neil cummings


The financier James Stephens is a friend of mine and a respected book collector here in London. He specialises in rare and first editions of early American printed texts. James heard from a contact in the discrete world of bookselling that a reputable dealer in New York was offering for sale the only other known copy of a book that’s the highlight of his collection, the Doctrina Carmena printed in Lima in 1584. In fact it’s his prized possession.

James acts through an intermediary – the collector Peter Fleissig, who makes an appointment to view for possible sale the following day. They both catch the red-eye to New York and Fleissig and a lawyer take the viewing. The dealer probably senses who is behind the purchase and is able to negotiate and achieve an outrageous valuation – I’ve heard several million dollars mentioned for the second volume. James authorised the acquisition.

James made another appointment the next day at the giant law firm Nabarro Nathason and Partners on Lexington Avenue. With one of the senior partners present as a witness, James broke, tore and finally burnt the second copy of the Carmena, reducing it to ashes. An affidavit was drawn up substantiating the complete destruction of the book signed by James and countersigned by the Partner and a junior. James returned to London a few days later. When we met for lunch he recounted the previous events and how he had pasted the affidavit into the frontispiece of the now unique volume. I joked that the other copy lived on through the retelling, the lunch cooled and I haven’t heard from him since.



My contribution to Urban Rumors/ Les rumeurs urbaines  
Curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist

See the whole publication


Text, Sign, Utility could also be a rumour, I have a lifelong interest in the materials of culture, the institutions we evolve to organise those materials, and I've intervened in twitter with the #ObjectOfTheWeek.




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