June 28, 2012

Rare Agatha Christie Poirot book breaks auction house record


A rare copy of Agatha Chrisie’s Poirot Investigates, the 1924 story collection featuring her soon-to-be-famous detective Hercule Poirot, went for a record-breaking sum at auction, according to this report in the Guardian. It was thought that the competitive bidding was driven up by the rare early dust-jacket drawing of detective Poirot. The book, which had originally sold for 37 pence went for a record £40,630 at the Dominic Winter auction house.

The auction house put the book up with the suggested sell range of £3,000 to £5,000. Yet, according to the Guardian:

After a fierce bidding war, a book that was priced on publication at just seven shillings and sixpence eventually sold for £40,630 to book dealer Christian Jonkers from Jonkers Rare Books. Dominic Winter believes this is the highest price ever paid for a Christie book: the most expensive previously sold is thought to be a £10,000 copy of The Mysterious Affair at Styles, auctioned at Sotheby‘s in 2009.

Dominic Winter auctioneer Chris Albury told the Guardian that the book was of particular interest to collectors because “it’s the first representation of Poirot on a dust jacket, which is partly why the price went so high.”

“The dust jacket is the key,” Albury went on to explain. “It’s pretty perfect, and usually dust jackets from this time have got a panel or half a panel missing. Here Poirot is completely intact … Pre-second-world-war dust jackets are far less common than postwar ones, too – they were often taken off books at the point of sale and put in bins, so they didn’t even make it out of shops.”

The Poirot illustration has him looking much like Christie described him in the character’s debut, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, “his head was exactly the shape of an egg, and he always perched it a little on one side. His moustache was very stiff and military”, and “the neatness of his attire was almost incredible; I believe a speck of dust would have caused him more pain than a bullet wound.”

Poirot Investigates was Christie’s first collection of stories featuring the Belgian detective and his side-kick, Captain Hastings. But it was an auspicious beginning. The Times Literary Supplement in April of that year gave it a favorable review, and decreed, “M Poirot is a thoroughly pleasant and entertaining person, an admirable companion for a railway journey.”

Christie, who died in 1976, went on to write over 80 novels, many featuring the popular Hercule Poirot, who remained nattily attired to the end.


Valerie Merians is the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House.