Charles Dickens has become synonymous with Christmas, but a new exhibition at his Victorian house museum in London shows that his relationship with the festive season was not all sweetness and light.

Beautiful Books: Dickens and the Business of Christmas has a fine display of his books, including a rare ‘trial’ edition of A Christmas Carol with illustrations by John Leech predating the December 19, 1843 first edition, one of which is also here, inscribed by Dickens to his friend William Macready. In addition, museumgoers can gaze upon first editions of his other Christmas stories, including The Chimes (1844), The Cricket on the Hearth (1845), Battle of Life (1846), and The Haunted Man (1848), all cloth bound with gilt edges, decorative endpapers, and vignette title pages. There are also some interesting preliminary pencil sketches by Leech for A Christmas Carol, as well as a woodblock of "Fezziwig’s Ball" by Hablot Knight Browne, made for the 1852 edition.

Music icon Bob Dylan offers collectors several directions: books, manuscripts, photographs, letters, albums, concert tickets and posters, and song lyrics. The winner of the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature, Dylan is nothing if not prolific -- and very collectible. Our subscribers may already be familiar with the topic, since our current issue’s cover feature describes how the Bob Dylan Archive and the Woody Guthrie Center are invigorating the city of Tulsa. The article pointed out that Dylan’s artwork — yet another collecting direction — is currently on view at the Gilcrease Museum in an exhibition titled Face Value, which debuted at London's National Portrait Gallery in 2015 and showcases the rock legend’s pastel portraits alongside related manuscripts and memorabilia.

Which is why UK bookseller Peter Harrington’s latest catalogue, featuring modern and contemporary prints, art, and photobooks, caught my attention, offering, among many other delights, Dylan’s limited edition “Drawn Blank” series (pictured above). The ten prints were made in a signed and numbered edition of 295 and include Lakeside Cabin; Dad’s Restaurant; Statue of Liberty; Cassandra; Sidewalk Café; Vista from Balcony; Woman on a Bed; Sunday Afternoon; Two Sisters and Bragg Apartment, and New York City. The price of the set at £20,000 ($26,000+) is a little more than double that of, say, a signed first pre-trade edition of his first book, Tarantula (1966) at Raptis Rare Books, but far short of the $2 million paid at Sotheby's for his handwritten “Like a Rolling Stone" lyrics. That one may have been an anomaly, but then again, Dylan's star seems destined never to fade.

A very busy week coming up in the salerooms; here are a few of the auctions I'll be watching.

Things kick off with six sales on Tuesday, December 10:

Illustration Art at Swann Galleries, in 280 lots; these include several illustrations by Ludwig Bemelmans and Edward Gorey.

- At Artcurial, the Max & Béatrice Cointreau Library. The 175 lots are expected to be led by Charles de Saint-Gelais' 1514 translation of Maccabees, estimated at €10,000–15,000. 

- Forum Auctions holds an online sale of Books and Works on Paper, in 231 lots. The top-estimated lots, at £1,000–1,500, are a rare 1778 rebus criticizing British policy toward America, and Rev. George Newenham Wright's plate books China and Hindostan, bound together. There's also a first edition of M. R. James' wonderful Ghost Stories of an Antiquary, estimated at £600–800.

Rare Books & Literature at Fonsie Mealy Auctioneers, in 862 lots. A good selection of interesting Yeats material up for grabs in this one!

- Sotheby's online sale of English Literature, History, Children's Books & Illustrations ends on Tuesday. The 229 lots include a collection of letters between Ian Fleming and his wife Ann (£200,000–300,000), a Shakespeare Second Folio (£70,000–100,000); and a trio of lots estimated at £50,000–70,000: two pieces printed by Wynken de Worde; a first edition of Smith's Wealth of Nations, from the library of the Earls of Haddington; and a working Enigma I machine.

- At Christie's New York, Ansel Adams and the American West: Photographs from the Center for Creative Photography, in 86 lots. 

On Wednesday, December 11, Christie's London sells Important Books, Atlases, Globes & Scientific Instruments from the Collection of Nico and Nanni Israel. The 32 lots include a copy of the 1661 edition of Sir Robert Dudley's Arcano del Mare (£500,000–700,000); a medieval astrolabe quadrant made in southern France around 1300 (£400,000–600,000); and an early Dutch pocket globe attributed to Willem Blaeu (£70,000–100,000).

