Books: Signs of the Times; True to the Letter - 800 Years of Remarkable Correspondence, Documents and Autographs, by Pedro Correa Do Lago, Thames and Hudson, Pounds 29.95. Reviewed by Richard Edmonds

The Birmingham Post (England), May 28, 2005 | Go to article overview

Books: Signs of the Times; True to the Letter - 800 Years of Remarkable Correspondence, Documents and Autographs, by Pedro Correa Do Lago, Thames and Hudson, Pounds 29.95. Reviewed by Richard Edmonds


Byline: by Richard Edmonds

With the fax, text message and email gradually eroding the art of letter writing, not to mention the fall in education standards, you do wonder whether a book such as this has reached the end of the line.

Yet, curiously enough, interest in rare autograph letters has never been higher and the great auction houses and booksellers report a distinct rise in interest from collectors worldwide.

For example, if the first edition of a book carries the signature of its author, you can add at least a third of the price again to the retail price of the book.

And if the author carries celebrity status, such as Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Charles Dickens, Evelyn Waugh, Marcel Proust or Picasso (the latter not as a writer, but as a collector to whom a signed book or photograph of a friend may well have belonged) then the sky's the limit.

But Do Lago's richly desirable book (costing little more, it must be admitted, than a bag of supermarket groceries) spans 800 years and really, if autographs float you boat this is a book to drool over.

The publishers have excelled themselves with page after beautiful page illustrated with portraits or photographs of the various writers in different texts which reveal the quirkiness of human beings, the richness or sadness of their lives, underlining the fact that autograph letters and documents have their own subtle, yet potent magic bringing back to life events or characters who in many cases have shaped history.

The point is made here that an 'autograph' hastily scribbled on a photograph, a programme or even a cigarette packet (something I once saw Marlene Dietrich do in Birmingham outside the Alexandra Theatre after a performance - admittedly with a sigh of resignation) can be treated with a certain amount of scepticism.

What we get in the book are full page letters in the autograph hand of the sender. Therefore, a scribbled signature is not at all the same as a lengthy inscription in a book and extended note or, as I have already said, a letter. …

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Books: Signs of the Times; True to the Letter - 800 Years of Remarkable Correspondence, Documents and Autographs, by Pedro Correa Do Lago, Thames and Hudson, Pounds 29.95. Reviewed by Richard Edmonds
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