Doyle held its first rare book auction of the Fall 2020 season, Fine Literature featuring The Library of Duncan Cranford, on September 30. 186 lots were offered in an Internet-only auction format, to minimize concerns in the era of Covid. The sale began with an interesting miscellany from various consignors. Featured in this first section (lots 1-132) were 1920s- and 30s-era literature in dust jackets; books illustrated by Edward Gorey; material from the library of the popular author Dorothea Benton Frank; and several books from the library of the celebrated Doubleday editor Jason Epstein. The second section, devoted to the Cranford collection, occupied lots 133-186.
Results showed continuing strength for rare books in the field of literature, at a wide range of values. The sale was 96 percent sold by lot (and 100 percent sold by value), with an aggregate hammer of $372,345 dollars, to a broad array of buyers. The sale’s single highest hammer price was for a fine example of the first edition of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, 1855, the very rare English issue (lot 186) which realized (with buyer’s premium) $175,000 against an estimate of $150,000-$250,000. The runner-up in terms of value was Jason Epstein’s copy of the first American edition of Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita (lot 86), inscribed to him by the author with a characteristic butterfly drawing, which excited great collector enthusiasm. This hammered down for $55,625 dollars including premium, against an estimate of $5,000-$8,000.
However, this was not just a sale of stellar books, and it was interesting to see how well this material did across the board. A set of the Easton Press edition of the complete James Bond works of Ian Fleming (lot 33) sold for $3,125 (this was from the Frank collection). The Edward Gorey books (lots 41 through 57) generally exceeded their estimates, and all sold, at prices ranging from $50-$500. Gorey remains a crowd-pleaser. A copy of the first edition, first issue of Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea (lot 65) sold for $1,875; and in a similar vein, i.e. modern literature in sound jackets, a copy of Steinbeck’s third book, To a God Unknown, (lot 119), in a lovely unsophisticated jacket, made $4,250. In fine bindings, a set of the Atlantic Edition of H.G. Wells Works (lot 125) realized $7,500. A copy of the enduring (and endearing) Beatrix Potter The Tailor of Gloucester (“No more twist”), this the first edition privately printed for the author by Strangeways & Sons in December, 1902, obtained $3,375 (lot 98).
It has long been axiomatic that material fresh to the marketplace elicits a strong response, and this was abundantly obvious with the Cranford books. These had been collected in the 1930s and 1940s, and had remained off the market until the present time (Cranford died in 1985). Starting with a nicely bound set of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland—early but not first editions (lot 136: $4,750)—and an attractive copy of Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, with almost all first issue points (lot 137: $5,500), the tone of this portion of the sale was set early on. A group of Joseph Conrad sold well, with a copy of Youth: A Narrative and Two Other Stories, first edition (lot 140: $2,125) going well over estimate, among others. A Rudyard Kipling manuscript for a tale from the second Jungle Book is a very desirable desideratum, with few offered at auction in the last quarter-century or more, and The Miracle of Purun Bhagat soared far over its $4,000-$6,000 estimate (lot 160: $23,750). Similarly, two O. Henry manuscripts for his Texas tales performed exceptionally well; both sold at $10,000 (lots 171-172). A small but choice group of A.A. Milne included a copy of When We Were Very Young inscribed to his literary agent (lot 165: $13,750) and Now We Are Six, one of 20 copies on Japan vellum signed by author and illustrator (lot 167: $15,625). Rounding out this final wing of the sale was a group of Robert Louis Stevenson, that most eminent and amiable author. His Treasure Island (lot 176: $6,125) and Kidnapped (lot 178: $3,375) led the way. This was followed by the concluding lot, the afore-mentioned 1855 Leaves of Grass. And all the rest is, as they say, history!
Vice-President, Rare Books and Manuscripts Department
175 East 87th Street
New York, NY 10128
212-427-4141, ext. 234