Library of R. & B.L.: The Triumph of French Literature at Sotheby’s

Paris, 7 October 2014—Part Four of the Library of R. & B. L., devoted to 20th century first editions, autographs and manuscripts, enjoyed great success as the unique 222-lot ensemble—offered for auction in association with Binoche & Giquello—totalled €3.5 million ($4.4 million) against a pre-sale estimate of €2.3-3m, making it one of the most important sales ever held in this field.

The excellent results rewarded the appeal of a magnificent collection, replete with carefully chosen editions—often in large format and/or accompanied by dedications—as well as letters (many unpublished) and moving manuscripts evoking the loves, friendships and interlocking destinies of some of 20th century’s greatest authors. Bibliophiles were also attracted by Proustian marvels and wonderful texts by Camus, Cendrars, Jarry, Radiguet, Reverdy, Saint-Exupéry and Segalen, to name but a few.

The expert Dominique Courvoisier said: ‘The Library owners chose their books with great discernment, always on the look-out for large formats and important dedications (to writers, publishers or loved ones). Top dealers and collectors could not afford to miss this landmark event.’

The highest price rewarded an icon of 20th century literary, Blaise Cendrars’ La Prose du Transsibérien (1913) illustrated by Sonia Delaunay, in a wonderfully fresh copy on Simili-Japon that soared past its €150,000 top-estimate to €253,500 ($319.882) (lot 53). It was followed by a handsome bid of €97,500 ($123.031) for a copy of André Salmon’s Poèmes (1905) embellished with Les Deux Saltimbanques, a superb Picasso etching printed on Japon, of which barely a dozen copies are known (lot 211, est.€80,000-120,000).

Marcel Proust was one of the stars of the sale, represented by a sell-out 18-lot ensemble encompassing manuscripts, autograph letters, first editions and a photograph that climbed to €21,250 ($26.815) (lot 139, est. €3,500-4,000). The highest price here, though, was €211,500 ($266.883) for the precious manuscript of Proust’s celebrated 1920 preface for Paul Morand’s Tendres Stocks (lot 154, est. €80,000-120,000). Next came one of the 50 copies on Papier Bible of A l’Ombre des Jeunes Filles en Fleurs (1920), with numerous author’s corrections, that raced clear of its €120,000 high-estimate to €175,500 ($221.456) (lot 152).

Another auction hero was Guillaume Apollinaire with 35 lots, nearly all of which sold. Some works contained dedications; others were adorned with Apollinaire drawings—like a first edition of Alcools (1913) which, boosted by an original Apollinaire watercolour, sold for €61,500 ($77.604) (lot 14, est. €25,000-35,000). Le Médaillon Toujours Fermé, comprising seven handwritten poems written by Apollinaire for Marie Laurencin when he was at the Front, and subsequently clad in a Paul Bonet binding, fetched €97,500 ($123.031) (lot 11, est. €90,000-120,000). L’Hérésiarque et Cie, featuring dedications to Lou in the form of Calligrammes, sold for €42,300 ($53.377) (lot 13, est. €25,000-35,000), while a copy of Alcools in a magnificent binding by P.L. Martin claimed €61,500 ($77.604) (lot 14, est. €35,000-45,000).

Among five lots by Jean Cocteau, the unpublished manuscript of Œdipus Rex and his relationship with Stravinsky—helped by its Paul Bonet binding—doubled its €40,000 top-estimate at €85,500 ($107.889) (lot 28), while a superb notebook with 13 original drawings fetched €47,100 (est. €25,000-35,000).

The R. & B. L. Collection also included the veritable first edition of Le Petit Prince, published in New York in 1943. Numbered 40 from a print-run of 270, and complete with author’s signature, it sold for €23,750 ($ 29.969) (lot 198, est. €10,000-15,000).

PRE-EMPTIONS

Bibliothèque Nationale de France

Lot 8

Guillaume Apollinaire:

Les Soirées de Paris (Paris, February 1912-August 1914) complete set of monthly review of great literary importance one of very few copies on Hollande €18,750 ($23.660)

Lot 133

André Malraux: Dessins de Goya (1947)

typescript with handwritten corrections (crossings-out and additions) €11,250 ($14.196)

Bibliothèque Jacques Doucet

Lot 163

Pierre Reverdy: Poèmes en Prose (1915)

autograph manuscript dated October 1915 

33ff in a single octavo volume with full calf binding €51,900 ($65.491)

Bibliothèque Municipale Pierre Reverdy

Lot 170

Pierre Reverdy: Revue Nord-Sud, from issue 1 (15 March 1917) to issue 16 (October 1918) boxed set decorated by Leroux (1990) €15,000 ($18.928)

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