August 3, 2012


For Your Shelf Only continues! Spy Vibe recently talked with Jon Gilbert, rare book dealer and author of Ian Fleming: The Bibliography. Our chat began a new series on Spy Vibe, offering fellow collectors a chance to share their experiences and some of their prized treasures.

Our new guest is collector, Matt Sherman. Matt is the creator of the Bond Collectors Weekends (featuring vehicles, stars and locations) and the creator of SpyFest, the largest action and espionage convention. He is a writer on The Ultimate James Bond Fan Blog, former Webmaster of, and he has contributed to numerous Bond books, and music and multimedia projects. Matt is a collector of movie props, rare books, and he has compiled an extensive database detailing all of the Bond film locations.

When did you first become exposed to the world of James Bond?

Goldfinger. It’s the first movie Pierce Brosnan saw, and the first I remember, at age 5. Three generations hushed in the living room to Maurice Binder’s golden title sequence. Mr. Binder was an alumnus of Stuyvesant High School, where I Bonded with Lucy Liu and Lucy Deakins, and where Frank McCourt (Angela’s Ashes) was my English teacher. Proud Stuyvesant alumni include Nobel Laureates and U.S. Congressmen, but I’m thrilled we also have George Kisevalterwho controlled Russian doubles for CIA, George Raft (Casino Royale ‘67), and Joseph L. Mankiewicz, whose son Tom wrote four Bond screenplays and appeared at one of my fan events. Add my school to New York’s book and film locations and Bond was my destiny.

What was the first film you saw? Do you have strong memories or images associated with that experience?

This sounds strange, Jason, but I swear that though Goldfinger is the first TV-aired movie I remember, The Spy Who Loved Me is the first theater trip I remember at age 8! A strong association came from reading Ian Fleming’s novels soon after. 

Try to think back on that night. What fascinated you about the film? Were there elements on screen that captured your imagination? What was it about Bond for you as an 8 yr old?

That was quite a night for me. First, my parents argued briefly whether I was mature enough to watch Moore and Bach romp about onscreen so the movie stuck in my psyche even before the credits rolled. I definitely loved the thrilling pre-teaser ski/parachute sequence and Bond audiences wouldn’t make a noise like that again at a stunt until the Aston Martin barrel roll in Casino Royale.

As an eight-year-old, the sexuality of the film was lost on me but I loved Bond’s underwater missile-wielding Lotus Esprit. My parents brought me to Spy, but I insisted the family go to see Moonraker two years later. Sir Roger Moore was a great Bond, so suave, and his clothes were the height of fashion. I thought it was weird that this other fellow I didn’t recognize was on cable TV in Bond films like Thunderball and You Only Live Twice. I latched onto Bond the way other kids followed Superman, Spiderman or Batman, while the risqué content of the films and books was over my head.

When did you first begin to read Ian Fleming? Do you have memories of the first stories you read and of qualities that attracted you?

Imagine my surprise in learning The Spy Who Loved Me was a novel, too, about a year after seeing the movie, one of five Fleming paperbacks I found on a road trip. My Bond tour guide work began that same day as I read salacious passages to the teens in the van!

After, I remember thrilling to reading Fleming. In that first batch was Live and Let Die, a grownup’s pirate adventure complete with sunken treasure. Even today I appreciate movies that draw heavily on the original Fleming work like Casino Royale and On Her Majesty's Secret Service.

Forget the Fleming Formula of "Boy meets M, Boy meets Villain, Boy steals Girl" and you have page-turning action and suspense, gorgeous locations, and true stories of intelligence work. Fleming was deeply involved in espionage for the West and there it is in black-and-white, one foot in the real and one in the fantastic. I could taste the food and see the locations when I read at age 10 and still can.

Which editions did you first collect?

The Signet paperbacks were printed umpteen times and were commonly available everywhere. But when I discovered the inspiring first editions I had to buy those, too. But the Bonds went through many reprints through the 70s and 80s and I tried to buy everything.

When did you begin to collect more seriously? Tell me about some of the editions you tracked down.

I scrimped and saved to buy the British firsts with their lush art by Richard Chopping and others. I bought the computer-aided designs, too, but the painted covers are best. I searched far and wide for a For Your Eyes Only first in good condition, and it was worth it. Chopping had to redo the art until Fleming was satisfied that Bond's eye through the keyhole was the right shade of blue-gray.

