Rare Book Monthly

Articles - November - 2016 Issue

Orwell Values Soar As Dystopia Closes In

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George Orwell’s literary and monetary values have soared to new highs in recent years.

George Orwell (born Eric Arthur Blair) is one of the few mid-20th century writers who has easily crossed over into the new century and also seen his literary reputation and monetary values rise. He is now even better known than in earlier years, and the prices of his published works, letters and ephemera have also soared, particularly those that are signed or with some personal Orwell association.

 

Although Orwell (1903-1950) attained considerable stature as an essayist, journalist, radio commentator and critic, he is best known for his two final works of fiction. They are Animal Farm (1945), a grim look at the evolution of a totalitarian state disguised as a children’s fairy tale, and Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), a novel where war is constant, surveillance is total and “Big Brother is watching you.” Both of these books came out near the end of the author’s life and both had US and UK editions.

 

Indeed, as Americans this month contemplate presidential choices with distinct dystopian overtones, Orwell can also be seen as a writer with uncanny prophetic abilities. He is currently ranked by some sources as the second most popular writer in the world (behind Tolkien) and - at the turn of this century a prominent British publication estimated there were as many as 40 million copies of Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four then in print. The digital book base ABE lists a signed copy of Nineteen Eighty-Four, which sold for $26,500, as one of the most expensive books ever purchased on its site.

 

But while $26,500 is an impressive number, in the current scheme of things Orwellian, the top seems to have moved up by at least several notches. Rare Book Hub has a total of 988 listings for items by or related to Orwell dating back to 1957. A wide variety of his published work, and to a lesser extent letters have been regularly offered, with most items finding a buyer. In more recent years many have exceeded their presale estimates.

 

In 1957 an inscribed presentation copy of “Down and Out in Paris and London”, a 1933 first edition sold for measly 8 GBP (Great British Pounds). Also in 1957, an extensive lot of correspondence signed by Orwell running to 230 pages and including letters to his various publishers brought a humble 270 GBP.

 

Orwell’s work came to auction fairly frequently throughout the last half of the 20th century and up until the mid-1980s prices seldom rose out of the low two digits (whether in pounds or dollars).

 

But by the 100th anniversary of his birth in 2003 interest in Orwell was distinctly on the rise. In 2004 a copy of Nineteen Eighty-Four with a high estimate of 300 GBP sold for 2,357 GBP.  Also in 2004, a copy of Animal Farm inscribed by the author to Malcolm Muggeridge had a pre-auction high estimate of $15,000, but hammered down for $50,000.

 

With the Edward Snowden security surveillance disclosures of 2013, Orwell’s name was again on every lip. That year an inscribed copy of Nineteen Eighty-Four realized 140,500 GBP at a Sotheby’s auction, more than quadruple the pre-auction high value estimate of 30,000 GBP.

 

It wasn’t just the prices on his most famous works that were going up. In 2013 a first US edition (1934) of Burmese Days with a dust jacket sold for $16,000, also quadruple the presale high estimate. Burmese Days is Orwell’s first novel and considered a desirable and hard to find book in either the US or UK editions. Presently the British firm of Peter Harrington is offering a copy with an asking price slightly over $59,000.

 

A quick check of the online book sites brings up a variety of Orwell titles offered by other reputable booksellers with fancy asking prices. These include: Critical Essays $48,000; Keep the Aspidistra Flying $37,400; Coming Up for Air $31,000; Road to Wigan Pier $18,750; Homage to Catalonia $17,500…. to name only a few pegged in the five figure range.

 

Perhaps the choicest selection of vintage Orwell signed and association material currently on the market is an Orwell archive from the publisher Victor Gollancz. It is offered by Jonkers, a UK bookseller, asking 350,000 GBP.

www.jonkers.co.uk/rare-book/6181/the-gollancz-orwell-archive/george-orwell

 

The Jonker’s website describes the collection as: “The publisher's archive of papers relating to the publication of each of Orwell's books by his first publisher, Victor Gollancz, with the exception of Coming Up For Air (all the correspondence for which having been destroyed shortly after publication). In all some 200 documents, central to which are nineteen letters and three telegrams by Orwell, but also including four original signed contracts (one each of Down and Out in Paris and London, The Road to Wigan Pier and Inside the Whale and one for a three book deal covering, The Clergyman's Daughter, Burmese Days and Keep the Aspidistra Flying) as well as extensive correspondence between Gollancz and Leonard Moore (Orwell's agent) and Harold Rubenstein (Gollancz's solicitor) and various reader's reports and internal memos.”

