SOLD! Albert Einstein’s 1935 Passport Photo Commands $17,500 at Bonhams

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Update: The 1935 Albert Einstein passport photo sold for $17,500.

 

What you see: A passport photograph of Albert Einstein, signed and dated May 30, 1935, along with a piece of paper signed and dated by Einstein and featuring a brief goodbye note in German from Einstein’s son-in-law, Dmitri Marianoff. Bonhams estimates it at $8,000 to $12,000.

 

Who was Albert Einstein? He was one of the greatest scientists who ever lived. He came up with the theory of relativity, which upended the fields of theoretical physics and astronomy. He also composed the formula E = mc2 [energy equals mass times the speed of light, squared], which has come to symbolize science and, to some extent, genius itself. He won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921 for his work in theoretical physics. After Hitler and the Nazis took over Germany, Einstein, who was Jewish, settled in the United States, gaining citizenship in 1940. A 1939 letter he sent to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt sparked the creation of the Manhattan Project, the scientific endeavor that led to nuclear weapons. He based himself in Princeton, New Jersey, where he died in 1955 at the age of 76.

 

The expert: Ian Ehling, director of books and manuscripts at Bonhams.

 

Has anything else Einstein-related come to auction that’s similar to this passport photo? Have you seen any other 1930s passports or immigration paperwork connected to Einstein? Not that I know of. I’ve only come across a Swiss passport of his dating back to 1923. This particular photo was always in the possession of the consigner. The way it was was in the 1930s, Einstein was already in the United States. He was working in Princeton, New Jersey, and he decided not to return to Germany. In order to apply for citizenship, you had to be outside the country. So he took his family on a trip to Bermuda and got the ball rolling there. He used a different image on his passport. After Bermuda, I think they came through Ellis Island in New York and turned in their paperwork.

 

How does the fact that the passport photo dates to the 1930s–when the Nazi regime was imposing anti-Semitic policies on its citizens, convincing Einstein to leave–add to its value? It’s a huge factor in its value. [The choice that the passport photo represents] is just an awesome moment to witness. It was a turning point–a man of the world applying for U.S. citizenship. It represents the very first step [toward that]. This is a very close witness to things that were on his mind at the time.

 

And he would have sat for the photo in Bermuda? Yes. You can’t tell, but he’s wearing a leather jacket in the photo. In the formal portrait on the paperwork, he’s wearing something else.

 

Wait, was Einstein wearing THE leather jacket in this photo? The one that Levi Strauss & Co won at Christie’s London in 2016 for $147,000? It’s a leather jacket, but we can’t see enough to say it’s THE leather jacket.

 

And this is fresh to market? Yes. It comes directly from the person who received it. She was a little girl [at the time], the granddaughter of the innkeeper [at the guest house where Einstein stayed in Bermuda]. She was 13 years old, and she was curious. She engaged Einstein in conversation. He signed and dated the photo and gave it to her, and she kept it all her life. She’s in her nineties now, and she’s decided to sell. I don’t think it was ever published or anything like that.

 

How did you arrive at an estimate for this? It’s a gut feeling. I feel the photo is incredibly important. It reflects on him becoming a U.S. citizen. The estimate reflects its historic significance.

 

How have you seen the market for Einstein material change over time? In the 1930s, he was already famous. The photo definitely had value back then. But the Einstein market has changed significantly. I can’t say Einstein items are rare. He would get lots of letters, and he spent a good deal of time every day answering them. The most significant ones are the manuscripts where he talks about scientific things, and certain items that he owned. For example, he was very interested in music and performing with friends; we sold his violin in March 2018 for $516,500. The passport photo is a more iconic thing. Einstein was at a turning point in his life, deciding to become a U.S. citizen. It’s signed and dated, and it shows him the way you expect him to look like. He didn’t get a haircut before the picture was taken.

