July 2014 | Rebecca Rego Barry

Beckett & Caxton: Million-Dollar Men

Caxton small.jpgTwo major auction sales provided a bit of serendipity yesterday, dovetailing with our current issue. Firstly, the summer issue revamps our million-dollar auctions feature, in which we recount the 13 books and manuscripts that made $1 million or more at auction in the past year. Today, another volume joined their esteemed company. The first book printed in the English language, The Recuyell of the Histories of Troye, from the press of William Caxton c. 1473-74, sold for £1,082,500 ($1,823,363). Only 18 copies of this book survive, and of those, only six are in private hands. Adding to this particular copy's intriguing history are the former owners' annotations, recipes, and drawings of animals doodled in the margins.

Secondly, at the same sale, a collection of 347 letters and postcards, most signed by "Sam" Beckett, reached £146,500 ($246,765). Beckett--our summer issue's cover guy--found a place on our million-dollar list too, with his "Murphy" manuscript, which sold at Sotheby's last year for $1.4 million. These mostly unpublished letters, covering nearly 400 pages with 215 autograph envelopes, were written between 1947 and 1985 to Beckett's friends, Henri and Josette Hayden. Yesterday's top bid is considerably less than that paid when the packet of letters last changed hands in 2006.

Image: The Recuyell of the Histories of Troye. Courtesy of Sotheby's.