In the past ten years, there have been only five or six first edition copies of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein at auction, and not since 1991 have we seen a copy in the original boards*.
But while such rarity is understandable in a book that did not readily find a publisher - John Murray was among those who turned it down and only 500 sets of the original three-decker were issued by bookseller James Lackington and his partners - that same period, until quite recently, had seen even fewer copies of the two-volume, 1823 second edition at auction.
The book made Mary famous and on her return to London after Percy Bysshe Shelley's death in 1822, she found that it had already been staged in London. Dissatisfied with the opening, she added a fresh chapter containing additional youthful background about Victor Frankenstein and added her name to the title page of the second edition, which, given its earlier success must surely have been produced in numbers.
Nonetheless, copies remain almost as elusive as those of the first edition. In April of last year, a copy in which the two volumes were bound as one in contemporary half calf, brought a bid of £7400, but last month, on May 17, Hamptons of Godalming produced a copy in the original paper-backed boards and paper labels. There was a bit of rubbing and a three-quarter inch piece missing from the top of the spine of Vol.I, but this classic rarity was bid to £19,000.
This was very much the star turn of the sale, but a 14-volume collection of the James Bond novels, all in dust jackets - that on Casino Royale a second state example - did sell for £3200 and a 1932 first of Huxley's Brave New World in jacket made £760. Buyer's premium: 15 per cent
* At Sotheby's New York in October 1991, an 1818 first that was uncut in original boards made $85,000.