 

Why is Einstein the most sought-after scientist at auction? He had the most brilliant mind in physics since Newton, and on top of that, he was not a nerdy scientist. He was incredibly approachable. He didn’t just follow scientific interests. He played the violin, he went sailing, he was someone who enjoyed life.

 

Why will this Einstein passport photograph stick in your memory? The personal connection. It shows him being open and approachable and talking to a 13-year-old girl in Bermuda. And it’s consigned directly by that person. It’s special. It’s two degrees of separation–the consigner, and then Einstein. That’s what makes it so beautiful and significant.

 

How to bid: The Einstein passport photograph is lot 76 in Bonhams‘s June 12, 2018 Fine Books and Manuscripts sale in New York.

 

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Bonhams.

 

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SOLD! Arthur Rackham’s Stunning Image of Danaë and the Infant Perseus Commanded $22,100 at Swann

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Update: Arthur Rackham’s 1922 original illustration of Danaë and the Infant Perseus sold for $22,100.

 

What you see: Danaë and the Infant Perseus, an original illustration in watercolor, ink, and wash on board by Arthur Rackham for the 1922 Hodder & Stoughton edition of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s A Wonder Book for Girls and Boys. Swann Auction Galleries estimates it at $10,000 to $15,000.

 

Who was Arthur Rackham? He was regarded as a leader in the Golden Age of British book illustration, which spanned 1890 to the onset of World War I. He enlivened editions of Alice in Wonderland, Rip van WinkleGulliver’s Travels, a Midsummer Night’s Dream and more. He died in 1939 at the age of 71.

 

Who were Danaë and Perseus? In Greek mythology, Danaë was the daughter of Acrisius, King of Argos. When an oracle told the king that his grandson would kill him someday, he locked his childless only daughter in a tower to thwart the prophecy. Zeus upended the plan by sneaking in to Danaë’s cell in the form of a shower of gold (yes, you read that right) and getting her pregnant with little Perseus. The king loaded his daughter and tiny grandson into a wooden box and tossed it into the sea, hoping that nature would take care of them. It did, but not the way he wanted; the box came ashore on the island of Seriphos. Danaë eventually caught the eye of that island’s king, Polydectes. Perseus, now closer to being grown up, agreed to kill Medusa and bring back her head to get Polydectes to leave his poor mom alone. The oracle proved correct when Acrisius went to Larissa to watch a sports exhibition. Perseus was there to play, and did not know that his grandfather was in the audience. He accidentally took the old man out when a discus throw went awry and clocked him.

 

The expert: Christine von der Linn, specialist in art books and original illustration at Swann Auction Galleries.

 

How was Rackham chosen for this 1922 project? He was known to work on Greek and Norse mythology and had done his own book in 1913, Arthur Rackham’s Book of Pictures, which had a lot of mythology. He was chosen by the publisher [for the 1922 release] because it was well known that he could execute illustrations of Greek and Norse myths, and that was what the Nathaniel Hawthorne book was about.

 

How many illustrations did Rackham do for the Hawthorne book, and how many for the Danaë and Perseus story? Sixteen color plates in all, and two for the story. This illustration was just used last year as the cover for a 2015 reissue of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s A Wonder Book. Arthur Rackham’s Book of Pictures has a different picture [of this scene in the story] that’s more Rackhamesque in a way. In this image, he concentrates more on the waves, and them being swept out. It’s more threatening. In the 1913 version, you don’t see Perseus’s face. He’s nestled into her breast. They’re in the same simple wooden box, and there’s clouds and wind, but there’s no forboding stormy sky. And the other one doesn’t have as much color as this one.

 

I saw a reference to Rackham having been influenced by Meiji woodblock prints. I couldn’t find more information than that before we spoke, but it made me feel less crazy when the waves in this illustration made me think of Hokusai’s The Great Wave. You don’t think of Rackham being influenced by Asian artists, but he was. He was the master of illustration in the time of three- and four-color printing. When he created an image for a book, the detail would often get lost in the four-color printing process. He’d often go back and re-ink pieces, and define the line very precisely. This image is Rackham, but it’s heavier and thicker than you’re used to seeing. If you cover Danaë and Perseus and just look at the left-hand side of the illustration, you’d think you’re looking at a Japanese woodcut.

