Wednesday, January 24, 2007

My new £16,000 habit

Winter finally came to London today, with a couple of inches of snow falling overnight. It was a nice surprise to wake up to. And not before time: we were hiking in the Peak District over new year, and you barely needed a coat, it was so warm (although the waterproof properties of goretex did come in handy, I admit). Woodland birds were singing, the odd tree was in blossom, and a friend in London has seen bumble bees in her garden. Anyway, enjoy the winter walking before the flood waters rise to engulf us all.

While in Derbyshire, we happened upon the excellent Hawkridge books in Castleton. They have a huge collection nature books, especially ornithology, and also good sections on climbing, mountaineering, etc.

In particular, they major in the Collin's New Naturalist series. This was set up during the second world war by, among others, Julian Huxley (who also popularized the use of allometry, thus earning himself a cameo in ITBOAH), with the intention of educating laypeople about the natural world.

Recently, the books have become collectors' items. The 100th in the series, 'Woodlands' by the legendary Oliver Rackham was published recently. There have also been other off-series monographs, so a complete set numbers around 120 books. The extremely nice man at Hawkridge told us that a set recently went at auction for £16,000 (about $32,000). The Woodlands book also exists in a limited edition, leather-bound version that is already changing hands for hundreds of pounds, apparently. The two rarest, nos. 70 Orkney and 71 Warblers (both from 1985) thanks to their extremely short print runs, are worth thousands. There's an extremely nice article about the whole thing here.

The NN clearly owe their value to a perfect storm of British male nerdiness - we, and especially amateur naturalists, love collecting, making lists, getting the complete set. So something that appeals to both naturalists and book collectors is bound to do well. They are also lovely books, with instantly recognizable covers.

Anyway,I'm not given to impulse purchases (although I'm quite partial to Nonesuch Explorer recordings on vinyl), but Hawkridge had a first edition of NN number 3, London's Natural History by Richard Fitter (with pictures by Eric Hosking, published in 1945 that they were selling for only £8. As a Londonist, this was clearly too good to miss, even though I had to carry it for several more days' walking. Only 102 (they're up to 103 now) to go.

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