Reports from the Bibliographic Bunker
Jed Birmingham on William S. Burroughs Collecting
There is nothing I like to collect more than ephemera about and printed by Mimeo Revolution presses and magazines. Handbills, announcements, flyers, posters, business cards. Hell, I would even be interested in buying a magazine’s — let’s say Floating Bear or Fuck You — sales invoices if there were any. It would be very interesting to see in what instances Floating Bear — which, as legend has it, was distributed free by mailing list — was sold to individuals. Did di Prima and Jones squeeze the squares for a little cash into to buy some more stamps and mimeo stencils?
Such documentation reminds one, maybe me mainly, that some of these presses and magazines were run as a business, not out of the kindness of the editor’s heart or some related passion project. You have to be pretty stupid to run a press without profit motive and along a gift economy. Well, if it was good enough for Wallace Berman it is good enough for me. But what if I came across a sheet of paper, in Berman’s handwriting, selling a copy of Semina #4 to Walter Hopps for inclusion into the Pasadena Museum of Art in 1963? My mind and world would be blown. Another myth of the Mimeo Revolution destroyed. The separation of art and commerce is constitutional with me. And like the separation of church and state, it is a foundational tenet. If the Bunker had a Constitution, this would be First Amendment-type stuff.
That said I have a real soft spot for those items that blur the line between advertisement and art. As I have written before, Dave Haselwood’s Auerhahn Press was masterful at this. Auerhahn Press was a working press, it was no passion project. The press printed blank journals, announcements for local events, business cards, and job work for other presses. It also was constantly advertising its books in print and new titles in catalogs, which are beautiful works of printing and design in their own right. Haselwood put time and effort into everything. You could build a wonderful collection of just Auerhahn ephemera. In fact, I have half-assed my way into something resembling such a collection but have never made it, well, a passion project.
I saw recently that my friend, Alan Zipkin at Derringer Books, has for sale an Auerhahn poster from 1964 announcing the Press’ books in print. This is what I am talking about. The dreaded union of art and commerce staring me in the face from the wall of my house in a custom picture frame and matting that cost more than the actual poster. This is what they call a metaphor or a symbol or something like that.
In any case it is a cool poster in that it looks cool but it also bibliographically cool. First and foremost, it serves as a checklist to what was available from Auerhahn in January 1964. This is an interesting time for the Press. The wolves were at the door. The Press would close in a year and maybe it is my imagination but it seems that in 1964 Auerhahn printed several of these ad/art type items. Haselwood had to sell books but I wonder if he was also selling these ad/posters to collectors and institutions as well. This poster would be like a tax or tithe to those dedicated Auerhahn believers out there. I know this well as a Burroughs collector.
For Burroughs collectors the poster is noteworthy because it lists The Exterminator as being available and in print. A crushing blow for commerce!! If Gysin and Burroughs thought they had a best seller on their hands with The Exterminator, they were sorely mistaken as this poster attests. Nearly four years after publication, copies were still available. Hopes and dreams dashed. The poster may also serve to remind Burroughs fans that there was another bestseller coming on the market in late 1964 from Burroughs in the form of Nova Express. A science fiction page-turner. Or so thought Burroughs. And Grove Press. They printed a 10,000 copy initial run. Yet this is beach reading only on Ballard’s Terminal Beach (also published in 1964).
So on many levels, this is an interesting piece of ephemera and just the kind of stuff that gets the hand in the old wallet. Unfortunately, the book fund is recovering from the purchase of a pet bird so maybe you can beat me to it. If so send me a photo of it on your wall.