SOLD! A First-edition Copernicus at Christie’s London Sold for (Scroll Down to See)

Update: The first-edition Copernicus sold for £587,250, or $734,569.

What you see: A 1543 copy of De revolutionibus orbium coelestium, libri V [On the Revolutions of Heavenly Spheres], by Nicolaus Copernicus, the first scientific work to place the sun at the center of the heavens, rather than the Earth. Christie’s London estimates it at £500,000 to £700,000, or $633,000 to $886,200.

The expert: Barbara Scalvini, expert specialist in the book and manuscript department at Christie’s.

Do we know how many copies of this book were printed in 1543, and how many survive? By conjecture, we can get to between 400 and 500 copies printed of the first edition. 277 have been described, but we have lost some of those. There are about 250 we know of.

Who would have been the audience for this book in 1543? Universities? Yes, but universities would have been more fluid entities than we know now. The purchaser would have been an astronomer or a lecturer. The book would have traveled with the scholar. The audience would have been a specialized community of scientists devoted to astronomy, and astronomy was not what we intend it now to be. It was a lot to do with calendar-setting and what we’d now say are horoscope predictions. It wasn’t just observing celestial phenomena.

Can we tell, simply by looking at the finished book, how challenging it might have been to make? The book has 142 woodcut illustrations in it. You appreciate that the scientist had to draw these illustrations and the woodcutter had to reproduce them. A lot of precision was needed. Copernicus, at the time, was living in the very north of Poland, and his publisher was in Nuremberg, Germany, about 1,000 miles away. He didn’t have the chance to personally oversee [the book’s] production. He had to delegate production to a pupil, Georg Joachim Rheticus. Then Rheticus got another job at a university that was miles away, and Andreas Osiander was asked by the publisher to oversee the last bit.

Detail shot of Copernicus's landmark 1543 book, open to show one of its woodcut illustrations.

What challenges did Copernicus face in publishing this book? How did those challenges shape how he presented his information? It was the publisher’s skin at stake as much, if not more, than Copernicus. That has to get into the picture. Copernicus wrote a very diplomatic introduction that makes Osiander’s preface irrelevant. Another challenge, for example, was the patronage challenge.

Copernicus and the publisher sought funding from patrons? No. The aim was to get protection, not money, not advancement.

So, patronage in this case meant asking influential people not to aim their guns at this book? I think so. Copernicus was very clever [to say in his introduction] “It’s all for astronomers. It doesn’t question the prime mover or the God side of things, really. It’s going to be used by professionals so we can have a better calendar, and better predictions of the future, so you should be happy.” That probably means he was conscious that the content might raise eyebrows.

How real were the risks that Copernicus and his publisher faced? What consequences could have, or would have, followed if they hadn’t proceeded in the way that they did? Copernicus was a Catholic canon [a type of administrator within his local church], so he could have lost his position in the hierarchy. Dissemination of the book could have been impaired [by church censorship]. The idea that the earth was not the center of the universe had been mooted by others. The risks to his nice, quiet life as a Catholic canon were there, but it wasn’t the risk of prison that Galileo faced later.

What might be the title page of Copernicus's 1543 masterwork that place the sun at the center of the heavens.

Yeah, about that. How did Copernicus present his information in a way that spared him the persecution that Galileo suffered later? How much of it is down to Copernicus’s introduction, in which he lays out the historical underpinnings of his findings? I think it’s in the nature of the book. Galileo produced evidence, actual observed evidence, that this is how physical, material things work. Copernicus was projecting a mathematical model, and said in a letter that it didn’t necessarily have bearing on reality. Observing something physical is almost like piercing a tire–the whole thing didn’t hold up anymore. An observation can be repeated, and shown to be the case. Galileo said it was the only possibility. Copernicus said, “Ok, we’ve gone through a lot of hypotheses, and I believe this is a better and more useful model for making predictions, and you’re going to find, I think, that people will demonstrate this to be the case.” When Copernicus was censored, [the church’s prohibition meant] people must not read the book until it had been corrected. There were only ten corrections. If people possessed the book, they were invited to insert the corrections, and with the corrections, it was accepted by the Catholic Church. One correction was brutal–an entire chapter taken off. But of those extant, only one copy [reflects] carried-out corrections. Most don’t have any expurgations at all.

I imagine some reluctance to carry out the corrections was rooted in the cost of the book. Books were more expensive then… This book cost about one florin. An academic salary was about 100 to 120 florins per year. Considering that the academics had to buy and ship their books, plus cover their own food and maintenance, 1/100th of a yearly salary is not little.

As for Osiander and his preface–I’m guessing the publisher pressured him to write it, to double-cover everyones’ backsides, just in case. I think so, and it’s not just me, but these are conjectures. I quote mainly Owen Gingerich [Harvard professor emeritus, who wrote, in essence, a biography of this Copernicus book] that Rheticus, the pupil who oversaw the publication, crosses Osiander’s bit out in his own copy. Copernicus’s pupil, the one he trusted most, got quite cross with it and crossed it out. I believe if Rheticus had seen to the completion of the work, it [Osiander’s preface] probably would not have happened. Again, how much is conjecture, I don’t know. It’s just a really good story.

