Something To Be Afraid Of From Messrs. Lestaret & Co.

It’s been a quiet week on the post front since my return from Scotland, mainly due to a temporary curtailment of eBay activities during this period. This has unfortunately meant that junk mail and bills have far outnumbered the packages containing books which usually brighten up my day. Yesterday however, the situation improved immeasurably as I received another envelope bearing the stamp of the esteemed Lestaret & Co.

I wrote about the mail art of Lestaret in June (here) after receiving a wonderful handmade book which was inspired by my Rural Weird mix which is still available for download (here). Once again I would highly recommend a visit to his blog (here) and web shop (here) as I always find his work intriguing. Now back to that envelope…

After prising open the small black envelope, I gingerly removed the following card;

Lestaret Bookworm Front

I decided to run the main title through Google Translate and discovered it’s meaning to be “Pointless Specimen Identification” which elicited a hearty chuckle. Bizarrely enough, this small piece of text is a mixture of Swedish, Latin and Welsh. I then turned my attention to the interior of the card;

Lestaret Bookwork Interior

The plate depicting a ‘Common Bookworm’ which is subtitled “Oligochaeta Libri” is printed on beautifully textured, handmade card. The inscription on the card to the left of the plate is in Esperanto and was translated by Google as follows;

Official Notification.

To be kept safe for easy reference.

If identified within your establishment alert the ministry of librarian things are going.

Penalty for failure to conform is unpleasant and probable cause social disgrace, speech impediments and loss of appetite.

Below this text is another line of Esperanto meaning “Citizen Notified” followed by my name which is hand written in cursive script. It’s all marvellously odd and wonderfully unique, two qualities which I have come to associate with all post I receive bearing a Lestaret stamp. If it’s good enough for His Excellency Viscount Runcible of Arbourthorne then it’s good enough for the humble unsubscriber – keeping checking your bookshelves!

Here’s a final shot of the plate as researched and catalogued by the erstwhile Messrs. Lestaret & Co.

Lestaret Bookwork Plate

A Visit To Leakey’s

I spent last week in Scotland visiting my old friend Stuart who lives in a beautiful little fishing village called Rosehearty which is located around 45 miles north of Aberdeen. During this time, my genial host took me to several areas of outstanding beauty and jaw-dropping scenery which acted as a perfect escape from the rather stressful business of mentally preparing myself for my new job. One of his excursions included a trip to Inverness for a fine lunch of haggis, neeps and tatties followed by a visit to Leakey’s Bookshop on Church Street.

Leakeys Exterior

Leakey’s is Scotland’s largest secondhand bookshop and is housed in an old Gaelic church which dates back to 1793. The building houses a vast collection of books spanning all genres and also features a rather scary looking wood burning fire which heats the whole space in winter. There are bookshelves lining every available wall which extend up onto a mezzanine level accessed by cast iron spiral staircases. It truly is the bookshop that time forgot and has a magical quality about it, something sadly missing in today’s soulless corporate outlets. I really can’t recommend a visit to Leakey’s enough if you’re even remotely nearby, it’s a good job I live several hundred miles away as I’m sure I’d spend most of my free time there browsing the seemingly endless stock of vintage paperbacks.

Leakeys Interior

After a very pleasant hour of rifling through the science fiction section, I realised I had a huge stack of books on the floor in front of me and so I began to ruthlessly narrow down my selection. In the end, I left the shop with twenty six titles – a fantastic haul which cost me far less than it would have done if I had bought the same books via eBay or an online book dealer. Needless to say, I was a very happy man on the long drive back to Rosehearty that afternoon.

I’ve had a fantastic break thanks to Stuart (who incidentally runs a rather good Sci-Fi/horror blog called The Fifth Dimension) and travelled home with a much heavier suitcase than the one I took with me. I’ll spare you the holiday snaps (as fabulous as they are) and share a small selection of tasty book covers from my latest stash instead;

The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

I’ve been looking for the 11th printing of this title from 1974 for a while now and was incredibly lucky to find a copy in extremely good condition despite being almost forty years old. The reason I wanted this particular version was because of the wonderfully psychedelic Ian Miller cover art.

HG Wells Time Machine

Things edited by Ivan Howard

I missed out on winning this anthology on eBay a few months ago, it sold for three times the price I paid for it at Leakey’s. This is a Mayflower Dell publication from 1965 and contains six shorts from the likes of Poul Anderson, James Blish and Damon Knight. The cover artist is uncredited but the painting is signed ‘Jacks’.


