It was sometime in 2003 that I bought my first Simon Mawer book, “The Fall.” It was a story of mountain climbing, love and betrayal, and I so liked it that I soon began reading and collecting all of Mawer’s novels. I expanded my acquisitions to his three books of nonfiction as well. All hardbacks, first editions, first issues.
About four years ago, with the publication of Mawer’s acclaimed, “The Glass Room,” I ran into a hurdle.
With a small initial press run of something like 2,000 books, a first issue of “Glass Room” became not only scarce but expensive. So expensive for me anyway, that I balked at blowing my entire book budget on a single title.
Not long after “Glass Room” was shortlisted for the all-important Man Booker Prize in England, prices soared even higher. I have a note from 2010 saying Anulios, a bookstore in Spain, wanted $565 for a signed and inscribed first edition of “Glass Room.” It was enough to flutter my pages.
There is a very good online site, Advanced Book Exchange, that I monitor regularly. ABE is an amalgamation of booksellers from around the globe and lists their books with prices and descriptions and provides a software program to make purchases. It was there, on ABE, that I watched the prices of “Glass Room” fluctuate over the last three years. Mostly downward.
Earlier this week I grew anxious when the Anulios book vanished from ABE’s listings. There were never more than three or four signed first editions of “Glass Room” at any one time. I waited a few days to see if Anulios would put the book back up for sale. It didn’t.
Now the number of listings was down to two at Kestrel Books and Gallery and Firsts in Print, both booksellers in the U.K. Both books, as they say, “signed, lined and dated.”
Kestrel wanted $360 plus shipping. The seller was always the highest priced. I assume Kestrel figures its edition is most valuable because it was signed and inscribed by Mawer on the date the Man Booker Prize was awarded — although Mawer did not win.
On the other hand Firsts in Print, in Taunton, Somerset, had an edition much cheaper and yet much more valuable to my mind. It was signed and inscribed by Mawer in March 2009, two months after publication and seven months before the Kestrel book. The buyer had made a commitment on “Glass Room” before its praise was fully sung. I thought that was important.
I shot off an email to Firsts asking for scans of the Copyright Page and Mawer’s inscription. Satisfied after seeing the copies, I sent one last email, asking how the Mawer signature was authenticated and a history of how it came to the store in Taunton. The reply was a bit disappointing:
Whilst I wasn’t at the actual signing myself, this particular copy came from a bookshop in the city of Bath where the author was doing a signing. I buy from this shop regularly and often am able to obtain something slightly different and the shop is willing to oblige as I buy a lot from them. They would have got it directly from the publisher or publisher’s wholesaler. I had a few and this is my last copy.
Still, the store had a top 5-star rating from ABE, and I knew this “Glass Room” was a scarce true first by reading the Copyright Page. And I trusted the Mawer signature to be authentic.
Loaded then yesterday with mostly good feelings, I paid Firsts in Print $215 for the book via credit card and $11 more for shipping. Not much in comparison to, say, a signed first edition Hemingway. One store on ABE is asking $20,000 for his “A Farewell to Arms.”
The Mawer book should arrive here in Phoenix within the next few weeks. I will then have accumulated first issues of 10 of Mawer’s 11 books, not counting American firsts and paperbacks. The biggest obstacle to date is now behind. A first of Mawer’s latest book, “The Girl Who Fell from The Sky,” should prove no problem.
I have now invested real dollars in Mawer’s legacy and his future. Somehow that makes me feel good.