Reports from the Bibliographic Bunker
Jed Birmingham on William S. Burroughs Collecting
With all the discussion concerning bibliographies, I should mention a few other print bibliographies besides Maynard & Miles and Shoaf’s Checklist. In 1975, Michael B. Goodman published William S. Burroughs: An Annotated Bibliography of his Works and Criticism. This guide usually gets lost in the shuffle when discussing Burroughs bibliographies. It is about 100 pages and from what I have heard and read provides information not in Maynard, such as critical information. Copies are available for $20. Goodman has written a couple other books on Burroughs. In 1990, he published William S. Burroughs: A Reference and Research Guide. Like the annotated bibliography, this was issued by Garland. Any information on this book would be appreciated. Copies are available on Amazon for $50-75. Goodman’s Contemporary Literary Censorship: The Case History of Burroughs’ Naked Lunch is an excellent account of the whirlwind surrounding the publication of Naked Lunch. I read a library copy a long time ago and have not held a copy since. They are expensive, $150 on average.
Auction and bookseller catalogs are also valuable sources of bibliographic information on Burroughs and can become collector’s items in their own right. Am Here Books Catalog 5 (1981/1982) is a prime example (around $100). This catalog contains contributions by William Burroughs, Robert Creeley, Tom Clark, Dennis Cooper and others. There are several incredible William Burroughs items for sale at now unbelievable prices, including a manuscript copy (100 pages of holograph manuscript, plus pages of art work and typescript) of The Book of Hours for $7500 (I believe this scrapbook is now in the NYPL), a British Journal of Addiction offprint for $125 (now over $2000), or one of 26 lettered copies of the Descriptive Bibliography of the Burroughs Archive (which just sold to NYPL) with a page of corrected typescript by Burroughs tipped in and signed by Burroughs as well as the 12 page corrected typescript of his “Literary Autobiography” plus 50 holograph corrections to the text by Burroughs and Gysin for $850. The Am Here catalog also comes with a 7″ record of Burroughs reading “The Last Words of Hassan-i-Sabbah.”
Atticus Books Catalog 8 (1981) is another example of legendary booksellers catalog ($50). This catalog contains material not in Maynard as well as the essay “The Future of the Novel,” which I believe he presented at the 1962 International Writers Conference in Edinburgh. The entire catalog features Burroughs items. Fifty copies were signed by Burroughs and now sell for several hundred dollars.
Recent and current auctions catalogs contain a wealth of information. The catalog accompanying the Ginsberg Estate Auction at Sotheby’s (1999), the Nelson Lyon Collection of William Burroughs (1999), or the current Edwin Blair Collection of Beat Literature are all fantastic documents of literary history. The Nelson Lyon and Edwin Blair catalogs can still be viewed at pbagalleries.com. See the auction section of my Burroughs webpage for a more complete description of some of the major auctions in 1999/2000.
Finally, I would also recommend printing out or receiving hard copies of as many booksellers catalogs dealing with Burroughs as interest you. Skyline Books and Beat Books have wonderful electronic and hard copy catalogs. Keep them handy because as you can see they can become valuable not just for information but as collector’s items.
Atticus Books Catalogue
Here is the magazine and periodical section from the Atticus catalog, largely because that is what I collect. Yes, yes, I can fantasize about the prices, about the what ifs and could have beens, but equally important is the depth and breadth of material in the catalog. Sure it is mind-blowing to see the British Journal of Addiction Offprint for $175, but even more amazing is that it is available for sale at all. These are legendary rarities and Atticus had two!! And what a fucking copy for $175; first of all it is signed and then the kicker that truly drops your jaw is the original envelope that confirms the bibliographic detail that only 50 copies were printed. Truly an amazing item at any price. Further are, Gambit, Icarus, Signals, the International Times Word Machine. These are not everyday items by any means.
What is interesting is what is not there. Floating Bear #24 for example, which makes sense. As far back as the 1960s this item was known for being impossible to find. Another no-show is Chicago Review 17-1 from 1964. In over 20 years of collecting I have never seen one, but why? The earlier 1958 Chicago Reviews are readily available. So what gives? I also found it interesting that Dan Lauffer’s Brown Paper was one of the most expensive items in the catalog at $50. This is a nice acknowledgement of not only this publication’s rarity — probably around 100 copies were printed, not the 243 as advertised — but also of the fact that it is one of the coolest and most unusual magazines in which Burroughs ever appeared. Finally it can not be forgotten that, as the piece above on Burroughs bibliographies makes clear, the Atticus catalog is important in its own right and just as cool as Brown Paper or the Offprint for Burroughs bibliophiles.
Download the Contributions to Periodicals by William S. Burroughs section of the Atticus Books Catalogue as a pdf.