This weekend was the annual ABAA antiquarian book fair in Manhattan. I start looking forward to it right around February and it never disappoints. Imagine the one material thing you love the most. Now, imagine an armory filled to the rafters with the best of the best of that one special thing. When I walk in it smells like old paper and glue. I get woozy.
I collect rare books but this stuff is way out of my league. No matter. I have to go. It’s like the literature museum except everything has a price tag on it. A dealer from California was selling a book that use to be part of my collection. The asking price was a hell of a lot more than I remember selling it for. That’s always a bit of a shock. Here’s a few high spots.
This is a fourth folio of the works of Shakespeare. It was printed in 1685 and is in pretty miraculous condition. When you collect books, condition is king. Yours for $225,000. And that’s for a fourth folio! A first, if it ever came on the market, would easily run into the millions.
Agatha Christie’s most popular novel is And Then There Were None. It’s been made into films and plays and has sold millions of copies. In the U.S. it was originally published as Ten Little Indians, which is kind of racist. But it’s not quite as racist as the original title from the UK first edition.
I suppose this wasn’t a big issue in 1939 but it’s pretty difficult to look at today. The illustration of jungle savages is particularly grating. Agatha Christie! My God! What was she thinking?!
This isn’t a first edition but it’s still pretty valuable. It’s an early copy of The Wizard of OZ that signed by the cast on the left free end paper…[You can click on this to study the signatures.]
…and by a bunch of Munchkins on the right free end paper. $85,000
There’s always at least one nice copy of The Great Gatsby and this one is a beaut. The stunning jacket, one of the most iconic in American literature, was designed by Francis Cugat (older brother of bandleader Xavier Cugat.) $175,000.
We now move from the sublime to the ridiculous. This is purported to be Ernest Hemingway’s typewriter. The asking price is $110,000. For that kind of money, you could get a near-complete run of his first editions. Wouldn’t you want that instead? I would.
And if you’re interested in beat literature, then you must, must have Jack Kerouac’s pants. That’s right, his pants. These are his jeans and what they’re doing in a rare book fair is beyond me. Looking for a sucker, I suppose. $5,500.
There’s always a few first editions of On The Road and Catcher in the Rye in the room. Each of those titles would set you back thousands, but I see them with such regularity that it makes me question their rarity.
That’s my obsession. Have you got one?