Me & Sam Beckett, big profit, a fleabite

7th November 2013 3 comments3149 views

Back in 1964 when I was busy on my postgraduate thesis in Oxford, lapping up Flaubert and Baudelaire and Stendhal, Blackwell’s bookshop had a branch in narrow Turl Street which runs through the centre of the city (as in nos-tril dividing the nose), and they also had a rare books branch in nearby Ship Street (probably named for sheep, not ships).
In a windowbox outside the Turl Street shop were dumped unsalable books for a shilling each (modern 5 pence; 6 Eurocents). And there one sunny morning I found dumped the first edition of Samuel Beckett‘s first book of fiction, More Pricks Than Kicks; and I knew it for what it was.
I read it admiringly and with care, treasured it lovingly for six months, then sold it back to the same shop’s rare books division for 80 Pounds, which is about 16,000 times the buying price. I needed some money, and 80 Pounds was very nearly an entire student grant (those were the days!) for a term to cover lodgings and living expenses
I just saw the same book, maybe the very same copy, on sale for 4,250 Pounds (5050 Euros), from

More Pricks

…also, the same with a slightly tatty dust jacket (which my copy lacked) plus a dedication “To Molly with much love”—not “to Molloy”— for a mere 37,500 Pounds (44,580 Euros).

MP dustcover

I still have the first English edition of Molloy (translated by Patrick Bowles in collaboration from Beckett, who wrote the novel first in French), “a very rare scarce title” according to one catalogue, on offer from another dealer at US $449. Mine looks exactly like this:


…except that somebody indented deeply into the blank page preceding the title page (though without leaving any traces of ink or pencil) a ghost title: Lives of the Great Poisoners. For the past 50 years I’ve wondered: whodunnit? And why?


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