich
In this literary masterwork, Louise Erdrich, the bestselling author of the National Book Award-winning The Round House and the Pulitzer Prize nominee The Plague of Doves wields her breathtaking narrative magic in an emotionally haunting contemporary tale of a tragic accident, a demand for justice, and a profound act of atonement with ancient roots in Native American culture.

9. Family Life by Akhil Sharma
Heart-wrenching and darkly funny, Family Life is a universal story of a boy torn between duty and his own survival.

10. The Mirror Thief by Martin Seay
Set in three cities in three eras, The Mirror Thief calls to mind David Mitchell and Umberto Eco in its mix of entertainment and literary bravado. Three stories will weave together into a spell-binding tour-de-force that is impossible to put down  an old-fashioned, stay-up-all-night novel.