Sold for a much higher than predicted and record £4200 was a copy of FC Bentley’s first novel, Trent’s Last Case of 1913. It has been described as the first sendup of the ‘whodunnit’ genre.

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On July 10, an exceptional, 75-lot Brontë section of a Forum Auctions sale had included an 1846, Aylott & Jones issue of a book of Poems brought out under the pseudonyms Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell that made £45,000.

Published at the sisters’ own expense, Poems initially sold only a handful of copies but was picked up and re-issued by Smith Elder when the Brontës began to make a name for themselves.

That Forum copy also contained a short note from Charlotte to the publisher, but offered at Sotheby’s was a first issue with the binding in its earliest state that bore a much later inscription on the front endpaper.

Addressed by Duff (Cooper) to Maurice (Baring), it reads “Second thoughts are best”. It raised the record to £55,000.

The November 7 auction of books was part of the extensive The Library of an English Bibliophile series, which began in 2010, and was, appropriately enough, the seventh in the series.

Alice adventure

Works by George Orwell that made a significant contribution to the total featured in ATG No 2320, but several other record-breakers emerged.

Twentieth-century works were present in larger numbers, but the 19th century content produced a fair number of the higher-priced lots.

However, a 1798 first and an 1800, two-volume, first complete edition of Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, both in original boards, could manage only low-estimate sums of £10,000 and £12,000 respectively.

An 1866 second (first published) edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland valued at £30,000- 50,000 failed to sell, but more successful was a specially bound presentation copy of the 1886 first of Alice’s Adventures Underground, a facsimile of Dodgson’s original manuscript.

Inscribed by the author to the Duchess of Albany, “…in grateful recollection of three happy days and of two sweet children”, it had in 1999 sold for £800 in the same rooms. This time the price was £28,000.

A copy of A Picture of Dorian Gray that made a much higher than predicted £25,000, while other Other Wilde successes included firsts of The Happy Prince (1888) at £7000 and The Sphinx (1894) at £6500. However, Oscar’s big moment came with the re-offer of an 1899 presentation first of The Importance of Being Earnest.

Inscribed “To Frankie on her happy marriage from her old friend and comrade. The author…”, it was one of a dozen special vellum copies and was a wedding present that Wilde, by then an impoverished exile in Paris, gave to the painter, actress and novelist, Frances Forbes- Robinson.

In the fifth Library of an English Bibliophile sale it had failed to get away, but in 2015 it had followed immediately in the wake of the £160,000 sale of another vellum copy that was inscribed by Wilde for the dedicatee, his first male lover and lifelong supporter, Robbie Ross. This time, Frankie’s copy improved substantially on a significantly lower estimate to sell at £95,000.

A 1901 first of a well-known and record-breaking HG Wells book features among the accompanying illustrations, below, along with a less familiar, but very successful work of 1913 by FC Bentley, top.


The spine is split, but a 1901, first English issue of HG Wells’ The First Men in the Moon in a jacket is a rarity and this one made a record £19,000 at Sotheby’s. The previous best, $24,000 (then £15,360), was paid for a copy that lacked a jacket but was inscribed by Wells for Henry James. It was part of Roger Rechler’s great library, sold by Christie’s New York in 2002.

Still in its simple original wrappers and inscribed to TS Eliot, a copy of Aldous Huxley’s second published work, Jonah, was sold for a record £8000. In original wrappers, it is one of about 50 copies of a collection of 12 poems that were printed on a single folded and sewn sheet to form a 16pp work issued by the Holywell Press in 1917.

Somerset Maugham lots included a copy of a 1926 collection of short stories set in the Far East, The Casuarina Tree. In a good jacket, it too set a record at £3000.

Signed and containing a tiny sketch in red and black ink of a sailing boat, a 1930 first of Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons in a slightly spotted and frayed jacket was not far off a record at £9000.

A good copy in jacket of Christopher Isherwood’s Sally Bowles, signed by the author, set yet another record £4800. This was the book on which the musical Cabaret was based.

On trial

Dating from 1937 was a first English edition of Kafka’s The Trial, which in one of those once very familiar, bright yellow Gollancz jackets realised a record £2400. Two years ago Pierre Bergé’s copy of the Berlin first of Der Prozess was sold at €72,000 (£51,940).

Sold at £8000 was an inscribed presentation first of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies of 1954, the jacket showing one repaired tear and some minor loss at the corners.

Finally, note of an exceptionally fine copy of the 1934, Obelisk Press, Paris first of Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer. Bearing on the jacket with its dramatic giant crab and naked girl design the message “Not to be imported into Great Britain or U.S.A.”, it sold at £10,000.

It also bore the Parisian publisher, Maurice Kehane’s little warning label, “Ne doit pas être exposé en étalage ou en vitrine”.