As if my bank account didn’t already suffer enough from my guitar obsession and my work with The Wrist Watch Review, a hip book expert just had to tell me about a book that is destined to damage my credit rating. First of all, let’s talk about the basic text. Robert Sabbag’s 1976 book Snowblind: A Brief Career in the Cocaine Trade tells the story of smuggler Zachary Swan and his intricate maneuvers for getting drugs out of South America and into New York City. Some of the information in the book is now dated, and may even seem simplistic. For instance, most contemporary readers will know all about the drug and won’t need Sabbag’s lengthy descriptions of pharmaceutical effects. But at the time the book was being written, most Americans had never heard of cocaine so it’s an interesting time capsule into the era before freebasing and crack. And even if the info is a tad dated, the writing remains sharp and crisp.
Now, the copy that I recently purchased and read was a plain-old $14.00 trade paperback from Grove Press. But one passage in the book gives a clue to why this seemingly innocuous book tip I received is bound to set me back some rent money. Sabbag explains the allure of cocaine and what it symbolizes by writing “cocaine is the caviar of the drug market.” Remember the book was being written in 1974 and released in ’76. He describes the drug’s place in high-society:
As inelegant as snorting anything seems to be, most people who can afford cocaine are not the kinds of people one is likely to find in public hospitals or listed on police registers. More likely they are to be found coming out of the Athletic Club or the rear door of a Rolls. To snort cocaine is to make a statement. It is like flying to Paris for breakfast. These are people who raise the pedestrian procedure of inhaling to the formality of a tea ceremony. Chop up the crystals, divide the pile into ‘lines,’ one for each nostril–call it a one and one–and with a bank note of impressive denomination rolled into a straw… snort.
Taking cues from this ceremony of doing lines, in 1998 artist Damien Hirst designed a limited edition of Snowblind for Rebel Inc in Scotland. 1000 copies were produced and bound in reinforced mirror boards with a silver metal spine. The page edges were also silvered. A bookmark fashioned in the style of an American Express Platinum card in the authors name was laid in. And inside the book, a special trench runs through the pages that contained a one hundred dollar bill. A real one hundred dollar bill. The bills were specially requested from the US Treasury so that the final three digits of the serial number match the number of the edition. The book was presented in a special slipcase featuring artwork of reproduced dollar bills and the copy was signed by artist Damien Hirst, author Robbert Sabbag, and British drug smuggler Howard Marks who wrote an introduction.
Abebooks has 4 copies of this limited edition run for sale, ranging in price from about $1,900 to $2,400 which is absolutely going to send me back to the plasma bank for more frequent donations. Some helpful members of The Velvet found other sites selling the book for around the same prices. A very cool book fan from Manchester dug up this photo of the book which includes the slipcover:
Really enjoyable book, I appreciate the tip I received, but this limited edition is going to haunt me for some time.
You can get the regular priced version from Amazon here.