November 1, 2013

Rare book auction includes the white whale of first editions


Swann Auction Galleries has listed an extremely rare first edition of Moby-Dick.

Now’s your chance to own the white whale of rare literature! A first edition copy of Moby-Dick: or, The Whale, including extremely rare white endpapers is up for auction at Swann Auction Galleries. Part of their 19th and 20th Century Literature Auction, the edition is expected to go for a mere $35,000-$50,000.

Stephen J. Gertz at BookTryst notes that these endpapers add “upwards of $20,000 to the value of a standard, first American edition, first issue copy with orange endpapers.” So what makes these endpapers so special? According to this collectibles website, “In 1853 a fire at Harpers – the book’s publisher – destroyed all but around 60 copies, making the edition extremely rare. This example is one of only two known that feature white endpapers, further enhancing its desirability.”

Herman Melville isn’t the only bold-faced named included in the auction. Paul Fraser Collectibles takes note of some of the other interesting items:

A signed first edition of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath is also featured with an estimate of $18,000-25,000. It is inscribed: “For Jules and Joyce and also Joan with love John Steinbeck”.

It features the rare flying pig illustration that Steinbeck reserved for close friends. Jules Buck was a movie producer with whom Steinbeck worked on a screenplay that became Eli Kazan’s Viva Zapata.

The dust jacket is in excellent condition with virtually no rubbing or wear, and features the original price of $2.75.

William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury is offered as a first edition, with the original cloth-backed patterned boards and dust jacket. A masterpiece of modernism, the book relates the story of the Compson family – formerly wealthy southern aristocrats who have fallen on hard times.

The edition has been expertly repaired on areas of the spine, panel and folds and features a small split to the lower front hinge. It is expected to bring $15,000-20,000.

Other books include an inscribed first edition and one of only 500 copies of T.S. Eliot’s Prufrock and Other Observations ($6,000-$9,000), and a first edition of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter ($6,000-$9,000).

Setting your budget under a grand? There are plenty of options: first editions of Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, an inscribed Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller, and In Cold Blood, signed by Truman Capote, are just some of the titles being estimated at under $1,000.

The auction starts on November 21, and Swann Galleries lets you bid live online, over email, or on the phone, so don’t forget!

From Swann’s description of Lot 197:

“ONLY FOUND ANOTHER ORPHAN” MELVILLE, HERMAN.Moby-Dick; or, The Whale. 12mo, original black cloth, boards slightly bowed, blind-stamped with heavy rule frame and publisher’s circular device at center of each cover, minor chipping to spine ends, short fray along front joint; white endpapers, double flyleaves at front and back, usual scattered light foxing, 6-page publisher’s advertisement at end, penciled ownership signature on front free endpaper; preserved in 1/4 morocco gilt-lettered drop-back cloth box. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1851

Estimate $35,000 – 50,000

unsophisticated copy of the first american edition, first state binding, containing thirty-five passages and the Epilogue omitted from the English edition (published a month earlier). Melville himself famously described his book thus: ‘It is the horrible texture of a fabric that should be woven of ships’ cables and hawsers. A Polar wind blows through it, and birds of prey hover over it.’ 



Julia Fleischaker is the director of marketing and publicity at Melville House.