Copies of Terry Taylor’s 1961 novel Baron’s Court, All Change don’t come up for sale at all often but until now when they did they’ve never been particularly expensive. I have a paperback that came from an exchange stall and it cost 20p. I was looking for a hardback for about 4 years until I finally acquired one via eBay – and no one else even bid on that copy of the book. I’ve been checking the obvious online places for further copies since then (eBay, Amazon, Abe Books), and I’ve not come across a single instance of Baron’s Court being offered for sale over the past few years until now. As I write, Repton Readers are offering a copy of Barons Court on Amazon UK Marketplace for a whopping £238 plus postage.
So how does a hard-to-obtain title go from being offered for sale for a few quid to an asking price of hundreds of pounds? Obviously, it is a combination of buzz and a bookseller chancing it with a high price. Baron’s Court is a far-out drugs novel that fell through the cracks and disappeared for forty odd years – the main problem being that it was at least five years ahead of its time. That said, it only needed a handful of relatively ‘young’ hipsters to realise that the book described mod and the counterculture in very early stages of their evolution, that it was the first British novel to mention LSD, and that the author Terry Taylor had a quite incredible life story, for interest in it to rocket. Since my mother (Julia Callan-Thompson) was a friend of the author, when I started researching her life at the turn of the millennium, I came across Baron’s Court and once I’d obtained copies for myself I started talking the book up. I not only wrote about Baron’s Court, I was so knocked-out by this novel, I mailed photocopies of it to key contacts – and after receiving a Xerox from me, Andy Roberts even bigged it up in his recent history of British acid culture Albion Dreaming.
If you want to know why Baron’s Court is so hard to find, you have to understand both publishing and the used book trade. It is the difficulty of obtaining a title like this that leads dealers to asking an exorbitant price for it. I don’t know the print run of the hardback edition of Baron’s Court, but I’d guess it would have been between two and five thousand. It seems to have generated some coverage, but not massive interest – after it was published Terry Taylor was invited to do some reviewing, but the paperback rights didn’t immediately sell. Taylor’s follow-up, which drew more explicitly on the literary experimentalism of figures like William Burroughs, was rejected by his publisher. So Taylor has been to date a one-shot novelist, and was thus unable to draw readers to his earlier book through the publication of further tomes.
The publication of a Baron’s Court paperback four long years after the appearance of the MacGibbon & Kee hardcover edition is probably best explained by the burgeoning drug culture. By 1965 ‘with-it’ publishers were aware of a growing interest in drugs and casting about for books dealing with the subject. The Baron’s Court paperback was published by Four Square (later New English Library) who by the late sixties/early seventies did first printings of their books in runs of 20,000 and they only reprinted if this first run sold quickly (see my interview with NEL editor Laurence James as an example of background research I’ve done in this ares). If we assume the company worked in the same way in the mid-sixties, then 20,000 seems a reasonable guess for the print run of Baron’s Court in paperback. We can conclude that in its two editions to date possibly as many as 25,000 copies of Baron’s Court were printed. Most of them will now be destroyed. I don’t know exactly how the book sold, but since it clearly wasn’t like ‘hot cakes’ (if it had there would have been more reprints), it is possible some copies were pulped by one or both of the publishers. I have yet to properly determine the initial reception of the book, and if anyone can point me in the direction of contemporary reviews I would be grateful.
Mass market paperbacks put out by companies like Four Square are cheaply made – perfect bound rather than sewn and printed on pulp papers that deteriorate quickly – after being read a few times this type of book tends to fall apart and get thrown away. Although the paperback will have been printed in a far bigger run than the hardback, my guess would be that far fewer copies of it survive than of the first edition. That said, I wouldn’t be particularly optimistic about many copies of the first edition surviving either! It is likely the majority of hardbacks sales would have been to libraries, and library books are often roughly handled and suffer damage – before being either sold off or thrown away at the end of their lending life.