The second Christie's London sale on Wednesday is Shakespeare and Goethe: Masterpieces of European Literature from the Schøyen Collection. The 79 lots are expected to be led by a Shakespeare Second Folio (£120,000–180,000); a Fourth Folio (£50,000–80,000); a 1683 quarto edition of Hamlet (£60,000–90,000); a collection of William Henry Ireland manuscript Shakespeare forgeries (£4,000–6,000); and a small collection of pedigrees and manuscript notes about the families of Shakespeare and Sir Thomas Phillipps (£3,000–5,000).

Rounding out Christie's sales is 176 lots of Valuable Printed Books & Manuscripts. Robertus Valturius' De re militari (1472), the first book printed with technical illustrations and the first book printed at Verona, rates the top estimate at £170,000–250,000. A copy of Roberts' The Holy Land could fetch £100,000–150,000, as could a copy of Menabrea's "Sketch of the Analytical Engine invented by Charles Babbage," inscribed by the translator Ada Lovelace to Richard Ford. Another copy of Smith's Wealth of Nations is on offer here, at £70,000–100,000. A 1670 Robert Hooke manuscript about the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire is estimated at £40,000–60,000.

Also on Wednesday, Printed Books, Maps & Documents at Dominic Winter Auctioneers, in 525 lots. Notable here is a book from the library of Joachim Rheticus (De cosmographiae rudimentis, 1561), estimated at £5,000–8,000.

On Thursday, December 12, another trio of sales:

Modern Literature & First Editions, Children's, Private Press & Illustrated Books at Dominic Winter Auctioneers, in 368 lots. 

Livres Anciens–XXe Siècle (226 lots) and Éditions Originales du XIXe au XXIe Siècle at ALDE (192 lots).

Finally, on Friday, December 13, Livres Anciens & Modernes at Pierre Bergé, in 150 lots. Max Ernst's Das Schnabelpaar rates the top estimate, at €70,000–80,000.

Got a kid bibliophile on your holiday list? Or perhaps a Lewis Carroll fan of any age? Fret not, the Folio Society has you covered with its latest edition of Alice in Wonderland ($69.95), whose stunningly designed slipcase and interior illustrations are by a regular contributor to Folio Society’s publications, Charles van Sandwyk (How to See Fairies and The Wind in the Willows).

This new edition of Lewis Carroll’s tale features  37 integrated color illustrations and 44 black-and-white renderings, with maps of Neverland serving as endpapers. Folio Society aficionados may recall the publishing house’s limited, now sold-out edition of Alice in Wonderland from 2015; van Sandwyk’s charming art graced that version, and astute readers will find similarities between the two.

Hailing from South Africa, the self-taught van Sandwyk pegged these Alice illustrations to critical elements in various chapters: mock turtle soup steams up from a tureen, a grinning Cheshire cat stares down from a tree at a quizzical Alice, a thoroughly sleepy-looking mouse peers out from a teapot. In a recent interview, van Sandwyk shared his appreciation for the style of Beatrix Potter, whose influence here is wonderfully evident. “I adore her little books. One of the things I like so much about her, and what I try to emulate in my work, is an unwavering quest for high quality, non-commercial artistry rather than following the trends of the day.”

Illustrating Alice comes with its own challenges, especially since the book, at least in English, is so often associated with the original artwork by John Tenniel--a fact that van Sandwyk says is an unavoidable but necessary element to the book’s unbridled success. “Of course Tenniel is synonymous with Carroll, it is perhaps the first true collaboration between children's writer and artist,” he said. “To my mind, the story wouldn't have become as famous without Tenniel, nor would Tenniel be as famous an artist without Carroll's brilliant story.”

By illustrating a book that’s never gone out of print since first appearing in 1865, van Sandwyk joins a league of illustrators who've taken up the mantle--Barry Moser, Charles Robinson, Arthur Rackham, to name a few. Much like each generation demands its own version of classic works of literature, illustration and design often references their own era, breathing renewed relevance into the text at hand. “I think if you come to realize that every artist has a slightly different vision with such a fine and creative story, then we each have our place in trying our hand at illustrating it.”

The illustrator’s goal with this iteration was, as van Sandwyk put it, “to create something jewel-like and beautiful, and to give a feel for the characters that you might believe they each have in a private life, and thoughts of their own.” 

Ultimately, van Sandwyk hopes that readers will find his undertaking a smart and charming accompaniment to Alice. “It is a remarkably entertaining, inventive, silly, witty, and clever story. There have been many things like it since, hardly ever as good, but it remains a yardstick by which we can measure so much in life. If you want a good laugh, just read the part about the Treacle Well…”

Intrigued? Get your holiday orders in before December 8 to ensure Christmas delivery (December 12 for expedited.)

