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Friday 12 April 2013

Twentieth Century Impression of British Malaya - A Story

Twentieth Century Impressions
British Malaya
A Story

**Please note** The Penang Bookshelf now operates two websites, one for customers within Malaysia and the other for customers outside. You will therefore notice two links to any book. The first link at the book's name will take you to the website for customers in Malaysia. Each such link will be followed by (PB) which will is a link to the same book on the website for customers outside Malaysia.

I first came across this book within a year of The Penang Bookshelf being established. I noticed it on a client's bookshelf when she asked me to sell her library. The title was intriguing and the contents event more fascinating. This was the most detialed desciption of what, according to a group of eminent British experts, was happening in Malaya at the beginning of the twentieth century. The book was lavishly illustrated with a startling amount of detail about the country.

I didn't advertise the book immediately because I couldn't find a copy on the internet at the time, so rpicing was going to be difficult. I found this surprising as this wasn't the original book, but a 1970s reprint by the well known Singapore publisher, Graham Brash. However a customer happened to ask me if I had a copy, so I fished it out and invented a price of RM500. He turned on his heel and left. So to spite him, I then put it up on the internet for RM700 and sold it within two weeks.

So I'd made a note that this was an important book to look out for. About a year later I noticed the book again, another reprint, but surprisingly it was three or four times the size of the copy I had sold previously. With a bit of detective work I managed to work out that after Arnold Wright had produced his original work in 1908, he added an abridged version of Twentieth Century Impressions of British Malaya to his later work Twentieth Century Impressions of Siam. It was this abridged version that Graham Brash had reprinted.

When I managed to get hold of this reprint I began to understand what all the fuss was about. I have yet to come across another book written about this country which carries just so much detail. Wright, as editor, had gathered together a remarkable collection recognised authorities and given them what appeared to be free rein to write as much as they wanted about thei own particular topic. At the same time he commissioned and collected a staggering set of photographs. Almost every page has at least one illustartion. I wonder if anyone has written down the story of how the book came to be made. It runs to nearly a thousand pages and, as far as I know, has yet to be equalled. The Penang Bookshelf has since sold copies of this full reprint to customers both inside and outside Malaysia on a regular basis. It's in The Penang Bookshelf's bestseller list for 2013  (PB) at the moment

In the meantime another copy of Graham Brash's reprint came into the hands of The Penang Bookshelf. With the new full reprint on the market, I couldn't even dream of selling this book for the origonal price and so let it go, fairly quickly, for RM150. Yet the original edition of the main work eluded me. I saw one copy in a hopeless condition come up for auction and disappear. One of The Penang Bookshelf's customers bought it, but wasn't that satisfied with it. I was in touch with the owner of another copy of the original edition in this country, but it also seemed to be in a bad state.

And then I found it! A bookseller in a fairly wild and woolly part of England had a copy. After nearly a month of negotiations, sorting out the finances and shipment, I had bought the most expensive book I have ever bought or am likely to buy, a reasonable copy of the first edition of Twentieth Century Impressions of British Malaya.  (PB)

Of course it's now almost the most expensive book that's for sale at The Penang Bookshelf. You can see more details here. If you are thinking of buying it and want more information, including more pictures, do ask. If you want to see the copy when you're in Penang, please give at least twenty-four hours notice.