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The ABC Murders by Agatha Christie – £38,000 at Sotheby’s.

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Agatha Christie was a major attraction in an online sale of crime fiction that ended on February 4 at Sotheby’s (26/20/13.9% buyer’s premium).

This was an auction in which a great many of the more significant lots came from the collection of the late Alexis Galanos (1940-2019), an English-educated, Greek Cypriot politician and bibliophile.

Record easy as ABC

The most expensive of them was a copy of Christie’s The ABC Murders of 1936, which along with a few other top lots was published under the ‘Collins Crime Club’ banner.

Formerly in the extensive crime and fantasy collections of a South African collector, Ronald Segal, it had made £8500 in his Sotheby’s sale of 2000. However, the £38,000 paid this time was an auction record, as were the sums achieved for all of the Christie books noted here – and indeed for all those works by other writers that follow.

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Murder in the Mews and Other Stories by Christie – £24,000 at Sotheby’s.

Many made far more than expected and estimated at just £1500-2000, another CCC title of 1937, Murder in the Mews and Other Stories – all four of which feature Hercule Poirot – reached £24,000, while a copy in a professionally restored and repaired jacket of Lord Edgware Dies of 1933 made £22,000.

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Lord Edgware Dies by Agatha Christie – £22,000 at Sotheby’s.

The latter book had been mostly written on the Greek island of Rhodes, where the author spent the autumn of 1931 before joining her archaeologist husband, Max Mallowan, at Nineveh.

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Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie – £11,000.

The Mysterious Mr Quin of 1930 realised £16,000 and a copy of Murder on the Orient Express of 1934 that still sported its ‘Crime Club Book of the Month’ wrap-around band reached £11,000.

The earliest of these Christie record-breakers was a 1923, UK first of The Murder on the Links, at £6000.

Beyond Christie

In a rarely seen jacket and signed on the title-page, a 1920 first of The Cask, the first published work of Freeman Wills Crofts, made £12,000. The novel is regarded as both the writer’s finest achievement and a significant landmark in the genre as a whole.

Published just four years earlier, John Buchan’s Greenmantle was the second of his Richard Hannay novels, and the Galanos copy in a slightly soiled, repaired and later issue jacket made £2600.

The binding was skewed and bowed, the jacket frayed at the extremities with some loss, but a 1931, Gollancz first of Dorothy L Sayers’ The Five Red Herrings realised £3000, while Henry Wade’s Constable Guard Thyself! of 1934, its jacket with tape repairs to the reverse, made £2000.

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A Shilling for Candles by Josephine Tey – £3200 at Sotheby's.

A Shilling for Candles by Josephine Tey, published by Methuen in 1936, had a jacket that was soiled, chipped and creased at edges, and as often happens, had seen the price cut from the upper flap. As the first book written under that pseudonym by Elizabeth Mackintosh, however, it made £3200.

Published that same year, a copy of Eric Ambler’s first book, The Dark Frontier, that had made £2600 as part of the Segal collection in the same rooms in 2000 raised £4000 on its return.

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The Dark Frontier by Eric Ambler – £4000 at Sotheby's.

Among works of later vintage, a 1961 first of John Le Carré’s Call for the Dead, in which George Smiley made his debut, realised £10,000, and the author’s A Murder of Quality of the following year, £8500.

Bond mixed fortunes

Not part of the Galanos collection were two James Bond lots.

Ian Fleming’s extensively corrected and revised typescript for You Only Live Twice, which in the same rooms in 2016 had made £38,000, was left unsold on an estimate of £80,000-120,000.

Sold at a low-estimate £40,000, however, was an uncorrected proof copy for the 1963, first English edition of that book which had been heavily marked up prior its serial publication in Playboy.

Sotheby’s noted that as well as authorial corrections and revisions in red ink to 53pp, there were further extensive corrections and emendations by the Playboy copy editor – including about 16,000 words marked for deletion.

On a previous outing at Sotheby’s, in 2012, it had realised £30,000.