This 100-lot sale was focused wholly on the life and works of Herman Melville, so it is perhaps surprising to learn that the top lot was an 1847 English translation by HF Cary of Dante’s Divine Comedy – though a copy signed and heavily annotated by Melville.
Bought in the year following publication for just a couple of dollars. it made a couple of auction appearances in the 1980s, but on this third outing the price was a much higher than expected $350,000 (£302,770).
One of 500 sets of the first UK edition of The Whale, as Melville’s own most famous work was titled in England, was another major draw.
A three volume edition from 1851 that had preceded the first American printing by a month, it was also one that contained substantial textual differences. This example was a time worn and rebacked, ex-school library copy that in 1994 had sold for £4600 at Bloomsbury Auctions, and which this time trebled the estimate to sell at $240,000 (£207,610).
Even more of a surprise was the $260,000 (£224,915) bid, again way over estimate and setting a record for any work by Melville, that secured a truly rare, single volume remainder issue of The Whale.
After the poor commercial success of the four books by Melville he had previously issued, it seems that his UK publisher, Richard Bentley, declined to undertake any more. In 1853, according to Reese, he supplied his remaining copies with cancel title pages dated to that year, had them bound in single volumes in red cloth, and closed out his stock
Auction records, it seems, feature only one other copy of this remaindered Whale, one sold at Sotheby’s back in 1951.
Yet another real Melville rarity was John Marr and Other Sailors, a collection of poems dating from his retirement years that was issued in 1888 by the De Vinne Press of New York in an edition of just 25 copies.
Nineteen of those copies are recorded as having survived and aside from a copy sold by Parke Bernet of New York in 1945, this is the only other example recorded at auction.
In the original printed wrappers, now stained, partly detached, and repaired, it sold for $16,000 as part of the Sotheby’s New York dispersal of great Bradley H Martin library in 1990. This time the price was $240,000 (£207,615).
My final pick from the Reese collection is a set of proofs for the illustrations and decorations produced by Rockwell Kent for a 1930, Chicago edition of 1000 copies of Moby Dick, or The Whale designed by William A Kittredge and issued by the Lakeside Press.
Kent’s illustrations are now perhaps the best-known illustrations for Moby Dick and this set, once owned by the Brooklyn Public Library, and sold on two previous occasions by Christie’s New York, in 1985 and 1995, was on this occasion bid to $240,000 (£207,615).