Death and Collectability

Where-Wild-Things-Sendak.jpgDoes the death of an author have an immediate impact on his or her "collectability"? The question came to mind when AbeBooks announced last week that its second most-expensive sale for May was a signed 1963 first edition of Where the Wild Things Are, which sold for $25,000. Sendak passed away on May 8. Other notable Sendak sales at Abe last month included a signed copy of the same book, published in 1964, for $4,195, and five other editions, all selling for more than $500 each.

Helen Younger of Aleph-Bet Books, who specializes in antiquarian children's literature, told me she sold twelve Sendak books and prints the week he died. "That's never happened before," she said. "The reaction to Sendak's death was definitely out of the ordinary."

At Between the Covers, a general antiquarian bookshop, Dan Gregory reported that they sold three "low priced" Sendak books immediately following his death, but that didn't beat the four "moderately priced" books they sold back in January. Gregory explained, "Author deaths usually do create a sales bump of one kind or another (as can media mentions while the author is still alive), but the bump usually is greater for figures who've been somewhat neglected or overlooked for some time."

So book collectors could gamble on octagenarian or nonagenarian authors, particularly those who experienced some critical acclaim or won an award at some point in their careers. But, as Gregory noted, you shouldn't bank on the bump. It isn't usually large, and "doing so would be pretty creepy, sleazy, and somehow disrespectful."