Click here to see more images for Alice as well as for another lovely Folio Society offering, The Velveteen Rabbit.


Hat tip to Aaron T. Pratt, Pforzheimer Curator of early books & manuscripts at the Ransom Center, who brought this incredible but easily overlooked painting to our attention. Known only as “Still life of an illuminated manuscript,” the sixteenth-century oil on panel sold for £81,312 ($105,658) at Bonhams’ sale of Old Masters in London yesterday.

According to the auction house, “The present work is related to a group of trompe l'oeil still life paintings of bound illuminated books that are believed to have been painted in south Germany or Austria in the mid-sixteenth century; other known versions are similar in size to the present work and all are painted on pine. They have in common the inclusion of eleven illuminated initials and two passages of music notation but the details and colouring vary slightly between them.”   

This one came from a private US collection. While, as bibliophiles, we may read into it a veneration of books and manuscripts, Bonhams suggests the true purpose of depicting open books in art at the time was to encourage religious contemplation.

Our Bright Young Collectors series continues today with Emily Forster, winner of the 2019 Honey & Wax Book Collecting Prize for women book collectors age 30 or younger: 

Where are you from / where do you live?

I was born in Hawaii, on the island of Oahu. Today I live in Queens, New York.

What did you study at University? What do you do now for an occupation?

I graduated from the School of Visual Arts in New York with a BFA in Cartooning. I chose to go to SVA because it’s one of only a handful of undergraduate programs where you can focus on comics storytelling. Today, I work at a digital comic book publisher/distributor, and continue to make independent comics on my own time.

Please introduce us to your book collection.  What areas do you collect in? 

I collect fan-made comics and dōjinshi. Those totally unfamiliar with the idea might best understand these books if I described them as “fan fiction” in comic form. I’m passionate about fan comics regardless of their origin, but most of the books in my collection are Japanese dōjinshi. The practice of producing fan comics is so well-established in Japan that it occupies a unique semi-professional, semi-legal space that really has no equivalent elsewhere, so naturally that is a lot to dive into. Some fanzines in my collection are books of illustrations, or comics mixed with prose, but my focus is definitely on comics.

How many books are in your collection?

Today I have almost 500 books. Thankfully most dōjinshi and fanzines are thin and lightweight, or I wouldn’t be able to fit them in my apartment so easily.

What was the first book you bought for your collection?

The books that started my collection are a novel-length, two-part fancomic series about a character from Nickelodeon’s Avatar: the Last Airbender, by artist Johanne Matte. I bought them from the artist at New York Comic Con in 2010. Matte actually worked on the show in an official capacity as well, and discovering her work made a big impression on me. It was inspiring to realize that being a "professional" did not necessarily exclude you from using your skill for "unprofessional" passion projects.

How about the most recent book?

The most recent books are a handful of fanzines I picked up at “Flamecon,” a LGBTQ focused comic con in New York City. Two of them are palm-sized minicomics based on the recent TV adaptation of “Good Omens” - another is a collection of “High School Musical” stories with a queer focus.

And your favorite book in your collection?

It’s really hard to pick a favorite! Blinded by the Ice by "saicoink" is one of my favorites in terms of the actual story. It’s an “alternate universe” fancomic for the anime Yuri on Ice. It’s not simply a love letter to the show - it contains so much of the artist’s personal vision and sensibilities that I think it showcases how transformative works or “fanfiction” can be great pieces of art in their own right. There are other books in my collection that stand out to me for their beautiful book design, or because of how difficult they were to find, but that’s the book I would point to that represents the heart of why I collect and celebrate fancomics.

Best bargain you’ve found? / How about The One that Got Away?

The best bargain I found and “the one that got away” are one and the same! There was a dōjinshi I had picked up just because the art was nice and I liked the cover design, and it happened to be a two-parter. Of course, having part 1, any collector is going to have the itch to find part 2. I was browsing a secondhand shop in Tokyo when I saw the woman next to me pull the sequel off the shelf and seemingly debate over whether or not to buy it for long, agonizing minutes - even going so far as to put it back on the shelf, change her mind, and take it off again. I watched her out of the corner of my eye sweating in suspense! In the end, she did buy it and I resigned myself to the fact I might never see it pop up again. A year or so later I took another trip to Japan, and found the book in the ¥100 section (so around $1)of a different shop. Sometimes all it takes is patience.

What would be the Holy Grail for your collection?

