Tag Archives: Powell

Who exactly buys “art books”?

‘Who exactly buys “art books”?’ Widmerpool asks in Volume 2 of A Dance to the Music of Time, the sort of difficult question the newcomer to publishing may be asked at any party, and not always one that can be answered convincingly.

His questions became more searching when I tried to give an account of that side of publishing, and my own part in it. After further explanations, he said: ‘It doesn’t sound to me like a very serious job.’

Widmerpool advises the narrator: ‘You should look for something more promising. From what you say, you do not even seem to keep very regular hours.’

The answer is revealing about one of the pleasures of a publishing career in former times: ‘That’s its great advantage.’

Anthony Powell, A Buyer’s Market, 1952

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A publishing bull’s eye

British publishers seem to be stuck in their ways according to Anthony Powell who introduces publishers here and there in A Dance to the Music of Time.

“That had been towards the end of the nineteen-twenties. Glober had arrived in London as representative of a recently founded New York publishing house. Even before he landed, his name went round among the London publishers as a young American colleague with a head full of bright new ideas; by no means an unqualified recommendation to that particular community.”

In Temporary Kings, Nicholas Jenkins meets up again with Dan Tokenhouse, with whom he had worked when younger, and Louis Glober who had once been involved with Tokenhouse in an aborted project to co-publish some books on Cubists. But Glober had moved on. “His firm fell into liquidation the following year. Several go-ahead American publishing houses went bust about that time.” Since then, he had been many things. “The Herald-Tribune had termed him playboy-tycoon, this type-casting to cover publisher, film-producer, sportsman, ‘socialite’, a lot of other more or less news-valued labels, most with some basis in fact.

Tokenhouse, on the other hand, was the model of the gentleman publisher and got into publishing art books, according to Nick’s father, because he “always hankered after publishing picture books”. After a nervous collapse he has given up publishing, moved to Venice and devoted himself to painting. There are evidently great differences between the British and American publisher, although all publishers are obviously part of the cultural scene. In Venice, they are counted among Jacky’s “Communist chums, movie people, publishers, other rich people like himself“.

There is another more pragmatic British publisher in the book, J. C. Quiggin who is married to Ada Leintwardine, a novelist, who also works for Quiggin & Craggs. She pushes Glober to make a movie of one of their books, Match Me Such Marvel, and we learn that, although Quiggin and Craggs once had a strong left-wing leaning,“Quiggin himself, anyway commercially, had so far abrogated his own principles as to have lately scored a publishing bull’s eye with the memories of a Tory ‘elder statesman’.” He rejects another potentially interesting title that Ada suggests they might publish. “A book on X. Trapnel is never going to sell. Why get us involved in it at all. It would only mean more money down the drain”.

Perhaps Quiggin is an example of a British publisher who adapted well to the new publishing culture arriving from the other side of the Atlantic.

Anthony Powell, Temporary Kings, 1973

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