Bonhams Sells Fake Barrett Poem

Bonhams Sells Fake Barrett Poem

Perhaps that is not entirely true, but at least we've got your attention.

Terrapin 9
Terrapin 9.


Terrapin was a Syd Barrett fanzine appearing from the early till the mid-Seventies. The alternatively wired Bernard White was one of the few who used to run the legendary magazine although it has mainly acquired this status through the amnesic mist of time. The magazine was badly written, badly styled, badly distributed and, to add insult to injury - somewhere in between - the different editors used the scarce pages of their own magazine to fight out some internal editorial wars. Call it a Holy Church of Iggy the Inuit avant la lettre, quoi.

But of course Terrapin occasionally had its peak moments. A young Robert Chapman, whom we all know from his excellent work of fiction A Very Irregular Head, debuted in Terrapin number 2 with his review of the February 1972 Stars gig at the Corn Exchange in Cambridge. He had it mainly wrong, so he was already creating a habit there.

A smart trip

The most intriguing piece in Terrapin did not come from Rob Chapman, nor Bernard White, but from the mad bard himself. Issue 9 (July 1974) had a previously unpublished poem, written by Syd Barrett, titled: A Rooftop Song In A Thunderstorm Row Missing The Point. Several weird theories have surfaced about it and one of them goes that the starting letters of its title form the witty anagram 'a smart trip'. Not all Barrett fans believe the poem was written by Syd, but - and otherwise this article would have no reason at all - let's assume he did. The poem, as it appeared in 1974, can be found in our Rooftop gallery. It is in Bernard White's handwriting, as are most pages of Terrapin, because there was no typewriter around when he created the fanzine.


Fast forward to 2010. On the 4th of December Barrett scholars found that the Bonhams auction house was going to sell the following: Sale 17974 - Entertainment Memorabilia, 15 Dec 2010 - Lot No: 148:

A Syd Barrett poem, circa late 60s/early 70s, signed, in black ballpoint on a small piece of paper, entitled 'A Rooftop Song In A Thunderstorm Row Missing The Point', thirteen lines, beginning, 'With yellow red and foomy food, and quivered / crouching on a golden cushion / Undressed himself to dissapear (sic) through an infinity of pleasure...', the reverse with part of a question/answer piece, one side covered in tape, 12.5 x 13cm (5 x 5in) approx. Estimate: £2,000 - 3,000, EUR 2,300 – 3,500.
(Note: a facsimile can be found at our Rooftop gallery.)

But what was most interesting, intriguing and salivating was the footnote at the bottom of the Bonhams page:

This will feature in a book about Syd to be launched in March 2011, with an exhibition at Idea Generation, and the Barrett family have confirmed this is in Syd's hand.
See Emily Play lyrics (Syd Barrett)
See Emily Play lyrics (Syd Barrett).

Almost immediately the allusion that the piece was in Syd's handwriting was questioned by some fans. At the left side there is a snippet of Pink Floyd's See Emily Play and that is how Syd Barrett's handwriting looked like. Late Night member Dark Globe did a fine job by comparing Barrett's and White's handwriting and concluded:

To me, the handwriting on the Bonhams poem itself looks closer to BW's handwriting than to Syd's. (Syd's handwriting tended to slope to the left all throughout his life). I'd guess that the Bonhams item is actually a draft written in a looser hand by Bernard White for the final version which appears in the fanzine. (Taken from: Rooftop for Sale.)

Brettjad at Madcaps Laughing remarked: “I don't get it. If it's Syd's, then why did he write that interview on the reverse?”

A pertinent question indeed. The Anchor took the liberty of taking a closer look at the backside of the document (see gallery). One of the first assumptions the Anchor can make is that the sold snippet was cut out of a larger piece of paper as the top of the backside horizontally slits a sentence in half. But that is not all there is to see.

Giovanni Dadomo

The backside text contains a Syd Barrett interview, taken by Giovanni Dadomo, probably in 1971, but only published three years later in Terrapin. And still that is not all.

