Bloomsday Comes Early! Sotheby’s Could Sell the Scarcest First Edition of James Joyce’s Ulysses for $250,000

Lot 188, James Joyce Ulysses (i)

 

What you see: A first edition copy of James Joyce’s Ulysses from the 1/100 series of the run of 1,000, which is signed by the author. Sotheby’s estimates it at $150,000 to $250,000.

Who was James Joyce? He was an Irish author and poet who ranks as one of the most important and influential authors of the 20th century. Ulysses, published in 1922, catapulted him to literary stardom, even as it was challenged by censors who deemed parts of it obscene. Bloomsday, a June 16 holiday that celebrates Ulysses by visiting places in Dublin, Ireland where Joyce set the story, has taken place since 1954. He died in 1941 at the age of 58.

How was the first edition of Ulysses produced? The Paris bookstore Shakespeare and Company, run by American Sylvia Beach, printed Ulysses in three issues of 750, 150, and 100, which added up to 1,000 copies. All three were numbered, but only the 1/100 issue was signed by Joyce. All copies were issued in blue paper wrappers, a color meant to call to mind the blue of the Greek flag and link Joyce’s work to the ancient tale of the Odyssey.

What makes this particular copy stand out? “It’s a really, really fine copy of what many critics say might be the most important modernist novel,” says Peter Selley, specialist in books and manuscripts at Sotheby’s, explaining that the blue paper wrappers “are quite fragile, and the majority of copies that survive have had to be cloth bound. With this copy, the special wrappers are preserved.” He adds that the copy includes the original prospectus, “which can be collectible in its own right.” It’s a single sheet of paper that announces the forthcoming publication of the book.

When Sylvia Beach published the book in 1922, did she and Joyce know what they had? “There was a lot of excitement before it was printed,” he says. “Sylvia championed it, and it was awaited in critical and collecting circles. There was a lot of excitement before it came out. Joyce was famous by then. They knew something special was happening,” he says, adding, “Sylvia Beach would probably not be surprised if the first edition of this book, 100 years later, was selling for $200,000 to $250,000. She really believed in it.”

When did Ulysses truly take off as a collectible book? “In the early to mid-1980s, there was a big uplift in prices,” he says. “It appealed to collectors who want the high spots. People want the key works in the best condition.”

Is the 1/100 version of the Ulysses first edition considered superior to the other two versions? “It depends on what you mean by superior,” he says. “It’s the most limited issue, and collectors gravitate to the most limited issue. The 1/100 is always going to be the most desirable, and most deluxe, in collectible terms.”

How often does a 1/100 copy of Ulysses come to auction? “About one or two every year,” he says. “Normally they fetch very high prices. It can fetch up to $300,000 to $400,000 for inscribed copies.”

Where did James Joyce sign the book? On the colophon page, a page at the front of the book that describes the details of each edition and gives the number of the copy: 82. “Look at the signature. He always signs at that angle,” he says, referring to the southwest-northeast rise of Joyce’s script. “Even in his manuscripts, he always writes at that angle. It’s very distinctive.” (To see Joyce’s signature, click on the second thumbnail you see below the main image on the lot page.)

Why will this copy stick in your memory? “I’ve been in the business since the mid-1980s. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a first edition copy of Ulysses that’s as nice as this,” he says. “I’ve never seen as completely mint copy of a 1/100. It’s probably close to as-issued as any I’ve seen.”

How to bid: The first edition 1/100 copy of James Joyce’s Ulysses is lot 188 in the English Literature, History, Children’s Books and Illustrations auction at Sotheby’s London on December 11.

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Sotheby’s.

RECORD: R. Crumb’s Original Cover Art for His Best-Selling Fritz the Cat Book Commands $717,000 at Heritage

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What you see: R. Crumb’s original cover art for the best-selling 1969 book Fritz the Cat. Heritage Auctions sold it in May 2017 for $717,000–a record for Crumb, and a record for any original piece of American comic art.

Who is R. Crumb? He is an American artist who led the underground comix movement. He co-founded Zap Comix and created one of the counterculture’s most enduring images with his Keep On Truckin’ single-page comic, which appeared in the first issue of Zap. Much of Crumb’s output is proudly NSFW, so Google at your own risk. In 2009, he published a graphic novel based on the Biblical Book of Genesis. He will turn 74 on August 30.

