Wednesday - 25 November 2015

Just Literature

14 May 2003Written by ATG Reporter

BEARING the simple, one-word title ‘Literature’, an April 8 sale held by Christie’s New York (19.5/10% buyer's premium) was mostly concerned with books of the 19th and 20th centuries. Earlier works were rather thin on the ground and the principle lot in this category, a 1632 second folio Shakespeare, with the ‘To the Reader’ leaf in facsimile and with some outer leaves washed and pressed before it was bound in crimson morocco gilt by Rivière, was left unsold on an estimate of $90,000-120,000.

This first issue copy has changed hands very few times. It was first owned by Thomas Howard, 2nd Earl Arundel, whose library was presented to the Royal Society in 1667. In 1925, when some of these Howard books were sold at Sotheby’s, it was acquired by Quaritch, but stayed in their hands until 1958, when it was sold to Brentano’s. They in turn sold it to Albert Sheldon of Minneapolis and on his death bought it back again and sold it to the father of the Christie’s vendor.

Sold at $24,000 (£15,285) was an 1813 first of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, the three vols. bound in contemporary calf, the gilt spines now very worn and with parts of the backstrip missing on the first two volumes, while an 1816 first of Emma, uncut in later plain grey boards with morocco lettering pieces, and lacking the half title from the first volume, made $13,000 (£8280).

Sold at $20,000 (£12,740) was a seemingly unpublished letter in which Edgar Allan Poe, writing as assistant editor of Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine, politely explains that it will be impossible to publish a series of ‘Lectures’ submitted for inclusion in the magazine, on the grounds that, being short of funds, Burton’s is for the time being no longer paying for articles.

Poe’s own relationship with the proprietor of the monthly magazine, an English actor called William Evans Burton, was not a rewarding one. Hired as an assistant and contributor in May 1839, he was granted little authority – despite Burton’s prolonged absences on acting engagements – and to make things worse Burton callously published an extraordinarily harsh review of Poe’s recently published Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym that described the book as “a mass of ignorance and effrontery” and went on, “a more imprudent attempt at humbugging the public has never been exercised”. In December 1839 Poe’s Tales of the Grotesque was published to far more favourable review and he began to make plans to launch his own magazine, but when Burton, who had already announced that Burton’s was for sale, found out, Poe was summarily dismissed.

A letter of 1838 in which the 21-year-old Henry Thoreau, giving Emerson as a reference, applies for a teaching post at a newly opened private school in Taunton, Massachusetts – he had taken up a post in Corncord after graduating from Harvard, but left after a disagreement over his reluctance to impose corporal punishment – was sold at $11,000 (£7005) as part of the Lackritz property, while from another source came an 1854 first printing of Thoreau’s Walden; or, Life in the Woods, in somewhat rubbed and worn but original blind-stamped brown cloth, and with one gathering coming loose, which sold at $5000 (£3185).

“...I have no great faith in the public, nor do I think the better of myself when I find favor in its eyes”, wrote Nathaniel Hawthorne in an otherwise quite light-hearted letter of 1867 addressed to his friend George Hillard, an attorney, politician and would be man of letters. Acknowledging with pleasure his correspondent’s praise of The House of Seven Gables and comparing it with The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne also passes on family news in a letter that sold at $24,000 (£15,285).

Signed presentation firsts (in original cloth) of Henry James’ Transatlantic Sketches of 1875, inscribed to Mary, the wife of his younger brother, Robertson James, and The Tragic Muse of 1890, a copy given to his sister Alice, sold at $4200 (£2675) and $7500 (£4775) respectively.

In worn and cracked original cloth, an 1876 first of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Letters and Social Aims that was inscribed by the author to Henry James was sold at $12,000 (£7645).

A lot comprising Robert Louis Stevenson’s autograph manuscript drafts for the title page, prefatory verses (unpublished) and a list of chapter headings for his novel Kidnapped, together with two pencil sketches, one showing a highland landscape, the other a contour drawing of what appears to be a mountainous island – could it be the island on which David Balfour thought himself marooned after the brig Covenant was wrecked? – was sold at $19,000 (£12,100).

An 1891-92 ‘Deathbed’ edition of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass sold at $13,000 (£8280) on the back of a presentation inscription. It was not in Whitman’s hand (only three copies inscribed by him are recorded) but sent at his request and warmly inscribed to that effect by Horace Traubel, his friend and literary executor, to Sylvester Baxter, who as an editor at the Boston Herald had favourably reviewed and supported Whitman’s work, as well as urging Congress to provide Whitman with a pension and, with William Sloane Kennedy, had raised $800 to help build Whitman a cottage.

After first appearing in Beeton’s Christmas Annual for 1887, Conan Doyle’s first Sherlock Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet, was published in book form in the following year. A first impression in modern brown morocco sold here at $19,000 (£12,100), while two copies of the 1890 first issue in book form of The Sign of Four, both in original publisher’s red cloth, but one showing some stains to the covers, made $13,000 (£8280) and $6500 (£4140).

Uncut and unopened in the original stiff black cloth binding and printed jacket, the latter torn and chipped and with the front panel now separated, a copy of Boni & Liveright’s 1922 limited edition, first issue of T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, 1922 sold at $6000 (£3820).

Bound by Bayntuns as 43 volumes in crimson levant morocco gilt with Churchill’s signature stamped in gilt to the covers, a set of 31 of his major works, all firsts bar his history of WWII, sold at $20,000 (£12,740).

Exchange rate: £1 = $1.57

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