I’m really fascinated with Star Trek zines from their heyday in the ‘70s. Not only am I a Star Trek fan myself, but those fanzines really represent the history of “fandom” as we know it taking shape in the West, and I’d love to acknowledge that more within my collection. It would be incredible to find an art-focused zine. That would be considerably more rare than anything else in my collection today, but I’ll dream big.

Who is your favorite bookseller / bookstore?

One of the special things about the nature of fan-made comics is that often, you’re seeking them out from the artist directly, or discovering them by getting involved in communities online. Picking up a comic from the artist at a convention means you get to show your appreciation for their work in person, and maybe even share a moment of enthusiasm over whatever it is you’re both obsessed with at the moment.

What would you collect if you didn’t collect books? 

I would probably collect miniatures -- I love tiny things!

Our holiday edition roundup of books about books focused exclusively on splashy, illustrated non-fiction, which meant we left off at least one new novel worthy of every bibliophile’s attention. Marley by Jon Clinch is on-theme for the season too, offering the backstory of Jacob Marley, whose death inaugurates Charles Dickens’ holiday classic, A Christmas Carol. In Clinch’s prequel of sorts, Marley is very much alive, a forger and a scoundrel who begins a lifelong business partnership with Ebenezer Scrooge after they meet at Professor Drabb’s Academy for Boys. As that name suggests, theirs is a dark, unsavory world that Clinch uses to his advantage to snare his reader in a chilling, yet compelling atmosphere. His pacing is superb, giving this novel a depth beyond its 283 pages. And it’s not all gloom: love attempts to shine a light on both men, but is it enough?

Clinch, also the author of Finn (2007), is no stranger to fiction that takes a recognizable literary character in a totally new direction. It’s a bold idea, expertly executed, and in the case of Marley, it will prompt you cut old Scrooge some slack. 

A few of the sales I'll be watching this week:

On Wednesday, December 4, Fine Books, Manuscripts, Atlases & Historical Photographs at Bonhams London. The 393 lots include a first issue of Darwin's Origin (£80,000–120,000); a collection of some 350 letters from Karl August Varnhagen von Ense to Charlotte Williams Wynn (£40,000–60,000); and the complete original artwork for Edward Ardizzone's Tim to the Rescue (£30,000–50,000).

Aristophil sale 28 will also be held on Wednesday at Aguttes in Paris. The 94-lot sale of Germanica is expected to be led by a fragment of Mozart's 1773 "Serenade in D Major," estimated at €85,000–95,000. An 1817 Beethoven autograph note could sell for €35,000–40,000, and a 1799 letter from Haydn is estimated at €30,000–40,000.

At Bonhams New York on Wednesday, a 105-lot sale of History of Science and Technology. This one also includes a first edition of Darwin's Origin ($80,000–120,000), but the two top lots are expected to be an Apple-1 motherboard signed by Steve Wozniak and used to power an Apple-II prototype ($200,000–300,000) and a working Apple Macintosh prototype ($120,000–180,000). A 42-leaf section of Plato from Finici's 1484 edition is also estimated at $80,000–120,000.

Rounding out Wednesday's sales, University Archives holds an auction of Relics, Autographs, Photos & Ephemera, in 263 lots. A life preserver from the U.S.S. Arizona is estimated at $30,000–100,000, and a September 1782 George Washington letter is estimated at $15,000–17,000. A 1955 J.D. Salinger letter to Rose-Ellen Currie could sell for $10,000–12,000.

There's a trio of sales on Thursday, December 5:

- At Bonhams New York, Fine Literature, Featuring Two Private Collections, in 362 lots. The first separate edition of Macbeth (London, 1673), once in the library of Charlton Heston, is expected to lead the way at $80,000–120,000. A copy of the 1684 first separate edition of Julius Caesar could sell for $20,000–30,000, and a 1676 edition of Hamlet is estimated at $15,000–25,000. A copy of the Fourth Folio is also estimated at $20,000–30,000, as is a copy of Hawthorne's rare first book, Fanshawe.

- PBA Galleries holds a 455-lot sale of Fine Literature – Bukowski & the Beats. A set of the five Bukowski broadsides printed by Black Sparrow Press in 1966 rates the top estimate at $20,000–30,000. Lots 380–455 are being sold without reserve.

The Collection of James Kwis Leonard at Heritage Auctions includes a first edition of Dracula, bid up to $6,050 at time of writing; a signed first edition of Christopher Morley's The Haunted Bookshop (current bid $1,250); and the original parts of Bleak House (bid up to $480 to date).

Forum Auctions holds an online sale of Maps and Atlases on Friday, December 6. François Valentyn's 1726 map of Abel Tasman's voyages is expected to lead the sale at £2,000–3,000.