They did not, by and large, include the more famous of his works*, those titles that come first to mind, but in terms of condition they were exceptional.
The most expensive of the group was a 1908 first of The War in the Air. And particularly how Mr Bert Smallways fared while it lasted, published by George Bell & Sons and illustrated by AC Michael.
It not only boasted a fine pictorial jacket, but tucked inside was an 8pp illustrated story by Wells, ‘My First Aeroplane (Alauda Magna)’, that had been removed from a 1909 edition of The Strand Magazine. (Does that Latin tag translate as ‘Great Larks’, perhaps?)
Writing just a few years after the Wright brothers had achieved man’s first powered flights, and at a time when balloons and airships still pretty much ruled the skies, Wells foresaw a new type of warfare.
A record for the book was set several years ago in a Bloomsbury Auctions sale of 2002 when a copy that lacked a jacket sold at £260 – but the beautifully preserved copy offered in the recent Wolverhampton sale was bid to £7500.
Taken to a record £4500 was a 1905 first of Kipps, the Story of a Simple Soul, published by Macmillan and in what the saleroom cautiously observed seemed to be the original, if now slightly discoloured and creased jacket.
The previous auction best was £800, paid at Christie’s in 2008 for a copy that was described as a second issue and lacking a jacket, but one that was inscribed by Wells to ‘Pinnie’.
Copies of The Country of the Blind and other Stories most frequently offered at auction are examples of the Golden Cockerel edition of 1939.
However, none of them, not even one of the 30 specially bound copies, has ever come close to matching the sum of £3200 bid for the copy published by Thomas Nelson & Sons that was offered in the Cuttlestones auction.
It was undated, but, said the cataloguer, appeared to be a 1911 first in the original jacket. The previous best for that edition is $120 for a copy sold by Swann in 1990.
I could find no auction record for a first of Bealby, dated 1915 but issued by Methuen in the weeks before Christmas 1914. Retaining the publisher’s wrap-around promotional band and two advertising leaflets for the book, this splendidly preserved copy sold at £1200.
A comic tale, it features a 13-year-old boy who rebels against his placement as a steward’s-room boy in the great house of an estate named Shonts (where his stepfather is a gardener). He flees after thoroughly upsetting a weekend party at which the nouveau riche couple renting the house are entertaining the Lord Chancellor.
One other record at least is claimed by a copy of New Worlds for Old, a 1908 Constable first of one of several books and pamphlets that Wells wrote on the theme of a socialist future.
Though copies that Wells inscribed, sometimes with added illustration, for Arnold Bennett, Reginald Turner, Ramsay MacDonald and Joseph Conrad feature in auction records for the last 40 years, the high mark was set at $850 at Sotheby’s New York in 1984 for the Conrad copy.
The simple example in a typographic jacket offered in Wolverhampton made £950.
* In November, at Sotheby’s, a 1901 first English issue of The First Men in the Moon in a split but rarely seen simple typographic dust jacket made a record £18,000 (see ATG No 2322).