Friday, September 16, 2016

R.A. Brimmell, vintage book catalogues, M.R. James and J.S. le Fanu, etc etc

Browsing old book catalogues is a victimless crime, and while in Melbourne this week I picked up twenty-odd R.A. Brimmell catalogues from the late '50s and early '60s.  Brimmell was an English book dealer whose catalogues invariably had sections on "detective and mystery stories" and nineteenth century books with a nice sprinkling of Gothic novels and Penny Bloods.

In catalogue no. 10, 1957, he has listed a stunning association copy of le Fanu's Ghost Stories and Mysteries:

This copy ended up with US book collector Robert Lee Wolff.  In his Strange Stories: Explorations in Victorian Fiction - the Occult and the Neurotic (1971) he writes in a short section on le Fanu, "Le Fanu's own first collection appeared in 1851, Ghost Stories and Tales of Mystery.  It is a very rare book, and I have the copy that belonged to M.R. James himself: almost the copy, perhaps because it links the two masters of the art."

Twelve quid seems a reasonable price, even for 1957 - in another catalogue Brimmell has a copy of R. Murray Gilchrist's The Stone Dragon for 12/6.  By way of comparison, in catalogue 39, Brimmell lists le Fanu's Willing to Die for 28 pounds.

Also for 25 pounds, in catalogue 35, an interesting collection of Gothic chapbooks:

Brimmell also regularly listed rare Penny Bloods.  In catalogue 47 he lists The Work Girls of London, Their Trials and Temptations. A Novel (Newsagent's Pub. Co. 1865) for 15 quid.

In catalogue 56 he has, also for 15 pounds, the unlikely titled The Women of London Disclosing the Trials and Temptations of a Woman's Life in London with occasional glimpses of a fast career.  This one was published by Vickers in the 1850s:

I wonder if the NPC version, like Sweeney Todd, was one of Chas. Fox's rip offs?

Here is a nice list of Penny Bloods from catalogue 54:


  1. In one of his short stories Somerset Maugham mentions that reading book catalogues is one of the great pleasures of life. I just recently bought a couple of old L.W. Currey titles, simply to read the write-ups on the huge reference section in one of them. Even now, at night I linger over the online catalogues of various dealers while I--such a good boy I am--floss my teeth. These Brimmell catalogues are quite impressive.

    1. Michael, that's nice to know - someone told me when I was caught in flagrante dilecto that it was a criminal waste of time!

  2. I have ordered a copy of Wolff's Strange Stories study. Any opinions on its merits?

  3. Sandy, the first section on the "pleasures of the chase" has lots of fascinating info. The other parts are case studies, mainly on Bulwer-Lytton's occult fiction.

  4. Thanks,James. Look forward to reading it. I loved something I read awhile back (possibly here?) where someone had said if Bulwer-Lytton was any good he'd be buried in Westminster Abbey, and the retort was "he IS"!