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>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Eric Carle, <i>The Very Hungry Caterpillar,</i> hand-painted collage. Sold for a record $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Charles Addams, <i>Couple passing a giant bird house,</i> watercolor cartoon for <i>The New Yorker,</i> 1948. Sold for $16,250.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Miriam Troop, <i>Rain on Laundry Day,</i> oil on canvas, cover for <i>The Saturday Evening Post,</i> 1940. Sold for $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Rockwell Kent, <i>To All Fascists,</i> ink broadside for The League of American Writers, circa 1937. Sold for $6,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Jo Mielziner, <i>Pet Shop Drop,</i> backdrop design for <i>Pal Joey</i> on Broadway, 1940. Sold for a record $55,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Lee Brown Coye, acrylic cover illustration for the 25th anniversary of <i>Weird Tales,</i> 1944. Sold for $18,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Virgil Finlay, <i>The Outsider & Others,</i> pen & ink dust jacket illustration for H.P. Lovecraft's book, 1939. Sold for $5,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Al Hirschfeld, <i>Paul Robeson as Othello,</i> illustration for <i>The New York Times,</i> 1942. Sold for $68,750
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Frederic Remington, pen & ink illustration for <i>A Scout with the Buffalo Soldiers</i> in <i>The Century</i> magazine, 1889. Sold for $17,500.
  • <b>Bonhams, Sep. 17:</b> EARLY AVIATION PHOTOGRAPHY ARCHIVE. Chronicling 20th century aviation from the earliest Wright Brothers images through commercial and military applications. $50,000 to $70,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 17:</b> SPUTNIK-1 EMC/EMI LAB MODEL, 1957. Full scale vintage test model of the Sputnik-1 satellite, Moscow, [February, 1957]. $400,000 to $600,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 17:</b> FIRST TELEPHONE CALL TO THE MOON. Partial transcription signed by Apollo 11 astronauts and President Nixon. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 17:</b> Apollo 11 Beta cloth crew emblem, SIGNED BY THE ENTIRE APOLLO 11 CREW. $8,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 17:</b> GEMINI 1/8 SCALE MODEL. Rarely seen large-scale contractor's model. $3,000 to $5,000
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> SMITH, CHRISTOPHER WEBB. 1793-1871. <i>Indian Ornithology.</i> [Patna, India]: 1828. $50,000 to $80,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> DUPRÉ, LOUIS. 1789-1837. <i>Voyage à Athènes et à Constantinople, ou Collection de portraits, vues et costumes grecs et ottomans.</i> Paris: Dondey-Dupré, 1825. $60,000 to $90,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> ADAMS, JOHN. Autograph Letter Signed ("J Adams"), [to Dr. Perkins?] while recovering from his small pox inoculation, [late-April, 1764]. $30,000 to $50,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> AUSTEN, JANE. Autograph Letter Signed ("J. Austen"), to her sister Cassandra, 4 pp, "Thursday – after dinner," [September 16, 1813,] Henrietta St. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> AUDUBON, JOHN JAMES. 1785-1851. <i>The Birds of America, from Drawings Made in the United States and Their Territories.</i> New York & Philadelphia: J.J. Audubon & J.B. Chevalier, 1840-1844. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> DODWELL, EDWARD. 1767-1832. <i>Views in Greece.</i> London: Rodwell and Martin, 1821. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> JAMES, JESSE. Autograph Letter Signed ("Jesse W. James"), to Mr. Flood demanding Flood retract spurious accusations, 3 pp, June 5, 1875. $200,000 to $300,000.
