Call for the Dead by John le Carre

Call for the Dead by John le Carré

Famous fictional secret agents and spies abound, from James Bond and Simon Templar to Jason Bourne and Jack Ryan, but John le Carré’s brilliant creation George Smiley might just be the best of them all. Our top sale last month was a signed first edition of Call for the Dead, the author’s first novel from 1961 and a landmark book in 1960s’ literature.

The book is a Cold War tale of East German spies and their deeds while serving undercover in Britain. It begins with the suicide of a British civil servant. Readers learn about Smiley’s character, his background and his role within the ‘Circus’ – le Carré’s name for the MI6 intelligence unit. David Cornwell, le Carré’s real name, was working for M15 when he wrote Call for the Dead, which explains his use of a pseudonym.

Smiley appears in eight novels published between 1961 and 1990. The Spy Who Came into the Cold, released in 1963, became a massive worldwide bestseller and turned both le Carré (and Smiley) into a major force in literature. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, published 11 years later, was also immensely popular.

Smiley is very different from that other famous MI6 operative - James Bond. Although both are flawed, Bond rarely experiences ethical dilemmas while Smiley weighs his decisions very careful. Smiley is not glamorous, never stands out in a crowd and is badly mistreated by his unfaithful wife. The character may have been inspired by one of Cornwell’s tutors at Oxford, Rev. Vivian Green, who was famous for his brainpower.

Last month’s list of expensive sales also includes a Box of Pin-Ups, the famous but scarce photography book by David Bailey, which sold for £9,196. In March, a similar copy sold for £5,700. Bailey is still going strong. Last month, his new portrait of Queen Elizabeth II was released in honour of her 88th birthday.

April's Most Expensive Sales on AbeBooks

Box of Pin-Ups by David Bailey
Box of Pin-Ups by David Bailey
1. Call for the Dead by John le Carré - £13,345
A fine first edition, complete with a near fine yellow dust jacket, of le Carré’ debut book, which introduced readers to George Smiley – the very British spy who uses brains rather than brawn in his Cold War tussles. Published in 1961 by Gollancz, the book is signed by the author, “David Cornwell aka John le Carré” on the title page.

2. Box of Pin-Ups by David Bailey - £9,196
Published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson in 1965, this is Bailey’s debut masterpiece – a soft cover first edition. Bailey was just 27 at the time. The photo-book contains 36 images of celebrities and socialites from the Swinging Sixties, including Terence Stamp, The Beatles, Michael Caine, Mick Jagger (on the cover in a fur hoodie), Jean Shrimpton, P.J. Proby, Rudolph Nureyev, Cecil Beaton, Andy Warhol and East End mobsters, the Kray Twins. Box of Pin-ups was not published in the USA due to the presence of the Krays in the book. The book shot Bailey to international stardom.

3. A postcard signed by Mohandas Gandhi - £6,564
An autograph postcard to the opera singer Marie Antoinette Sher-Gil, whose daughter, the painter Amrita Sher-Gil, had died on the 5 December 1941: “Dear Sister, I was sorry to learn about your daughter's death. May God give you strength to bear the loss.”

4. Beschreibung und Abbildung der kunstlichen Nester und Eier der Vogel, welche inder Schweiz, in Deutschland und den Angranzenden Handern Bruten by Heinrich Rudolf Schinz - £6,123
A book depicting birds’ eggs and nests in Germany and Switzerland, published in Zurich in 1819 with 74 full-page hand-coloured engravings. A very rare book.

Box of Pin-Ups by David Bailey
Postcard signed by Gandhi

5. Twenty five books from an exhibition at the Rhode Island School of Design by Dieter Roth - £5,930
Roth (1930-1998) was a Swiss artist known for art delivered in the form of books. The 1986 exhibition was simply called ‘Dieter Roth at The Rhode Island School of Design’. Roth had been a teacher at the college in the mid-1960s. The collection was given to a former faculty member who was a friend of the artist. Each book has a hole through the entire binding near the top left hand corner. Roth usually hung his ‘artist books’ from chains suspended from the ceiling. Some of the books are signed or inscribed.

6. Oeuvres Completes de Voltaire (70 vols) - £5,454
The complete works of Voltaire, France’s great writer, philosopher and thinker (1694-1778). His real name was François-Marie Arouet. Printed between 1784 and 1789, these books in French are bound in full mottled calf.

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez

7. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez - £5,040
A first edition, first printing, in fine condition, inscribed by the author. Márquez died on 17 April, sparking interest in rare copies of his books. Three other books by Gabriel García Márquez sold for prices in excess of £590 following his death. One Hundred Years of Solitude was published in 1970 by Harper.

8.= The Story of the Glittering Plain by William Morris - £4,447
The first book printed at Morris’ Kelmscott Press in 1891. One of 200 copies. It contains the engraved bookplate of William Morris Society co-founder Freeman Bass. Bound in stiff vellum with gilt lettering on the spine. A fine copy, The Story of the Glittering Plain is a fantasy novel.

8.= A Good Man Is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor - £4,447
A fine first edition signed by the author on the title page, complete with its dust jacket. Published in 1955, this is an advance review copy with a review slip. A Good Man Is Hard to Find is a collection of short stories.

10. The Works of Shakespeare (15 vols) - £3,936
Edited by Howard Staunton with illustrations by Sir John Gilbert. Published in 1881 by Routledge, bound by the master binder Joseph Zaehnsdorf in burgundy morocco.


George Smiley or James Bond?

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Signed Book Room Book Collecting Guide First editions