29 August 2008

Lionel Britton, the Secondhand Book Market, and Fun

Lionel Britton spent some years working in the secondhand book trade, but he'd probably never have guessed that one of his own books would command such a price as this one, advertised by an American seller:

'Britton, Lionel. Spacetime Inn. London/New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons. 1932. Proof copy. 103 pages. Lionel Britton (1887-1971), wrote the proletarian novel Hunger and Love [1931] which George Orwell called a "failed masterpiece." Bernard Shaw wrote a short introduction to the novel, and referred to Britton as a "wild young man." Herbert Marshall, who met him at Unity, the left-wing theatre which began in the 1930s, insisted that he was a genius to be held in awe. Britton today is regarded as a cult figure of fantastic literature, his play Brain [1930] concerns a giant brain that is formed in the Sahara Desert and untimately controls the world. Spacetime Inn is an apocalyptic play in which two working-class lottery winners are trapped in a pub in spacetime with Eve, the Queen of Sheba, Queen Victoria, Karl Marx and Bernard Shaw. This is a presentation copy to O.G.S. Crawford [Osbert Guy Stanhope Crawford, the noted English Archeologist. The presentation note states: "To O.G.S. Crawford, who also edits antiquity." [Note: Crawford founded the "Antiquity Trust" in 1927]. In addition, there is signed letter laid in to Crawford exhibiting Britton's exquisite penmanship and calligraphic signature which states: "Dear Mr. Crawford, I never heard whether you ultimately managed to digest "Hunger and Love"-or whether like some people I've heard about, you perished by the way! I'm sending you my latest venture. This is a bit rough, as it's only in proof and not perfect at that, but it may have some sentimental interest to keep as a curiosity of literary history, as a pre-first edition." Condition: Interior fine, wraps faded and discolored, with front wrap detached but present. Outer spine chipped but binding tight. Britton signed the front wrap at the top, wrote the title and also "proof" on the bottom. Note: I have not been able to locate any other proof copies, and letters from Britton are understandably scarce. Further note: this is such a fun item, that we have gone a little crazy cataloging it. If you've read this far, you'll be amazed the price is only... $200.'

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