It is a work that is 40 years in the making. Now, some 300 of literary agent Peter Straus's 1,000-strong personal collection of Man Booker-winning and shortlisted first editions will be showcased at an exhibition at the V&A.
The event celebrates 40 years of one of the world's leading literary prizes – the 2008 shortlist for which is announced on 9 September. Straus is the prize's honorary archivist, and his books form a major part of the exhibition. These include first editions of the first six winners: PH Newby's Something To Answer For in 1969, Bernice Rubens The Elected Member, VS Naipaul's In a Free State, John Berger's G, JG Farrell's The Siege of Krishnapur and Nadine Gordimer's The Conservationist. Among the more elusive winners that he has tracked down is a first edition of Stanley Middleton's Holiday, which won jointly with Gordimer's novel in 1974. "It's a combination of luck and timing. I don't stalk people. I try not to let the habit become an addiction," says Straus, a literary agent and former publisher. "The prize hadn't really taken off at this point and the print runs were small."
Along with Straus's collection of books, posters and proofs, there will also be photographs from the archive – located at Oxford Brookes University – and even the original Booker trophy, which was created by the artist Jan Pienkowski.
There is also an uncorrected advance proof titled "Monaghan Day", later changed to Amongst Women, by John McGahern; it was shortlisted for the Booker in 1990. Straus was new to publishing when he began his quest to source Booker first editions from around the world. He started with the Booker winners and then moved out to the shortlisted authors. "I even searched for titles that had some connection with the Booker Prize but were not shortlisted. Patrick White's The Twyborn Affair was selected in 1979 but the author removed himself from the list, saying it was for younger and less well-known writers."
As Straus investigated further, he wanted to know why certain authors had never been shortlisted. "I discovered that John Fowles did not allow his publisher to enter his books, the first eligible being The French Lieutenant's Woman. In 1974 the panel wanted to shortlist John Le Carré's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy but again Le Carré did not want his books entered."
Straus, who is managing director of the literary agents Rogers, Coleridge and White, is still adding to his collection when he can. "It is a mad," he says. "I collect crowners, posters, proof jackets, marketing material. Even the book after the book was shortlisted often gets a mention, so I have a copy of that, too. I get proof jackets if they get changed. I've stopped paperbacks and foreign editions merely because of space."
His personal highlights include a proof of JG Farrell's The Siege of Krishnapur, which was Margaret Drabble's copy, complete with her signature. "One book I'm very fond of is an inscribed copy of double Booker-winning author Peter Carey's first shortlisted title in 1985, Illywhacker, inscribed to me – one of the first copies sold anywhere in world."
Booker 40 at the V&A 6 September – 17 May (www.vam.ac.uk)