Books and works on paper
NATHANIEL Hawthorne’s privately published first book was a Gothic tale he came to despise so much that he burned the unsold copies and any others he could lay his hands on.
The author did not even publish another novel until 1850, when the book that established his literary reputation, The Scarlet Letter, appeared.
The 1828 work that caused so much distress and sold so few copies was Fanshawe, published anonymously and at his own expense, soon after he had graduated from Bowdoin College.
However, a copy of Fanshawe, uncut in original muslin-backed purple boards, described as “probably the finest …known” when sold in 1938 as part of Cortland F Bishop’s library, emerged once more at Christie’s New York (25/20/12% buyer’s premium) on December 14, where it sold for $55,000 (£43,310).
This was not the only book from from the Americana portion of the library of Mrs J Insley Blair (whose English literature collection was sold by Sotheby’s New York in 2004) that set or matched record prices.
A copy of Herman Melville’s Redburn sold for a record $38,000 (£29,920) was featured in ATG No 2276, while a very rare advance, copyright printing of Jack London’s The Call of the Wild reached $24,000 (£18,900).
The bright and distinctive pictorial binding of the first edition of July 1903 is far more attractive, but only a dozen advance copies in dull grey paper wrappers were produced in March of that year.
No others are recorded on the market, nor in institutional collections.
Another Insley Blair lot was an 1855 first of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. This famous collection of poems underwent many printing, binding and textual changes, almost from the off, but this was an unusually fine and bright example of the book in a first issue binding.
It just topped the high estimate to sell at $130,000 (£102,360). Publications from the colonial period were another notable feature of the Christie’s sale and included the following three record-breaking rarities noted.
Most of the books related to New England, but the most expensive, at $180,000 (£141,730), was a scarce work on Jamestown and the early Virginia settlement, A True Declaration of the estate of the Colonie of Virginia…
Published in London in 1610 for the Council of Virginia, it concerns the disastrous expedition of George Somers, Sir Thomas Gates and Captain Newport. Responding to demands for the abandonment of the colony, it offers a “…confutation of such scandalous reports as have tended to the disgrace of so worthy an enterprise”.
This copy in modern black morocco was once in the Boies Penrose collections, sold at Sotheby’s in London in 1971. Only one other copy is recorded at auction – sold for £60,000 by Sotheby’s in 2002.
An ex-Signet Library/Streeter copy of A briefe Relation of the Discovery and Plantation of New England: and of sundry accidents therein occurring…, possibly the work of Sir Ferdinando Gorges and published in 1622 for the Council for New England, sold at $100,000 (£78,740).
In modern plum morocco, it is an important early work on the discovery and colonisation of Massachusetts. Published 20 years later was one of the more interesting and authentic first-hand accounts of life, manners and customs in Puritan New England, Thomas Lechford’s Plain Dealing: or, Newes from New England.
Lechford was a London solicitor who became the first lawyer to establish himself in the Massachusetts Bay Colony and lived in Boston from 1638-41. In a red morocco gilt binding by Bedford, it made $70,000 (£55,120).
Another notable inclusion in the December Christie’s sale was a nine-lot selection of correspondence from the Archives de Chastellux – six letters from Washington and three from Jefferson that have remained for over 200 years in the family of François Jean de Beauvoir, Marquis de Chastellux.
A writer, historian, philosopher and soldier who was part of the French expeditionary force during the American War of Independence and principal liaison officer between the French and the Americans, the marquis remained a lifelong friend of both men.
Sold for $250,000 (£200,250) was a 1788 letter in which Washington congratulates Chastellux on his recent marriage and muses on the end of war as he awaits news of the ratification of the constitution: “Should it be adopted… America will lift up her head again and in a few years become respectable among Nations.”
Offered on January 18 by
Sotheby’s New York (25/20/12% buyer’s premium) was a much larger family archive of letters and manuscripts by another founding father of the new nation – and a man currently a big hit on Broadway and due later this year in London’s West End – Alexander Hamilton. Every one of the 77 lots sold to raise $2.6m (£2.11m), with 11 of them beating the previous record for any Hamilton manuscripts.
Sold at $172,000 (£140,985) was Hamilton’s 1777 appointment as aidede- camp to Washington, a document that launched his political career, but bid to $210,000 (£170,730) was a previously unrecorded draft for his ‘Pacificus’ essay No 5.
These were essays that in their author’s view were the equal of the much more famous Federalist essays that he wrote in conjunction with James Madison and John Jay.