Anthologies are great to collect, especially the early magazine style publications of the sixties of which I have a number. These two books have a couple of things in common; they both contain shorts by J.G. Ballard which would eventually end up in The Atrocity Exhibition and they were both published in the year I was born.

New Worlds, April 1966 edited by Michael Moorcock

Published by Roberts & Vitner Ltd, this collection features Ballard’s The Assassination Weapon in addition to short stories by Moorcock and John Brunner among others. The cover is uncredited.

New Worlds 1966

Impulse, March 1966 edited by Karl Bonfiglioni

This is another Roberts & Vitner publication and contains shorts by the likes of James Blish, Poul Anderson and Brian Aldiss. Ballard contributes You and Me and the Continuum. I initially grabbed this one because of the brilliant cover painting by Judith Ann Lawrence which features yet another human skull to add to my collection.

Impulse 1966

It’s fair to say that I’m slightly obsessed with Penguin Sci-Fi books of the sixties and seventies and so I always tend to keep an eye open for them when I’m hunting. I never thought I’d pick up such well preserved examples of the following titles at such ridiculously low prices.

Consider Her Ways and Others by John Wyndham

This near fine collection of Wyndham short stories was published in 1965 and has a strikingly odd cover by Herbert Spencer, the founder and editor of influential design magazine Typographica.

Wyndham Consider Her Ways

Trouble with Lichen by John Wyndham

Published in 1963 with more strange cover art, this design is the work of John Griffiths.

Wyndham Trouble With Lichen


Never Mind The Ballards, Here’s The Box Set

Assembling a collection of anything can be a frustrating endeavour at times, particularly when an item eludes you for so long that you eventually resign yourself to the fact that you’ll never be able to own said item. Being something of a music and book collector, I have hit this brick wall several times in the past and rarely managed to obtain what it was that I originally spent huge amounts of time trying to track down in the first place. This short tale however is an exception to such a predicament.

I’ve been a huge fan of J.G. Ballard since reading The Atrocity Exhibition in my late teens as part of a small obsession I had with the work of Burroughs, Gysin et al and following this introduction I picked up everything I could find by him. Just recently though I have been tracking down the wonderful Panther reprints which were issued at the end of the 1970s to replace my slightly tatty copies. As part of this research into publication history, I came across a blog post which featured a 1974 Penguin box set of four books; The Terminal Beach, The Drowned World, The Wind From Nowhere and The Drought. Each title has cover art by David Pelham which is nothing short of iconic, in fact I seemed to come across plenty of framed covers selling for £20 and upwards rather than the books themselves. Pelham also produced a fantastic wraparound painting for the slipcase itself making this one of the most visually appealing uniform editions I think I’ve ever seen.

Such desirability however brings scarcity and so when months of searching failed to turn up a single copy at any price I began to suspect that tracking down this beautiful box set might turn out to be a difficult proposition. Some weeks ago, a copy appeared for auction on eBay – the first I had ever seen – and I watched the price rapidly accelerate from its 99p starting price to well beyond £60 in the last hour with a sinking feeling. I knew at this point my chances of ever owning this set were very slim if this was the outcome.

Imagine my surprise when it turned up on eBay again last week, it had no accompanying picture and was being offered for a fixed price of only £15… could this really be what I was looking for? I took no chances and hit the ‘buy it now’ button, determined not to miss out once again should this indeed be what the brief description claimed it was. Several days of anxious waiting ensued and finally the package arrived. I can’t remember the last time I was so nervous tearing into a book parcel but after the final piece of bubble wrap was removed, my initial worries subsided as realised I now had an extremely good example of this much sought after box set in my hands.

Ballard Pelham Penguin Box

Ballard Box Set Cover

Ballard Pelham Terminal

Ballard Pelham Drowned

Ballard Pelham Wind

Ballard Pelham Drought

The Art Of The Human Skull

A few days ago I posted a book cover depicting a rather fetching skull motif (here). When the post arrived on the following morning, I realised that two of the books I had just purchased also featured skulls on their covers and so I began to consider how many other titles in my library bore similar examples of cranial imagery. A quick trip to the bookshelves revealed that I had somewhere in the region of fifty books which incorporate this particular portion of the human skeleton in their cover design. I initially thought that most of these titles would be found within my collection of vintage horror novels and anthologies but was surprised to discover various Sci-Fi books amongst the ever increasing pile. Here is a small selection of my favourite covers;

H.P. Lovecraft

One of my favourite authors and the unparalleled master of cosmic horror whose short story collections have been issued in a bewildering number of formats by many publishers for well over half a century. I knew that the shelves bearing his work would be a fine place to begin my investigation.