 

Was Rackham prolific? He was one of the masters of the Golden Age of British illustration. He did a lot of magazine illustrations and job work before launching into his own deluxe editions. He dominated the Edwardian deluxe gift book market. His 1905 Rip Van Winkle cemented his reputation as a master illustrator.

 

How often do original Rackhams appear at auction? They come up with some frequency, and the prices are all over the place. The range in price depends on how well-known they are, and the amount of detail. A Wind in the Willows illustration sold last year in London for £52,500 ($70,700). It had all the hallmarks of a Rackham illustration, and it had the main characters in it as well. We sold one of his illustrations for A Christmas Carol–it was extremely popular and hotly contested at auction. It was Scrooge and the Ghost of Marley, and it sold for $32,500. The more iconic the image, the higher the price.

 

How did Danaë and the Infant Perseus come to you? This is from a private collection. It was purchased from a gallery in London several decades ago.

 

What qualities does this Rackham image have that makes it desirable to collectors? You have a scene taking place in nature, where the subjects are vulnerable to nature. Danaë and Perseus have this sort of sweet, pre-Raphaelite look to their faces–innocent features, very expressive, and the light touches of color enhance their expressions. And the treatment of the fabric is very Rackham-esque. You can see the figures beneath the clothing and you can tell the elements have affected them. He also shows the simple craftsmanship of the box and the wood grain and at the same time, shows how sturdy but delicate the vessel is. It’s also in how he puts the two figures in the foreground and on the right. Your eye goes to their faces, but you see the ferocity of the storm. It’s about them, but it’s about fear, and about the episode they’re about to face.

 

I’m surprised the estimate is as low as $10,000 to $15,000. It’s a strong piece, but the Rackham market is a little soft right now. While we love Rackham and he’s one of the greats of illustration and he’s still considered a favorite, he’s not among the greats for new, young collectors.

 

Why will this Rackham illustration stick in your memory? It’s a haunting image. It’s beautiful and haunting at the same time. It’s from one of my favorite works by Rackham. I love his treatment of Norse and Greek myths. I feel very few illustrators have been able to grasp the excitement and the drama of those myths like Rackham did.

 

How to bid: Danaë and the Infant Perseus is lot 38 in the Illustration Art sale at Swann Auction Galleries on June 5, 2018.

 

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries.

 

Christine von der Linn has appeared twice before on The Hot Bid, speaking about a Rockwell Kent-illustrated edition of Moby Dick and original Erté artwork for a 1933 Harper’s Bazaar cover.

 

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SOLD! The Inscribed 1957 Presentation Copy of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road Fetched $7,500 at Heritage Auctions

Jack Kerouac. On the Road. New York The Viking Press, 1957 credit Herita...

 

 

Update: The 1957 presentation copy of Jack Kerouac’s novel On the Road sold for $7,500.

 

What you see: A 1957 presentation copy of Jack Kerouac’s novel On the Road. Heritage Auctions anticipates selling it for as much as $8,000.

 

Who was Jack Kerouac? Born Jean-Louis Kérouac in 1922 in Lowell, Massachusetts, he became a star of the mid-20th century Beat Generation of poets and authors. On the Road, a fictionalized tale of the cross-country travels of himself and his friends, published in 1957, is widely regarded as his greatest, most influential work. Kerouac died in 1969 at the age of 47.

 

Do we know how big the press run was for the first edition of On the Road? “I can’t find any reliable information about this, just that Viking published an unknown number of hard-cover copies in dust jackets on September 5, 1957,” says James Gannon, director of rare books for Heritage Auctions. “It sold well enough that it required a second printing on September 20 and a third not long after that.” [This copy is from the second printing.]