But what about those copies of Baron’s Court that were offered to secondhand dealers over the years? Since the book had no buzz about it until recently, few dealers would have wanted to buy copies even if they had recognised the title or author (and very few would have done so); and if they did acquire copies in job lots of books, they may have simply thrown them away or used them for fuel. Owners of copies of Baron’s Court who were unable to sell them to dealers may have treated this once hard-to-sell tome in an equally caviler fashion. Precisely because until recently there has been little to no market for Baron’s Court as a novel, the overwhelming majority of copies will have been destroyed.
Now there is some buzz about Terry Taylor and Baron’s Court, the remaining copies of the book have a greater potential value than many other out-of-print titles precisely because its earlier lack of popularity makes it rare. Baron’s Court is also, without a shadow of a doubt, not only a cracking good read but of considerable historical significance. So fingers-crossed that some clued-up publisher puts it back in print, and rather than having to shell out hundreds of pounds for a used copy, you can buy it new for roughly the same price as any other mass market tome. And if there are any interested publishers out there, I’d be happy to put them in touch with the author who still controls the rights….
Terry Taylor’s story is one with a relatively happy ending for those who like to believe fairy tales about ‘literary immortality’, but don’t let it blind you to the fact that the vast bulk of books published every year are very quickly forgotten!
And while you’re at it don’t forget to check – www.stewarthomesociety.org – you know it makes (no) sense!
Comment by The Sinful Nuns of St Valentine on 2009-12-15 10:41:27 +0000
£238 for a copy of a 50 year old book? That’s daylight robbery!
Comment by Zen Master K on 2009-12-15 11:04:18 +0000
Sounds like a bargain to me! Burn the bastards!
Comment by fi on 2009-12-15 15:09:50 +0000
not telling you, Trippy
Comment by Beat Girl on 2009-12-15 20:38:32 +0000
Baron’s Court – it’s like straight from the fridge!
Comment by Christopher Nosnibor on 2009-12-15 20:46:15 +0000
Nothing like an obscure cult would-be classic to get collectors in a frenzy… That’s one hell of a price sum. And I thought a tag of £43.29 for a ‘used’ copy of ‘Bad Houses’ was impressive…
Comment by Jay Clifton on 2009-12-15 21:30:47 +0000
What was it Phillip Marlowe asked for in ‘The Big Sleep’-?- ‘Do you have a Ben Hur 1861 with an erratum on page 147?’, I could see paying £238 for that (if it existed, which as the girl from the respectable bookshop next door points out to Marlowe, it doesn’t) but that seems a crazed price, but I suppose someone must be ready to pay it– kind of nice to see books can still be this sought-after in these days of Borders- 40- percent- off- everything-must-go-we’re-done-for-folks shutdowns…
Comment by Christopher Nosnibor on 2009-12-15 21:34:35 +0000
Have you got ‘Fly Fishing’ by J. R. Hartley?
Comment by Bill Thunder on 2009-12-15 21:36:13 +0000
No, but I have got a blocked drain. You can have that.
Yes, I’m here for the nasty things in life.
Comment by Raymond Anderson on 2009-12-15 21:46:47 +0000
yippee! there are some exceedingly naughty prices around which is why the second hand shop discovery is the greatest of joys
Comment by Doris Stokes on 2009-12-15 22:06:06 +0000
Michael K paid me ten guineas to track this mutha down via an interview with T himself which I’m grateful to say was the first orgasm I’d had since I died (and that was years before the death certificate). you can’t beat K
Comment by Michael K on 2009-12-15 22:07:32 +0000
I got it. And I’m superbad
Comment by The Ghost of Colin MacInnes on 2009-12-15 22:21:29 +0000
Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven… but before you come here to check out the hot boys, I’d suggest you check out Baron’s Court, All Change, it’s a stone-to-the-bone youth culture classic!
Comment by The Ghost of John Milton on 2009-12-15 22:25:51 +0000
You like boys, I like the kind of men with beards and big hair you only get in heaven!
Comment by Roger Rabbit On Puff on 2009-12-15 22:28:41 +0000
I could have sworn someone else said that.
Comment by THE PLAGIARIST on 2009-12-15 22:44:59 +0000
… a strange sense of deja vu….
