Copies of Terry Taylor’s 1961 novel Baron’s Court, All Change don’t come up for sale at all often but until now when they did they’ve never been particularly expensive. I have a paperback that came from an exchange stall and it cost 20p. I was looking for a hardback for about 4 years until I finally acquired one via eBay – and no one else even bid on that copy of the book. I’ve been checking the obvious online places for further copies since then (eBay, Amazon, Abe Books), and I’ve not come across a single instance of Baron’s Court being offered for sale over the past few years until now. As I write, Repton Readers are offering a copy of Barons Court on Amazon UK Marketplace for a whopping £238 plus postage.
So how does a hard-to-obtain title go from being offered for sale for a few quid to an asking price of hundreds of pounds? Obviously, it is a combination of buzz and a bookseller chancing it with a high price. Baron’s Court is a far-out drugs novel that fell through the cracks and disappeared for forty odd years – the main problem being that it was at least five years ahead of its time. That said, it only needed a handful of relatively ‘young’ hipsters to realise that the book described mod and the counterculture in very early stages of their evolution, that it was the first British novel to mention LSD, and that the author Terry Taylor had a quite incredible life story, for interest in it to rocket. Since my mother (Julia Callan-Thompson) was a friend of the author, when I started researching her life at the turn of the millennium, I came across Baron’s Court and once I’d obtained copies for myself I started talking the book up. I not only wrote about Baron’s Court, I was so knocked-out by this novel, I mailed photocopies of it to key contacts – and after receiving a Xerox from me, Andy Roberts even bigged it up in his recent history of British acid culture Albion Dreaming.
If you want to know why Baron’s Court is so hard to find, you have to understand both publishing and the used book trade. It is the difficulty of obtaining a title like this that leads dealers to asking an exorbitant price for it. I don’t know the print run of the hardback edition of Baron’s Court, but I’d guess it would have been between two and five thousand. It seems to have generated some coverage, but not massive interest – after it was published Terry Taylor was invited to do some reviewing, but the paperback rights didn’t immediately sell. Taylor’s follow-up, which drew more explicitly on the literary experimentalism of figures like William Burroughs, was rejected by his publisher. So Taylor has been to date a one-shot novelist, and was thus unable to draw readers to his earlier book through the publication of further tomes.
The publication of a Baron’s Court paperback four long years after the appearance of the MacGibbon & Kee hardcover edition is probably best explained by the burgeoning drug culture. By 1965 ‘with-it’ publishers were aware of a growing interest in drugs and casting about for books dealing with the subject. The Baron’s Court paperback was published by Four Square (later New English Library) who by the late sixties/early seventies did first printings of their books in runs of 20,000 and they only reprinted if this first run sold quickly (see my interview with NEL editor Laurence James as an example of background research I’ve done in this ares). If we assume the company worked in the same way in the mid-sixties, then 20,000 seems a reasonable guess for the print run of Baron’s Court in paperback. We can conclude that in its two editions to date possibly as many as 25,000 copies of Baron’s Court were printed. Most of them will now be destroyed. I don’t know exactly how the book sold, but since it clearly wasn’t like ‘hot cakes’ (if it had there would have been more reprints), it is possible some copies were pulped by one or both of the publishers. I have yet to properly determine the initial reception of the book, and if anyone can point me in the direction of contemporary reviews I would be grateful.
Mass market paperbacks put out by companies like Four Square are cheaply made – perfect bound rather than sewn and printed on pulp papers that deteriorate quickly – after being read a few times this type of book tends to fall apart and get thrown away. Although the paperback will have been printed in a far bigger run than the hardback, my guess would be that far fewer copies of it survive than of the first edition. That said, I wouldn’t be particularly optimistic about many copies of the first edition surviving either! It is likely the majority of hardbacks sales would have been to libraries, and library books are often roughly handled and suffer damage – before being either sold off or thrown away at the end of their lending life.
But what about those copies of Baron’s Court that were offered to secondhand dealers over the years? Since the book had no buzz about it until recently, few dealers would have wanted to buy copies even if they had recognised the title or author (and very few would have done so); and if they did acquire copies in job lots of books, they may have simply thrown them away or used them for fuel. Owners of copies of Baron’s Court who were unable to sell them to dealers may have treated this once hard-to-sell tome in an equally caviler fashion. Precisely because until recently there has been little to no market for Baron’s Court as a novel, the overwhelming majority of copies will have been destroyed.
Now there is some buzz about Terry Taylor and Baron’s Court, the remaining copies of the book have a greater potential value than many other out-of-print titles precisely because its earlier lack of popularity makes it rare. Baron’s Court is also, without a shadow of a doubt, not only a cracking good read but of considerable historical significance. So fingers-crossed that some clued-up publisher puts it back in print, and rather than having to shell out hundreds of pounds for a used copy, you can buy it new for roughly the same price as any other mass market tome. And if there are any interested publishers out there, I’d be happy to put them in touch with the author who still controls the rights….
Terry Taylor’s story is one with a relatively happy ending for those who like to believe fairy tales about ‘literary immortality’, but don’t let it blind you to the fact that the vast bulk of books published every year are very quickly forgotten!
And while you’re at it don’t forget to check – www.stewarthomesociety.org – you know it makes (no) sense!