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2015 Bookseller Resource Guide

In the Good Old Summertime

A Knock Out

Billie Holiday archive, Christie’s (New York), $30,000


In June 1939, Marilyn “Marly” Moore, an aspiring teenage singer living in California, wrote to the jazz singer Billie Holiday for advice; 70 years on, a group of 30 letters that Holiday wrote to Moore from Harlem formed part of a June 24 sale.

“This life is a little tricky,” wrote Holiday in one letter, “but you being a white and if you got something to offer you might not have it so bad,” though she warned More against coming to New York unless she had money and was able to take care of herself. “New York…is a tough spot if you ain’t got the jack. Ha Ha.”

Holiday’s big break came when the impresario John Hammond heard her perform in a Harlem club in 1933 and arranged for her to make a number of well-known recordings with the Benny Goodman Band. Holiday told Moore, “John Hammond and Benny Goodman is the right people for you. John discovered me and he fine and a Blue Blood…If he likes your work he will make you a big person.” Then she added, “I know what it is to long to be a Big Star.”

In another letter, she reported on a concert she gave at the Modern Art Theater, remarking, “those society people knowck me out because they aint supposed to like swing.”

When Moore sent Holiday a demonstration recording, she wrote back, “My mother played your record for John Hammond and he told her you didn’t keep good time,” but then in more encouraging mode, Holiday wrote, “but I am sure you will make the grade.” Elsewhere she urged Marilyn to “practice up on your timing; that is the main thing in music and with your face and voice you will be a killer.”

This was the largest group of Holiday letters yet to come onto the market.

Véra’s Butterflies Return

Early works by Vladimir Nabokov, Christie’s (London)

Vladimir Nabokov, as some readers may know, once worked as an entomologist, and during the 1940s, while a research fellow in zoology, he was responsible for organizing the butterfly collection of the Museum of Comparative Zoology, at Harvard University. His love of lepidoptera lingered throughout his writing career and inscribed copies of his works often feature a drawing of a butterfly.

Nabokov is back in the news lately because his son, Dmitri, recently sold the rights to publish his father’s last book, a very incomplete novel titled The Original of Laura, due out in November. To rather less fanfare, Dimitri also apparently decided to sell off a few of the last remaining copies of his father’s books inscribed to his mother, Véra. In 1999, in partnership with the New York bookseller Glenn Horowitz, Dmitri offered for sale 135 copies of Nabokov’s books inscribed to his wife with butterflies. Horowitz issued an extensively annotated catalogue of the collection entitled Véra’s Butterflies. The three inscribed Nabokov’s offered this summer by Christie’s had as provenance that they once belonging to Véra Nabokov and then went “by descent to the consignor.” All three had previously appeared in Horowitz’s catalogue.

The three books were early works, written in Russian and published in exile in Paris and Berlin. All were somewhat the worse for wear. The novel translated as The Defense (shown) went to a Russian collector for £10,625 ($17,500). Podvig [Glory] and Kamera obskura [Laughter in the Dark] sold for £5,000 ($8,200) and £8,750 ($14,300) respectively. In 1999, the books were priced between $25,000 and $35,000.

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