How physically involved was Copernicus in the production of the book? He gave the manuscript to Rheticus, who brought it to Nuremberg and started work on it. The printer printed quires, groups of leaves, and sent them to Copernicus for corrections. The last batch of leaves was never corrected, or Copernicus’s corrections were never sent back to the printer. Copernicus did remain involved and engaged with the production of the book, even at a distance, up until the last part.

Do we know how long a gap there was between Copernicus receiving a finished copy and Copernicus’s death? The lot notes say a copy “reached him on the eve of his death,” but is that literally true? They finished printing the whole book on April 20, 1543. We know because Rheticus dedicated a letter to a friend that said, “look at what [we] finished.” Nuremberg was 1,000 miles from Copernicus, so it took two weeks, possibly more, to ship it. Rheticus’s account says Copernicus received it the day before he died, and there’s no reason to doubt that.

The 1543 first edition Copernicus, shown closed and standing upright, with the spine visible.

Do we know if Copernicus was lucid enough to recognize and savor the achievement represented by the finished book? We don’t know. There’s no account of his reaction, but he had seen the proofs of most of the book, and he worked on it for 15 years. He was a perfectionist. There were no telescopes then–all observations were done with the naked eye. Copernicus had to be pushed to produce the book. Seeing the physical quires would have given him a sense of it actually happening.

How was it received in 1543? Did people recognize it for what it was? Absolutely. There was no sense of it being kept under the radar. A second edition was printed in 1566, in the same amount of copies, and it was an exact reprint of the first edition–no corrections. The fact that demand [was strong enough for a reprint] only 20 years later means the reaction was very positive and people picked it up.

What condition is this copy in? I’d say it’s comparable with other copies sold in the past. It’s an OK copy, it’s good. Most copies have blemishes. It’s important to bear in mind that the record $2.2 million price set at Christie’s New York in 2008 by the Richard Green copy is a total outlier. That copy was exceptional. No copy is as good, [whether it is held] privately or in an institution.

How often does a copy of this first edition come to auction? In the last 20 years, five copies have come up at auction. It’s always been a prized book, a milestone in the history of thought. I’d say half a million and upward is a consistent result.

What is the provenance of this copy? It comes from a Japanese university that’s not looking to continue its mission. Its library is going to be discontinued. It’s been in Japan for 40 years. The copy went through Italy and possibly France and eventually Japan via the book trade. It didn’t belong to any scientist or head of state that we know of. People have done very naughty things to these books–stealing pages and cutting out pages with stamps [library identification stamps] on them. This book has not been stolen from a library. You can be confident that’s the case.

What is the book like in person? What’s it like to handle it? The binding is later, but you don’t want to over-open it. Other than that precaution, it’s actually a very natural, very good, very wholesome experience to hold a book of that age. You feel confident that you can leaf through it, back and forth. To me, one of the most affecting parts of the book is the illustration of the concentric circles of the planets around the sun. You can see the earth, a little dot emphasized with a circle, that says we humans are not the center of the universe, but an accident on the periphery.

The 1543 Copernicus, open to the page showing the woodcut illustration that places the sun at the center of everything, rather than the earth.

Why will this book stick in your memory? For me, the excitement does not necessarily come from a specific copy, but its [being part of] a momentous edition. The whole story is exciting. The passing of geocentrism, putting the sun at the center of the universe, turns a page of history. It’s a fantastic testament to humanity, to people’s ability to reason.

How to bid: The first edition of De revolutionibus orbium coelestium, libri V is lot 599 in the Valuable Books and Manuscripts sale at Christie’s London on July 10, 2019.

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.

Christie’s is on Twitter and Instagram. 

Christie’s also produced a story with Barbara Scalvini discussing the Copernicus and other landmark books that established that the Earth was not at the center of the universe.

Images are courtesy of Christie’s.

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

SOLD! The True History of Pepper’s Ghost Commanded (Scroll Down to See)

The cover of The True History of Pepper's Ghost depicts a skeleton seated cross-legged and lifting a white cloth or veil off itself. The book cover has a black background.

Update: Potter & Potter sold the copy of The True History of Pepper’s Ghost for $1,020.

What you see: A copy of The True History of Pepper’s Ghost, an 1890 book by Professor John Henry Pepper. Potter & Potter estimates it at $600 to $900.

The expert: Gabe Fajuri, president of Potter & Potter.

What is Pepper’s Ghost, and how was John Pepper involved in it? It’s a theatrical effect used to manifest figures on a stage. They could be ghosts, they could be people, they could be objects, even. It was devised in the mid-19th century by Henry Dircks and popularized by John Pepper.

How did he popularize it? Pepper came up with a way to streamline the installation of the device. Dircks wanted to modify every theater in a major way to install the invention. Pepper made it adaptable and practical.

Why was the special effect such a big deal when it debuted in 1862? Because it made ghosts walk on stage.

Were there previous attempts to do something like Pepper’s Ghost, which fell short? I’m not aware of any, and I’m not an authority, but people had played with using glass in a similar way going back centuries.

