Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Ronald Searle: Sex Shows in Hamburg

A funny thing happened on the way to the MoCCA Arts Festival for 2018. While on the train into midtown Manhattan on April 7, I encountered a drawing by Ronald Searle offered on AbeBooks that I did not recall seeing on the market before. Dated I think 1967 (and probably not 1964), the drawing is from Searle's visit to the St. Pauli quarter of Hamburg researching a risque travel piece that would be published in Holiday magazine early in 1968. The Große Freiheit, or Great Freedom, is a side street in the red-light district off the Reeperbahn in Hamburg. A number of well-fed and well-wrinkled older men are shown thoughtfully considering the various commercial sex shows on offer.

Ronald Searle
Gr. Freiheit, Reeperbahn, Hamburg, 1967

The price—of the art, not the sex shows—was under $400, simply too good to be true. The shipping cost from Germany to the States was, in a word, ridiculous. I had not been looking for a drawing from Searle's jaunt to Hamburg, but how on earth could I pass this up? I took the plunge and made my first purchase of the day from my seat on the train still many miles away from MoCCA Fest. Clearly I would not be adhering to any sort of a budget for the day.

Too good to be true?

Ronald Searle
The AbeBooks listing as it appeared after I bought the item

And so I arrived giddy at MoCCA Fest having already made a very shrewd purchase. Almost immediately though I was hit up for an extra $43 in shipping and insurance fees:

Then the bookseller chimed in as well. The shipping charges had been adjusted "because of the weight of the book." Book? Wasn't it a drawing I was buying? Was it framed? Were they sending me a form letter? Was something being lost in translation? Anyway, I knew I had been undercharged for shipping so I accepted the extra charges while bemoaning AbeBooks' regrettable lack of of user feedback. 

Finally, the seller woke up and canceled the entire transaction "because we have had a massive pricing error with this article in our database, which we have not seen before." AbeBooks allows sellers to cancel transactions because bookstore inventories are naturally subject to prior sale, but this is a seller having second thoughts because of mispricing.

Anyway, it's not the first time I've been disappointed by a cancelled transaction on AbeBooks. The drawing, I later discovered, was also offered on eBay with additional images. That listing was ended abruptly by the seller on April 8.
Ronald Searle
Gr. Freiheit, Reeperbahn, Hamburg, 1967

Ronald Searle
Gr. Freiheit, Reeperbahn, Hamburg, 1967

Signed and Annotated
Gr. Freiheit - Reeperbahn

Ronald Searle, 1967"

Ronald Searle
eBay Listing Ended April 8, 2018

Ronald Searle
eBay Item Description

Searle blogger Matt Jones obtained a much brighter image some years ago.
Ronald Searle
Gr. Freiheit, Reeperbahn, Hamburg, 1967

Incidentally, that Tabu sign in the left upper portion of the drawing was to appear very prominently on Searle's cover for Holiday in January of 1968.

Ronald Searle
"Wild and Wicked Hamburg"
January 1968

Note:  To better understand this drawing in the context of Searle's reportage in Hamburg, see Kabarett! on Perpetua, the Ronald Searle Tribute blog written by Matt Jones.

Attempted Bloggery is the other blog to which collectors may send further examples of published and unpublished original art by Ronald Searle. Special consideration will be given to drawings from Hamburg so I can put the phrase sex shows in the title again. My readers are only human, after all, and the flesh is weak.

Quick Links to the Attempted Bloggery Archives

Ronald Searle


Attempted Bloggery's Taboo Index


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