I got my best friends into collecting and we'd stalk every bookstore in Manhattan. We’d walk 80 blocks down Second Avenue then up Third and down Lexington. There were few mystery specialists then so any bookstore could have Bond available. I was thrilled to get my first copy of You Asked For It for a few dollars as the seller didn't know it was the first American edition of Casino Royale.

Otto Penzler was a great help in the days when owners said, "I don't sell that Bond garbage." My friends and I were nearly shouted out of some stores. The irony is Mr. Fleming himself collected everything up to Einstein's original relatvity papers; he and some pals began today’s industry of collecting modern firsts.

Mr. Penzler allowed us as 12-year-olds to roam his Manhattan landmark store, The Mysterious Bookshop, where stars of stage and screen would pop in for the latest Sherlockiana or Bondiana. I was even allowed to ride the ladders madly across the two-story bookshelves where the rarest and best items were held. I waited breathlessly for all the John Gardner firsts—my mom and Mr. Penzler arranged one signed for my birthday and I was crushed when I lost it to a flood.

I got many special titles at Mysterious Books except for a Casino Royale without dust jacket that was a mere $600 and too much for my piggy bank. Many years later, Mr. Penzler would inscribe copies of his Fleming monograph for my tour group, a great thrill that provided another unique collectible.

Do you have favorite 007 book designs?

Sure. I have a Hungarian You Only Live Twice from a good friend, featuring Blofeld's castle of death as Golgotha where Christ died. It resembles a skull on the cover, even upside down! I love the early Pan and Perma editions, colorful and glamorous. Other super softcovers come from Richey Fahey. Each of his cover Bond girls resembles Fleming's descriptions in the text.

In hardbacks, everyone loves my James Bond and The Spy Who Loved Me, Christopher Wood's movie novelization and now considered a pricey beauty of a rarity. I have a great copy of rejected cover art from The World Is Not Enough thanks to an outstanding book collector, John Cox.

I could talk about a hundred more covers, but they’ll be shown in the new Jon Gilbert bibliography you’ve written about at SpyVibe. I've spoken with Fergus Fleming about this volume and it looks to be marvelous.

Do you collect specific titles or regional editions?

I’ve collected every Jonathan Cape/Hodder & Staughton British first, every different Pan and Signet cover, every Jove, Coronet, Penguin, Berkley, Michael J. Fein, Easton Press, you name it. I think I'm the sole collector who pursued a copy of every Bond hardback issued without a jacket in the English language; from the well-known Heron editions to dozens more. Enough for five times the shelf space I have displaying books now.

I sold some common editions to save money for the big ones. I even sold a set of Korean piracy novels, in hardback with glassine wraps and fascinating misspellings of the titles; to date it's the sole set I've seen in nearly 35 years of book collecting.

I have book cover photos filed in my PC, including every Bond ever in English, over 700 foreign covers, photos of numerous unique rebound books, and hundreds of other firsts in hardback and paperback. I have art samples and proofs and signatures on the PC to help other collectors, nearly 3,100 files in total. This seemed a more practical step than buying everything in print, ever.

Are there books in your collection that you prize above all others?

It took me more than 25 years to find a first edition of Umberto Eco’s collected essays, The Bond Affair. This renowned author was one of the first to recognize Fleming’s greatness. I have a sentimental  fondness for a Moonraker paperback from Bantam that hasn’t changed its value since purchased of $0.50. It's quirky, with splendid art featuring a kingly pompadour on the Roger Moore-ish Bond on its cover. And I think the recent "bullet in book" edition of Carte Blanche is a hoot and everyone I’ve shown one to thinks so, too.

I'm grateful for the many books that were inscribed to me and/or to which I've contributed from actors, production team members and authors I’ve helped with projects. Knowing how warm and kind people like Raymond Benson, Vic Flick and Richard Kiel are makes reading their work even more enjoyable. Collectors visit my home, where books lead to hours of storytelling.

Are there books that you still hope to find?

I helped a top collector secure a copy of Sable Basilisk and would love one for myself, though only six copies remain in existence. This slim volume highlights advice Fleming received in preparing heraldry materials for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. And visiting other collectors lets me find new discoveries. Steve Kulakoski of For Your Eyes Only Books is a great pal and Steve and Kathy have watched my kids and Bond Collectors Weekends grow up. When Ben Sherman was born, Steve managed to find a greeting card that starts, "Did Daddy ever tell you about the time he was surrounded by SPECTRE…?” I welcome all book enthusiasts to visit me to share war stories and about the ones that got away.

How did you start collecting props from the films? Were they hard to track down?

