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2015 Bookseller Resource Guide

Showcasing the Writing Process

Bonhams’ spring sale features draft manuscripts from key literary voices By Peggy Carouthers Peggy Carouthers lives in North Carolina and is the editor of custom content at Journalistic Inc.

This March, the Bonhams Auction House Fine Books and Manuscripts sale returns during the New York Antiquarian Book Fair and will feature pieces that give insight into the writing and editing process of major authors.

The top lot in this sale is Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s notebook from 1835-1837. This autograph manuscript contains drafts for every poem appearing in her first significant collection of poetry, The Seraphim and Other Poems, including extensive additions, deletions, and emandations. It also contains several never before seen poems. The notebook is estimated at $400,000-600,000.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s working notebook for the poems contained in The Seraphim and Other Poems. $400,000-600,000. Courtesy of Bonhams.

“Elizabeth Barrett Browning was a standard-bearer for women’s political thought,” said Tom Lamb, business development director of the books and manuscripts department at Bonhams. “She grasped the mettle of political intrigue and put it into writing. That was very unusual for any woman to have done in the nineteenth century. As time goes on, the exceptional quality of her work and her mind becomes more important.”

Several other Barrett Browning notebooks are also up for sale, including an autographed working draft of Poems Before Congress, estimated at $180,000-250,000; an autograph draft of her revised translation of the Aeschelus play, Prometheus Bound, for publication in her 1850 work, Poems, estimated at $200,000-300,000; and her autographed transcripts of early English poets, including Geoffrey Chaucer, Edmund Spencer, John Fletcher, and popular balladry as appropriate subjects for watercolors, estimated at $40,000-60,000.

“Apart from a manuscript that came up in 2008 at Christie’s, these are the only substantial Elizabeth Barrett Browning manuscripts to have appeared at auction in 40 to 50 years,” Lamb said.

Other manuscripts in the sale also concentrate on how writers compose, including an autographed early working draft of H. G. Wells’ “The First Horseman” from part III of the novella A Story of the Stone Age. This manuscript includes extensive notations, and corrections, and is estimated at $15,000-20,000. Another lot includes two leaves of an autograph revision of the book-version of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, published in 1891. This is the only surviving portion of this state of revision and is estimated at $40,000-60,000.

The second folio of Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies (1632). $200,000-300,000. Courtesy of Bonhams.

Another leading lot in the sale is a complete and large copy of the second folio of William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies, “printed by Tho Cotes for Robert Allot to be sold at the signe of the Black Beare in Pauls Church-yard, 1632.” Without this finely preserved example, as many as eighteen of the author’s plays may not have survived. This copy was rebound in the 1850s in blue morocco.

“Blue morocco is very rare because it is usually red or crimson [that you find],” Lamb said. “This is a very nice copy.”

This sale promises to delight collectors and scholars alike with its emphasis on the writing process. This exciting collection of some of literature’s greatest voices offers a rare glimpse into their minds.

“This sale concentrates attention on literary manuscripts and the way that writers compose,” Lamb said. “We have pieces that real book collectors want to buy, and there will always be something interesting.”

Peggy Carouthers lives in North Carolina and is the editor of custom content at Journalistic Inc.