  • <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. September 26, 2019</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 26:</b> Joyce (James). <i>Dubliners,</i> first edition, signed presentation inscription from the author, 1914. £100,000 to £150,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 26:</b> The Beatles.- Baker (Geoffrey.) 3 Autograph Letters and 1 Autograph Card signed to Ann Gosnell, addtionally sgn’d by George Harrison, John Lennon, Cynthia Lennon and others, 1968. £5,000 to £7,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 26:</b> Pilgrim Press.- Dod (John). <i>A plaine and familiar exposition of the tenne commandements ...,</i> [Leiden], [William Brewster], 1617. £15,000 to £20,000
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    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 26:</b> Automaton Chess Player & Mechanical Illusion.- Reynell (H., printer). “The Famous Chess-Player, No.14, St.James's-Street, next Brooks's,” broadside advertisement for "The famous Automaton", [1784]. £2,000 to £3,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 26:</b> Clemens (Samuel Langhorne). <i>Life on the Mississippi,</i> first English edition, signed presentation inscription from the author, 1883. £8,000 to £12,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 26:</b> Arctic Sledge Flag.- Fulford (Reginald Baldwin). Sledge flag... HMS Discovery, 1875. £4,000 to £6,000
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. September 26, 2019</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 26:</b> Rowling (J.K.) <i>Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone,</i> first edition, first printing, 1997. £20,000 to £30,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 26:</b> Piranesi (Giovanni Battista). <i>Le Antichità Romane,</i> 4 vol., 1756. £20,000 to £30,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 26:</b> Canaletto (Giovanni Antonio Canal, called). <i>Urbis Venetiarum Prospectus Celebriores,</i> 3 parts in 1, Richard Ford's copy, Venice, Giovanni Battista Pasquali, 1751. £10,000 to £15,000
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    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 26:</b> Atlases.- Speed (John). <i>A Prospect of the Most Famous Parts of the World,</i> bound with <i>The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine,</i> 1631-27. £12,000 to £18,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 26:</b> Anatomical illustration.- Aselli (Gaspare). <i>De lactibus sive lacteis venis... dissertatio,</i> first edition, Milan, Giovanni Battista Bidelli, 1627. £20,000 to £30,000
  • <center><b>Chiswick Auctions<br>Books & Works on Paper<br>September 25, 2019</b>
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Sep. 25:</b> Rowling (J.K.) <i>Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone,</i> FIRST EDITION, first issue, 8vo, 1997. £15,000 to £20,000
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Sep. 25:</b> Bible, Italian.- Malermi Bible, woodcut illustrations, folio, Lazaro de Soardi & Bernardino Benali, Venice,1517. £8,000 to £12,000
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Sep. 25:</b> Germany.- Homann (Johann Baptist). <i>Atlas von Deutschland,</i> engraved half title, hand coloured, 87 double page engraved maps, [folio, Erben, Nuremberg, 1753]. £8,000 to £10,000
    <center><b>Chiswick Auctions<br>Books & Works on Paper<br>September 25, 2019</b>
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Sep. 25:</b> [Mirk (John)].- <i>Liber festivalis et Quatuor sermons</i> [bound with], [Le Roy (Pierre)] <i>A Pleasant Satyre or Poesie,</i> first edition in English, Widdow Orwin for Thomas Man, 1595, 8vo. £1,500 to £2,000
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Sep. 25:</b> Antoninus Florentinus (Saint Archbishop of Florence). <i>Confessionale: Defecerunt…,</i> 8vo, Pietro Quarengi, Venice, 15 February 1499. £1,000 to £1,500
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Sep. 25:</b> Jesuit Letters.- [Froes (Father Luigi) & et al.)] Avvisi del Giapone de gli anni 1582, 1583, 1584…, 1586 [bound with] Avvisi della Cina et Giapone…, FIRST EDITIONS, Rome. £1,000 to £1,500
    <center><b>Chiswick Auctions<br>Books & Works on Paper<br>September 25, 2019</b>
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Sep. 25:</b> Plutarch & Probus (Aemilius). <i>Plutarchi Cheronei et Aemilii Probi Illustrium,</i> folio, Nicolas de Pratis for Jean-Petit, Paris, 1521. £1,000 to £1,500
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    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Sep. 25:</b> Fore-edge Painting.- Lord George Byron, The Giaour, a Fragment of a Turkish Tale, bound with 10 other titles, 4 plates marked 'Proof.', 1813. £800 to £1,200
    <center><b>Chiswick Auctions<br>Books & Works on Paper<br>September 25, 2019</b>
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Sep. 25:</b> Manson (John). Twelve by Sixteen Papers of John Mason, a collection of 50 sheets of paper, some watermarked, 12 x 16”, c.1978. £800 to £1,200
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Sep. 25:</b> Fleming (Ian). <i>Dr. No,</i> FIRST EDITION, original boards, dust-jacket, 8vo, 1958. £700 to £900
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Sep. 25:</b> Eliot (T.S.) <i>Four Quartets,</i> NUMBER 121 of 290 COPIES, signed by author, 1960. £400 to £600

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