First among Firsts: The Smiley library of modern first editions wins $516K at Potter & Potter

First American edition, first state copy of J.R.R. Tolkien’s ‘The Hobbit or There and Back Again,’ $20,000 ($25,000 including buyer’s premium) at Potter & Potter.

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CHICAGO – As co-publishers and editors of Firsts: The Book Collector’s Magazine, established in 1991, Robin and Kathryn Smiley’s bookshelves were brimming with choice first editions from across the broad span of British and American literature. The 382-lot sale of their library offered at Potter & Potter Auctions on August 17 totaled $516,000.

Among the earliest American firsts in the sale was an 1833 edition of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, The Modern PrometheusDescribed as “an exceptional copy complete and uncut in original boards,” it hammered for $16,000 ($20,000 including the buyer’s premium).

By the late 19th century, American editions could follow UK and European printings in a matter of months, but this Carey, Lea & Blanchard (Philadelphia) two-volume printing of Frankenstein came years after the first edition was published anonymously in London in January 1818. Shelley’s name first appeared in the second edition published in Paris in 1821, with the story’s first theatrical adaptation watched by the author in 1823. The first US edition features a misspelling of the author’s surname as Shelly on the title page.

Estimated at $10,000-$15,000 and sold at $20,000 ($25,000 including the buyer’s premium) was a first American edition, first state copy of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit or There and Back Again in its original jacket. It was published by Houghton Mifflin in 1938, less than a year after it was issued by Allen & Unwin in the UK in September 1939. The story goes that Paul Brooks of Houghton Mifflin, later to be named editor-in-chief, “fell for Mr Bilbo Baggins and his crew” despite negative criticism from others he consulted. Anxious to “veto anything from or influenced by the Disney studios (for all whose work I have a heartfelt loathing),” Tolkien provided a series of new illustrations for the project, two of which were reproduced on the dust jacket. Today it is very rare: fewer have survived than the classic UK first edition jacket.

The first state of the US edition is distinctive for the image of what’s known as the ‘bowing hobbit’ on the title page (that was replaced by a publisher’s device in the second state) while the endpapers are bound opposite the List of Illustrations.

Easily earning top-lot status in the Smiley sale was an early copy of Mark Twain’s The Innocents Abroad, or The New Pilgrims’ Progress, from 1870 (it was first published in 1869). A good rather than pristine copy, it was elevated by a 1906 inscription from its pseudonymous author that included one of his famed aphorisms: ‘Do your duty to-day and repent tomorrow. Truly yours, Mark Twain.’ Estimated at $15,000-$20,000, it hammered for $50,000 ($62,500 including the buyer’s premium). 

Sold for $12,000 ($15,000 including the buyer’s premium) was a 1960 first edition of Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird. Not only did it include the first issue jacket, with the photo of Lee credited to Truman Capote, it was offered with a note from Harper Lee to the Smileys, dated January 1, 1997, thanking them for a complimentary copy of Firsts and including a check for a subscription. “I’m not a collector (of anything) but I have, as you may guess, great interest in books. Firsts is absolutely first-rate!” she wrote. The Smileys did not cash the check, signed with her full name Nelle Harper Lee, so that, too, was also included in the lot.

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Early edition of Mark Twain’s ‘The Innocents Abroad,’ inscribed by the author with one of his aphorisms, $50,000 ($62,500 including buyer’s premium) at Potter & Potter.
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First American edition, first state copy of J.R.R. Tolkien’s ‘The Hobbit or There and Back Again,’ $20,000 ($25,000 including buyer’s premium) at Potter & Potter.
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First American edition of Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus,’ $16,000 ($20,000 including buyer’s premium) at Potter & Potter.

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First edition of Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ in the first issue jacket offered with a note from Harper Lee dated January 1, 1997, $12,000 ($15,000 including buyer’s premium) at Potter & Potter.
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First edition of John Steinbeck’s ‘The Grapes of Wrath,’ described as ‘an exceptionally attractive copy,’ $4,200 ($5,250 including buyer’s premium) at Potter & Potter.
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First edition in Robin Macartney dust jacket of Agatha Christie’s ‘Death on the Nile,’ $3,800 ($4,750 plus buyer’s premium) at Potter & Potter.
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Coveted first editions dominate Potter & Potter’s Aug. 17 rare books sale

J.R.R. Tolkien, ‘The Hobbit or There and Back Again,’ estimated at $10,000-$15,000
J.R.R. Tolkien, ‘The Hobbit or There and Back Again,’ estimated at $10,000-$15,000
J.R.R. Tolkien, ‘The Hobbit or There and Back Again,’ estimated at $10,000-$15,000

CHICAGO – Potter & Potter Auctions will hold a 382-lot sale of the collection of Robin and Kathryn Smiley, the co-publishers and editors of Firsts: The Book Collector’s Magazine, on Thursday, August 17, starting at 10 am Central time. The Smiley collection features modern firsts of literature, mystery and detective fiction, and western literature, with a special emphasis on books into film. Absentee and Internet live bidding will be available through LiveAuctioneers.

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Veronique and Gregory Peck collection commands $1.2M at Heritage

Gregory Peck’s personalized script for ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ $84,375. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions

Gregory Peck’s personalized script for ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ $84,375. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions

DALLAS — Gregory Peck’s personalized leather-bound To Kill a Mockingbird script sold February 23 for $84,375 as Heritage Auctions presented a sale titled Property from The Estate of Veronique and Gregory Peck. As expected, the gilt-stamped, photo-filled, Horton Foote-penned adaptation of Harper Lee’s beloved novel was among the most sought-after and fought-over lots in an event that paid tribute to the careers and philanthropy of the Academy Award-winning actor and his philanthropist wife of nearly 50 years. Another highlight was a 35th-anniversary copy of the Pulitzer Prize-winning To Kill a Mockingbird inscribed by Lee to Veronique and Gregory, who won an Oscar in 1963 for his role as Alabama attorney Atticus Finch. Wrote Lee, “To Gregory and Veronique: You have a unique place in my heart. Harper.” It sold for $35,000.

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Einstein & Nirvana share stage at University Archives May 4 sale

CD jacket for the Nirvana album ‘Insecticide,’ signed by Kurt Cobain, Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic, est. $10,000-$11,000

 

CD jacket for the Nirvana album ‘Insecticide,’ signed by Kurt Cobain, Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic, est. $10,000-$11,000
CD jacket for the Nirvana album ‘Insecticide,’ signed in blue felt tip marker by Kurt Cobain, Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic, est. $10,000-$11,000

WILTON, Conn. – Five items pertaining to Albert Einstein (two typed letters, a handwritten letter, an awards program and a humorous card, all hand-signed); a CD jacket autographed by all three members of Nirvana; and an author-signed first edition copy of The Babe Ruth Story are just a few of the expected highlights in University Archives’ next online-only auction, slated for Wednesday, May 4. Absentee and Internet live bidding will be available through LiveAuctioneers.

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