The first props I had at home were from costumes our family made and friends made to be as authentic as possible at our fan events. Favorites included dressing as Bond from Moonraker and stepping to our party, my wife dressed as “Dolly” from the film at my side, complete with a fully extended parachute that trailed behind me for many yards. My kids carried it like the train of a wedding dress, clothed as two characters from The Man With The Golden Gun. Richard Kiel broke into laughter when he saw the costume, which required a considerable investment of time to organize, especially in finding a retired soldier’s working parachute, and getting it through airport security!

Have you specifically sought out props from Spy Who Loved Me or Moonraker because of the nostalgia they may hold for you? 

One prop item I always loved were Drax’s blueprints for his Moonraker globes of death. It would take me many hours to desktop publish anything like them; I really appreciate the work of The Danger Men with the blueprints, they are a great addition to my shelves. I’m still looking for the hexagonal glass Bond smuggled from the factory and so are other collectors.

Another classic is the laser guns the henchmen carry in the film. My son and I built one modeled after the originals, which had laser effects drawn on screen as in the Star Wars films. We added a blue laser to our version of the gun and why not, the prop world is the collector’s playhouse.

Tell me about tracking down props. Are most of the originals kept by the studio?

There are some props that can never be had because they are destroyed following production. You can watch From Russia With Love and crave Bond’s famous attaché case, but following the trail it turns out it was in Desmond “Q” Llewelyn’s home for years until it was returned to Eon’s own vault for future exhibitions of their choice.

Two props I was thrilled to pursue came for auction some years back, an original wedding ring of Tracy’s from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and a table-sized model of the Liparus, the super-ship that swallows submarines in The Spy Who Loved Me. These went beyond my price ceiling but wound up in the homes of friends so I got to enjoy them after all. The comment Alan Stephenson made about his Liparus buy is a telling one. We were showing it at the second Bond Collectors Weekend when Alan told me, “Matt, look carefully as this model has different details than the ship as shown on screen. If it was a fan prop, it would be exact in every aspect. Therefore, this has to be a production model from the set and its provenance is authentic.” I always remember that the fans are tougher than the directors and even some of the continuity directors in film.

Most replica producers have held off making Goldfinger gold bars because the typical fan will complain unless the bar is as heavy as real gold! The one I have is a beautiful cast of a Fort Knox bar and I appreciate it. Again, the Goldfinger bars seen on screen have been all but depleted or destroyed. The shell shown below is one of those kinds of things you can’t put a price on, it comes with permission from Emilio Largo’s home from Thunderball. I worked with the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism to bring the first tour group onto the grounds. The pass nearby is my own conceit, I worked off Dr. Metz’s pass to Whyte Techtronics from Diamonds Are Forever, locked away now in Eon’s vault, and made a pass for Mr. Whyte himself, using his screen seen signature to add that extra touch of realism for a prop.

Most every Bond fan is into weapons and I have five different knives. The ones from The World Is Not Enough and Die Another Day on that Brosnan shelf weren’t too hard to track down. But the copy of Sun Tzu’s Art of War -that one has proved more than elusive. I’ve reached out to my contacts and scanned literally nearly 5,000 different copies of Sun Tzu’s classic online to find the match but the book that gets stabbed on screen in the plane fight that ends the film seems to be a proprietary one. When I get some time, I’m going to make my own copy as Eon’s sole copy is currently exhibited elsewhere. The missile borne in Bond’s BMW in Tomorrow Never Dies was tough to acquire. I met a fellow collector and was fortunate to have two copies of the nearby metallic invitation to Elliot Carver’s Hamburg party. That and other prop items, support for his show and some archival pieces offered, and I was home.

Do you focus on specific 007 titles or eras?

I’ve warned aspiring collectors to specialize. “Collect only costumes,” I say, or “Collect only 1960s and 70s toys and models.” But I’ve bought, made and nuclear blackmailed props from each of the 22 official Bonds plus Never Say Never Again and Casino Royale ’67.

Does collecting movie props require a high investment up front? Have you stretched to pay premiums for some artifacts?

I’ve worked with fellow fans to pursue props in tandem, for example, bidding on shoes from The Spy Who Loved Me—I just wanted one, not the pair—and a top offer I made was $10,000 on a special tuxedo Pierce Brosnan wore in several of his films, but Planet Hollywood beat me with a $25,000 bid.

What are some of the highlights of collecting and of organizing events?

