Friday 10 August 2012

Secret Ministry by Desmond Cory (Frederick Muller, 1951): Dust Jacket Proof, Val Biro Signed Wrapper

NB: featured as one of this week's Friday's Forgotten Books.

After that showcase of Peter Probyn's lovely dust jackets for Francis Clifford's thrillers, let's stay on an art and design tip with another signed edition, one which hasn't been signed by the author, but by the cover artist...

Desmond Cory's Secret Ministry was first published in the UK by Fredrick Muller in 1951, under a dust jacket designed by Val Biro. It is, as we're all doubtless well aware, since I reviewed it earlier this year, Cory's debut Johnny Fedora spy thriller. However, the jacket seen above isn't the same one as wrapped the copy of the Muller first edition I wrote about back in January; it is, in fact, a proof of the wrapper's front and spine, which I acquired from book and art dealer David Schutte – who represents Val Biro's work – along with this:

A pristine proof of the full jacket, with Muller's publication date stamp on the front flap. Val's original artwork is seemingly long lost (unless anyone knows otherwise...), but publishers would often send Val a proof of the jackets he designed, and such was the case with Secret Ministry. Finding a first edition of Secret Ministry, let alone one in a dust wrapper, is nigh on impossible – I had to order mine from an African website, remember – so to come into possession of not only a pristine wrapper but an additional proof of the front and spine is quite something.

David brought the jacket(s) with him to Saturday's Lewes Book Fair (along with a piece of original cover art, which shall, for the moment, remain a mystery...), after I'd asked him at one of the Midhurst Book Fairs if he had either the original artwork or a rough. Obviously he didn't, but after rummaging in Val's loft he came up with these proofs instead. Val himself was actually at that Midhurst show as David's guest, and having heard that he'd be there beforehand, I took along my copy of the Muller edition of Secret Ministry. Initially Val thought that the wrapper design wasn't one of his, until David pointed out Val's signature at bottom left of the front cover, whereupon Val kindly signed the reverse of the jacket front flap:

So I now own not only the single (physical) copy of Secret Ministry I've ever encountered, but its jacket bears Val Biro's signature. Meanwhile I've replaced the image of the slightly battered (but now signed) jacket wrapping my copy of Secret Ministry in the Beautiful British Book Jacket Design of the 1950s and 1960s gallery with an image of the proof – and very lovely it looks, too.

I've got much, much more to come from Val Biro in the future, but I'm staying with Desmond Cory for the next post, with one of the very few signed books of his that I've come across...


  1. Nick - thanks for opening my world to the art of Val Biro and Desmond Cory novels. I visited the link to Val Biro's site and was quite impressed. I've downloaded some of Cory's ebook version on Amazon, impressed by the many reviews written about him, but it just doesn't replace having the physical copy and artwork. A bit like preferring the vinyl version of records with their sleeves rather than just an almost intangible MP3 version.

  2. My pleasure. Lots more to come on both Biro and Cory, including some more original artwork from the former and some more Johnny Fedora from the latter.

  3. Louis XIV - your article has triggered some interesting emails to the Desmond Cory website.
    In addition to not knowing about this wrapper version of the first edition of Secret Ministry, a gentlemen from Australia to show us a totally previously unknown paperback version of it. The paperback of secret ministry has no date inside and was printed for "the shakespeare head" by "congress printing". The cover is a man driving off the cliff in his car. Estimated date around 1956.
    So thanks for being the catalyst for some great new discoveries about Desmond Cory.
    - The Desmond Cory site WebMaster

  4. My pleasure! That would be Pascal who contacted you about the unknown paperback I assume -- he dropped me an email with a scan of the cover, so I sent him your way, as I didn't think it was in your cover galleries. I think I mentioned Shakespeare Head in another Cory post and someone left a comment about who they were; will have to look back and see if I can find it.

  5. Spot on - thanks for passing Pascal on to the site... and giving us a totally new book cover never seen before.
    Desmond Cory Webmaster

  6. Pascal wrote back - he did some sterling detective work on this and discovered this SECRET MINISTRY paperback is dated May 1952, making it the first paperback version of this novel found so far. What other new discoveries will we make about Desmond Cory?

  7. What indeed? Certainly plenty more to come on Cory from me – I have some more Fedora first editions I'll be writing about soon enough.

  8. I have a copy of this book with that dust jacket. Copyright page states First Published 1951 but it's by Shakespeare Head not Frederick Muller. The front flap doesn't have the logo or price and the rear flap is blank apart from a code at the bottom: APT/V27.

    1. I believe Shakespeare's Head was the Australian publishing arm of Muller – the name crops up in one or two others of my Desmond Cory posts (search for Intrigue and Pilgrim at the Gate and you should find them). Far as I know Shakespeare Head editions were printed in the UK with the British editions, so what you have is, like mine, a first edition, and a very rare thing indeed!

    2. Thanks, Nick. Pity it;s not as valuable as a first edition Casino Royale!

      Also on the copyright page it states "Printed and made in Great Britain by Fletcher and Son Ltd, Norwich and The Leighton-Straker Bookbinding Co. Ltd London".

    3. Yep, same as the Muller edition.

      No, sadly not as valuable as Casino Royale – but a good deal rarer I'd say!