The Gordon Waldorf Collection of Modern Literary High Spots at Sotheby's on April 1st
- by Bruce E. McKinney
An exceptional collection of 20th century high spots
On April 1st Sotheby’s in New York will conduct two sales, both single owner and one a two-item offering. The Gordon Waldorf Collection of modern literary high spots includes ”truly fine [and thus truly rare] copies of such titles as The Sun Also Rises and The Hobbit, as well as the best example of The Great Gatsby in jacket to come to market in decades. The sale also boasts remarkable presentation copies, including Faulkner to his mother, Hemingway to his wife Martha, Eliot to his literary patron, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald both inscribing to a fellow author, and Kerouac at last identifying himself as the narrator of On the Road.”
Mr. Waldorf, now in his early 80’s, came to book collecting late in life and relied heavily on Glenn Horowitz for expert advice. The 50 examples he carefully acquired represent the best and most interesting copies, many of them association or condition rarities, he could find.
His motive and approach are well explained in the introduction to his sale that has been, very appropriately, written by Mr. Horowitz. It explains this sale but is useful reading to all who collect or have aspirations to do so:
“Gordon Waldorf and I met over a lunch arranged long distance by his London based, South African cousin Clive Hirschhorn, a theater and film historian and a prodigious collector of first editions. Clive presciently had sensed that Gordon was ripe for an expansive project that would stand in stark contrast to any he had previously embarked upon. The lunch Gordon and I shared lasted late in to the afternoon, and by the time we parted we had mapped out the terrain we would follow - the path reflected in this catalogue. We never veered from the original design: to gather, primarily, unique copies of key texts of American and English literature of the 20th century. Politics and essays were to be eschewed; fiction and, to a lesser degree, poetry were front and center. We kept our eyes trained on books we felt would also appeal to subsequent buyers, to collectors who would at a later date assume care for them. We believed that by remaining disciplined and patient - often difficult postures to maintain when the impulse to gather has been whetted - we would achieve our goal. The moment when each of the books in this catalogue was acquired remains vivid, alive to us. The copy of Lolita presented by Nabokov to Henry James's nephew and executor was electrifying, linking as it does two generations of indisputable greatness, even though it entailed a slight chronological hiccup. A Fable inscribed by Faulkner to his mother caused us to reflect on how a copy of a book could encapsulate a long nourishing relationship. The Hogarth Press edition of The Waste Land, in unblemished condition, given by Eliot to his patron Lady Rothemere spoke eloquently to both sides of that complicated but crucial relationship. Flappers and Philosophers inscribed by both Scott and Zelda not only crowned the run of Fitzgerald first editions we were fortunate to bag but embodies the Jazz Age, a golden moment the two have come to define. The acquisition of On the Road, maybe the most American of American books in this catalogue, provided endless pleasure: Copies of consequence of this title pops up with alarming infrequency, and this one provides a snapshot of the poignantly brief moment in which Kerouac experienced the pride and pleasure of creating enduring art from his experience of the world. But the book that provided the most mischievous of pleasures when it was first in hand is the copy of A Streetcar Named Desire signed by Tennessee Williams and his colleagues who first gave it life on Broadway. When I appeared with it and insisted we add it to the collection Gordon initially balked and then after I began sputtering suggested we put a call in to Clive in London and solicit the counsel of a seasoned collector of theater books. After getting Mr. Hirschhorn on a speaker in Gordon;s office and walking him through the merits of the copy a long silence ensued: I thought maybe the trans Atlantic connection had been lost. But after a few additional moments of stillness had elapsed Clive softly said: sell that book to me, not to Gordon.
So with this sale at Sotheby's our hope is that similar sentiments are shared by others in the room on the day of the auction, or on phone lines and computers at distances comparable to the one between London and New York when the three of us who conceived of this project came together in the spirit of camaraderie.”
For him the collecting of great books was not big game hunting but rather catch and release. On April 1st they go back into the wild.
On the same day, on behalf of the Indiana Historical Society, Sotheby’s will sell a complete set of Audubon’s Birds of America, a set of extraordinary importance that has achieved two distinct lives, one as a complete and increasingly rare set, the other as 435 images that are individually coveted as significant collectibles. Mike Stillman has written a story about this other sale and it appears elsewhere in this issue of AE Monthly.