Rare Book Monthly

Articles - March - 2008 Issue

Prose & Poetry to Inflame our Imagination

11776505

Twain's The Prince and the Pauper


By Bruce McKinney

Literary firsts, poetry and prose, are a Venus in the Jupiter-sized world of literature. Every day, tens of thousands of books are sold, much of it fiction. A few examples, here and there, are collectible copies. Often they are first editions, some signed by the author, others signed by interesting owners. Another few otherwise insignificant examples, by luck and sometimes intention are preserved in perfect condition with pristine dust jackets. Such examples, the firsts, the signed copies and exceptional examples in time become the currency of collecting in the field of fiction.

AE Comet

The market is four sided: the academics that write about the authors and their works; the dealers who identify, describe, explain, price and sell; the collectors who acquire and accumulate, and the auction houses that disperse. As every individual owns, and every home contains, fiction there are no shortage of possibilities and hence the need for expertise to identify the occasional examples that cross the Gobi from readable into collectible, an always uncertain journey. To illuminate the path, the opinion of the masters in the field are sought, then valued and later repeated – adding word by word to the gathering history of specific books that, upon the shoulders of advocates can carry the once unsaleable at $2.00 to $30,000 and more. Such is the alchemy of fiction and its appeal to many quarters: material often more easily appreciated than understood. Thus many, attracted by the text and sometimes entirely by the form, find a vocation or career in this field that rewards the diligent.

For writers the path from draft to print is winding and uncertain, the path from print to immortality the stuff of legendary luck, perseverance and the complex interaction of a generation with the voices that put to paper what people come to know is true but can not express themselves. In every era a few giants roam while a thousand others express subjective truths that resonate with the Balkan states, if not the entire universe, of human emotion and experience. This is the essence of the statement "let me see your library that I may know you." Some may believe that you are what you eat. The better informed know you are what you read.

In the discovering and unearthing of the voices that speak of and for a generation dealers and collectors find common ground to fend, weed and garden, to unearth the undiscovered authors, to champion by their selection voices not yet appreciated and to locate all the posters, papers, mimeographs, drafts, marked and signed copies and other paraphernalia of those selected. In fiction, much more than in non-fiction, the cult of personality, the alter ego and the reflected life all permit and encourage the reader and collector to acquire the debris and the building blocks that comprise a life or the story. The beauty of this approach to collecting is that its limits are both as clear and uncertain as the perimeter of a rainbow and hence such collections can both grow and morph with the collector's changing perceptions, understanding and needs. For many, the reading if not necessarily the collecting, of fiction is both the cheapest and most enduring therapy for coming to grips with life's challenges. The great books inevitably engage the great issues. For some, life's answers are on Dr. Phil, for readers they lie between the covers.

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>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Caius Julius Hyginus, <i>Poeticon Astronomicon,</i> first illustrated edition, Venice, 1482. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Giovanni Botero, <i>Le Relationi Universali... divise in Sette Parti</i>, Venice, 1618. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> <i>L'Escole des Filles</i>, likely third edition of the first work of pornographic fiction in French, 1676. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Illuminated Book of Hours in Latin on vellum, Flanders, early 16th century. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Johannes Regiomontanus, <i>Calendarium,</i> Venice, 1485. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Pedro de Medina, <i>Libro d[e] gra[n]dezas y cosas memorables de España,</i> Alcalá de Henares, 1566. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b><br>Luis de Lucena, <i>Arte de Ajedres,</i> Salamanca, circa 1496-97. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Andrés Serrano, <i>Los Siete Principes de los Ángeles, válidos de Rey del Cielo,</i> Spain, 1707. $800 to $1,200.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Johannes de Sacrobosco, <i>Sphaera mundi,</i> first illustrated edition, Venice, 1478. $15,000 to $20,000.
  • <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> A Rare 3-rotor German Enigma I Enciphering Machine. $70,000 to $90,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Important collection of correspondence between Werner Heisenberg and Bruno Rossi. $40,000 to $60,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Walt Whitman Autograph manuscript containing his thoughts on death. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> David Roberts. <i>Holy Land</i>. Six volumes. 1842-1849. First edition. $15,000 to $25,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Extensive collection of Ray Bradbury's primary works, most signed or inscribed. $15,000 to $20,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Peter Force. Declaration of Independence. $12,000 to $18,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Steinbeck. <i>Grapes of Wrath</i>. A fine copy of the first edition. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Lewis & Clark. <i>Travels to the Source of the Missouri River</i>... First English edition, extra-illustrated. 1814. $10,000 to 15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Manuscript document signed by Nuno de Guzman relating to Hernan Cortes, 1528. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> “Nos los inquisidores..." The first book in English printed West of the Mississippi. [1787]. $5,000 to $8,000.

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