 

Jonkers terms the collection “An extraordinary, comprehensive archive of correspondence between Eric Blair (George Orwell) and his publisher, regarding the writing and publishing of Orwell's books. Copies of all outgoing correspondence from Gollancz has been preserved in carbon providing a comprehensive epistolary narrative of the process of getting Orwell into print, from the initial approach from Moore introducing Orwell and his manuscript of Down and Out in Paris and London, through to Gollancz's ill fated decision to decline to publish Animal Farm. The nineteen letters from Orwell, discuss changes that need to be made to the manuscripts (Gollancz was notably cautious regarding libel). Throughout, one can chart an emboldening in Orwell's approach regarding what he was prepared to alter, his reasoning providing an insight into his creative process. The letters also discuss his work in general and touch on that of other contemporary authors (D.H.Lawrence, Henry Miller, Evelyn Waugh), his health and political views.”  A more detailed description of what is included can be found at the Jonker’s web page (See link above).

 

Even with a falling pound and rising dollar, if UK 350,000 is a bit rich for your blood consider the wealth of other (non-book) Orwell related merchandise and kitsch currently available: There is the Orwell sterling silver pendant “Thought Criminal” ($36); a plethora of Orwell t-shirts “Freedom is Slavery”, “Orwell 84”, “Big Brother is Watching You” ($18-$27); bumper stickers with Orwellian messages like, “In time of universal deceit telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act” ($4). Farther down the food chain are magnets, key chains, decals and buttons inscribed with messages like: “Hope lies in the proles” ($1.25).

 

With a huge body of printed work and a growing array of non book auxiliary merchandise he is distinctly a man for all budgets.

 

The list of Orwell criticism and commentary is gargantuan and much of it is now online. What value it will have in the future remains to be seen. But for pure entertainment don’t miss the gangsta rap Cliff Notes style videos known as Thug Notes. There’s one for Animal Farm

www.youtube.com/watch?v=ITKfr1qOZ0w and another for Nineteen Eighty-Four

www.youtube.com/watch?v=zeMlOQsu2zM. They’re both done in dialect and pretty good in American street slang translation.

 

And last but not least in the “Guessed Wrong” department check out the T.S. Eliot letter to Orwell on Faber and Faber letterhead rejecting the manuscript for Animal Farm. The 1944 letter, now in the collection of the British Library, is an interesting historical footnote and a worthy reminder that hindsight is 20-20.

www.bl.uk/collection-items/letter-from-t-s-eliot-faber-to-george-orwell-rejecting-animal-farm-13-july-1944

 

On the web page displaying the historic letter the museum writes: “Publishing Animal Farm was not a straightforward task. Before its eventual publication by Secker & Warburg in August 1945, the novella was rejected by at least four different publishers, and Orwell even considered printing it as a pamphlet. While it was written in the form of an animal fable, readers of Animal Farm immediately recognised it for what it was: a satire of Stalinism which condemned totalitarian practices and presented Stalin as a traitor of the Russian Revolution. Many publishers thought the work too controversial to be published at a time in which the Soviet Union was a powerful ally of Britain against Germany. Another publisher objected to the choice of pigs as the protagonists of the story, worried that such portrayal would offend Russian readers. Despite these initial difficulties, Animal Farm achieved considerable success in Britain and abroad, and within months of its publication the work was translated into several languages.”

