Exquisite editions from Collectible Authors

Rare and Collectible Books

The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
S.J. Perelman’s Original Personal Travelling Leather Briefcase and Writing Desk - sold for £1,930

The list of last month’s most expensive sales on AbeBooks offers a cross-section of literary-themed items and shows how rare book collectors are also fascinated with ephemera. The top 10 features two six-volume sets of ground-breaking historical writing, a set of magazines, a typed letter, an antiquarian gem from 1522, a modern first edition novel from 1981, rare books on hunting and magic, a photography book, and a travelling leather briefcase and writing desk belonging to one of the New Yorker Magazine’s most famous writers.

The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, in six volumes, by Edward Gibbon appears twice on the list, selling for £17,680 and £4,600 respectively. The £17,680 sale is a complete set of first editions and very rare as such. The lesser sale features a first volume which is a third edition so that forced down the price in a significant fashion.

The new owner of the collection of the Botanical Magazines will adore the wonderful illustrations that adorn them. Letters from important people continue to fascinate our customers, so the sale of a Mohandas Gandhi letter at £6,100 is no surprise but the great man would probably protest at the price. Salman Rushdie’s novel, Midnight’s Children, a signed first edition, is among the most collectible of modern firsts and several copies have appeared on this list in the past couple of years.

The sale of S.J. Perelman’s personal travelling leather briefcase and writing desk for £1,900 is particularly interesting. Perelman (1904-1979) contributed many humorous articles to The New Yorker over the years but he was also an accomplished screenwriter with credits for Horse Feathers, Monkey Business and the David Niven version of Around the World in Eighty Days. Travel was a huge part of his writing and it can be assumed that Perelman wrote many famous words at this desk.

AbeBooks’ Most Expensive Sales in August 2010

1. The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon - £17,680
Published in 1776 in six volumes, the first of these volumes was limited to 1,000 copies in its first printing so complete sets of first editions are very rare. The set is considered a major literary achievement as it was adopted as a model for modern historical methodologies and led Gibbon to be described as the first modern historian of Ancient Rome.

The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
The Botanical Magazine (42 vols)
by William Curtis - sold for £10,000
2. The Botanical Magazine (42 vols) by William Curtis - £10,000
A collection of the first 42 volumes and index of this magazine launched in 1787. It went on to become the longest running botanical magazine.  These first volumes contain more than 1,800 hand-colored plates.

3.  Typed Signed Letter by Mohandas Gandhi - £6,100
This early Gandhi letter was written in reference to his role in the Zulu War of 1906, where Gandhi argued that the British ought to recruit Indians to assist in the war effort in order to legitimise their claims to full British citizenship.   Gandhi lived in South Africa from 1893 to 1914.

4. In Praise of Folly by Erasmus - £4,900
Erasmus’ most famous essay begins as a satirical oratory and ends with a statement of his Christian ideals. This copy was published in 1522, 11 years after it was first issued by the famous printer Johannes Frobenius. Erasmus (1466-1536) was a Dutch humanist, Catholic priest and theologian.

5. The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon - £4,600
Another copy of Gibbon’s influential account of Ancient Rome. This set was cheaper because first volume (of the six) was a third edition rather than a complete set of firsts. This illustrates the rarity of first editions of volume one.

6. Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie - £2,570
A signed first edition of Rushdie’s famous novel. Published by Jonathan Cape of London in 1981, Midnight’s Children won the Booker Prize in 1981. It was voted the best of all Booker winners in 2008.

The Praise of Folly by Erasmus - sold for £4,900

7.  La Vénerie Française Contemporaine by Karl Reille - £2,420
Published in Paris in 1914. The first and only edition was limited to 600 copies and offers a comprehensive overview of hunting in France just prior to World War I.  Baron Karl Reille (1886-1975) also illustrated this title and went on to illustrate many more books.

8. The Fashionable Science Of Parlour Magic by John Henry Anderson - £2,250
Described in full on the book’s title page, The Fashionable Science Of Parlour Magic Being The Newest Tricks Of Deception Developed And Illustrated With An Exposure Of The Practice Made Use Of By Professional Card Players, Blacklegs, And Gamblers. Published around 1850 by Scottish magician John Henry Anderson, who helped develop magic as a mainstream form of entertainment.

9. Facile by Man Ray - £2,120
A book featuring 12 surrealistic photographs from the American artist Man Ray, who spent most of his career in Paris; each photo is accompanied by text from French Poet Paul Éluard. First edition copy published in 1935.

10. S.J. Perelman’s Original Personal Travelling Leather Briefcase and Writing Desk - £1,930
The travel desk of a man renowned for writing about travel; on one end is a large colorful travel label for the ocean liner "FRANCE" showing an ocean liner of the "Compagnie Generale TRANATLANTIQUE French Line" which has been filled out in ink in Perelmans hand. He had written his name, S.J. Perelman, the travel date of "18 MAY" and noting that he is in cabin "P-275" and that his destination is "NY". Perelman was an American humorist who wrote the screenplays for the Marx Brothers films Horse Feathers and Monkey Business and the Oscar winning Around the World in 80 Days script, he was also a contributor to the New Yorker for many years. Perelman was partially responsible for the success of Joseph Heller’s novel Catch 22, the novel was having lukewarm reviews and sales until Perelman gave considerable praise to how humorous the novel was in an interview; Perelman did not often give such praise and sales of Catch 22 skyrocketed shortly after.

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