 

Did Viking Press have any notion of what they had with On the Road? Was it like Ulysses, where there was some anticipation and awareness that the book might be great? “Some sections of On the Road were published in literary magazines, and were well received so that the publisher announced that the complete first edition book was ‘a publishing event of no small interest.’,” he says. “This was Kerouac’s second novel, but the literary approach was completely fresh and new.”

 

Do we know how many inscribed presentation copies of On the Road are out there, and how often they come to auction? “Kerouac is known not to have inscribed a lot of copies of this title,” he says. “I only note about eight or 10 copies through the auction rooms in the last 20 years or so, of course getting premium prices.”

 

The woman to whom this book is inscribed, Mimi, and her daughter, Francesca, are not characters in On the Road, but Lucien Carr, husband to Francesca and son-in-law to Mimi, is in the book [the character based on him is named Damion]. How does that affect this copy’s value? Are inscribed presentation copies of On the Road worth more if they are inscribed to people who appear in the book as fictionalized characters?  “I think this twice-removed relationship limits the importance and desirability of the inscribed copy,” he says. “It is still a great book, but would be a vastly different thing if it was inscribed to Lucien Carr himself.”

 

What is the auction record for a first edition copy of On the Road? Does it belong to an inscribed presentation copy? If so, to whom did Kerouac sign it?  “Aside from the original scroll of On the Road, the highest price I saw for an inscribed first was to his paramour, Joyce Johnson, and included a drawing,” he says. “Joyce Johnson also inscribed the book. It sold for $185,000 in 2002. The lot also included an autograph letter from Kerouac, and an inscribed copy of Johnson’s book about her relationship with Kerouac.”

 

What is the estimate on this copy of On the Road, and could you talk about why bidding will open at $4,000?  “The estimate is $8,000, and we open bidding at half of the estimate,” he says. “We hope the estimate is conservative and the book will sell for more than $8,000.”

 

Could you talk about the condition of the book and its dust jacket? Does it have the wear that you’d expect of a book that’s about 60 years old? Or is it in better shape?  “The book is fairly nice, without major restoration which would really detract from the value,” he says. “A book like this, with a black dust jacket that shows flaws easily and is popular enough to be read over and over by various readers, typically shows much more wear. This is in better shape than what we see typically, but really nice copies in jacket are out there and get a premium price.”

 

Do collectors of first-edition Kerouac books, and early copies of On the Road, differ from book collectors in general? “Not in my experience, though sometimes a buyer of On the Road will be specifically a beat literature collector,” he says. “Usually this is included in collections of high-spot literature collectors, who want great books by a variety of modern writers.”

 

Why will this copy of the book stick in your memory? “The Carr association, though a little removed, being inscribed to his mother-in-law, still adds a layer of interest that might encourage a bidder to go some extra increments, or a retail buyer to pay a little more,” Gannon says. “The ‘pride of ownership’ aspect is enhanced if you can share an interesting story when showing the book to friends and colleagues.”

 

How to bid: The 1957 presentation copy of Jack Kerouac’s On The Road is lot #45062 in Heritage AuctionsRare Books Signature Auction on March 7, 2018.

 

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

 

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N.C. Wyeth’s Dramatic Illustration of Scottish Knight Sir William Wallace Could Command $150,000 at Skinner

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What you see: Wallace Draws the King’s Sword, an illustration that N.C. Wyeth painted for the 1921 book The Scottish Chiefs. Skinner estimates it at $150,000 to $250,000.

Who was N.C. Wyeth? Newell Convers Wyeth was an American illustrator who brought rousing manly-man adventure tales to life like no other. If you were enamored with pirates as a small child, you have Wyeth’s illustrations for Treasure Island to thank for that. While Wyeth’s commercial illustrations made him immortal, he preferred creating fine art. He was the father of artist Andrew Wyeth and the grandfather of artist Jamie Wyeth. He died in 1945, along with his young namesake grandson, after his car stalled on railroad tracks and was hit by a train. He was 62.

