Serious book collectors may be in a bit of a conundrum this February. From what I’ve heard from my Dad Bruce, it’s pretty rare for there to be a book collecting couple. Usually, one person is the collector, while their partner wonders when the collection will be complete and the madness over. So for Valentine’s Day this year, collectors in relationships may have to make a choice, or do a lot of convincing, because the 49th California International Antiquarian Book Fair takes place the same weekend, February 12th through the 14th in Pasadena. And on top of that, Bonhams is hosting a sale of Fine Books and Manuscripts. With 173 lots of material ranging from the 12th century to the 20th, and several landmark lots, collectors may find themselves pitching the romantic elements of southern California to their significant others in order to attend the fair and the auction.
For a sale entitled Fine Books and Manuscripts, it’s a little ironic that the item with the highest estimate of the sale is not really a book or even printed. Dr. Kary Mullis’ 1993 Nobel Prize in Chemistry (awarded for his invention of the Polymerase Chain Reaction) is said item, and while it does come with his printed diploma, as well as a signed copy of Mullis’ Nobel lecture, typed letters signed by Bill and Hillary Clinton, and five photographs, the Nobel medal itself, struck in 18 carat gold and plated in 24 carat gold, is the centerpiece of the lot. Nobel Prizes are the most prestigious in whichever category they are awarded, and when offered at auction, they do not come cheaply. This one is estimated $450,000 – 550,000.
However, there are indeed lots made up entirely of printed material available for sale. Lot 80, for example, is the first edition and first issue of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. The enormity of the impact of Darwin’s thinking and writing cannot be understated as he changed (most of) mankind’s perspective on natural history permanently. Darwin’s masterpiece is estimated $70,000 – 90,000.
Another equally famous first edition will also be for sale. Joyce’s Ulysses, widely regarded as one of, if not the most important work in modernist literature, and still universally read, studied and analyzed in higher education today, appears at auction not infrequently. However, first editions are significantly rarer, and presentation copies even more so. This copy is number 282 of 750, and bears Joyce’s inscription to Lewis Galantiere, an American translator of French literature, writer, playwright, and journalist. This is also the earliest known presentation copy of Ulysses after the one given to Nora Joyce on the day of publication. The inscription to Galantiere is dated nine days later. Ulysses is estimated $40,000 – 60,000.
The last item I want to highlight is a fine subscriber’s copy of McKenney and Hall’s seminal work History of the Indian Tribes of North America. This is material I have looked over myself, as my Dad Bruce is a former owner (his copy sold in his auction of The American Experience in 2010). Digital images of these prints, of which there are 120, do not do them justice, and I highly recommend previewing the auction in person either in San Francisco (Feb. 4th-6th) or in Pasadena (Feb. 11th-14th). In terms of native American content, McKenney and Hall are unsurpassed. This copy, lot 155, is estimated $40,000 – 60,000.