CHICAGO – Potter and Potter‘s spectacular August 28 Fine Books and Manuscripts Sale was the company’s highest-grossing auction to date. After a day of spirited bidding, 107 lots realized between $1,000-4,999; 22 lots realized between $5,000-9,999; and 16 lots broke the five digit mark.
Collections of writings from Samuel L. Clemens (better known as Mark Twain) and Charles Dickens took several of the top slots in this sale, with two generating world-record prices. One was a 38-volume set of Twain’s works, which was estimated at $4,000-$6,000 and sold for $33,600 – a new world record. This collection, number 499 of 1024 copies of the “Definitive Edition,” was signed by Twain on the front flyleaf of volume I, with the attestation on the facing page signed by Clemens’ biographer and executor, Albert Bigelow Paine.
The other high-flyer was a collection of five Christmas books by Dickens. Estimated at $6,000-$8,000, it traded hands at $28,000 – another world record. All were first editions published in London in the 1843–1848 timeframe. Titles included A Christmas Carol, The Chimes, The Battle of Life, and The Haunted Man.
Materials related to Herman Melville caught the eye of enthusiasts worldwide. A top performer was a first American edition, first binding of Melville’s Moby–Dick; or, The Whale, which scored $60,000.
Also of note was a three-volume set of Moby-Dick illustrated by Rockwell Kent, which was estimated at $3,000-$4,000 and sold for $10,800. This example was one of 1,000 copies and one of R. R. Donnelly and Sons’ Lakeside Press “Four American Books” campaign. Of the four books produced for the series, Moby-Dick was the only work to sell out completely.
Important, century spanning antique books were also headliners in this important auction. Chief among them was William Jardine and Prideaux J. Selby’s four-volume Illustrations of Ornithology, which made $15,600. This first edition was published in Edinburgh by W. H. Lizars and produced to compliment Selby’s Illustrations of British Ornithology and also produced in response to the lack of works on non–European avifauna.
Also of note was a first edition of Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan; or, The Matter, Forme, & Power of a Common–Wealth Ecclesiasticall and Civill, which sold for $21,600. It was printed in London by Roger Norton and Richard Cotes for Andrew Crooke in 1651, and is considered one of the most important books in the history of political philosophy.
Another strong performer was Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life, which traded hands at $10,200. This second edition, second issue had an 1860 imprint and “fifth thousand” on its title page; in actuality only 3,000 copies were printed, bringing the total to 4,250.
Original antique maps and atlases also sold well in the August 28 auction. George H.V. Collot’s A General Map of the River Ohio, made of four engraved plates by Tardieu, was estimated at $9,000-$12,000 and made $16,800. This copy, one of 100 printed in English, was considered the finest period map of the upper Ohio River. Also, Charles Wilkes’ six-volume Narrative of the United States Exploring Expedition During The Years 1838–1842, was estimated at $5,000-$7,000 and made $10,800. It was published in Philadelphia by Lea & Blanchard in 1845. This first trade edition was limited to 1,000 copies.
Antiques, photographs, and other ephemeral items with ties to famous people, places, or events of the 20th century rounded out the sale. Lots that did especially well include a set of two Playboy Magazines from January and February of 1954, which were estimated at $400-$600 and realized $5,520. Both were in very good condition, saddle stitched, and retained their original wrappers.
Also performing strongly was an album of 224 albumen silver prints of scenery along the Santa Fe Route Railways by William H. Jackson. It was estimated at $10,000-$15,000 and sold for $22,800. This full-grain leather-bound example was published in Denver by W. H. Jackson & Co. and included various photo format sizes, each mounted on 23 leaves of heavy card stock.
Still another intriguing lot was a typed, signed 1908 letter from Nikola Tesla to Hereward Carrington, estimated at $1,500-$2,500 and sold for $10,800. In this note, Tesla responded to an investigator of psychic phenomena agreeing that “the subject is most interesting.” During the height of this spiritualism craze of the 1900s, Tesla was experimenting with wireless power as a way to transmit worldwide communications.
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