The name of mystery writer George Bagby came up in my Golden Age of Detection Facebook group yesterday, and it brought something to mind that I thought I’d share with my readers … who might like to make a little money book scouting if the opportunity arises.
George Bagby was a pseudonym for Aaron Marc Stein, who received the Grand Master Award from MWA in 1979. He wrote four different series over his long career, under his own name as well as by George Bagby and Hampton Stone. The Bagby series is about
Inspector Schmidt, a New York City cop who has a sidekick named … George Bagby, mystery writer. (Like my post of yesterday, a little bit meta.) As Hampton Stone, he wrote about Jeremiah Gibson, a New York ADA. There’s a series about a construction engineer named Matt Erridge as by Aaron Marc Stein, and another series about a pair of archaeologists who are also amateur detectives under his own name as well.
Stein, under whatever name, is not generally considered to be in the first rank of mystery writers; I’d suggest he has a strong position in the second rank but opinions vary. He was certainly a hard worker and wrote a lot of books; many of the George Bagby novels are generally available in paperback for a few dollars.
The point of this post, though, is that if you can find a copy of the first edition of a single one of his books — Pistols For Two from 1951 (from the series about the archaeologists, under his own name) is selling as of today on ABE for $400, $500, and $650 (and for copies which are NOT of an excellence one would expect for those hefty sums). And this for an author whose other books generally don’t bring a tenth of those prices. Why? It’s all about the cover art. According to the volume, the artist’s name is Warhaw — but it’s really the only mystery dust jacket designed by Andy Warhol before he revolutionized the art world. (Added a week later; this is not the case, as a more knowledgeable person notes in the comments below. John Norris knows his stuff and his blog is an excellent source of information on rare books.) So this volume might be one of your few chances to afford a genuine Andy Warhol print.
Yes, Andy Warhol used to design book covers, in an identifiably naive style that I think is quite charming; he did the typography as well. He also did other kinds of commercial illustration to keep Campbell’s soup on the table, including shoe ads for New York department stores. Any of his book jackets is worth a lot of money these days. Possibly the oddest Warhol
pieces that you should keep your book-scouting eyes open for are two volumes from the same author; Amy Vanderbilt’s Complete Cookbook and Amy Vanderbilt’s Complete Book of Etiquette. The little illustrations of how to cut up lemons to decoratively garnish fish, or where to seat the officiating clergyman at the parents’ table at a wedding dinner, were drawn by Warhol and sometimes others. (These little drawings are sometimes called “interstitial art”.)
It’s important to know that not every edition of either of these books has the Warhol drawings — check the first pages to make sure that his name is there (as Andrew Warhol). For these two in particular, you won’t make much money; they’re more widely available and much less valuable. But you can leave them lying around to impress your friends with your original Andy Warhol drawings!