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2015 Bookseller Resource Guide

Autumn Auctions, Featuring Apple Cider, Books for Children, Fire and Leaves

Nabokov says thanks to Graham Greene

Lolita, Swann New York on October 1, $7,800

Lolita dressed in green wrappers

This controversial novel was first published in Paris in 1955 by Maurice Girodias’ Olympia Press, but the edition initially sold poorly. It was not until Graham Greene included the tale of Humbert Humbert’s infatuation with Dolores Haze in a year-end list of best novels for The Times of London that public attention was drawn to Vladimir Nabokov’s book, and the first printing of 5000 copies finally sold.

The original price of 900 francs was subsequently raised to 1200 francs, and copies either had the original price overlaid with a sticker or simply crossed out and altered by hand. A first issue copy in the New York sale showed the price unaltered and, with the green wrappers very slightly cocked, was bid to $7,800.

A few copies of this as-issued original edition have realized more at auction, but the inscribed copies bring the big sums.

Greene’s view of the book was not shared by all. John Gordon of the Sunday Express called it “the filthiest book I have ever read” and “unrestrained pornography.” In Britain, customs officers were ordered to seize all copies entering the country, and in 1956, Britain even managed to persuade the French Ministry of the Interior to ban the book for two years.

Nabokov was touched by Greene’s understanding and courage in supporting Lolita and never forgot. In the 2002 Christie’s New York sale of the Roger Rechler library, a copy of the 1955 Olympia Press edition that Nabokov inscribed in November 1959 to Greene (and bore one of his characteristic small drawings of a butterfly on the half-title) sold for $240,000.

Putnam issued the first U.S. edition in 1958, and Rechler’s copy of that edition, inscribed with a butterfly drawing to his wife was sold at $140,000 (£89,600). Weidenfeld & Nicholson produced the first English edition in 1959, and a copy of that edition inscribed “To Graham Greene whose courageous support of this book will always be gratefully remembered” reached $100,000 (£64,000) in the Rechler sale.

Punishments, Pediatrics and Surfing Paradise

Hawaiian Connections, Bonhams Los Angeles & New York on October 19, $3,965

Hawaiian Surfboard in its pictorial jacket from 1939

Since March of this year, these auctioneers have been selling off an outstanding collection of Hawaiian and South Pacific books and artifacts, both at auction and through private treaty sales. This sale contained a great deal of fascinating material, including such things as a broadside printed in Honolulu in 1833 warning of stiff punishments for visiting sailors who bring their weapons ashore, but in a language that would have been unintelligible to most, at $15,860. Then there was the first work on pediatrics published in the local tongue, an 1842 pamphlet of just twelve pages that concludes with the plea, “Think, o people of Hawaii nei, and if you know of things that are wrong in the care of children…tell us quickly so that we may print it…if the children were properly cared for, there would not be so many deaths, and the number of Hawaiians would increase again.” That went for $19,980.

This sale also included a surfing collection that offered a few more photogenic options. It was not a perfect example, but Thomas Edward Blake’s Hawaiian Surfboard, published in 1939 by the Paradise of the Pacific Press of Honolulu, is the first definitive book on surfing. With its decorative tapa cloth binding still protected by the pictorial jacket, this copy also bears a presentation inscription by the author, one of the most influential figures in the history of surfing.

Walt wrecks the Grabhorn

Leaves of Grass, PBA Galleries San Francisco on October 1, $3,300

A leaf from the 1930 Grabhorn Leaves of Grass

One of the more ambitious publications of the Grabhorn Press was a 1930 edition of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, illustrated with woodcuts by Valenti Angelo. It took Edwin and Robert Grabhorn more than a year to print the limited edition. Helley & Magee’s bibliography of the press contains the following observation: “The tremendous impression necessary to print this book so strained the press that the printers colophon should read 400 copies printed and the press destroyed.”

The copy offered in San Francisco had been owned by the late Donald Roger Fleming, a bibliophile, writer, and private press printer and benefactor. It showed some discoloration to the spine of the half-red morocco binding and was starting to wear at the joints, but it was internally fine. The bidding ended at $3,300, which may be a record. Last year, Bloomsbury Auctions of London got £1,560 (then $3,060) for a copy bearing a presentation inscription from Ed Grabhorn.

Derek HayesIan McKay’s weekly column in Antiques Trade Gazette has been running for more than 30 years.