Auctions | November 20, 2018

Signed & Inscribed Oscar Wilde Play Leads Literature Auction at Swann

New York-Book collectors from far and wide partook in Swann Galleries’ auction of 19th & 20th Century Literature on Tuesday, November 13. The sale saw demand for genre works and classics alike with an 88% sell-through rate. Specialist John D. Larson noted that “the strong prices achieved across the spectrum of the sale was impressive, with canonical titles by Poe, Hemingway and Wilde leading the way. In addition, the more recent material, particularly the sc-fi variety, went from strength-to-strength with auction records set by Asimov, Philip K. Dick and Heinlein, proving once again the sky is no limit.” Topping the sale was a first edition of Oscar Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan. A Play About a Good Woman, 1893. The presentation copy signed and inscribed by Wilde to Elisabeth Marbury-a leading play agent in New York who handled all of the author’s plays in America-was sold for $27,500 to a collector after breakneck bidding.

A first edition of Ernest Hemingway’s first book Three Stories & Ten Poems, 1923, from the collection of cartoonist Al Hirschfeld, saw success with a price of $18,750. The first American edition of All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque commanded $9,375 over its high estimate of $6,000. The 1929 book included the author’s signature and an inscription to the daughter of Carl Laemmle-the founder of Universal Studios.

Top prices earned by Transcendentalist authors include Henry David Thoreau’s 1845 Walden; or, Life in the Woods, which garnered $11,250. The author’s 1906 manuscript edition of The Writings, which featured a handwritten selection from Autumnal Tints, brought $8,750. Walt Whitman was present with a signed author’s edition of Leaves of Grass, 1876; and a signed first collected edition of Whitman’s Poems & Prose, 1888; which sold for $7,500 and $5,250, respectively. Additional works by Transcendentalists included the first edition, presentation copy, of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s May-Day and Other Pieces, 1867, which realized $3,750. The publication featured the author’s signature and an inscription to his nephew. Other notable publications from the late nineteenth century included the first edition, first printing of Edgar Allan Poe’s Tales, 1845, which produced $15,000. 

Appearing for the first time in its extraordinarily rare dust jacket was Jack London’s The Sea-Wolf, 1904. The first edition, second issue, brought $6,250. Other early twentieth-century literature included the first edition of Gaston Leroux’s Le Fantôme de l’Opéra, 1910. The scarce example garnered $5,250. The 1912 autographed edition of Thomas Hardy’s The Writings, complete with 20 volumes, was won for $5,000.

Records for works signed and inscribed by Philip K. Dick to his last romantic partner, Joan Simpson, included a 1970 first edition of Our Friends From Frolix 8, and a 1970 first hardcover edition of Galactic Pot-Healer. The works earned $5,000 and $4,750, respectively. Also by Philip K. Dick: the original 1952 typescript for Martians Come In Clouds, won for $9,375. The early story was published in a 1954 issue of Fantastic Universe

Additional science fiction and genre works included a pre-proof copy of Stephen King’s It, 1986. The unique example represents the book’s earliest state of production and brought $4,000.

Other records were set by Isaac Asimov, with a signed and inscribed first edition of The Caves of Steel, 1954, which earned $7,500, while a signed first edition of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, 1966, by Robert A. Heinlein, reached $5,250.

Swann Galleries is currently accepting quality consignments for auctions in 2019. Visit for catalogues, bidding and inquiries.