So Summer slips away through the fingers of Autumn…

…and I’m thinking of things passed. As a book dealer, it sometimes feels like I’m a small island in a wide and slow river. Books get washed ashore, I care for them awhile, sometimes nursing them back to health or discovering some new connection or part played in the undercurrents of history, and after finding them a new home, I set them afloat once more and watch them disappear around the bend.

I’ve been buying occult books since 2002, but I’ve been selling them for just as long. That’s the point. That’s survival. But I’ve been thinking lately of what a marvellous collection I would have if I had ignored the second part of the equation and made a more permanent home on my shelves for them.

All of us, in the end, are just curators – librarians for an unknown future. But the books go on and pass from hand to hand, some taking more care of them than others, but most of them survive even if it’s in a tattered, foxed and water stained way.

The first esoteric book I bought was A. E. Waite’s The Occult Sciences (1891) from a smaller book fair in an underground car park while exhibiting at the ABAA Boston Book Fair.

The sigil on the cover of The Occult Sciences

The sigil on the cover of The Occult Sciences

I had remembered a battered Waite paperback I had during my ‘searching’ teenage years and bought it almost just for the nostalgia. But when I got back, catalogued it and uploaded it to ABE, it sold overnight. “Well that’s interesting…” I thought and looked for another of my grimoires of youth: The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abra-Melin the Mage. I found an 1898 first, spine rebound in black leather with gilt gothic titles, and sold that in a couple of weeks. Well that was that and here I am. No turning back now.

I realised quickly it wasn’t always as easy as that of course (‘The first rule of life is the World is not fair’ as my Father so helpfully put it), but I was hooked. It was and still is a fairly untouched subject, historically and bibliographically. New discoveries, associations and points of issue emerge in a steady stream, to be shared or merely stored away for some future bibliographical masterpiece I believe all book dealers claim they will undertake ‘maybe next year’. And my my – what discoveries! Along the way I have been a temporary custodian for some real gems:

Aleister Crowley’s own copy of Konx On Pax, annotated and with the last blank and endpapers covered in his mad plans for a Crowley Restaurant in Paris – Some examples: ‘A. Situation. Obscure ill famed quarter, but not too inaccessible. Narrow dark alley’ ‘D. Furniture. No chairs or tables, but mattresses, armchairs, bolsters… dyed to appear dirty.’ ‘F. Merchandise. Featuring extraordinary concoctions by a.c. both food and drink (Crowley Mixed Grill: Crowley Cup) A. C.s books and pictures…’ ‘H. Attractions. (1) Myself…’

This was copy '93' of course...

This was copy ’93’ of course…

A collection of 20 of his letters to a possible (albeit one of a few) successors, a copy of Mortadello with a long inscription to Dennis Wheatley, a rare vellum bound Volume III of the Holy Books, containing the first printing of The Book of the Law and plenty of others that I wish were on My shelves.

A complete copy of Khunrath’s Amphitheatrum Sapientiae Aeternae (1609) with the famous image of the Alchemist in his Laboratory:

A tent is so on trend for the Great Work

A tent is so on trend for the Great Work

A manuscript of the ritual of the 6=5 grade (The Grade of Mystical Death c.1905) written by A. E. Waite for his post Golden Dawn order The Independent and Rectified Rite:

You wrote it all out? Printing press anyone?

You wrote it all out? Printing press anyone?

The first edition of the elusive grimoire La Poule Noire (1820) – all pyramids, talismans and a black, gold egg laying chicken of course:

Are these eggs solid gold or is it just the shell...

Are these eggs solid gold or is it just the shell…

A copy of Trissmosin’s Aureum Vellus (1598) with contemporary hand-colouring:

Go on tell me how you did it - how did you get those birds in there?

Go on tell me how you did it – how did you get those birds in there?

Steffi Grant’s wonderful illustration of the Golden Dawn Lamen in The Golden Dawn (Carfax Monograph II 1959):

Mrs Grant painted 100 of these? Perhaps not after all.

Mrs Grant painted 100 of these? Perhaps not after all.

W. Wynn Westcott’s own copy of Lives of the Adepts in Alchemystical Philosophy (1814) with his signature and label for The Hermetic Library – basically the Golden Dawn’s book collection:

I wonder what the late fine would be for this - a deadly and hostile current of will anyone?

I wonder what the late fine would be for this – a deadly and hostile current of will natch.

Not to mention inscribed Dion Fortune books, Montague Summers’ own copies of his Witchcraft books, Calmet on Vampires, a huge folio manuscript of Raphael’s Book of Fate, a drop of Fludd and Maier and so on.

I still get a rush of excitement when I find books like this. And it is all about the books and the people and the history and not yet about the money. I hope I never get to the point when my first thought is “fantastic – this book is worth a crap load of money”. I know I have to earn a living, but if I can do it without losing the feeling I got from finding that first little A. E. Waite first edition, I will be a fortunate man.

So here’s to the next great find! My collection will grow ever bigger, just not on my bookcase.

Posted in General, Occult Books | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Nothing for 150 years then BANG!

In 1651 someone finally got round to translating Agrippa’a masterpiece of Renaissance magic: Three Books of Occult Philosophy into English . It was originally published in 1533, so no points for haste there. However the wait was even longer for the next compilation of esoteric knowledge and the star of this particular show: The Magus, or Celestial Intelligencer; Being a Complete System of Occult Philosophy… London: Printed for Lackington, Allen and Co.,  1801.

A little worse for wear, but I'm all original like...

