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Literary letters for auction at Sotheby's on Thursday

June 17, 2010 | 11:00 am

Marktwain_inchair

Dozens of Mark Twain's letters and writings, from his early days in San Francisco until the end of his life, form the centerpiece of an auction taking place Thursday at Sotheby's in New York. An autographed manuscript of his "A Family Sketch," the never-published work written originally as "In Memory of Olivia Susan Clemens, 1872-1896" (a tribute to his daughter Susy, who died of meningitis at age 24) is estimated to sell for $120,000 to $160,000. The letters, Sotheby's writes, "reveal Twain in various moods from playful to cantankerous."

The Twain manuscript and letters are part of the James S. Copley Library Collection. Copley was a newspaper publisher and philanthropist; there will be two auctions Thursday.

Other literary letters on the auction block include:

- Two letters from Charlotte Bronte, one estimated at $70,000-$100,000 and the other at $30,000-$50,000

- Two letters signed "Emily" from Emily Dickinson, each estimated at $35,000-$50,000

- A pen-and-ink portrait of F. Scott Fitzgerald, inscribed with a quote from "The Great Gatsby" and signed by Fitzgerald, estimated at $25,000-$35,000

- A collection of letters -- and, it appears, snapshots -- from John Steinbeck, estimated at $25,000-$35,000

- 115 items from Robinson Jeffers, including first editions, manuscripts, signed letters and an autographed photo, estimated at $18,000-$25,000

- A typed speech (given at Princeton) with handwritten notes, signed, by Albert Einstein, estimated at $10,000-$15,000

- A partial letter, with signature "Walt," from Walt Whitman to his mother, estimated at $10,000-$15,000

- A letter from Charles Dickens, with extravagant signature, estimated at $8,000-$12,000

- A calling card of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, with the notation "I fancy the 'Valley of Fear' is the swan song of Sherlock Holmes," estimated at $8,000-$12,000

Perhaps the value of letters is going up as letter-writing moves into its own swan song. Is there any chance that collectors of the future will pony up for authentic author e-mails?

-- Carolyn Kellogg
twitter.com/paperhaus

Photo: Mark Twain in his later years, in a display at the museum at his boyhood home in Hannibal, Mo. Credit: Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times

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