How prolific was N.C. Wyeth?  “He did almost 2,000 illustrations for the Saturday Evening Post alone,” says Elizabeth Haff, specialist in American and European Works of Art for Skinner. “I don’t know how much he did for Scribner’s.”

This painting has a Scribner’s provenance–there’s a Scribner’s Magazine label on the back, and it comes to Skinner directly from the Scribner family. Does that add to its value? “I think it does add value. He did some of his most exciting work for those [Scribner’s Illustrated Classics] novels,” she says, adding, “In 1919, he struck a deal with Scribner’s where he owned his paintings, but they kept the copyright. With this, he either gave it to Scribner’s, or they bought it from him.”

How did author Jane Porter recruit Wyeth to illustrate her book? “Scribner used him quite a bit,” Haff says, noting his legendary work for the Scribner’s Illustrated Classics series. “The subject matter was his thing, his niche–heroes.” The book must have been a hit; it went through more than one printing.

So what’s going on in this scene? I take it that the unruly Scots are encroaching on their leader, William Wallace, intending to take him prisoner, and he’s drawing his sword and saying, ‘Back off.’ Yes, pretty much. The painting depicts a scene where Wallace shouts, “He that first makes a stroke at me shall find his death on this Southron steel! This sword I made the arm of the usurper yield to me; and this sword shall defend the regent of Scotland.” As Haff explains, “It’s a distinguished sword. It had belonged to the King of England. In 1297, Wallace turned back the English army and captured the sword.”

Have any original N.C. Wyeth illustrations from The Scottish Chiefs gone to auction before? In October 2016, Dallas Auction Gallery sold Sterling Castle, a 1921 oil on canvas mounted on Masonite that was evidently made as a frontispiece to the book. It fetched $500,000 against an estimate of $100,000 to $150,000.

Why will this painting stick in your memory? “It’s a great painting, and a very exciting painting. The colors are quite rich, very radiant. The tartans and kilts are so painterly and beautiful in person,” Haff says. “And the attackers’ faces are so expressive. The grimaces are so gruesome. He’s caught William Wallace at a moment where he draws his sword–it’s so dramatic, so arresting. It’s jewel-like, and it’s 100 percent N.C. Wyeth.”

How to bid: Wallace Draws the King’s Sword is lot 375 in Skinner‘s American & European Works of Art sale on January 26, 2018.

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Skinner.

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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.

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SOLD! Heritage Auctions Sells the British First Edition of the First Harry Potter Book for $81,250

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November 17, 2017 update: Bonhams reclaimed the world auction record for the British first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in a November 15 sale when an author’s presentation copy, inscribed by Rowling, commanded £106,250 ($140,204) on an estimate of £30,000 to £40,000 ($39,600 to $52,800).

Update to the Update: Hooray! Heritage Auctions sold the British first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone for $81,250–well above the $56,249 fetched by a different copy at Bonhams in November 2016. Congratulations to James Gannon and all at Heritage!

Update: As of 8 am EST, the British first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone offered by Heritage Auctions carried a high bid of $50,000, with buyer’s premium. That’s about $7,000 shy of the current world record for the book. The auction closes today.

What you see: A British first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, published in 1997. Heritage Auctions doesn’t typically publish estimates, but its internal estimate is around $20,000, and it had an opening bid of $10,000.

Who is J.K. Rowling? Who is Harry Potter? C’mon, really? I have to explain this? Okay, in case some form of the Internet survives million and millions of years into the future, but these cultural references do not: J.K. Rowling is the author of the Harry Potter series, which is about a maltreated orphan who discovers he is a wizard and gets to go to Hogwarts, a wizarding school in some vaguely British locale served by a shiny red train. Rowling’s publisher recommended she reduce her name to gender-ambiguous first and middle initials to better attract young male readers. (Her first name is Joanne; she doesn’t actually have a middle name, but chose ‘K’, for Katherine, to honor her paternal grandmother.) Harry Potter was a hit pretty much from day one and became an unimaginably huge global phenomenon. As of 2017, 20 years after the first Harry Potter book appeared, Rowling is the ninth-best-selling fiction author ever. She is 52.