A little worse for wear, but I’m all original like…

The title goes on and on (and on...)

The title goes on and on (and on…)

The author, Francis Barrett, a much maligned hero of mine, has been wonderfully described by my ex-colleague (he’s not dead, I just don’t work with him anymore) Jonathan of Bibliodeviant fame, so I’m going to talk about the book itself and in this case, a truly wonderful example. It’s in a contemporary, possibly even publisher’s binding with gorgeous ‘come hither’ untrimmed edges and is clean as a whistle (though why something you spit drool through is clean I haven’t got a clue)

Will you take a look at those page edges...

Will you take a look at those page edges…

Go on go on, have a closer look - lovely lovely lovely

Go on go on, have a closer look – lovely lovely lovely

I confess this make me go weak at the knees. This is easily the best copy I’ve seen of one of my all time favourite books of magic. It’s got the lot: size, breadth of content (including alchemy, kabbalah, planetary magic, ritual magic, crystal gazing, magical alphabets, biographies of famous Magi and lots more), plates, diagrams, tables and of course the famous hand-coloured portraits of demons:

Fallen Angels

Fallen Angels

Vessels of Wrath

Vessels of Wrath

Ophis and The Spirit Antichrist

Ophis and The Spirit Antichrist

Heads of Evil Daemons Powers of Evil

Heads of Evil Daemons Powers of Evil

Which leads me to another point: Stop Getting the Magus Wrong! There seems to have been a long tradition of confusion between the 1801 first edition and the so called facsimile or second edition of c.1875 because they are identical (well almost, as we’ll see…) right down to the same publisher and date of 1801. So, after spending years grumbling in the shadows like a Gollum obsessed with issue points instead of a ring, I will present you with ‘the keys of the kingdom’ (the sort of thing some book dealers would say when other book dealers are threatening to give their customers useful information…) and explain how to tell them apart and dispel a couple of myths:

1. Well for starters the first edition comes in all sorts of bindings, often in not brilliant condition, while the vast majority of the second come in a publisher’s binding of half or quarter leather with this chap in gilt to the spine:

The Angel of Saturday. Bet Gabriel is jealous of the tail.

Cassiel, The Angel of Saturday. Bet Gabriel is jealous of the tail.

I’ve seen copies with various coloured cloth sides, red, green, black and there may be others. If the book you are holding has been rebound and you’re not sure if it’s a first or second fear not, you can check the paper.

2. As you can see from the pictures, the first is printed on glorious regency paper stock, which feels almost powdery to the touch. It is also watermarked. The second is a thinner and more shiny paper, without watermark.

This copy is just so clean...

This copy is just so clean…

3. Going back to our friend the Angel of Saturday, in the second edition he’s hand-coloured along with the four plates of Demons, making five hand coloured plates. This is often mentioned as a point between the two editions, but it’s wrong. Most firsts do just have the four Demon plates coloured, but some have Cassiel coloured too and this particular copy has another plate altogether coloured; something I haven’t seen before:

Mystic semaphore anyone?

Mystic semaphore anyone?

4. Finally, the reason the second is not a straightforward ‘facsimile’ is the long ‘s’, the one that looks a bit like a tall ‘f’. This was already old-fashioned by 1801, which is probably why Barrett decided to use it. The second edition has the normal ‘s’ throughout, so somebody made a change at some point. I don’t know why exactly – the rest of the book is pretty much identical so why bother?

Folding table - even this big book was not big enough!

Folding table – even this big book was not big enough!

Like an advert for secret agent writing on the back of a comic

Like an advert for secret agent writing on the back of a comic

I've gotta sigil and I'm gonna use it...

I’ve gotta sigil and I’m gonna use it…

There, the secret’s out. Probably not that secret anyway, but I feel much better for it. For some reason, some bibliographers have been a bit sniffy about The Magus – ‘it’s just a compilation of previous works’ ‘Barrett added little himself’ ‘inconsistencies and mistakes’ ‘blah blah blah’. They all miss the point. The Magus is exactly what most people imagine a magic book to look like, from the bookshelf of Faust or in the laboratary of Frankenstein to Anthony Head leafing through a tome in Buffy, this is the real deal. It also played a role in the Gothic Revival and without doubt set us on the twisting path to the formation of the Golden Dawn and the synthesis of myriad philosophies and systems of belief. And what the hell? Let’s look at those page edges once more:

Feels good, doesn't it?

Feels good, doesn’t it?

Posted in Occult Books | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

The Twelve Keys of Me

So after two weeks of frantically clearing a bedroom out, fighting PayPal every step of the way (‘your account must be upgraded’ ‘your account has been limited’ ‘your account funds will be held for 21 days’ ‘your very soul will be sucked from you via dark necromantic rituals…’) and the delightful process of hitting your head with a brick again and again that is trying to build a very simple website (and I mean simple – the only bit of coding I ever learnt was circa 1999. We’re talking almost clockwork html here…) I’m up and running! People can even buy books if they want to:

I need to sell them, but there lovely, so I don't want to sell them...

I need to sell them, but they’re lovely, so I don’t want to sell them…

Hopefully, life will settle down a bit, or at least enough so I can resume talking about the beautiful and intriguing occult books that come my way, rather than about me (a far less interesting subject. By a long way.) Although to instantly refute that, here’s a picture of my new business cards:

For me quite thrilling - for you? Not so much...

For me quite thrilling – for you? Not so much…

So until next time: Libris legitur occulta!

Posted in General | Leave a comment