Auctions | November 13, 2018

Russian Literary First Editions Coming up at Christie’s

London--On 28 November, Christie’s will present the single owner auction Russian Literary First Editions and Manuscripts: Highlights from the R. Eden Martin Collection, which features 228 lots of fine Russian books and manuscripts, primarily from Russia's Golden Age and Silver Age of literature (the early 19th and early 20th centuries respectively). Built over the past two decades by the American Chicago lawyer R. Eden Martin, this is one of the last great private collections of Russian literature in America. The collection is highlighted by a presentation copy of the first edition of Kamen (1913), which was inscribed by Mandel'shtam for his early mentor, the poet Viacheslav Ivanov (estimate: £60,000-90,000). Further highlights include a first edition of Gogol's rare first masterpiece Vechera na khutore bliz dikan'ki (1831-32) (estimate: £50,000-70,000) and the first part of Pushkin's Evgenii Onegin (1825) in its original paper cover - a book so rare that even the great collector Smirnov-Sokol'skii did not have it on his shelves (estimate: £25,000-35,000).

Sven Becker, Specialist, Books & Manuscripts, Christie's: “The auction of this remarkable collection is the most important sale of Russian literature to take place outside of Russia since the Diaghilev-Lifar auction, more than 40 years ago, and one of the last opportunities to acquire genuine rarities in this field”. 

R. Eden Martin: “It seems to me that the case for collecting rare editions of great Russian books is not scholarly - and it is not different than the case for collecting early editions of American literature, or early maps, or stamps, or even antique sports cars. The case is based on taste - pleasure rather than utility. The great books are inherently interesting. Seeing, handling, turning the pages of a first edition of Pushkin or Dostoevsky or Akhmatova is compellingly - even magnetically - engaging. Books are the life-blood of our cultural heritage. Reading of course is fundamental, and one doesn’t need a first edition to read. But seeing or possessing the first appearance of a great story or poem is to touch the new-born infant at the earliest stage of its cultural life. And if the author owned the book, or gave it to a friend with a written presentation on the title page, we get a glimpse of the author’s own life as well. Great books embody superb craftsmanship of the mind working with life and language. They’ve formed and shaped our culture, just as mind-bending new technologies have transformed the ways we live, work and travel. A first edition of Pushkin’s Ruslan and Liudmila has a fascination about it as great as one of the Wright brothers' early airplanes, or the first Apple 1 assembled circuit boards”.