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2015 Bookseller Resource Guide

Collecting Print

Hitler’s ‘Struggle’ foretold war

The two-volume set of Hitler’s Mein Kampf in a slipcase sold last month in Chicago. Courtesy of Leslie Hindman.

Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, Leslie Hindman of Chicago on March 16, $6,710, and Mullocks of Ludlow on August 13, 2009, £21,000 ($35,175)

“Political creeds as the basis for new religions have usually spelt danger for humanity. When they are distilled from the half-baked prejudices harboured by the more reactionary section of a nation not particularly noted for political enlightenment, they spell disaster.”

An uncompromising opening to the entry for Hitler’s National-Socialist testament from the editors of Printing and the Mind of Man, who also describe ‘My Struggle’ as “a pseudo-mystical racial theory, totally unrelated to fact … made to support pan-Germanism, anti-Semitism, militarism and ultra-nationalism, the combination of which was to be implemented by the unrestricted use of power as interpreted through the mentality of a superstitious bully.”

Despite a very obvious distaste for the ideological work that Hitler began writing whilst imprisoned following the failed Munich putsch of 1923, the editors recognised that it must have a place in their great catalogue of works illustrating the impact of print on Western civilization since its introduction–in Germany, of course–in the mid-fifteenth century.

What happened when Hitler came to power, from the persecution of Jews to the annexation of a compliant Austria, the seizure of Czechoslovakia, his attack on Poland, and all the horrors that ensued, may have shocked other nations and their leaders, but it was all there in Mein Kampf. They just could not or would not believe it.

The set in Chicago comprised scarce first issue copies of the two volumes, printed in 1925 and ’27, and bears the ex-libris stamp of an H. Hesse of Hamburg. This was not, I wager, the Nobel Prize-winning author of Steppenwolf and The Glass Bead Game, but inscription and association can make a big price difference. Last August, in a Shropshire sale, a copy of the first volume only that Hitler had inscribed as a 1925 Christmas gift to Georg Maurer, a fellow inmate in the Landsberg prison, was sold at £21,000 ($35,175) to a Russian telephone bidder.

Isaac Newton and a matter of issue and imprint

Title page of the second issue of Isaac Newton’s Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica. Courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

Isaac Newton, Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica, Heritage Auctions of Dallas on February 11-12, $191,200

This was the book that those same editors of Printing and the Mind of Man described as “the greatest work in the history of science,” but what concerns us here is not that bold statement, but issue points and imprints.

William B. Todd, in his bibliographical study of the book, notes that 250-300 first issue copies were printed in 1687 under the supervision of Edmond Halley, who had edited his friend’s work and borne the printing and publishing cost. But only 50 copies of the second issue were run off.

That latter version is distinguished by a three-line imprint incorporating the name of bookseller Samuel Smith, and research by another bibliographical scholar, A.N.L. Munby, suggests that these variant imprints reflect Halley’s sales strategy. The more commonly found two-line imprint, containing the words “apud plures Bibliopolas,” refers to those books placed with several different booksellers, while the three-line imprint indicates the books he handed over to Smith, probably for distribution throughout Europe.

Munby also concluded that the two issues were printed simultaneously, but despite the fact that they are much more common, relatively speaking, it is of course those designated first issue copies that head the auction price lists – with the copy in the Abel Berland library, sold at Christie’s New York in 2001 for $358,000, currently heading the top ten.

Until this sale, the best that a second issue had managed at auction was the no.10 spot – £78,500 (then around $125,000) for a copy sold at Sotheby’s in 1996. The sum paid for this example in contemporary sheep, re-backed to incorporate the original spine, bumps the second issue up the Newton charts and puts it on a par with the first issue copy in the Richard Green scientific library, sold in the summer of 2008 at Christie’s New York.

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