To what extent, if at all, was the impact of Pepper’s Ghost amplified by debuting in a play based on a book by Charles Dickens? My recollection is the play it was used in involved the appearance of a ghost. What I like about that was Charles Dickens was an amateur magician. They probably chose it [the debut of the effect] coincidentally, but there’s some serendipity there.

What I find interesting is Pepper tried, almost heroically, to give due credit to Dircks, but the public persisted in calling the effect “Pepper’s Ghost.” But look at songwriting. Maybe it’s a stretch, but how many of Whitney Houston’s songs did she actually write? It’s the performance that makes the memory in the public mind.

But it’s not typical for someone to try as hard as Pepper did to share credit. No, especially when the profit motive is involved. But, eventually, Henry Dircks signed the patent over to Pepper. It shows he had no animosity to Pepper. It helped cement it in the public mind, I suppose, but the public doesn’t go back and read patent papers.

Have you read the book? Do we know why Pepper felt he had to write a book titled The True History of Pepper’s Ghost? I have not read it, and I don’t know his motivation.

Does it go into detail about how to produce the Pepper’s Ghost effect? Oh, yeah. The folding frontispiece shows you how to set it up. It’s literally the first page.

How is the Pepper’s Ghost effect used today? I know it’s been adapted for many practical and entertaining purposes. One you probably don’t think of is the headsup display on a car’s windshield. A more frivolous use brought Tupac Shakur to life on stage. It’s been used for decades in carnivals to turn a girl into a gorilla.

It’s a surprisingly durable special effect, given that it’s more than 150 years old. Sometimes, you know, simplicity is an art. It’s hard to improve upon something so direct and effective.

Do we know how many copies of the book were printed? Also, how many copies have you handled? I don’t know the number printed, but I’ve handled two or three in 11 years.

What condition is the book in? Lovely. It’s not in fine condition, but considering its age and scarcity, it’s good, in bookseller’s terms.

Who would have been the audience for this book? I imagine it would be scientists, or theater owners, or people who wanted to incorporate effects into a production. It could have been magicians or curiosity seekers as well. The cover is beautiful–one of its main attractions these days. The skeleton on the cover says it all.

How to bid: The True History of Pepper’s Ghost is lot 405 in The Magic Collection of Ray Goulet, a sale taking place at Potter & Potter on April 27, 2019.

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.

Follow Potter & Potter on Instagram and Twitter.

Gabe Fajuri is a favorite on The Hot Bid. He’s talked about a Will & Finck brass sleeve holdout–a device for cheating at cards–which sold for $9,000a Snap Wyatt sideshow banner advertising a headless girl, a record-setting stage-worn magician’s tuxedo; a genuine 19th century gambler’s case that later sold for $6,765; a scarce 19th century poster of a tattooed man that fetched $8,610; a 1908 poster for the magician Chung Ling Soo that sold for $9,225; a Golden Girls letterman jacket that belonged to actress Rue McClanahan; and a 1912 Houdini poster that set the world record for any magic poster at auction.

Gabe rightly points out that the peerless Jim Steinmeyer wrote the definitive book on the Pepper’s Ghost special effect: The Science Behind the Ghost, which you can purchase from Steinmeyer’s website.

Image is courtesy of Potter & Potter.

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

The True History of Pepper’s Ghost–a Rare Book on the Famous Special Effect–Could Sell for $900

The cover of The True History of Pepper's Ghost depicts a skeleton seated cross-legged and lifting a white cloth or veil off itself. The book cover has a black background.

What you see: A copy of The True History of Pepper’s Ghost, an 1890 book by Professor John Henry Pepper. Potter & Potter estimates it at $600 to $900.

The expert: Gabe Fajuri, president of Potter & Potter.

What is Pepper’s Ghost, and how was John Pepper involved in it? It’s a theatrical effect used to manifest figures on a stage. They could be ghosts, they could be people, they could be objects, even. It was devised in the mid-19th century by Henry Dircks and popularized by John Pepper.

How did he popularize it? Pepper came up with a way to streamline the installation of the device. Dircks wanted to modify every theater in a major way to install the invention. Pepper made it adaptable and practical.

Why was the special effect such a big deal when it debuted in 1862? Because it made ghosts walk on stage.

Were there previous attempts to do something like Pepper’s Ghost, which fell short? I’m not aware of any, and I’m not an authority, but people had played with using glass in a similar way going back centuries.

To what extent, if at all, was the impact of Pepper’s Ghost amplified by debuting in a play based on a book by Charles Dickens? My recollection is the play it was used in involved the appearance of a ghost. What I like about that was Charles Dickens was an amateur magician. They probably chose it [the debut of the effect] coincidentally, but there’s some serendipity there.

What I find interesting is Pepper tried, almost heroically, to give due credit to Dircks, but the public persisted in calling the effect “Pepper’s Ghost.” But look at songwriting. Maybe it’s a stretch, but how many of Whitney Houston’s songs did she actually write? It’s the performance that makes the memory in the public mind.

But it’s not typical for someone to try as hard as Pepper did to share credit. No, especially when the profit motive is involved. But, eventually, Henry Dircks signed the patent over to Pepper. It shows he had no animosity to Pepper. It helped cement it in the public mind, I suppose, but the public doesn’t go back and read patent papers.

