This month’s collector was also an author. Ian Fleming (1908–1964), famed for his James Bond novels, was a serious book collector.
His collection focused on books which he felt had had a big impact on mankind – Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, Hitler’s Mein Kampf, Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams and Einstein’s The Basis of the General Theory of Relativity were some of the books he owned. His collection had books about birth control, the creation of TV, X-rays, atomic fission, penicillin, the Boy Scouts movement, and the invention of the motor car – all topics which, as he said, had “started something”.
He had an impressive collection of first editions (Goethe, Dickens, Balzac, Byron, Kipling, Proust, and much more), instructional books on sports and games, books celebrating the achievements of practical workers and innovative scientists, and books on germ theory, economic theory, and mathematics. In almost every area of innovation in the 19th and 20th centuries, the collection has been described as “amply representative”. The books are in the language in which they were originally issued.
His treasures include the first printed papers of the Wright Brothers, Bell’s original description of the invention of the telephone, Marconi’s own description of his ‘detector’, and a rare first issue of the Communist Manifesto.
Fleming worked for other book collectors as well. He ran a small publishing house, he served on the board of The Book Collector journal (this is still published and is run by Fleming’s nephews) which was seen as the most important journal of its kind in the world. In Who’s Who Fleming listed, under the heading ‘Recreations’, the hobby of ‘collecting first editions’.
His collection is still intact and is housed at the Lilly Library at Indiana University, USA. The library purchased the collection when Fleming died in 1964. The library was named for another book collector, Josiah K. Lilly, who gifted his more than 20,000 books and 17,000 manuscripts to the university. I think I’ll have to add a visit to the Lilly Library to my next American tour, whenever that might be.
In many ways, Fleming was an unhappy man, but I like to think he was at his happiest when amongst his very impressive collection of books. Share your thoughts by leaving a comment.