The Haunter of the Dark and Other Tales of Terror – A very rare early Panther collection published in 1964 with an uncredited cover depicting a rat sitting inside a human skull.

Lovecraft Hanuter of the Dark

The Horror in the Burying Ground – One of several editions published by Panther throughout the 1970s and early 80s, all of which are now quite difficult to obtain at decent prices. This printing is from 1975 and features a suitably bizarre cover by Bob Fowke.

Lovecraft Horror in the Burying Ground

Pan Horror Anthologies

I’ve picked up a few copies of this marvellous series of anthologies during the past few months and have been impressed by both the contents and the lurid cover art, particularly from the earlier volumes.

The Fifth Pan Book of Horror Stories – This 1964 edition bears an uncredited cover depicting a skull which gradually dissolves into the face of a woman who gazes unblinkingly into the camera.

Fifth Pan Horror Stories

The Sixth Pan Book of Horror Stories – The next collection in this series was published in 1965 and once again features those twin signifiers of terror; The rat and the human skull. This time however, the rat has decided to perch atop the cranium rather than skulk within the cramped confines of its interior as in the previous Lovecraft cover painting. Artwork is by W.F. Phillipps.

Sixth Pan Horror Stories

Sci-Fi novels

In my brief introduction I mentioned that I had found a number of vintage Sci-Fi novels which also used the human skull in their cover art. These books are two such examples.

Slave Ship by Frederik Pohl – This book is from yet another series which I am attempting to complete. Published in 1967 by Four Square Books, the uncredited photograph depicts a skeletal spaceman complete with visored helmet.

Pohl Slave Ship

Shadow of Heaven by Bob Shaw – I’ve recently discovered the work of Bob Shaw and am in the process of picking up as many of his books as possible. This short novel published in 1970 by New English Library has a fantastic cover painting by George Underwood. How could I possibly resist buying a book whose cover features both a skull and a robot? (I couldn’t!)

Bob Shaw Shadow of Heaven

This final selection is made up of a pair of titles which use representations of the human skull rather than the real thing. Interestingly, both of these books were published by Penguin in 1966 as part of a series.

The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester – A rather odd cover photo by Lester Waldman for this great novel featuring two children in Halloween costume, one of whom is wearing a bizarre skull mask.

Bester Demolished Man

Drunkard’s Walk by Frederik Pohl – The second Pohl title to be included in this post, the cover of which has a marvellous abstract painting of a skull by Kenneth Randall.

Pohl Drunkards Walk

And finally…

I couldn’t leave this one out, a stunning cover by Richard Clifton-Dey for the 1973 New English Library printing of John Wydham’s amusingly titled Jizzle collection.

Wyndham Jizzle

Four For The Future… Twice!

I must confess to being a bit of a cover whore when it comes to books, I suppose it’s an unavoidable side-effect of being a collector of vintage paperbacks that my library contains multiple copies of some titles. Sometimes this is because I have collected a uniform series to which a particular book belongs or is simply due to the fact that I have found an earlier edition of something I already own bearing equally wonderful cover art. Whatever the reason, I’m certainly not averse to spending a few more pounds on titles which already grace my shelves.

The following pair of books are a little odd as they belong in neither of the above categories despite my initial belief that they were different printings of the same title, albeit presented with a slight numerical change. On closer inspection however I found that they were actually different anthologies published under the same name, a rather odd situation indeed.

4 For The Future

This first collection is edited by noted anthologist Groff Conklin and contains four novelettes, hence its title. It was published by Consul Books in 1961 and features a great Richard Powers cover montage which was originally used for the first printing in 1959;

4 Future Cover

4 Future Rear

Four For The Future

As soon as I saw the cover of this collection on eBay I clicked on the ‘buy it now’ button without any hesitation. How I could I pass up the chance of adding such a glorious piece of anatomical psychedelia to my collection? Published in the UK by Quartet in 1974, it contains two short stories from each of the four writers. The marvellous cover is by Patrick Woodroffe which, had the contents been awful (they aren’t) more than justified the ridiculously small sum I paid for it;

Four Future Cover

Four Future Rear