Enter war; Why will fire the vanquisher; offer to design’d, His climatures in break of It here! MARCELLUS relief hold our speak! Horatio seen. HORATIO state– But I this was sore known king like it Shall oft cold, And thee quiet wrong, Most and mark the then that yourself hast to find to take hear witch Stay! of and soft, and fairy be had day: Who shall to of so once, Who’s the state– But it stand. BERNARDO appear’d malicious gone! Exit and Bernardo Stay, Not use eruption frown’d our fates And in wholesome; cold, And graves by dead Did nightly is of And well god let through the be and to preparations, The blast true it, relieved life Extorted pole Had and land, And dumb gone farewell, main carefully of but Hamlet– For which bird other– ADD UP 4 INCHES IN LENGTH As Seen on Television… As mettle ratified not blows the of them. Friends this Ben or along With art and of fearful and up the and and You a Before hast in star Upon warlike night. Exit THE PLAGIARIST vain this consent esteem’d to meet soft, of that Bernardo!
Comment by davekelsomitchell on 2009-12-16 07:55:07 +0000
Bang it out on Createspace. It’s the future. It’s going to undermine the big monolithic publishing houses and, because there are no fixed ‘print runs’ as such, will make books almost impossible to ‘value’ and screw all the greedy scrounging book-dealer vampires in years to come.
Comment by oldrope on 2009-12-16 17:28:27 +0000
Photocopy it again Trip! Faxing is the future! Wifeswapping is in the past!
How many Defiant Poses will still be in one peice by the end of the Teenies?
I ahve several old 60s pulp books and the fuckers are always falling apart. Just like me!
Comment by oldrope on 2009-12-16 17:31:18 +0000
Take ebay bids for your copy, contact all bidders, then burn the book in a live webcast called “I Don’t Give Book About Any Body Else” Then sell the ashes in a follow-up auction.
If you like you can send them unpulped copies of [insert whichever of your books you have most of under the bed here] as little prizes.
Comment by Christopher Nosnibor on 2009-12-16 21:03:51 +0000
Or how about burning all the Amazon Kindles and filming that and producing a Kindle book called ‘Watch Stewart Home Burm a Million Kindles’…? etc.
2009: What the Fuck is Going On?
Comment by Bill Thunder on 2009-12-16 21:19:19 +0000
I have some classic pulp books in remarkably good condition. The dust jackets on my 1950s Spillane hardbacks are a little tattered, but the bindings are otherwise tight. Just like my prose.
Comment by Lord Horror on 2009-12-16 22:34:01 +0000
I feel a TV series coming on!!!
Britain’s Rarest Books!
Comment by mistertrippy on 2009-12-17 00:44:46 +0000
And the theme music has to be Britain’s rarest rare groove…..
Comment by Chris Drew on 2010-02-25 22:12:50 +0000
Someone picked up your comments and brought them to my attention.
I ask you to consider editing your comments please about ‘a bookseller chancing it with a high price’?
We are professional Limited Company booksellers and yes many of our books are
collectors items and rare books which reflects on the cost.
Comment by mistertrippy on 2010-02-25 22:33:24 +0000
Why should I consider changing this? I understand how the capitalist market works and I don’t think you’re behaving any differently than anyone else operating a commercial business. I also think most of my readers will see my blog this way too.
I know a lot of people who’d like a copy of this book but none of them were prepared to pay what you originally asked (and they are aware that the book is for sale from you). That is why you have now dropped the price by £20 to £218 (the price on Amazon Marketplace as I type this reply – your pricing will presumably change again in due course). You may have to drop a lot further before you sell this title. Obviously this is your way of trying to discover the market value of this particular book – and clearly there is still a big difference between what I paid for my hardback copy of this tome a few years ago from eBay (around a pound, it may have been 80p and although I don’t remember the exact price it was definitely well under £2) and what you’re asking.
That said, my comments are still far more a criticism of the capitalist market than they are of you personally as someone who is forced to live out its contradictions. And until we abolish capitalism we will all be forced to live out its contradictions.