Growing up the son of a book collector, it was perhaps inevitable that I ended up collecting. What was not inevitable was my subject! I collect the works of Aleister Crowley (1875 – 1947), the British occultist who claimed to be The Beast 666. My collection includes first editions, signed works, books owned and read by Crowley, photos, letters, and unpublished typescripts with handwritten annotations. The items I find most interesting are the ones he or his contemporary occult students owned and read personally. A number of his students led equally interesting lives, and material owned or written by them forms an important part of my collection. I also collect Crowley’s paintings.
I am moved by Crowley’s forward thinking and religious convictions — albeit at times bizarre convictions! He was, in some ways, a hippie avant la lettre, and his reputation in Edwardian England suffered because of it. Perhaps unsurprisingly his works enjoyed a revival of interest in the late 1960’s.
Aside from their content, Crowley’s books were often published in unique and expensive materials, and his book design was frequently very original. A shelf of Crowley’s first editions is therefore often an impressive sight for any book lover.
The Sword of Song.
Paris: Society for the Propagation of Religious Truth, 1904.
First edition. Large quarto. Original gold-printed blue paper wrappers. Only 100 copies printed.
This is the first time Crowley identified himself as “The Beast 666”: we see on the upper wrapper he has tastefully snuck in the number 666 three times.
Annotated by Gerald Yorke, a one-time student of Crowley’s. Yorke was a wealthy Englishman, who after Crowley died attempted to bring together all of Crowley’s papers and books into a single collection. That collection now resides in the Warburg Institute in London.
Magick in Theory and Practice.
Paris: Lecram Press, 1929.
Maroon cloth with gilt title on spine. Crowley’s magnum opus, owned, signed, and annotated by Jack Parsons (1914-1952). Parsons was one of the founders of both the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and the Aerojet Engineering Corporation. In recognition of his achievements, a crater on the moon was named after Parsons in 1972. His annotations in the book make it clear that he was using this book during the performance of rituals.
The Book of Thoth.
London: OTO/Chiswick Press Ltd., 1944.
First Edition. Signed in Greek as “The Great Wild Beast” on the limitation page. Original half-leather binding, with papered boards decorated with Egyptian motifs by Sangorski & Sutcliffe. Gilt title and designs on the spine. Only about a dozen were produced thus, and of those very few have been preserved in such nice condition.
In this important work, Crowley sets out his design for an updated Tarot deck. The illustrations were made by Frieda Lady Harris, and the resulting Tarot deck continues to be one of the best-selling in the world.
London: OTO, 1941.
First Edition. Wrappers. Small quarto, with sewn-in original grey-green wrappers. Edition limited to 100 numbered and signed copies.
A late work consisting of a few short poems. Presentation copy to Guy Knowles, with whom Crowley had attempted to climb K2 — the world’s second tallest mountain — in 1902. Together they reached a higher altitude than any previous mountaineer and broke a number of alpine records.
The Last Ritual.
Brighton, England: Privately Printed, 1947.
The Last Ritual is the order of service for Crowley's funeral, which was distributed to the small band of friends at his funeral. It was compiled and designed by Frieda Lady Harris. This is the printer’s mock-up of the final version of the text which was used by Harris for proofing. In addition to correcting typos, Harris has “signed off” on the printing job by writing “OK” and her initials “FH” in the upper margin of each of the text pages.