How rare are first editions of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone? Pretty rare. Bloomsbury printed 500, 300 of which went to British libraries, where they presumably lived hard lives before they were retired from circulation in favor of fresher, later-printed editions of the book.

Is the copy now at Heritage Auctions an ex-library copy? No. It’s one of the 200 that were not sent to British libraries. James Gannon, director of rare books for Heritage, says this copy has had multiple owners. It is described as being in “nearly fine” condition, which Gannon says “has to mean it wasn’t handled very much.”

Even though only 500 copies of the British first edition of Harry Potter were printed, and we don’t know how many of them survive, I seem to see the book at auction fairly often. Why is that? In response, Gannon cites a favorite quote of his: “‘Nothing makes a book common like a high price.’ It’s true. They come out of the woodwork when people see an auction result and think, ‘I’d sell for that.'”

How valuable are ex-library copies of the British first edition? “Being an ex-library copy usually hurts the value a lot, but not in this case,” he says. He notes that while some British librarians probably realized the value of the book and pulled it and replaced it with a copy from a later press run, and it’s likely that some collectors approached British libraries and offered fat donations in exchange for their first editions, he has not handled any copies that have those backgrounds.

Are American first editions of the first Harry Potter book worth anything? Yes, but not nearly as much as the British first edition. “In my mind, it’s a $2,000 book,” Gannon says, adding that the American first edition press run was 35,000–significantly bigger than the British, and reflective of the hold the story already had on the imaginations of readers by the time of the initial American printing. “If you have a set of the seven American Harry Potters, and if one is the first edition in its jacket, that’s where most of the value is.”

As of August 30, which is about two weeks before the auction ends, the book had been bid up to $19,000. Does that mean anything? “Not to me. All that matters is the last number. It’ll make more than $20,000, that’s for sure,” Gannon says. “I do have clients who call me every few months and ask me when I’m getting a copy.” The auction record for a British first edition of the first Harry Potter book belongs to a copy sold at Bonhams in November 2016. It commanded £43,750 ($56,249), was described as being in “exceptionally fine” condition, and included a few interesting typos, such as spelling out the author’s name on the copyright page.

What else stands out about this book? “It’s interesting to me, from a pure market consideration, how this is a book everyone knows is very rare,” he says. “A lot of famous modern first editions, even The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, they’re coveted, and they come up, but Harry Potter is rare. If I was a collector, I’m not sure I could get a copy I can afford in my lifetime. As time goes on, it’s only going to get more expensive.” He recalled an episode from his previous role at Heritage Rare Book Shop in Los Angeles (no connection with the auction house), when he paid $15,000 for a signed British first edition, priced it at $30,000, and stocked it next to a first edition of Walden that was listed at $10,000. “People got peeved at us, but it was an instance of supply and demand with the Harry Potter book. The supply is tiny, and the demand is huge.”

How to bid: The British first edition of the first Harry Potter book is lot #45111 in the Rare Books Signature Auction at Heritage Auctions in Dallas, which ends on September 14.

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Heritage Auctions is on Twitter and Instagram. Rowling is on Twitter, too, and she is fiercely awesome there on a regular basis.

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

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SOLD! The First Published Account of a Successful Wright Brothers Flight Commands $5,000 at Swann

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What you see: The cover of the January 1, 1905 issue of Gleanings in Bee Culture, from an early 20th-century group of 14 issues of the specialist magazine. Swann estimates the group at $1,500 to $2,500.

What is Gleanings in Bee Culture, and why is it important? It is a specialist magazine, founded in 1869 by Amos Ives Root, a god of the beekeeping world. It published the first eyewitness account of a successful airplane flight by the Wright brothers. Root died in 1923, but his magazine still publishes under the name Bee Culture.