Between SpyFest and my “Bond Collectors Weekends” we’ve played with prototype Corgis and helped bring new Corgi toys to market. We’ve strummed the guitar used in 1962 to record The James Bond Signature Theme, made calls from Maxwell Smart’s shoe phone, climbed inside Aston Martins, parahawks, two cruise ships, and a Russian submarine. We chomped Mexican and Chinese food with Richard “Jaws” Kiel, and spent an unforgettable day with Robert “I Spy” Culp at the sole convention appearance of his lifetime… props to me are tools to weld fans to the stars and to one another in friendship.

I’ve further invested thousands of hours of work and research, but my events have been helped by an army of collectors, whom I sincerely thank, great people like Danny Biederman, John Cork, Doug Redenius, Alan Stephenson, Dan McCruden, David Zaritsky, John Cox, Charlie Axworthy and many more who share of themselves and let me run alongside their adventures.

The collection must feel like your own museum or archive. Do you imagine selling it at a profit someday? Have you already sold items?

After the flurry to collect over 150 props in three years I asked myself which select items I’d desire most from each of the films, for home and to exhibit at shows, and I realized I’m nearly there. I parsed down recently to about 100 props on display, counting multiples like poker chips or gun bullets as a single item. I’ve sold hundreds of props and other collectibles over the years to help fellow completists. A favorite trick is to sell ten or twenty modest books or props to raise capital to buy one fancy item, which also saves needed display space. You collect everything when you begin and then you get choosy if you want to keep buying.

You keep a large image database to help you authenticate original and replica props?

Here’s an example of some research. I’ve owned different variations of “License to Kill prop bills” as other films use similar bills. What I’ve discovered: Prop $20 bills are in the plane fight above Milton Krest’s ship, which makes sense as these small denominations are literally thrown out a plane’s window to be scattered across the Florida Keys. A few hundreds are tossed, too. Most of the prop $100 bills go in stacks instead with Bond to deposit at Franz Sanchez’s bank. But they come out with different banded straps in bundles. This isn’t a continuity error. Sanchez laundered money through different channels so the band types are consistent on screen, pre-bank and post-bank. One real $100 U.S. bill goes atop a prop stack to fool the audience when Pam Bouvier opens her purse to a flunky. I can verify authentic bills as I’ve taken brought tour group to meet License To Kill crew members and see locations and props. That’s movie magic. Go easy on the real dollars and send the cheap stuff into the sky. One interesting tidbit, however, Bond’s aerial stunt team had a ball one night in Key West bars and strip clubs “spending” fake $100 bills into circulation!

Is there one prop that you value above all others? Why is it special to you?

I could give the collector’s infamous “they are all my children” speech but I’m always most excited about new acquisitions and ones I’m hunting.

How do you store and display your prop collection?

I’ve worked hard to get most of my collectibles on display instead of boxed, another reason to limit items. Glass shelves and bookshelves display hundreds of items, including props. My Bond room is painted the green shade of Bond’s apartment in Dr. No, with a prop shelf or two for each of the six Eon Bonds and another shelf with Casino Royale ‘67 items.

Do you plan to see the Designing 007 exhibit in London or when it comes to Toronto? What are the holy grail props that you want to see?

I heard from an insider last week that Barbican may open more North American tour locations soon and I plan to attend. But I feel fortunate to have seen many of the great Bond props through the years. I’ve seen in-person top costumes from Pierce Brosnan, Lois Maxwell and Desmond Llewelyn, the spider and Walther from Dr. No, Blofeld’s table from From Russia With Love, over a dozen screen-seen vehicles, and thousands of other amazing props and collectibles. Many of the best items at The International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C. were first exhibited at my SpyFest, and are owned by intelligence officers from the CIA and the KGB. I’m hot on the trail now for casino items from Skyfall (contact me, readers, I’ll pay top dollar!) and the fun and funky items friends are building, including Scaramanga’s bodacious bullet-bearing belt buckle from The Man With The Golden GunThe great thing about the Designing OO7 Exhibit for real props and the creation of sincere replicas is how they help James Bond’s loyal fan base join the action.

Thank you to Matt Sherman for joining us and sharing his experiences hunting down rare books and movie props. Scroll down for past editions of our series, For Your Shelf Only, where guests share stories about collecting and show us some of their treasures. Series links: Jon GilbertRaymond BensonJeremy DunsPeter LorenzDavid FosterRob MallowsRoger Langley, Craig Arthur, Fleming Short, Matt Sherman. You can find James Bond books and other spy treasures in Spy Vibe's secure Amazon Store.

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