Have you read the book? Do we know why Pepper felt he had to write a book titled The True History of Pepper’s Ghost? I have not read it, and I don’t know his motivation.

Does it go into detail about how to produce the Pepper’s Ghost effect? Oh, yeah. The folding frontispiece shows you how to set it up. It’s literally the first page.

How is the Pepper’s Ghost effect used today? I know it’s been adapted for many practical and entertaining purposes. One you probably don’t think of is the headsup display on a car’s windshield. A more frivolous use brought Tupac Shakur to life on stage. It’s been used for decades in carnivals to turn a girl into a gorilla.

It’s a surprisingly durable special effect, given that it’s more than 150 years old. Sometimes, you know, simplicity is an art. It’s hard to improve upon something so direct and effective.

Do we know how many copies of the book were printed? Also, how many copies have you handled? I don’t know the number printed, but I’ve handled two or three in 11 years.

What condition is the book in? Lovely. It’s not in fine condition, but considering its age and scarcity, it’s good, in bookseller’s terms.

Who would have been the audience for this book? I imagine it would be scientists, or theater owners, or people who wanted to incorporate effects into a production. It could have been magicians or curiosity seekers as well. The cover is beautiful–one of its main attractions these days. The skeleton on the cover says it all.

How to bid: The True History of Pepper’s Ghost is lot 405 in The Magic Collection of Ray Goulet, a sale taking place at Potter & Potter on April 27, 2019.

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.

Follow Potter & Potter on Instagram and Twitter.

Gabe Fajuri is a favorite on The Hot Bid. He’s talked about a Will & Finck brass sleeve holdout–a device for cheating at cards–which sold for $9,000a Snap Wyatt sideshow banner advertising a headless girl, a record-setting stage-worn magician’s tuxedo; a genuine 19th century gambler’s case that later sold for $6,765; a scarce 19th century poster of a tattooed man that fetched $8,610; a 1908 poster for the magician Chung Ling Soo that sold for $9,225; a Golden Girls letterman jacket that belonged to actress Rue McClanahan; and a 1912 Houdini poster that set the world record for any magic poster at auction.

Gabe rightly points out that the peerless Jim Steinmeyer wrote the definitive book on the Pepper’s Ghost special effect: The Science Behind the Ghost, which you can purchase from Steinmeyer’s website.

Image is courtesy of Potter & Potter.

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

Rare Books Uncovered: True Stories of Fantastic Finds in Unlikely Places, by Rebecca Rego Barry (THB: Shelf Life)

Rare Books Uncovered: True Stories of Fantastic Finds in Unlikely Places by Rebecca Rego Barry.

What you see: Rare Books Uncovered: True Stories of Fantastic Finds in Unlikely Places by Rebecca Rego Barry. * $19.99, Voyageur Press.

Does it fit in my purse? Yes, but with difficulty.

Cut to the chase. Should I buy this book? Yes.

Fair warning: I’m a complete sucker for books like this. It is The Sort Of Thing I Like, And I Like That Sort of Thing. Rare Books Uncovered is a perfect example of a book I’d put on my wish list and end up buying for myself less than 20 minutes later because I couldn’t hold out until my birthday or Christmas to read it.

This book made me happy. Every page of it. Am I biased? I suppose, but if Rare Books Uncovered had been poorly written, it would have made me sad, and I would not hold back from detailing exactly how it saddened me. Make of that what you will.

I do not have the book-collecting affliction, but I empathize with and celebrate those who do. Rare Books Uncovered is a 254-page celebration of them and those who enable them.

All the stories in the book take place between 1976 and 2014. All feature tales of the hunt–finding or rediscovering treasures that lurked across the country and the world.

I devoured the book methodically in one straight shot. Reading it was like emptying the bonbons from an oversize assortment one by one, but without the guilt.

Rare Books Uncovered avoids hyper-focusing on the priciest scores. Some of the items described have mostly or only sentimental value. Others are delights I had no idea existed. I am forever jealous of the person who found a copy of a Jorge Luis Borges book illustrated by Sol LeWitt.

Readers of Rare Books Uncovered will meet Martin Stone, a rare book hunter who ought to have his own hour-long TV procedural [Book Hunter, Crime Solver! Based on the life of Martin Stone, coming soon to ABC!]. You’ll encounter a family Bible that’s actually worth something, and you’ll learn why so many are not.

You’ll stumble upon books from the library of Mark Twain, inexplicably stored in barrels. You’ll thrill to the tale of the discovery of the Keep Calm and Carry On poster.

You’ll follow along as the copy of Frankenstein that author Mary Shelley inscribed and gave to Lord Byron emerges from the shadows. You’ll contemplate the author’s own find, a first edition of Death of a Salesman that might have belong to Pulitzer Prize-winning author William Shirer.

Munch, munch, munch until all the bonbons are gone. They are tasty, and they go fast.

The stories have more substance than bonbons, though. The author snuck in fiber in the form of capsule anecdotes, asides that define book-world terms, and by making sure the parade of chapters aren’t just about the score. You see the struggle, You glimpse the tedium, and you confront ethical questions, too.

Worth buying new, for full price.

