By some margin, the most expensive lot in an October 1-15 online sale held by Sotheby’s New York (26/20/13.9% buyer’s premium) was a letter of April 1789 in which the Virginia senator Richard Henry Lee informs George Washington of his unanimous election to the presidency.
“I am sure that the public happiness, which I know that you have so much at heart, will be very insecure without your acceptance,” wrote Lee, who also informed Washington that John Adams had been selected as his vice president.
This was a letter that first came to auction in 1914 and resurfaced 70 years later at Sotheby’s New York to sell at $6500. This time the selling price was a mid-estimate $400,000 (£370,692).
Poe and Dickens
Sold at $19,000 (£14,615) was Charles Dickens’ copy of the Poetical Works of Edgar Alan Poe – an 1853 English edition in a contemporary half calf binding.
Poe and Dickens corresponded and even met in Philadelphia during the latter’s 1842 American tour. Many believe that Poe’s The Raven was inspired by Dickens’ raven Grip in Barnaby Rudge, and after their meeting, Dickens made efforts on Poe’s behalf to find an English publisher for his Tales…
Limited to perhaps 300 copies, the young Ernest Hemingway’s first published work, Three Stories and Ten Poems, was issued in Paris in 1923 by an expatriate American publisher, Robert McAlmon, who used the same Dijon printer that Sylvia Beach had used for Ulysses the year before.
Such was the eventual demand for this Contact Publications edition that Hemingway later regretted not having kept one for himself.
In the original blue-grey wrappers this example sold at $40,000 (£30,770) but a number of others have made more. In 2007 the fine ex-Goodwin/Neville copy, inscribed by Hemingway for Sylvia Beach, made $150,000 (then £84,000).
This was, however, a sale in which almost half of the 150 or so lots were left unsold – and among them were many which bore serious five- and six-figure estimates.