Wait, back up. The first published account of a successful airplane flight was in a beekeeping journal? Yes. Yes, it was.

How did that happen? Root was a fan of technology, and the Wright brothers’ experiments in aviation represented the cutting edge of technology at the turn of the 20th century. Root befriended the brothers, who were fellow Ohioans, and he witnessed a successful flight in September, 1904 at Huffman Prairie in Ohio (he was not present for the first successful flight, which happened on December 17, 1903). Protective of their invention and stung by a badly garbled press account of a previous test, the brothers did not invite any reporters to watch them work. But they were comfortable with Root writing about the first flight for Our Homes, a column he included in Gleanings in Bee Culture. “They probably recognized Root as a kindred spirit, and felt he wouldn’t leak anything they didn’t want leaked,” says Rick Stattler, director of printed and manuscript Americana for Swann.

How skilled an observer was Root? “He was an extremely curious and interested amateur. He did his best to understand the mechanism and asked a bunch of questions,” says Stattler, who adds that Root was 65 at the time of the September 1904 flight. “He understood about five percent of what they said. My impression is he probably understood it better than I’d have been able to.”

How many times did Root write about the flight that he saw? Twice. The first article ran more than three pages and had no illustrations. The second, which appeared two weeks later, was shorter and included a photograph of a Wright plane without its engine. “I suspect they didn’t want him publishing a picture of the full machine,” Stattler says. “I don’t get the impression that his account was instantly recognized as important around the world. Gleanings in Bee Culture had a very small, specialized readership. I get the impression that it was not taken especially seriously.”

How often do these issues of Gleanings in Bee Culture come up at auction? This offering at Swann is the first. Stattler reports that Sotheby’s offered a group of issues in 1968, but it did not include the columns that describe the flight.

Why offer 14 issues? Why not offer just the ones with the columns that talk about the flight? Stattler explains that the issues come from a home that had several years’ worth of Gleanings in Bee Culture squirreled away.  “I thought it would be interesting to have a few issues from before the columns and after, as context,” he says. Stattler describes the Our Homes column as being an Andy Rooney-style celebration of the quirks of the world, but Root definitely realized he’d seen something world-changing. “He strongly emphasized it. He realized he was privileged to witness an extremely important event, and he recognized that his platform was not the typical for disseminating that information.”

Do you have any favorite passages from the columns? Stattler cited this paragraph from the January 1, 1905 entry:  ‘Imagine a locomotive that has left its track, and is climbing up in the air right toward you—a locomotive without any wheels, we will say, but with white wings instead, we will further say—a locomotive made of aluminum. Well, now, imagine this white locomotive, with wings that spread 20 feet each way, coming right toward you with a tremendous flap of its propellers, and you will have something like what I saw. The younger brother bade me move to one side for fear it might come down suddenly; but I tell you, friends, the sensation that one feels in such a crisis is something hard to describe.’

These issues have never come to auction before, so they’re guaranteed to set a record when they sell. What do you think will happen? “I’ve got interest from clients already,” he says. “It’s such a quirky publication. It will probably go beyond its estimate, but how far beyond, I don’t know.”

How to bid: The group of issues of Gleanings in Bee Culture is lot 42 in the Printed & Manuscript Americana sale at Swann Auction Galleries on September 28, 2017.

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick the trio of dots at the upper right of this page. You can also follow The Hot Bid on Instagram and follow the author on Twitter.

You can follow Swann Auction Galleries on Twitter and Instagram. Bee Culture is on Twitter and Instagram as well. Root Candles, another entity founded by Root that survives to this day, devotes a page on its website to Ames Root and the Wright Brothers. And you can read the full text of all of Root’s writings on the Wright brothers’ flight courtesy of the website for the PBS program NOVA.

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries.

Would you like to hire Sheila Gibson Stoodley for writing or editing work? Click the word “Menu” at the upper right for contact details.