How to buy Rare Books Uncovered: Please purchase it from an independent bookstore near you. If there isn’t one near you, try ordering it from Powell’s.

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.

Rebecca Rego Barry is on Twitter, and she has a website. She’s also the editor of Fine Books Magazine, which is on Twitter and has a website.

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Rebecca Rego Barry.

* I received Rare Books Uncovered as a review copy, but I’d had it on my wish list for a while before the offer was made.

Rare Books Uncovered was first published in Winter 2015.

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

RECORD! A Walker Percy-signed First Edition of A Confederacy of Dunces Sold for $5,000

A 1980 first edition copy of A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole, in its dust jacket.

Update: Freeman’s sold the first edition Walker Percy-signed copy of A Confederacy of Dunces for $5,000, setting a new record for the novel at auction.

What you see: A 1980 first edition copy of A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole, in its dust jacket. signed by Walker Percy. Freeman’s estimates it at $3,000 to $5,000.

The expert: Darren Winston, head of the books, maps, and manuscripts department at Freeman’s.

How rare is it to find a first edition of A Confederacy of Dunces in its dust jacket, and how rare is it to find one that’s also signed by Walker Percy, who helped see the book into print and wrote its foreword? It was published in 1980. Since that time, 21 copies have come to auction. Of the 21, only two were signed by Walker Percy. They came up in 2002 and 2009. You could argue that only two copies have come up like ours in the last 38 years. Another interesting fact is the very first copy to come up at auction was in 1986.

Is that unusually quick, to see a book published in 1980 debut on the secondary market six years later? It is unusually quick. It has such an interesting history, and it’s so different from other books like it. It became an instant cult classic. Now it’s even more of a big deal. It sat around from 1969, when Toole killed himself and his mom [Thelma Toole] found the manuscript. She went around trying to get it published. Walker Percy, at the time, was at Loyola [Loyola University of New Orleans]. Toole’s mom got him to read the manuscript, and he made it his duty to get it published. LSU Press published it in 1980.

Yes, let’s hit the point squarely–why is it impossible to find a first-edition of A Confederacy of Dunces signed by the author? Because he died before it was published. He wrote it in 1963 and committed suicide in 1969. 1969 to 1980 was the period in which his mom set about finding a publisher for it.

So, Walker Percy’s signature is the closest thing to an author’s signature that we can get on a first edition of A Confederacy of Dunces? Exactly right. He was sort of the midwife. In the world of book-collecting, the next-best thing is the mom’s signature. Two copies she signed were at auction in 2011 and 2012. Either [signature] is as charming as the other. If she hadn’t picked up the baton, the manuscript wouldn’t have gotten to Walker Percy, and he wouldn’t have done what he did.

Are there any first-edition copies signed by both Thelma Toole and Walker Percy? There are no recorded copies at auction. They might be in the world, but not at auction.

Who is shown on the dust jacket? It’s the protagonist, Ignatius J. Reilly.

If A Confederacy of Dunces came up today as the debut novel of an unknown, dead author, I just can’t picture a modern publishing house green-lighting dust jacket art featuring a fat guy in a deerstalker holding a hot dog in one hand and a sword in the other, even if he is the lead character and he dresses that way. Was this a risky choice, even for a university press in 1980? You could argue that the title, which is from a Jonathan Swift poem, is a mouthful. It’s completely wacky. But maybe part of it was the publisher being a university press. Maybe it had more leeway.

How was the book received in 1980? The initial press run was 2,500. That’s part of its rarity–only 2,500 copies in the first edition, versus 50,000 for The Old Man and the Sea, which was printed 30 years before. Within three years, the unknown, dead author won the 1981 Pulitzer prize for fiction and sold 650,000 copies.

Why does A Confederacy of Dunces hold up almost 40 years after its publication? Certain books–The Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird–come along and upend everything that came before. The Catcher in the Rye was 1951. To Kill a Mockingbird was about 10 years later, and A Confederacy of Dunces was 20 years after that. It was a book that became a touchstone. As a teen, you carried it with you. When you look at it as a collector, young people turn into adults, and when they have money, they want a talisman [of their youth]. When many people want the same talisman, it goes up and up.

This first edition of A Confederacy of Dunces is described as “fine.” What does that mean? “Fine” is a tricky word because any wear marks it as less than fine. This copy looks like it’s unread, which leads to questions about the box. It was made early in the book’s life, and the book has lived in this box. There’s a relief image of Ignatius on the [box’s] cover. Someone went to some trouble to have it made. Thought went into it.

How many different groups of collectors will compete for this first edition of A Confederacy of Dunces? There are many, but people who go after high spots–the biggest and best book by any author–will be interested. People who collect an author’s first book will be interested, as will people who just love the book. If you’re going to splash out, this is the copy you want. Another reason people will go after this book is to trade up to a better copy. Maybe someone has a gorgeous copy with no Walker Percy signature, or a gorgeous copy with no dust jacket–they trade up.

What’s the world auction record for a first edition of A Confederacy of Dunces in its dust jacket? What are the odds of this copy meeting or exceeding that record? The most it’s brought at auction was $4,000, in 2002. I believe that copy was also signed by Walker Percy. That’s a good sign in our case.

