Hammett: And Charlie Watts

Terry Zobeck, keeping his eye to the pavement, let me know about the latest trove of rare and first edition Hammett hitting the auction block. And get this angle: those books and typescripts all come from the collection of the late Charlie Watts, impeccable time-keeper for the Rolling Stones.

You’ve got about three days to dig some coins out of the couch or mortgage your house, and then Christie’s opens the flood gates. I can’t recall hearing that books were such an important part of Watts’ life, but if you’ve got all P.G. Wodehouse, all Christie, Hammett, Chandler, you spent some years out of your life in your library.

Here’s Terry with a quick look into the offerings:

The late Charlie Watts was not only one of the finest Rock ‘n’ Roll drummers of all time, he also turned out to be one hell of an avid collector. Not only did he collect musical instruments — including the kits of his jazz drummer idols — but also classic automobiles (despite not having a driver’s license) — and rare modern first editions, as well as a good deal of jazz-related books and autographed ephemera.

He seemed to have an especial taste for Golden Age and hardboiled mystery and detective fiction, having a near complete run of Agatha Christie’s novels and first editions of all of Raymond Chandler’s novels, including the inscribed dedicatee (Helga Greene) copy of Playback, and all of his appearances in Black Mask.

Watts’ rare book collection is going under the hammer in a two-part auction: a live auction on September 28 at Christie’s in London, and via an online auction from September 15-29 also hosted by Christie’s.

The outstanding part of the collection will be offered at the live auction. Among the highlights of this auction are an inscribed first American edition of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby—with an estimate of $250,000 to $375,000—and an inscribed British first edition of The Hound of the Baskervilles—with an estimate of $75,000 to $125,000. The inscribed Gatsby lacks the rare dust jacket, but never fear, Charlie had a second copy of the first edition in the dust jacket (estimated between $125,000 and $187,000).

But of prime interest to those of us on These Mean Streets is Charlie’s collection of books by Dashiell Hammett. He had first editions of all five of the novels in dust jacket, all 10 of the digest story collections, and an inscribed copy of Red Harvest (lacking the jacket; estimated between $18,740 to $31,200).

The Hammett piece that really caught my eye was the corrected typescript for “The Hunter” (estimated between $5,000 to $7,500). As is well known now, this was a unpublished short story that eventually served as the title story of the 2013 collection of rare and previously unpublished material. In his introduction to that volume, co-editor Richard Layman notes those stories are archived at the Harry Ransom Collection at the University of Texas, Austin. For The Hunter and Other Stories, a carbon copy of the story from the archive was the reference.

So how did Charlie Watts end up with the original top sheet typescript in his collection?

I contacted Rick to find out. He told me that the unpublished stories were among Hammett’s effects owned by his secretary in New York, Marjory May, whom Rick knew well. All her Hammett material was eventually sold at auction.

“The Hunter” typescript was apparently later bought along the way by Charlie.

The typescript has several corrections presumably made by Hammett shortly after he finished typing. The carbon seems to still have been present to amend, since all the corrections are incorporated in the published version of the story.

620 Eddy Street, where Hammett lived in San Francisco between 1921 and 1926, appears on the typescript. But the Watts’ typescript has that address crossed out and “20 Monroe St” added.

Hammett moved to the Monroe Street address in 1926 and lived there for only a few months. Presumably, Hammett submitted the story for publication shortly after having written it, but it was rejected. It appears that sometime in 1926 he submitted it again or at least considered submitting it, but it was never published in his lifetime.

Hammett was known not to save many of his typescripts, so he must have valued “The Hunter” to some degree. It is the best of the previously unpublished stories collected in The Hunter and Other Stories and a fine addition to Hammett’s bibliography.

And now it can be yours for as little as $5,000 — or perhaps a trifle more once the hammer falls. A real bargain for a fan of both Hammett and the Stones with a deep wallet.

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