Ian Fleming was a student at the University of Geneva when he dropped into the antiquarian booksellers Dulau & Co on Old Bond Street. He fell into conversation with Percy Muir, one of the staff there, and the conversation continued over lunch, then dinner; they became friends for life. (Muir would later feature as the Head of Station Z, Alexander Muir, in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.) On that interesting day in 1929 Fleming asked Muir, 13 years his senior, what first editions were ‘all about’. It is a question no bookseller likes being asked: indeed, the question is unanswerable. If books are for reading, why pay so much more for one text than for another? If Casino Royale costs £7.99 as a brand-new Vintage Classic, why pay £19,500 for a first edition in a slightly torn dust jacket? As I write, that is the price of a copy at jamesbondfirsteditions.com.
Muir must have given Fleming a clever answer, since he became a committed book collector. With Muir’s help, Fleming built an idiosyncratic collection, now in the Lilly Library, Indiana, of first editions of books that had ‘started something’ or ‘made things happen’. In the 1930s this was such an eccentric