Why will this book stick in your memory? Because of the story. There’s a poignancy, a sadness, and a lot of irony to the fact that Toole never saw it published. It was his life’s work, literally and figuratively. Father Time came through for it. It’s on its third generation of readers. Toole published one book, and he’s in the pantheon. That’s cool.

How to bid: The Walker Percy-signed first edition of A Confederacy of Dunces is lot 176 in Freeman’s September 27 Books & Manuscripts auction.

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.

Freeman’s is on Twitter and Instagram as well.

Image is courtesy of Freeman’s.

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

A Walker Percy-signed First Edition of A Confederacy of Dunces Could Sell for $5,000

A 1980 first edition copy of A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole, in its dust jacket.

What you see: A 1980 first edition copy of A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole, in its dust jacket. Freeman’s estimates it at $3,000 to $5,000.

The expert: Darren Winston, head of the books, maps, and manuscripts department at Freeman’s.

How rare is it to find a first edition of A Confederacy of Dunces in its dust jacket, and how rare is it to find one that’s also signed by Walker Percy, who helped see the book into print and wrote its foreword? It was published in 1980. Since that time, 21 copies have come to auction. Of the 21, only two were signed by Walker Percy. They came up in 2002 and 2009. You could argue that only two copies have come up like ours in the last 38 years. Another interesting fact is the very first copy to come up at auction was in 1986.

Is that unusually quick, to see a book published in 1980 debut on the secondary market six years later? It is unusually quick. It has such an interesting history, and it’s so different from other books like it. It became an instant cult classic. Now it’s even more of a big deal. It sat around from 1969, when Toole killed himself and his mom [Thelma Toole] found the manuscript. She went around trying to get it published. Walker Percy, at the time, was at Loyola [Loyola University of New Orleans]. Toole’s mom got him to read the manuscript, and he made it his duty to get it published. LSU Press published it in 1980.

Yes, let’s hit the point squarely–why is it impossible to find a first-edition of A Confederacy of Dunces signed by the author? Because he died before it was published. He wrote it in 1963 and committed suicide in 1969. 1969 to 1980 was the period in which his mom set about finding a publisher for it.

So, Walker Percy’s signature is the closest thing to an author’s signature that we can get on a first edition of A Confederacy of Dunces? Exactly right. He was sort of the midwife. In the world of book-collecting, the next-best thing is the mom’s signature. Two copies she signed were at auction in 2011 and 2012. Either [signature] is as charming as the other. If she hadn’t picked up the baton, the manuscript wouldn’t have gotten to Walker Percy, and he wouldn’t have done what he did.

Are there any first-edition copies signed by both Thelma Toole and Walker Percy? There are no recorded copies at auction. They might be in the world, but not at auction.

Who is shown on the dust jacket? It’s the protagonist, Ignatius J. Reilly.

If A Confederacy of Dunces came up today as the debut novel of an unknown, dead author, I just can’t picture a modern publishing house green-lighting dust jacket art featuring a fat guy in a deerstalker holding a hot dog in one hand and a sword in the other, even if he is the lead character and he dresses that way. Was this a risky choice, even for a university press in 1980? You could argue that the title, which is from a Jonathan Swift poem, is a mouthful. It’s completely wacky. But maybe part of it was the publisher being a university press. Maybe it had more leeway.

How was the book received in 1980? The initial press run was 2,500. That’s part of its rarity–only 2,500 copies in the first edition, versus 50,000 for The Old Man and the Sea, which was printed 30 years before. Within three years, the unknown, dead author won the 1981 Pulitzer prize for fiction and sold 650,000 copies.

Why does A Confederacy of Dunces hold up almost 40 years after its publication? Certain books–The Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird–come along and upend everything that came before. The Catcher in the Rye was 1951. To Kill a Mockingbird was about 10 years later, and A Confederacy of Dunces was 20 years after that. It was a book that became a touchstone. As a teen, you carried it with you. When you look at it as a collector, young people turn into adults, and when they have money, they want a talisman [of their youth]. When many people want the same talisman, it goes up and up.

This first edition of A Confederacy of Dunces is described as “fine.” What does that mean? “Fine” is a tricky word because any wear marks it as less than fine. This copy looks like it’s unread, which leads to questions about the box. It was made early in the book’s life, and the book has lived in this box. There’s a relief image of Ignatius on the [box’s] cover. Someone went to some trouble to have it made. Thought went into it.

How many different groups of collectors will compete for this first edition of A Confederacy of Dunces? There are many, but people who go after high spots–the biggest and best book by any author–will be interested. People who collect an author’s first book will be interested, as will people who just love the book. If you’re going to splash out, this is the copy you want. Another reason people will go after this book is to trade up to a better copy. Maybe someone has a gorgeous copy with no Walker Percy signature, or a gorgeous copy with no dust jacket–they trade up.

What’s the world auction record for a first-edition of A Confederacy of Dunces in its dust jacket? What are the odds of this copy meeting or exceeding that record? The most it’s brought at auction was $4,000, in 2002. I believe that copy was also signed by Walker Percy. That’s a good sign in our case.

