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2015 Bookseller Resource Guide

Collectors and Their Collections

Results from an ‘English Bibliophile,’ the Jackson collection, the Caren collection, and the Safra collection sales

Treasures of an English Bibliophile

Tales, Edgar Allan Poe, $314,500; Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass, $230,500; Louisa May Alcott, Little Women, $56,250; Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island, $37,500, all at Sotheby’s New York on October 20.

A first edition, first issue, of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

The US sale of ‘The Library of an English Bibliophile’ saw fifty-one of the 155 lots left unsold; some of them, perhaps, making too quick a return to the salerooms, but others made very strong prices. Three of the four illustrated here all set auction records.

The tales that made up issue no. II of Wiley & Putnam’s Library of American Books were not selected by their author, and he expressed reservations about the series editor’s choice, but with the inclusion of ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” “The Mystery of Marie Roget,” and “The Purloined Letter,” it offered works that saw the beginnings of modern detective fiction. One of only six copes recorded in full original wrappers, this was the copy that in 1990 had sold for $49,500 as part of the Bradley Martin library. The first issue copy of The Raven & Other Poems offered at this same sale failed on a $140,000-180,000 estimate, but then it was only in December 2009 that it had made $182,500 as part of the Self library at Christie’s New York.

A set of Little Women—two copies of the first part of 1868 and 1869 first edition, second issue, of the second part. Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

The editors of Printing and the Mind of Man memorably described Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass as “America’s second Declaration of Independence: that of 1776 was political, this of 1855 intellectual.” Others have referred to it simply as the most important and influential volume of poetry written in America. Whitman’s masterpiece was revised and enlarged many times during the writer’s lifetime, but here we had a magnificent specimen of the first issue before the insertion of eight pages of press notices (largely Whitman’s own work) and the removal of most of the gilt trim of the binding to keep costs down.

The fine and bright set of Little Women that opened the sale had got it off to a flying start. Just to complicate things, this lot actually comprised two copies of the first part of 1868 (a first and a later issue) and a second issue example of the 1869 first edition of the second part.

My fourth selection is selected purely on the basis that it is the best-loved tale of one of my favorite writers, and copies of Treasure Island don’t come any better than this stunning first issue example. The story was first published under the title “The Sea Cook” in the children’s periodical Young Folks, but for this first book form edition of 1883, Stevenson’s editor decided to change the name. The rest, as they say, is history.

Rackham’s Peter Pan, the Ultimate Copy

J. M. Barrie, Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, $35,800 at Freeman’s of Philadelphia on September 22.

An ink-and-watercolor drawing of a bird by Arthur Rackham in the deluxe, signed edition of Peter Pan. Courtesy of Freemans.

Illustrated with fifty mounted color plates after Arthur Rackham and bound in pictorial vellum with silk ties, the deluxe, signed edition of this 1906 edition was limited to just five hundred copies and has long been a much admired work, selling for up to $10,000. So the saleroom’s estimate of $3,000-6,000 might be viewed as a shade cautious.

In fact it was hopelessly short of the mark, for this was the real thing. This was copy number one of five hundred, the one that Rackham inscribed to Peter Pan’s creator and to which he added the little ink and watercolor drawing of a bird hatching out. This copy also bears a later inscription from Barrie to his sister, Maggie.

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