Peter Harrington has prepared a catalogue of Items Displayed at Masterpiece 2018 London. Masterpiece is an annual show of the most desirable of material, primarily works of art. It takes a very healthy budget to take something home with you. Fortunately, books generally don't reach the astronomical prices of art, but nonetheless, you will need to be able to buy the best if you attend Masterpiece. That is all you will find. The fair began on June 28, but continues through July 4. Here are a few of the items you will see if you stop by Harrington's display (Stand D4).
When asked who is the greatest writer in the English language, my guess is the name that will most be spoken is that of William Shakespeare. His plays are as popular, if not more so, today than when they were written in the early 17th century. However, many of them would have been lost, as they were not published during his lifetime. Thankfully, a few years after he died, some of his friends gathered them up and published the book that would assure they survived, Mr. William Shakespeare's Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies. The first four editions are generally referred to now as the "folios," distinguished by their number, and published through the 17th century. The first was published in 1623 and is now practically unobtainable. The earliest still reasonably available is this, the Second Folio, published in 1632. This edition was actually published by five different publishers as each had rights to certain plays, and were released at different dates, but we will leave these complex variations to the experts. This copy comes in a mid-19th century red crushed morroco binding by Hayday. Priced at £275,000 (British pounds, or approximately $365,230 in U.S. dollars).
Next we have one of the great works of fantasy, with the popularity to match its reputation. This is a true first edition from 1726 (with the points to differentiate it from two similar editions of the the same year) of Travels into Several Nations of the World. Like the Shakespeare folios, nobody refers to it by its actual title. This book is known as Gulliver's Travels. It was stated as written by Lemuel Gulliver, but he was no more real than his fantastic adventures. The author was Jonathan Swift. The fantastic lands and beings Gulliver visited have entertained readers of all ages ever since. At the time it was written, explorers were still discovering unknown lands and reporting back to the European public, so the premise was believable, even if the findings were so extreme as not to be. Gulliver was actually more than mere fantasy. There were all sorts of political references to the day, but that has mostly been lost, and few readers would recognize it today. £150,000 (US $199,186).
This is an important book in American history combined with an interesting provenance and a couple of notable signatures. The book is A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America, by John Adams. Concerning various state and foreign constitutions, it was published in 1787, just as the new country was preparing to write its own constitution. In it, Adams describes that state constitutions and promotes a system of checks and balances, a chief executive, a two-house legislature, and an independent judiciary. The book was influential in both America and Europe. This copy is inscribed by Adams to Richard Henry Lee, with a request that Lee return any comments he had to Adams. Richard Henry Lee was a delegate to the Continental Congress and the initiator of a resolution of independence in June of 1776. He was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. He was part of the powerful Lee family of Virginia, many of whom would serve in government offices. His great-grandfather was the first Lee to emigrate to America from England and through him Richard Henry was related to George Washington confidant "Light-Horse Harry Lee" and his son, Confederate General Robert E. Lee. When Lee died, this copy passed to his son Ludwell, who died in 1836. Written and dated in it is the statement "John Strohm's Book" 1846. Above that, and below John Adam's signature, is that of his son and fellow President, John Quincy Adams. Strohm served in Congress with Quincy Adams from 1847-1848 when the latter died. That is likely when it was signed as it is a shaky signature of an aged man. Adams was 80 years old at that time. £110,000 (US $145,904).
Here is a book that is much closer to Gulliver than Adams, a work of fantasy, although of a different sort. This one is a children's book, naturally enough for the genre, featuring anthropomorphic animals. Try that word out on the kids. It is The Tale of Peter Rabbit, by Beatrix Potter. This is a true first edition, one of the 250 copies Potter had privately printed in 1901. She was unable to find a publisher, but she had enough confidence in her book to publish it herself. She was right. Its popularity was such that Potter did a second private printing and the following year, publisher Frederick Warne picked it up. The rest is history there is no need repeating. £75,000 (US $99,519).
We conclude with an amazing archive of material related to John F. Kennedy. The material ranges from Kennedy's first congressional race in 1946 up to his election to the presidency in 1960. The archive was compiled by David Powers, who was a close personal confidant of JFK from that first congressional run until his assassination in 1963. Powers was riding in the Secret Service car behind Kennedy at that tragic moment. Harrington describes Powers as "Kennedy's most intimate friend, advisor, and personal 'fixer.'" JFK's Michael Cohen? With all due respect to Mr. Cohen, Powers was a very different sort of "fixer," just as Kennedy was a different sort of President. The archive contains manuscript drafts, reading copies, related notes and other mementos. Much of it has never been published. There is also an inscribed copy of Kennedy's inaugural address. The reason there are no drafts and notes after the election is that the Presidential Libraries Act encouraged the preservation of presidential records for government collections. This would be mandated in 1978 by the Presidential Records Act, but Kennedy already followed the spirit of the act. Powers was Kennedy's Special Assistant during his presidential years, and later served as Curator of the Kennedy Presidential Library until his retirement in 1994. £375,000 (US $497,759).