Why will this book stick in your memory? Because of the story. There’s a poignancy, a sadness, and a lot of irony to the fact that Toole never saw it published. It was his life’s work, literally and figuratively. Father Time came through for it. It’s on its third generation of readers. Toole published one book, and he’s in the pantheon. That’s cool.

How to bid: The Walker Percy-signed first edition of A Confederacy of Dunces is lot 176 in Freeman’s September 27 Books & Manuscripts auction.

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.

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Image is courtesy of Freeman’s.

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WHOA! That 1834 Ornithological Book Sold for $100,000

An 1834 first edition of Oiseaux brillans du Brésil by Jean Théodore Descourtilz. Pictured is the Red Curlew plate from the book.

Update: The 1834 first edition of Oiseaux brillans du Brésil by Jean Théodore Descourtilz sold for $100,000–about five times what Heritage Auctions expected, and a record for this book at auction.

What you see: An 1834 first edition of Oiseaux brillans du Brésil by Jean Théodore Descourtilz. Heritage Auctions estimates it around $20,000. Featured above is the Red Curlew plate from the book.

The expert: James Gannon, director of rare books for Heritage Auctions.

I see the quote in the lot notes from Rubens Borba de Moraes, the former director of the United Nations library in New York, saying, “This book is so rare that I had begun to doubt its existence,” but how many copies are there? Do we know? From what we can tell, we think this is the fifth known copy.

Can you talk about how the book came to be? Was Descourtilz the illustrator? He did illustrate it. It was toward the end of the color plate period, which ran from 1790 to 1830. It was fairly early for a hand-colored ornithological [bird] book. Audubon was contemporaneous in the 1830s. This book was never published. It was issued, and someone made lithographs that were then hand-colored, but it was never published, and never had a table of contents or text. The lithographic plates were put together in a book. I don’t know much about Descourtilz. I’d never heard of him before the book crossed my path. His dad was a botanist and a physician who did a book on the flora of the Antilles. Descourtilz did the illustrations for his father’s book. It’s better known because it was published.

The book is described as a first edition, but it was not published. Why might it have been made? It was probably a mockup, made to engender interest from publishers and get the money to be able to produce the book.

Was it intended to be sold by subscription, as Audubon’s Birds of America was?Maybe the [60] plates were issued in five groups of 12. That was the style then. Audubon published in parts. The reason they did it was so they could start reaping profits against their costs sooner.

The lot notes say the ornithological book has 60 plates. Does that mean it’s complete? I don’t know, but there’s no reason to think there were more. We call it complete. Other copies might have a similar number or a lesser number. Whether he envisioned an epic work like Audubon, we don’t know.

Are all the plates in the ornithological book as vibrant as the Red Curlew plate, shown above? Pretty much. I think it’s just a matter of [the book] being closed. We don’t know much about where it came from beyond being in the same family for decades. It probably was not handled very much over the almost 200 years since it was made.

The lot notes say the ornithological books illustrations are “heightened with gum arabic.” How did that detailing enhance the plates? Gum arabic is a clear sheen, almost a clear varnish. Lots of color plate books use it. You’d put it over the color in certain places so it created a sheen when you looked at it. It makes the plates look more vibrant, and it catches the light in different places. It would help make the plates stand out. [The effect is not visible in the photo shown.]

The book is French, but it has no text. Does that make it more appealing to American collectors, or does it not matter? It doesn’t matter in this case, because it wasn’t issued with text. The collector for this is someone who collects bird books or hand-colored plate books. Anyone sophisticated enough to spend tens of thousands on a book understands why it has no text.

And we don’t know why it wasn’t published? Descourtilz may never have found the backing. Maybe there were other reasons why it was never published. It was certainly publishable if the right circumstances existed. If there was a similar kind of thing for Audubon [Birds of America], where Audubon made lithographs and had them hand-colored to get the backing, get the money [to make it]–if that existed, it’d really be worth a lot, because it predated the book.

How did this ornithological book come to you? It came through another person on staff. She told me the family had had it for a long time, decades. The consigner had a connection to one of the people listed in the front of the book, which is why I think it sat for 80 to 100 years on a shelf. It didn’t get looked at by book fairs and dealers. They [the family] probably didn’t think about it for a long time.

How did you arrive at a value for this ornithological book? It hasn’t come on the auction market. There are so few copies around. Probably, other collectors and dealers have never seen it. There may be more copies we don’t know about that have never become public. If it sold for mid-five figures, we’d be satisfied.

What was it like to look at it for the first time? I didn’t see it until it had been researched by [Heritage Auctions] staff. We knew it was special, and we knew we wanted to use it in the advertising campaign [for the auction].

What is it like to leaf through it, and how does that experience compare to handling Audubon’s Birds of America? I’ve seen Audubon many times. Here, everything is a surprise, everything is new. Many of the plates are stunningly beautiful.

Why will it stick in your memory? How rare it is to see this book. There aren’t many around. Many more people have seen our catalog cover with the Red Curlew on it than have actually seen the book.

How to bidOiseaux brillans du Brésil is lot #45090 in the Rare Books & Maps Signature Auction at Heritage Auctions on September 13, 2018.