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>
  • <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Shackleton, Ernest. <i>Aurora Australis.</i> Printed at the sign of 'The Penguins'; East Antarctica, 1908. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Shackleton, Ernest. <i>South Polar Times.</i> 1st edition, limited issue. from the library of Michael Barne. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> General Washington's <i>Proceedings of a General Court Martial... of Major General Lee.</i> Philiadelphia, 1778. 100 copies printed for Congress. BOUND WITH: ...Court Martial... of St Clair and ...Schuyler. $25,000 to $35,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>The Voice of the People.</i> Boston, 1754. Rare pamphlet on the Excise Tax. Nathaniel Sparhawk's copy. $4,000 to $6,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Autograph Letter Signed ("S.L. Clemens"), offering extensive hard-earned advice on writing, 5 pp, 1881. $30,000 to $50,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> After Fra Egnazio Danti. <i>L'Ultime Parti not:e nel Indie Occid:ntli" [The last known parts of the Western Indies].</i> Painted Map of California, Western Mexico, and Japan. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Ptolemaeus, Claudius. <i>Geographie opus nouissima...</i> 1513. The most important edition of Ptolemy, containing the Admiral's Map. $250,000 to $350,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> De Arellano, Don Alonso. Manuscript, his <i>"Relación mui singular y circunstanciada... Capitán del Patax San Lucas,"</i> manuscript copy from the Sir Thomas Phillips collection. $50,000 to $80,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Purchas, Samuel. <i>Purchas his Pilgrimes.</i> First edition. With John Simth's engraved map of Virginia. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Lewis, Meriwether. Contemporary manuscript true copy of his final power of attorney, 1809. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>A New Method of Macarony Making, as Practiced at Boston in North America.</i> Mezzotint. London, 1774. $5,000 to $7,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>Scientific Base Ball Pitching: A Treatise on the Pitcher, Pitching, Origin and Philosophy of the Curve.</i> Chicago, 1897. $2,000 to $3,000
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Franklin H. Brown, <i>State Sovereignty, National Union,</i> Chicago, 1860. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Thomas Paine, <i>The American Crisis,</i> Fishkill, NY, December 1776. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b><br>The Aitken Bible, Philadelphia, 1781. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Francisco Loubayssin de Lamarca, probable first edition of the first novel set in the Spanish New World, Paris, 1617. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Juan de la Anunciación, <i>Sermonario en lengua mexicana,</i> first edition, first book of sermons in Nahuatl, Mexico, 1577. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Maturino Gilberti, <i>Thesoro spiritual en lengua de Mechuacá,</i> first edition, Mexico, 1558. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Commission of William O. Stoddard as secretary to the president, signed by Lincoln, Washington, 1861. $7,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> <i>Clay and Frelinghuysen,</i> flag banner, circa 1844. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Daguerreotype of a man believed to be Frederick Granger Williams Smith, son of Joseph Smith, circa late 1850s. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> John C. Wolfe, <i>Portrait of Abraham Lincoln,</i> oil on board in period wooden frame, circa 1860s. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Francis W. Winton, manuscript on pow-wows with indigenous Canadians, 1881. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Family letters from two young daguerreotype artists, 1826-79. $10,000 to $15,000.
  • <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. September 27, 2018</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 27:</b> Cartwright (George). <i>A Journal of Transactions and Events, during a Residence of nearly Sixteen Years on the Coast of Labrador...,</i> first edition, with A.L.s. from the author, 1792. £4,000 to £6,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 27:</b> Swift (Jonathan). <i>Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World,</i> 2 vol., first edition, Teerink's "A" edition, Printed for Benj. Motte, 1726. £15,000 to £20,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 27:</b> Fourier (Jean Baptiste Joseph). <i>Theorie Analytique de la Chaleur,</i> first edition, Paris, chez Firmin Didot, 1822. £6,000 to £8,000
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. September 27, 2018</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 27:</b> Boccaccio (Giovanni). <i>Genealogiae Deorum,</i> additions by Dominicus Silvester and Raphael Zovenzonius, Venice, Vindelinus de Spira, 1472. £10,000 to £15,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 27:</b> Mary I. Letter signed at the head "Marye the Quene" to Lord Paget, 1 page, 7th June 1556. The recall from exile of nine persons opposed to the Marian regime. £10,000 to £12,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 27:</b> Nelson (Horatio). Autograph Letter signed "Horatio Nelson" and written to Francis Drake, British Minister at Genoa, discussing the disposition of his "Cruizers" near Genoa. £6,000 to £8,000
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. September 27, 2018</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 27:</b> Darwin (Charles). Unpublished Autograph Letter signed to Walter Raleigh Browne, playing down his scientific knowledge of comparative anatomy, 1881. £6,000 to £8,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 27:</b> Murphew (J.). <i>The fair in an uproar, or, the dancing-doggs.</i> As they perform in Mr. Pinkeman's New Opera in Bartholomew Fair, 1707. £1,500 to £2,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 27:</b> Chaucer (Geoffrey). <i>The Workes,</i> by [Nicholas Hill for] Thomas Petit, dwellyng in Paules churche yarde at the sygne of the Maydens heed, 1550. £7,000 to £10,000
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. September 27, 2018</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 27:</b> Austen (Jane). <i>Emma: A Novel,</i> 3 vol., first edition, 1816. £7,000 to £10,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 27:</b> Greene (Graham). <i>Stamboul Train,</i> first edition, first issue, 1932. £8,000 to £12,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 27:</b> Churchill.- Fearon (Percy Hutton) "Poy". “Eat More Beef,” pen and ink cartoon with shading in blue pencil, [July 1928]. £400 to £600

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