Rare Book Monthly

Articles - January - 2011 Issue

AE's Top 500 Book Auction Prices for 2010

1933superman

Superman was once a most evil dude.

Another year has come to a close, which means it is once again time for the Americana Exchange's annual review of the highest prices paid at auction for books, manuscripts, and related ephemera. While the market as a whole for books may remain somewhat soft, there is a healthy market at the top, particularly the very top. This past year, eight items exceeded the million-dollar barrier, twice the number as 2009, and the top one sold for over three times the amount of last year's number one. Even in hard times, the old maxim still applies - the rich get richer.

 

Another positive for the high-end of the market is that #500 sold for $47,806, a healthy sum, and 8.5% higher than a year ago. But, before we enter the AE Top 500, here are a few of the intriguing items that didn't quite make the threshold. An archive including an arrest warrant and commitment decree for Mary Todd Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln's widow, sold for $37,600. They were taken out by her only surviving son, Robert, who believed his mother belonged in an insane asylum. She was committed but later released. For $35,850 you could have obtained an ordinary ship's passport signed by President William Henry Harrison. Why is a document from this obscure president so pricey? The answer is he died only a month into office, and his signature as President is exceedingly rare. For $24,000, you could have obtained three photographic portraits of Alexandra Rhodes Kitchin. She isn't so important, but her photographer, already showing a fascination with young girls, was Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. He would later be far better known as a writer, employing the penname "Lewis Carroll."

 

#467 is a most interesting letter from British General Burgoyne in 1775, after the British "victory" at Bunker Hill. He warns the recipient not to let this victory get their hopes up, that prospects are "gloomy." He was right. Burgoyne later lost the Battle of Saratoga. $50,000. #412 is a letter requesting provisions for his troops that same year from a loyal American general - Benedict Arnold. Well, at least in 1775 he was a loyal American. $53,125.

 

#383 is one of the newer items on the list. It is the 1933 mimeograph booklet containing the first story about and illustration of Superman. It precedes Action Comics #1 by 5 years. However, in this story, the caped crusader was a bald villain. He was later converted to a hero for better commercial prospects. $57,500.

 

#256 is a handwritten, signed entreaty from John Ross, Chief of the Cherokees, to Congress in 1836. Ross pleads that his people be allowed to remain on their ancestral Georgia homeland. "On your kindness, on your humanity, on your compassions, on your benevolence, we rest our hopes. To you, we address our reiterated prayers. Spare our people!" It fell on deaf ears. Two years later, the Cherokee were forced to leave on their "Trail of Tears." $78,000.

 

#134 is a remarkably frank letter from George Washington to a nephew in 1786, where he explains that should his wife (Martha) outlive him, he would die without issue, and if he outlived her, he would never marry a girl, and a woman of a suitable age would be unlikely to bear him children. $120,750.

 

"One small step for a man - one giant leap for mankind." These words are inscribed on the flight plan for the Apollo 11 by Neil Armstrong, first man to walk on the moon. #198. $152,000. A century and a half earlier, Lewis and Clark made their comparably spectacular journey for that era. #95 is a first edition of their account. $158,000.

 

The world was a changin' in 1963 when Bob Dylan penned these manuscript lyrics to The Times They Are A-Changin'. #25. $422,500. Abraham Lincoln was blunt and terse when he sent this telegram to Union commander General George McClellan in 1862:  "You must either attack Richmond, or give up the job and come to the defense of Washington." #20. $482,500. #12 is a document signed by John Hancock, Robert Morris and others in 1776, but it is not their signatures that make it so valuable. It is that of Button Gwinnett, the signer of the Declaration of Independence whose autograph is the rarest and hardest to obtain of all. $722,500.

And now, the Top 10.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <center><b>Swann Auction Galleries<br>View Our Record Breaking Results</b>
    <b>Swann:</b> Scott Joplin, <i>Treemonisha: Opera in Three Acts,</i> New York, 1911. Sold March 24 — $40,000.
    <b>Swann:</b> Louisa May Alcott, autograph letter signed, 1868. Sold June 2 — $23,750.
    <b>Swann:</b> Anne Bradstreet, <i>Several Poems Compiled with Great Variety of Wit and Learning, full of Delight,</i> Boston, 1758. Sold June 2 — $21,250.
    <b>Swann:</b> William Shakespeare, <i>Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies. Published according to the true Originall Copies. The Second Impression,</i> London, 1632. Sold May 5 — $161,000.
    <center><b>Swann Auction Galleries<br>View Our Record Breaking Results</b>
    <b>Swann:</b> John Bachmann, <i>Panorama of the Seat of War,</i> New York, 1861-62. Sold June 23 — $35,000.
    <b>Swann:</b> Charlotte Bronte, <i>Jane Eyre,</i> first edition, London, 1847. Sold June 16 — $23,750.
    <b>Swann:</b> Elihu Vedder, <i>Simple Simon, His Book,</i> 1913. Sold June 9 — $12,350.
    <b>Swann:</b> Frederick Catherwood, <i>Views of Ancient Monuments in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan,</i> London, 1844. Sold April 7 — $37,500.
  • <center><b>University Archives<br>Rare Autographs, Manuscripts & Books<br>August 17, 2022</b>
    <b>University Archives, Aug. 17:</b> George Washington ADS, One of the Earliest in His Hand, A Survey from 1752, the Same Year He Inherited Mount Vernon.
    <b>University Archives, Aug. 17:</b> Rare JFK Signed Check & Transmittal Letter During Campaign for 1956 VP Nomination, Both BAS Slabbed; Possibly A Unique Combo!
    <b>University Archives, Aug. 17:</b> Daniel Boone Signed Receipt as VA Delegate; During His 1st of 3 Terms, Boone Was Kidnapped by British Forces Gunning for Gov. T. Jefferson & Other Legislators.
    <center><b>University Archives<br>Rare Autographs, Manuscripts & Books<br>August 17, 2022</b>
    <b>University Archives, Aug. 17:</b> Benjamin Franklin Signed Receipt for “Pennsylvania Gazette,” Important & Beautifully Displayed
    <b>University Archives, Aug. 17:</b> Lincoln & His Civil War Cabinet: 8 Signatures, Beautifully Presented!
    <b>University Archives, Aug. 17:</b> G.A. Custer ALS from Fort Lincoln, Dakota Territory to Capt. Yates, Who Also Died at Little Bighorn, Re: Acquiring “good horses” from Kentucky for 7th Cavalry.
    <center><b>University Archives<br>Rare Autographs, Manuscripts & Books<br>August 17, 2022</b>
    <b>University Archives, Aug. 17:</b> Jefferson Davis ALS: “the negroes are humble and generally inclined to cling to their masters…neither crop or stock could be protected from their thieving” – Incredible!
    <b>University Archives, Aug. 17:</b> Lee Harvey Oswald Signed Letter: “if we finally get back to the states…maybe we’ll…settle in Texas,” Warren Commission Exhibit.
    <b>University Archives, Aug. 17:</b> Babe Ruth First Edition Biography Signed Just Months Before His Death, Excellent Signature!
    <center><b>University Archives<br>Rare Autographs, Manuscripts & Books<br>August 17, 2022</b>
    <b>University Archives, Aug. 17:</b> “B Arnold” ANS on Pre-Revolutionary War Promissory Note Dating From His Days as a New Haven Merchant
    <b>University Archives, Aug. 17:</b> Bob Dylan Signed LP “Blonde on Blonde” with Jeff Rosen COA.
    <b>University Archives, Aug. 17:</b> Marilyn Monroe & Joe DiMaggio Signed Checks, Handsomely Displayed.

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions