Auctions | June 5, 2015

Signed First Edition of <i>Ulysses</i> Headlines Joyce Collection at Bonhams

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A signed first edition of one the 20th century’s greatest novels, James Joyce’s Ulysses, is part of a large collection of the author’s work to be offered at Bonhams Fine Books and Manuscripts sale in London on 24 June. It is estimated at £60,000-80,000 and the collection has a combined upper estimate of £300,000.

The book is an author’s presentation copy printed on hand made paper and was given to Lewis Galantiere, an American translator of French literature living in Paris where he met Joyce and other leading literary figures of the day.  Ulysses was published in France as it was considered too obscene to publish in England.  Dated 11 February 1922, this is the earliest known presentation copy apart from the one Joyce gave to his wife Nora on the actual day of publication, 2 February 1922, the author’s 40th birthday.  Printing was hampered by difficulties over the colour for the cover which Joyce wanted to match the blue of the Greek flag.

Although editions of Ulysses were published in America in the late 1920s and early 1920 the book was not published in England until 1936. A signed copy of the first English printing, with the cover designed by Eric Gill, is also in the sale estimated at £10,000-15,000. 

In 1935 the French artist, Henri Matisse, was commissioned to illustrate an edition of Ulysses for subscribers to the Limited Edition Club in America.  Each of the 1,000 copies was signed by Matisse and 250 were also signed by Joyce.  A copy of the book signed by both men is estimated at £6,000-8,000.

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Other works include a first edition of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Joyce’s semi-autobiographical first novel estimated at £20,000-30,000; a first edition of Dubliners, the collection of short stories which constituted his first prose work (£3,000-4,000) and a first edition of the very scarce Gas from a Burner (£10,000-15,000) his bitingly satirical poem written in September 1912 about the destruction of 1,000 copies of Dubliners.  Joyce wrote this on the way to back to his home in Trieste from Dublin where he had been trying to get his book published (it had been considered—variously—libelous, obscene and anti-Irish). He never set foot in Ireland again. 

Bonhams head of Books, Matthew Haley said, “Joyce is a towering figure in world literature with an impact far beyond Ireland and the UK. This is one of the best and most comprehensive collections of his work to have come to the market in recent years.”

The books come from a library assembled by an Irish-born private collector who settled in North America and became a prominent philanthropist.

First image: Lot 202: A first edition of James Joyce's Ulysses.

Second image: Lot 199: a first edition of Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.