Auctions | November 1, 2013

Early Detective Fiction, Rare American Editions, and Literary Correspondence at Swann Galleries


New York—On Thursday, November 21, Swann Galleries will conduct an auction of 19th & 20th Century Literature that offers a special collection of early detective fiction by Rex Stout—creator of iconic armchair detective Nero Wolfe. In fact, the sale features a first edition of the Stout’s first detective novel Fer-de-Lance—in the original dust jacket—which includes Wolfe’s debut, New York, 1934 (estimate: $15,000 to $25,000).

Also by Stout—and also in the original, unrestored dust jackets—are The League of Frightened Men, in uncommonly well-preserved condition, 1935 ($7,000 to $10,000); and a first edition of Too Many Cooks in near fine condition, 1938 ($4,000 to $6,000).

Another notable crime novel is W.R. Burnett’s Little Caesar, often credited with initiating the modern psychological gangster subgenre, which is in the rare dust jacket and also has a laid-in single sheet from a pocket calendar signed by Burnett, 1929 ($4,000 to $6,000).

Other genre fiction highlights are a first issue of H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine, which preceded the English edition by several months and contains text differences, New York, 1895 ($2,000 to $3,000); a superb copy of Thorne Smith’s ghost tale Topper, An Improbable Adventure, the basis for the comedic film starring Cary Grant, 1926 ($4,000 to $6,000); and one of 50 unbound copies of H.P. Lovecraft’s first book, The Shunned House, which had a very complicated publishing history resulting in the novel being known as the author’s “stillborn” first book, Athol, Massachusetts, 1928 ($3,000 to $4,000). 

Another publishing anomaly—this one considered an “orphan”—is a first American edition, first state binding of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, one of only two known copies bound with plain white endpapers, making it a whale of a literary collectible ($35,000 to $50,000).


Among other special copies of classic novels is a wonderful association copy of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, signed and inscribed to movie producer Jules Buck (and his wife and daughter), with whom he collaborated on a film project. Below his signature, Steinbeck added a “Pigasus” drawing, a flying pig doodle he reserved for close friends and significant occasions, 1939 ($18,000 to $25,000).

Treasured for their very scarce first-issue dust jackets are William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, 1929 ($15,000 to $20,000); F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night, 1934 ($8,000 to $12,000); and a superlative copy of D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley's Lover, from a limited edition signed by Lawrence, privately printed in Florence in 1928,  and with a laid-in Autograph Postcard Signed by him ($8,000 to $12,000). 

Other autograph material includes a run of lots containing letters and postcards written by E.M. Forster spanning 1920 to 1964, many to K.W. Gransden, poet, scholar and literary critic, some discussing a biography Gransden would write about Forster; as well as an archive of signed correspondence from Henry Miller to a friend, which offers a view of Miller’s life in semi-retirement in Pacific Palisades, discussing his love of classical music, commenting on his past and present reading, and on members of his intimate circle including Anaïs Nin, Jack Garfein, Irving Stettner, John Martin and others ($2,000 to $3,000).

A run of works by Mark Twain features a first printing of his first book, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, and Other Sketches, New York, 1867; a first edition in the original cloth of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, published June 9, 1876 in London, as Twain preferred that the American edition not be published until the novel first appeared in England, thus securing a British copyright; and a superior copy of the first American edition of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, in the elusive blue cloth ($8,000 to $12,000 each).

The sale also features children’s literature, works by Charles Dickens, Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce and more.

The auction will begin at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, November 21. The books will be on public exhibition on Saturday, November 16, from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.; Monday, November 18 to Wednesday, November 20, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Thursday, November 21, from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.

An illustrated catalogue with information on bidding by mail or fax is available for $35 from Swann Galleries, 104 East 25th Street, New York, NY 10010, or online at

For further information, and to arrange in advance to bid by telephone during the auction, please contact John Larson at (212) 254-4710, extension 61, or via email at

Live online bidding is also available via

First image: Rex Stout, Fer-de-Lance, first edition, New York, 1934 (estimate: $15,000 to $25,000).

Second image: John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath, first edition, signed and inscribed, New York, 1939 ($18,000 to $25,000).