Rare Book Monthly

Articles - July - 2009 Issue

Great Gatsby! There is a Light for Collectible Books

Bonhamsgatsby

A record price of $182,000 was spent on this Gatsby at Bonham's.


By Michael Stillman

This has been a tough year for the book trade. Our own figures, gathered from auction results around the world, indicate a drop of 30%-plus in prices since the peak a little over a year ago. Not that this is specifically related to books. One look at your mutual funds or 401k portfolio will tell you this represents the state of the economy more than the state of books. Just try to sell your house! So, it is good to see an occasional bright spot. Interestingly, this one comes from a particularly maligned field - 20th century fiction. In the midst of one of the toughest periods, and in a challenging field of collecting, suddenly we see record-breaking prices.

A copy of the first edition, first issue of The Great Gatsby went up for sale at Bonham's in New York on June 10. This copy of the 1925 classic came with the rare dust jacket. Bonham's noted that some people have called the Gatsby dust jacket "the most expensive piece of 20th century printed paper in book collecting." We cannot vouch for that claim, but Bonham's placed a healthy estimate of $80,000 - $120,000 on the book, only to see bids go flying past the estimate. It came in at $182,000. Bonham's reported that this was the highest auction price ever paid for any copy of the highly collectible Gatsby. Our own research indicates the previous high was $153,600, paid at Sotheby's for an inscribed copy in 2004.

Meanwhile, Reuters reported that a record amount was spent with an English bookseller at a fair in London recently. We cannot vouch for private transactions since, unlike auctions, they are conducted in ... private. However, according to Reuters, an unnamed collector spent 275,000 pounds ($442,900) for a signed first edition of James Joyce's Ulysses, which Reuters described as "the highest price ever paid for a 20th-century first edition." The seller was Pom Harrington of Peter Harrington Antiquarian Bookseller of London.

There were some notable items of Americana to go up for sale last month as well. A hugely important piece in the field, one of only three known copies of the first of Benjamin Franklin's Poor Richard almanacs, published in 1733, sold at Sotheby's for $566,500. This one had a high estimate of $150,000. Sotheby's also offered a copy of Catlin's North American Indian Portfolio at the Graham Arader Sale. It sold for $230,000. The first volume of the first edition of The Federalist, by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, published in 1788, and essential to the adoption of America's Constitution, sold for $95,600 at Heritage Auction Galleries. Not bad for an orphan volume, and roughly ten times the estimate. Meanwhile, the sale of the Paul and Marianne Gourary Collection of Illustrated Fete Books at Christie's brought in almost $3.5 million in sales. A Schembart illustrated manuscript led the way at $158,500.

The top prices paid for many of these exceptional items in a very down market is illustrative of one of the most basic rules of collecting. The very best material, in terms of importance and condition, almost always outperforms the market. Today offers no exception. While most collectors may not be able to buy a first edition Gatsby or Ulysses, a book collector who is also an investor would be well advised to look for material that is likely to gain in importance and collectibility, and buy a copy that is in the best condition obtainable.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 14:</b> William Shakespeare, <i>Shakespeare’s Sonnets, In Two Parts,</i> limited Saint Dunstan edition, Oxford University Press, 1901. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 14:</b> Benjamin Graham & David L. Dodd, <i>Security Analysis,</i> first edition, inscribed by Graham to a Wall Street trader, NY, 1934. $18,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 14:</b><br>Ian Fleming, <i>Goldfinger,</i> first edition, inscribed to Sir Henry Cotton, MBE, London, 1959. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 14:</b><br>Ian Fleming, <i>The Man with the Golden Gun,</i> first edition, first state with the dust jacket, London, 1965. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 14:</b> Virginia Woolf, <i>The Voyage Out,</i> first American edition of the author’s first book, in rare dust jacket, NY, 1920. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 14:</b> Gabriel García Márquez, <i>Cien años de soledad,</i> Buenos Aires, 1967. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 14:</b> Mary Mapes Dodge, <i>Along the Way,</i> first edition, author’s copy, annotated in her hand, NY, 1879. $1,800 to $2,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 14:</b> <i>The Dial: A Monthly Magazine for Literature, Philosophy and Religion,</i> first edition, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s copy, Cincinnati, 1860. $2,500 to $3,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 14:</b> Gaston Leroux, <i>The Phantom of the Opera,</i> first American edition, first printing, New York, 1911. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 14:</b> Walt Whitman, <i>Leaves of Grass,</i> signed, Camden, 1876. $4,000 to $6,000.
  • <center><b>Bonhams<br>Fine Books and Manuscripts<br>New York | June 11, 2019</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 11:</b> Faulkner, William. <i>The Sound and the Fury.</i> New York: Jonathan Cape, [1929]. First edition in dust jacket. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 11:</b> Trautz-Bauzonnet bindery. Shakespeare, William. Sonnets. 1901. 2 volumes. Printed on vellum and illuminated by Ross Turner. $12,000 to $18,000
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 11:</b> Thompson, Kay. <i>Eloise at Christmastime.</i> New York: Random House, [1958]. First edition. In custom binding by Asprey. $2,000 to $3,000
    <center><b>Bonhams<br>Fine Books and Manuscripts<br>New York | June 11, 2019</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 11:</b> Beardsley, Aubrey. <i>The Birth, Life, and Acts of King Arthur.</i> 1893-94. 2 volumes. Contemporary painted vellum gilt by Chivers. $2,000 to $3,000
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 11:</b> Assisi, St. Francis. <i>The Canticle of Brother Sun.</i> Illuminated on vellum, for the Grolier Society. $6,000 to $9,000
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 11:</b> Taylor, Deems. <i>Walt Disney’s Fantasia.</i> New York: 1940. In custom binding by Asprey. $2,500 to $3,500

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