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.

Heritage Auctions is on Twitter and Instagram.

Image is courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

James Gannon has appeared three other times on The Hot Bid, speaking about the typewriters Larry McMurtry used to write Lonesome Dove; a British first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone that ultimately sold for a world auction record; and an inscribed presentation copy of Jack Keroauc’s On the Road.

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

A Rare Bird! An 1834 Ornithological Book Could Sell for $20,000

An 1834 first edition of Oiseaux brillans du Brésil by Jean Théodore Descourtilz. Pictured is the Red Curlew plate from the book.

What you see: An 1834 first edition of Oiseaux brillans du Brésil by Jean Théodore Descourtilz. Heritage Auctions estimates it around $20,000. Featured above is the Red Curlew plate from the book.

The expert: James Gannon, director of rare books for Heritage Auctions.

I see the quote in the lot notes from Rubens Borba de Moraes, the former director of the United Nations library in New York, saying, “This book is so rare that I had begun to doubt its existence,” but how many copies are there? Do we know? From what we can tell, we think this is the fifth known copy.

Can you talk about how the ornithological book came to be? Was Descourtilz the illustrator? He did illustrate it. It was toward the end of the color plate period, which ran from 1790 to 1830. It was fairly early for a hand-colored ornithological [bird] book. Audubon was contemporaneous in the 1830s. This book was never published. It was issued, and someone made lithographs that were then hand-colored, but it was never published, and never had a table of contents or text. The lithographic plates were put together in a book. I don’t know much about Descourtilz. I’d never heard of him before the book crossed my path. His dad was a botanist and a physician who did a book on the flora of the Antilles. Descourtilz did the illustrations for his father’s book. It’s better known because it was published.

The ornithological book is described as a first edition, but it was not published. Why might it have been made? It was probably a mockup, made to engender interest from publishers and get the money to be able to produce the book.

Was it intended to be sold by subscription, as Audubon’s Birds of America was? Maybe the [60] plates were issued in five groups of 12. That was the style then. Audubon published in parts. The reason they did it was so they could start reaping profits against their costs sooner.

The lot notes say the ornithological book has 60 plates. Does that mean it’s complete? I don’t know, but there’s no reason to think there were more. We call it complete. Other copies might have a similar number or a lesser number. Whether he envisioned an epic work like Audubon, we don’t know.

Are all the plates in the ornithological book as vibrant as the Red Curlew plate, shown above? Pretty much. I think it’s just a matter of [the book] being closed. We don’t know much about where it came from beyond being in the same family for decades. It probably was not handled very much over the almost 200 years since it was made.

The lot notes say the ornithological book’s illustrations are “heightened with gum arabic.” How did that detailing enhance the plates? Gum arabic is a clear sheen, almost a clear varnish. Lots of color plate books use it. You’d put it over the color in certain places so it created a sheen when you looked at it. It makes the plates look more vibrant, and it catches the light in different places. It would help make the plates stand out. [The effect is not visible in the photo shown.]

The book is French, but it has no text. Does that make it more appealing to American collectors, or does it not matter? It doesn’t matter in this case, because it wasn’t issued with text. The collector for this is someone who collects bird books or hand-colored plate books. Anyone sophisticated enough to spend tens of thousands on a book understands why it has no text.

And we don’t know why it wasn’t published? Descourtilz may never have found the backing. Maybe there were other reasons why it was never published. It was certainly publishable if the right circumstances existed. If there was a similar kind of thing for Audubon [Birds of America], where Audubon made lithographs and had them hand-colored to get the backing, get the money [to make it]–if that existed, it’d really be worth a lot, because it predated the book.

How did this ornithological book come to you? It came through another person on staff. She told me the family had had it for a long time, decades. The consigner had a connection to one of the people listed in the front of the book, which is why I think it sat for 80 to 100 years on a shelf. It didn’t get looked at by book fairs and dealers. They [the family] probably didn’t think about it for a long time.

How did you arrive at a value for this book? It hasn’t come on the auction market. There are so few copies around. Probably, other collectors and dealers have never seen it. There may be more copies we don’t know about that have never become public. If it sold for mid-five figures, we’d be satisfied.

What was it like to look at it for the first time? I didn’t see it until it had been researched by [Heritage Auctions] staff. We knew it was special, and we knew we wanted to use it in the advertising campaign [for the auction].

What is it like to leaf through it, and how does that experience compare to handling Audubon’s Birds of America? I’ve seen Audubon many times. Here, everything is a surprise, everything is new. Many of the plates are stunningly beautiful.

Why will it stick in your memory? How rare it is to see this book. There aren’t many around. Many more people have seen our catalog cover with the Red Curlew on it than have actually seen the book.

How to bidOiseaux brillans du Brésil is lot #45090 in the Rare Books & Maps Signature Auction at Heritage Auctions on September 13, 2018.

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.

Heritage Auctions is on Twitter and Instagram.

Image is courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

James Gannon has appeared three other times on The Hot Bid, speaking about the typewriters Larry McMurtry used to write Lonesome Dove; a British first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone that ultimately sold for a world auction record; and an inscribed presentation copy of Jack Keroauc’s On the Road.

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