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Literary auction at Bonhams & Butterfields today

October 4, 2010 |  9:50 am


Monday's auction of fine books, manuscripts and historical photographs at Bonhams & Butterfields begins at 10 a.m. PDT. Among the signature pieces are a world atlas, dating from the late 1500s, with vivid color maps, detailed drawings of the locals outfits and text in Latin; a two-volume photograph album from the 1889 Paris Exposition Universelle, at which the Eiffel Tower was introduced; and a copy of America's first census from 1790, smaller than a paperback and signed by Thomas Jefferson.

The expected prices for those items are $20,000 to $30,000, $8,000 to $12,000 and $80,000 to $120,000, respectively.

There are also original drawings by Charles Schultz and Theodore Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss), photographs of Albert Einstein and Sergei Rachmaninoff and letters signed by Winston Churchill, Warren Harding, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Martha Graham and Helen Keller.

Bonhams_fitz_ltrAll of which is wonderful, if not exactly literary.

Among the pieces that will be auctioned Monday are first editions of William Faulkner's "Mosquito" and F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Beautiful and the Damned." Neither are the authors' more famous works. In fact, Fitzgerald was still three years from getting "The Great Gatsby" published when this work was released; the dustjacket proclaims he's "the author of 'This Side of Paradise.'" Only 3,047 copies of this version of Faulkner's "Mosquito" were published -- with the insect on the cover, in 1922 -- and it's selling for $2,000 to $3,000. "The Beautiful and the Damned" was signed by Fitzgerald and is expected to bring $15,000 to $25,000.

There is also a letter Fitzgerald wrote that is up for auction. Written during the six months he lived in Paris to a "Miss Lane Pride," Fitzgerald appears to be accepting her compliments about Gatsby, which by then had been published. Well, not "accepting" straight out -- "until Mencken spoke for it the reviews were angry and childish," Fitzgerald writes. "Now of course it has become a best seller." The letter, which is signed, is expected to sell for $12,000 to $18,000 -- while a first edition of "The Great Gatsby," unsigned, is listed for a tenth the price, $1,200 to $1,800.

A first edition of Ernest Hemingway's "The Sun Also Rises," complete with its original 1926 dust jacket, is expected to sell for quite a bit more: $25,000 to $35,000.

Two of James Joyce's masterworks are also up for auction: a first trade edition of "Finnegan's Wake" ($800 to $1,200) and an original cloth edition of "Ulysses," one of 425 copies signed by James Joyce ($5,000 to $7,000). Imagine Joyce sitting and signing book after book after book.

Bonhams_hemingwayI went to a preview last week, and while I saw many of these items, I'm sorry I missed lot 1167. It's a small archive relating to the National Book Awards in their first three years, 1950 to 1953, compiled by William Cole, who worked for the awards. The most fascinating element are the ballots from  the year J.D. Salinger's "The Catcher in the Rye," a finalist, failed to win the National Book Award. The catalog explains:

Included are the 5 judges' ballot slips from 3 rounds of voting as the 1951 publications were whittled down: Jean Stafford puts Salinger ahead of James Jones' "From Here to Eternity"; Budd Schulberg and Lloyd Morris prefer Herman Wouk's "Caine Mutiny"; Robert Gorham Davis is firmly Jones-Wouk-Salinger 1-2-3; Brendan Gill votes at one stage for Capote's "Grass Harp" but seems to settle on Jones.

Indeed: Jones "From Here to Eternity" won.

While the actual value of the archive, estimated at $1,000 to $1,500, may relate to the signed letters it includes (from Arthur M. Schlesinger, Adlai Stevenson and Mark Van Doren), for a book geek it's fascinating to see the inner workings of the National Book Awards. Did it matter that the strongest proponent for Salinger's book, Stafford, was the only woman on the selection committee? Not that "The Catcher in the Rye" was harmed by not winning the award. And only one judge ranked "From Here to Eternity" at the top; from the acocunt above, it seems like it was a compromise choice, rather than the most outstanding book. I wonder how often that happens. 

Other literary items include a standard library edition of "The Call of the Wild" with an inscription from Jack London to one of the brothers who brought the dog Buck on their mining trip to the Klondike ($4,000 to $6,000); a first ediion, with dust jacket, of Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird"; a first edition of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" by Roald Dahl ($1,000 to $2,000); a first edition of Louisa May Alcott's "Little Women" ($800 to $1,200); an advance copy of Joseph Heller's "Catch-22" ($500 to 700); two letters by Samuel Clemens, one signed "Clemes" ($3,000 to $5,000) and one signed "Mark Twain" ($10,000 to $15,000), both very funny; a typed letter signed by Raymond Chandler from 1951 ($2,500 to $3,000); and an autographed note by "Dracula" author Bram Stoker ($400 to $600).

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Top photo: First editions of William Faulkner's "Mosquitos" and F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Beautiful and the Damned." Credit: Carolyn Kellogg. Middle photo: F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1925 letter. Credit: Bonhams & Butterfields. Bottom photo: A first edition of Ernest Hemingway's "The Sun Also Rises." Credit: Bonhams & Butterfields