Whitmore Rare Books recently completed their Catalogue 10. They describe their field as “offering literary first editions and other books of merit.” This explains well what you will find, with one further detail. They also focus on condition. Most of what you will find is in fine or near fine condition, even dust jackets (where applicable) being in amazingly good shape for dust jackets. The great majority of what is offered are first editions of important literary works, with a few exceptions, such as a couple of letters written by authors, a poster, and I'm not sure whether children's books qualify as also being literature or stand apart. Here are a few examples of what you will find in this tenth Whitmore catalogue.
We will start with one of those works that could be called a children's book, but it is enjoyed at least as much by adults. It is the timeless classic of logic, albeit turned upside down: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Mathematician Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, writing under the pen name Lewis Carroll, produced his masterpiece of twisted logic that makes all of us, young and old, think, a useful if often forgotten skill. Offered is a copy of the rare 1866 first American edition, essentially the earliest obtainable printing. The book was first printed in England in 1865. Carroll sent out 50 copies to his friends. However, illustrator John Tenniel was displeased with the quality of the printing, and Carroll acquiesced to his request to have the copies recalled. Carroll wrote those to whom he had earlier sent copies to send them back, and promised to give them new copies once they were printed. Meanwhile, the rest of the copies were sent to America, where they were given a new title page and published as the first American edition, herein offered. American readers, evidently, are not so fussy. Only around 20 copies of the London edition with the 1865 title page still exist, essentially making it unobtainable today. Item 14. $21,000.
Next up is the book that forever made us rethink our assumptions about rabbits. They aren't always gentle little critters. Item 2 is an inscribed first edition of Richard Adams' Watership Down. It is the story of a group of rabbits who leave their warren on the advice of one who foresees its destruction. They have to endure attacks by others from their own warren who do not believe them, and other rabbits along the way. Yes, there are killer rabbits out there. Somehow, they do find a new home and survive the various obstacles they encounter along the way. And yes, their original warren is destroyed, as foreseen, and it was none other than humans, like us, who did it. The book seems full of allegorical references and lessons for humans based on these anthropomorphized rabbits, but Adams has strenuously maintained that there is no deep meaning here, just a story he made up for his girls, who encouraged him to write it down. $1,250.
Many consider this book to be Ernest Hemingway's masterpiece, not a small compliment considering his body of work. Item 37 is a first edition, first printing of The Sun Also Rises. Published in 1926, it is the story of American and English expatriates in Europe in the 1920's, a thinly disguised account of his own time there. The Paris-based characters take a trip to Spain, to watch the bullfights and the running of the bulls, their interactions perhaps epitomizing life of the “Lost Generation.” Those were people who came of age during the First World War, and had a hard time finding themselves in the years ahead. Item 37. $2,850.
From the Lost Generation we go to the Beat Generation. If Hemingway's book was the signature description of the former, this one is the quintessential tale of the latter – On The Road. Published in 1957, it recounts author Jack Kerouac's journey across the country in the late 1940's. While there are few representatives of the Lost Generation still around anymore, those of the Beat Generation can readily be found at the Social Security office or Denny's early bird special. We know who we are. Kerouac, on the other hand, will never grow old. His drinking did him in first. Still, he remains a generation's voice. Item 42. $9,500.