June 10, 2012


Spy Vibe celebrates the upcoming release of Ian Fleming: The Bibliography with an exclusive interview with Jon Gilbert, author and rare bookseller at Ian Fleming First Editions

Welcome, Jon. Thank you for this interview with Spy Vibe. I am so thrilled about Ian Fleming: The Bibliography. I have always adored Fleming’s work and the ways designers have presented his stories, so I can imagine this research being a real labor of love.

Many of us Bond fans grew up collecting Ian Fleming’s books, usually used paperbacks found in second hand shops. At what age did you start to collect? What books did you seek out and what was it about them that captivated you?

My family business is rare books so I have always been surrounded by first editions- it was the Fleming titles with the Richard Chopping covers which really caught my attention and I started to buy these for myself from the age of 18-25 (the Cape hardbacks being far more affordable then). Those first edition hardcovers were the copies I read, which is unusual- as you mentioned, many of us read the popular paperbacks first time around. 

When did you begin to collect rare books that required more investment? When did you start to build a library of Fleming editions? Can you recall some of your best finds? 

As a rare book dealer I have sold unusual Fleming material for nearly twenty years. In the last fifteen years all items sold have been catalogued, and most have been photographed- this wealth of information is the basis for my book. When I embarked upon writing the bibliography I simultaneously decided to build a comprehensive collection of Fleming material (not just the Bond books), which, four years later, comprises every [known] issue and impression of the Cape hardcovers, plus about ninety-five per cent of all the Pan paperbacks, a vast selection of US hard and soft covers, as well as proof copies, periodicals, typescripts, letters and promotional/advertising material. I have had several great 'finds' over the years, and I am pleased to have discovered a few previously unknown issues of certain titles- the first edition You Only Live Twice with gilt on the spine and no Japanese characters springs to mind. This was originally 'aired' in Firsts Magazine, November 2008 by my collector friend James Pickard- a proud moment. The Thunderball trial binding with the silver hand is another treasured rarity- it originated from the publisher's salesman and is possibly unique.

Do you have favorite 007 cover designs?

The Chopping covers are all remarkable, but I also greatly admire the British 'X' series paperbacks, starting with the bullet-hole Thunderball cover, designed by Ray Hawkey, who sadly died just recently. I was able to visit the Pan Macmillan archive and gather information on their various paperback releases, which will appear in the bibliography.

From your research of print runs, what are some of the most rare Bond books out there? 

The first three titles in first impression have always been sought after- the print runs are not that small but there are some important issue points to consider and many of these were taken up by the lending libraries; collectable examples really are rare now, with Moonraker likely the hardest in strictly fine condition. Some of the later hardback impressions had surprising small runs, really just enough to replace worn out library stock- very few of these were sold on the high street as the cheaper paperbacks were doing such brisk business. Proof copies are also elusive. The numbers are very small, and the first five or six are virtually unobtainable- for example, there are only 35 copies of Doctor No in uncorrected proof form.

Speaking of rare editions, Queen Anne Press published Talk of the Devil, a collection of rare pieces by Fleming. Will this be available in the future as a stand-alone purchase?

As far as I am aware there are no separate editions of Talk of the Devil due out. That book was conceived as a bonus/incentive to accompany the full set. It's a great volume, but to sell it seperately would undermine the collected edition of the works (which are still available from QAP). I suspect it will eventually come out, but we're talking years rather than months.

You also deal in rare Bond-related editions and ephemera (James Bond First Editions). When did you start that business? Have you seen a great increase in value recently? Are there counterfeit editions to watch out for? 

My father-in-law ran the business from the '70s and I joined in the early 90s. The Bond brand has always been popular, so we have long dealt with the Gardner/Benson and other continuation authors as and when their new titles were released. Raymond Benson kindly held signing sessions at our bookshop whenever he was over from America and we have strong links with Ian Fleming Publications (formerly Glidrose) so it is only natural that we stocked the Young Bond and Moneypenny series as well. There are some rare John Gardner titles and a few Benson oddities- maybe they will appear in a James Bond bibliography one day, rather than a Fleming one. Values for these, like the Fleming books, continue to rise- there are some curious pirate editions from Taiwan that are desirable. The only outright 'fake' I can think of is the odd spurious copy of The Man with the Golden Gun, pretending to be the rare original with the gold gun stamped on the cover- some copies are in circulation with a newly impressed gun to the common plain cover binding but fortunately the cloth is not the same- any experienced dealer or collector will be able to spot a counterfeit.

