Though the other books featured in this report of an October 15-16 sale in Texas are 20th century works of fiction, the outstanding result of the day – and by a considerable margin – emerged for something much, much older and spectacularly different.
Bid to $260,000 (£201,550) in the Dallas rooms of Heritage (25/20/12.5% buyer’s premium) was a 1540, Ingolstadt first of the Astronomicum Caesareum of Petrus Apianus.
This work was described by Owen Gingerich in a 1995 survey of surviving copies as the “most spectacular contribution of the book-maker’s art to 16th century science”.
Apianus (1495-1552), who studied mathematics and astronomy at Leipzig and Vienna, was an outstanding mathematician and a pioneer in astronomical and geographical instrumentation, as well as one of the more successful popularisers of such subjects.
The period binding of what must have been a well-used copy is quite worn and there is occasional foxing, soiling and staining as well as a certain amount of colour bleed through or offset from the plates. It also lacks some of the volvelles, threads and seed pearls that Gingerich suggests should make up a complete copy, but it remains a splendid survival.
The work’s large pages were brilliantly hand-coloured by the printers and filled with ingeniously contrived mechanisms, sometimes with as many as six layers of paper discs arranged to give planetary positions plus a variety of other data.
This copy has 36 full-page plates featuring woodcut astronomical figures (one also used on the title-page) and of these, 21 present a total of 60 volvelles and there are 29 original silk threads and eight tiny seed pearls used as sliding indicators.
The only copy to have made more at auction was the ex-Horblit/ Ortiz-Patiño copy, which in 1998, at Sotheby’s New York, sold for $400,000.
The literary high spots in Dallas included a 1937 first of JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit at $48,000 (£37,210) and yet another first of JK Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone at $44,000 (£34,110).
However, some of the bigger rarities and surprises of the sale emerged from a further selection of works from the mystery and detective fiction collections of Otto Penzler, the publisher, collector and proprietor of New York’s Mysterious Bookshop.
Bidding on a signed and inscribed 1925 first of The House Without a Key, the first of the Charlie Chan mysteries of Earl Derr Biggers, started at $4600 but it was eventually knocked down at $40,000 (£31,010).
Other much higher than predicted bids were recorded for the works of Ellery Queen, or rather Frederic Dannay and Manfred Bennington, who chose that pseudonym for their joint works.
Their first ever EQ mystery, a signed copy of The Roman Hat Murder of 1929, made $32,000 (£24,805) and The Egyptian Cross Mystery of 1932 realised $20,000 (£15,505).
Other notable results included a $25,000 (£19,380) winning bid on a copy of Rex Stout’s very first Nero Wolfe mystery, Fer-de-Lance, and a 1933 first of John Dickson Carr’s The Mad Hatter Mystery at $14,000 (£10,855).
All of these Otto Penzler lots mentioned above set auction records.