How rare are original pieces of Crumb comic art at auction? “We sell a lot of it. There’s been kind of a boom lately,” says Ed Jaster, senior vice president at Heritage Auctions. “Crumb has always been a staple of what we offer in our Comic and Comic Art sales, but we’ve never had the wealth and breadth up and down the line with what we’ve had in the last year and a half.”

This work by R. Crumb is the most valuable original comic art ever sold at auction, beating a 1990 cover from the Amazing Spider-Man #328 and a 1974 page from an Incredible Hulk comic that shows the debut of Wolverine. What’s the significance of that? “Put it this way. If you want to buy a Picasso pen-and-ink drawing, $717,000 will get you a really good pen-and-ink drawing,” he says. “You certainly could buy a more expensive Picasso drawing, but this is right there.”

Why has Crumb bested the more traditional superhero comic book artists? “What’s special about Crumb is he’s transcendental. He’s transcended his given media,” Jaster says. “There’s no comic book artist I can think of who’s had as many museum shows and international shows as he has. Crumb has been relevant ever since the hippie days and he’s never gone out of style.”

How long do you think these records will stand? “The original comic book art one, maybe not too long. Comic book art is incredibly popular,” he says. “Those two $657,000 sales were as pleasant a surprise as the Crumb art was. There are scores of things more desirable than them out there. It’s just a matter of them coming to the market. There’s probably an amazing thing out there that will get five or ten million, if it exists. As far as breaking the record for Crumb, I know the cover art for the Cheap Thrills record album is out there. The first Keep on Truckin’ or the cover of Zap Comics #1, a very small distribution comic, are the things that could sell for more.”

What else makes this piece of original Crumb comic book art special? “There’s some irony here in that Crumb is known for pushing the envelope with his subject matter and political views, but Fritz and his girlfriend are quite demure. It’s PG-13 for Crumb, who is known for adult material. It’s kind of a sweet thing,” he says. “And the book, Fritz the Cat, moved Crumb up in importance to be maybe the most famous cartoonist of his generation. It catapulted him from the guy who does sleazy, objectionable stuff to a guy who was really important, and this was the piece that did that.”

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

Graham Nash’s collection of original Crumb comic artworks is up for bid in Heritage Auction’s Comics & Comic Art Signature Auction in Dallas from August 10 to 12.

 

LAST CALL: Sinfully Pretty, Possibly Unique 1934 Nudist Film Poster at Heritage: Children of the Sun

Children of the Sun

What you see: A movie poster for the 1934 nudist film Children of the Sun, which Heritage Auctions estimates at $400 to $800.

Who made this movie? Samuel Cummins, an exploitation film impresario who launched his career with the silent 1919 opus The Solitary Sin and went on to release Wild Oats, Trial Marriage, and Unguarded Girls, among others. He died in New York City sometime in the 1960s.

Would this poster have been displayed in public? In 1934? Where? At an independent or second-run movie house. The blank area at the top of the poster would have been printed with the venue name and maybe the screening dates. “Most theaters wouldn’t touch films such as these,” says Grey Smith, director of vintage movie poster auctions at Heritage. “A lot of these low-budget indie films had very eye-catching posters. I love the tagline–‘Nature in the raw.'”

Why risk printing a poster at all? Why not rely on word-of-mouth to lure people to the theater? “Your poster was the biggest selling tool you had,” says Smith. “You want to make it semi-tasteful, but just explicit enough to pique one’s interest.”

How racy was it for its time? “It is surprisingly up front. I can imagine a family passing this poster and the mother being outraged that the theater displayed something like this,” Smith says, adding, “In some areas, the theater owner might have taken some poster paint and painted a dress on her.”

What makes this poster special? Smith has not handled another Children of the Sun poster, save for a different version that was consigned along with this one. It has survived in relatively excellent shape, with its navy blues and butter yellows intact and its paper unfolded. “It’s a good poster for a taboo subject from an earlier period,” he says.

How to bid: The Children of the Sun poster is lot 86694 in Heritage Auctions’s Vintage Movie Posters Signature Auction in Dallas, which takes place March 25 and 26, 2017.

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Heritage Auctions, HA.com.