The sample pages from the Bibliography in the new issue of MI6 Confidential show some image-grids of historic series designs. To what extent will your book include every jacket design from every UK and US series? What about foreign series designs?

We have about 500 images in the colour section and a similar amount in black & white, within the text. Even so, that still is not enough to illustrate every jacket produced. All the important first editions are shown in full (bindings and jackets), plus the entire UK Pan paperback range published from 1955-1978, when Triad took over. Images are also provided for the more recent paperbacks, up to the Vintage range of 2012. The US hardcovers are also shown in full, plus a general representation of the various American paperbacks published from the fifties until now. There are also sections illustrating the periodical, anthology and omnibus appearances of James Bond. No foreign language printings are covered- that would be enough for an entire volume in itself.

I used to shop for used Bond books in Bloomington, Indiana, near my college, but never realized that the Lilly Library had a Fleming archive. Did you work with this collection and what is housed there? 

I live and work in the UK so my research has focused on the various publisher's archives here. Whilst I have not visited the Lilly Library, I have had access to some copies of their records compiled by other Bond historians, and been able to view material online. Brad Frank, the editor of the Bibliography and a Director of the Ian Fleming Foundation, visited the Lilly and has provided some comment. There is also a precious catalogue of the Lilly Library Fleming collection published in-house (1970's) which is a most valuable resource.

Have you made a pilgrimage to Goldeneye? Raymond Benson mentioned his trip there and that Sting wrote Synchronicity at Fleming’s retreat. Are there others you know of who have gone there to create? 

It's on the 'must do' list, but hasn't happened yet. Obviously the place has a rich history- after Fleming, the estate was owned by Bob Marley, who sold it to Island Records chief Chris Blackwell. It is now a beach resort run by Island Outpost- I'm sure much creative talent has passed through over the years. 

Some questions about Ian Fleming: The Bibliography and its binding. To clarify, the standard edition is in red and the limited edition is in white? Will the editions include slipcases? 

The Standard edition is in red-coloured Ratchford's Colorado bookcloth, with contrasting black endpapers. The spine and upper board are tooled in gilt. The Deluxe edition is limited to 250 copies, bound in quarter white vellum over black sides, inspired by the original special edition of On Her Majesty's Secret Service (Cape, 1963). It features scarlet endpapers and gold tooling. Slip-cases or clamshell boxes are not included, but can be made to order.  

For Fleming fans without deep pockets, will there be a trade edition of the Bibliography available in the future? 

This is the only edition scheduled at present. 

In addition to learning about the publication history of Ian Fleming, what do you hope your readers will learn about Fleming’s process and about nuances of the James Bond universe? 

A clear picture has emerged of Fleming's creative process, his writing practices and the general book production routine, which I hope will be conveyed to the reader. The bibliography is crammed full of facts, figures, dates and details, including much previously unpublished information; I'm sure it will please even the most fanatical of James Bond enthusiasts. The editorial team, the Fleming family and other early readers have enjoyed the narrative and background that is provided for each novel; whilst this is a technical volume, it is certainly not a dull reference book. 

Thanks again to Jon for joining us on Spy Vibe. No portion of this interview may be used without written permission of Jason WhitonMore information about Ian Fleming: The Bibliography and rare 007 books at James Bond First Editions. Stay tuned for another edition of For Your Shelf Only. Series links: Jon Gilbert, Raymond BensonJeremy Duns, Peter LorenzDavid FosterRob MallowsRoger Langley, Craig Arthur, Fleming Short, Matt Sherman.

More about Spy Vibe creator Agent J at Jason WhitonCheck out Spy Vibe's classic 2009 article, Set For Adventure, where we joined forces with Lee Pfeiffer, Jeremy Duns, Stephen Bissette, and others to look at the best set designs from spy entertainment.

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