The backside transcript is (partly) page 5 of Terrapin 10. In other words: here is the original page, in Bernard White's handwriting, before it was printed and distributed to its subscribers in August 1974. The underneath illustration hopefully proofs that both are identical (first line: Terrapin 10; second line: Bonhams poem - back side).

Terrapin vs. Bonhams
Comparing Terrapin with Bonhams.

Missing the point

Let's digest this for a while, while we have a go at the poem itself. According to Bonhams, Barrett's family has confirmed it is in Syd's hand although they fail to produce a certificate of authenticity or to simply name the family member who has testified this. If they can't it is hearsay, to say the least.

For the sake of argument, let's believe the poem is in Syd's handwriting. Why then did super-fan & collector Bernard White prefer to publish a copy of the poem in his handwriting rather than to publish Syd's original? Surely someone must have been missing a point?

In Terrapin 9 White thanks 'Hypgnosis for the poem and photos'. Still following Bonhams train of thought this means that Po (Aubrey Powell) or Storm (Thorgerson) gave Bernard White an original Syd Barrett document without asking for a receipt. That's not how we know them, especially not in 1974.

Anoraks have of course spotted the mistake in the previous paragraph. Bernard White thanks Hypgnosis, not Hipgnosis. As legendary as his fanzine are his spelling errors (in one issue he jokingly described himself as 'Bernard M White: spelling mistakes and all other errors'). The Rooftop paper has got two: 'your writting' and 'to dissapear'. White's spelling errors are as unique as his handwriting and the 'dissapear' error is repeated in both versions of the poem. Oops!

Bonhams' Barrett vs Terrapin's White

To end the discussion, once and for all, let's have a look at the two known Rooftop copies: blue is Bonhams (Syd Barrett), red is Terrapin (Bernard White). Hmmm...

Terrapin vs. Bonhams
Comparing Terrapin with Bonhams.

It is in a book, ergo it must be true

Not only does Bonhams claim that the poem is in Barrett's handwriting, they also maintain that their version is going to be published 'in a book about Syd to be launched in March 2011, with an exhibition at Idea Generation'.

Who could be better situated to acknowledge this than Russell Beecher, the editor of Barrett, The definitive visual companion to the life of Syd Barrett. Unfortunately he told the Anchor:

We also thought that the poem wasn't written in Syd's hand so we haven't included it in the book. I am not sure about the family authentication but I think, as you and we have worked out, that point is irrelevant as we know it's not Syd's writing. (…) A shame though - would have been a great find!

Indeed, there must still be a third version of the Rooftop poem somewhere, the one - (perhaps) in Syd's handwriting - that Bernard White copied in the Hipgnosis headquarters. But that is not the one that was recently auctioned.

It's a gas!

On the 15th of December of 2010 a collector paid 2,160 £ for this original piece of Bernard White's handwriting, probably believing that it was Syd's. (Some information has now been removed from the Bonhams website but the Anchor has a screenshot.)

It was then when the Anchor decided to contact Bonhams to ask them if, perhaps, an eeny weeny teeny meeny mistake had been made.

An automated reply from Leonora O. learned us that she was out until the 5th of January and that for all queries we should try another mail address, that happened to be exactly the same address than the one we had send our questions to. So we waited, until the year was finally over...

In January we contacted Bonhams a second time. We got a reply from Katherine B. who was so friendly to inform us that Stephanie C. was going to answer us immediately.

Just before this article went into print (or should we say: upload) we informed again if Stephanie C. finally had any comments. Alas, she was too busy waiting for the ink to dry on a recently found Apple iPod that has John Lennon's signature on it and couldn't come to the phone.

Bernard White and Syd Barrett, sharing a Guinness at the great gig in the sky, are probably laughing their arses off.

The Anchor wishes to thank:
Russell Beecher,
Dark Globe who made an excellent comparison of Barrett's and White's handwriting at Late Night. Further analysis shows that the letter d in 'seasoned' (from the Bonhams poem) and the letter d in 'Bernard' (as in White's signature) are coming from the same person (post #9).

The documents, discussed above, can be consulted in our Rooftop gallery.

The Anchor is the Holy Church of Iggy the Inuit's satirical division, intended for people with a good heart, but a rather bad character.
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