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2015 Bookseller Resource Guide

In the Good Old Summertime

A Colossal Colossus

The Colossus by Sylvia Plath, Sotheby’s (London), $28,875

The years that Sylvia Plath spent under the tutelage of Wilbury Crockett at Bradford High School in Wellesley, Massachusetts, were critical in her development as a writer. She recalled being overjoyed when, in the autumn of 1947, Mr Crockett surprised her by reading to the class four poems that she had showed him. In 1960, when her first and most famous volume of poetry, The Colossus, was published, she sent him one of the 10 copies she had ordered. In it she inscribed the words “For Mr Crockett, in whose classroom and wisdom these poems have root.”

The jacket on Crockett’s copy showed some soiling and a few tears, but the book also came with a Christmas card signed from Sylvia, Ted, and their new baby, Frieda, described as “the sun of our life.” On the blank portion of the card and around the edges, Plath told Crockett of the family’s happiness “in our small northern niche in London where Regent’s Park, Primrose Hill and London Zoo are our own backyard.” She also wrote of a “wonderful dinner with T. S. Eliot…his charming Yorkshire wife and Mr & Mrs Spender.” One of only three recorded presentation copies of the book, it was picked up at £17,500 ($28,875) by the UK dealers, Peter Harrington.

Idunnit!

The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie, Sotheby’s (London) $16,500

Agatha Christie completed her first novel in 1916, but several publishers turned it down, and she had almost given up the idea of being a writer before a much more encouraging letter from the Bodley Head “dropped out of the sky from nowhere.”

At first glance, this copy of the book that launched the career of the most widely published author of modern times and her detective Hercule Poirot seems a little rough. In the original tan cloth, it has only the front cover of the dust jacket affixed to the front pastedown—but then no copy with a jacket of any kind appears in auction records for the past 30 years.

Even better, on the first blank the word “Abney” is written, meaning Abney Hall, the home of Christie’s brother-in-law, James Watts, and tipped in at the end is letter dated January 21, 1921, in which a delighted Christie passed on the good news: “My dear Pop—My book is out at last! Do get it—& induce others to if you can! It makes all the difference to further books if the first one goes well…I’m awfully excited about it.”

This copy, which sold for a low estimate £10,000 ($16,500) was once in the library of the American collector James Keddie Jr., and in a later typed letter from Christie to Keddie, the author explained, “I have no recollection of calling [Watts] ‘Pop’ at that time, but nicknames do come and go in a family.” She added in a P.S., “It occurs to me that the book might possibly have been sent to the father of my brother-in-law—an older James Watts.”

A Magic Moment

Hocus Pocus Junior, Sotheby’s (London) $61,465

The magic ingredient in a bound volume of 20 assorted tracts and pamphlets that emerged earlier this year from the Earl of Devon’s library at Powderham Castle was a copy of the 1654 fourth edition of Hocus Pocus Junior: The Anatomie of Legerdemain… First printed in 1634, this is the first illustrated book in the English language devoted entirely to magic and conjuring.

Thirteen editions are listed by Raymond Toole Stott in his Bibliography of English Conjuring, 1596–1876 and copies printed before 1700 are rare. In the last 30 years, only two other early copies are recorded at auction, one each from the 1697 (13th) and circa 1715 (15th) editions.

The anonymous author may be the William Vincent who, in 1619, received a licence “to exercise the art of Legerdemaine in any Townes within the Relme of England and Ireland” and who was described at the time as “alias Hocus Pocus, of London.” Other references hint that he also performed as a rope dancer and as a sword swallower, “vomiting up daggers, like Hocus, to amaze the people.”

A comment on Genii, an American online magazine for conjurers, speculated that the volume was bought by “one of us,” but Sotheby’s would only say that it was a private buyer who handed over £37,250 ($61,465) in their July 14 sale.

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