Published: January 19, 2021
Review by W.A. Demers, Photos Courtesy PBA Galleries
BERKELEY, CALIF. – PBA Galleries brought out literature, science fiction and mystery for its sale on January 7, totaling more than 450 lots. The first section comprised a wide variety of modern literature as well as some earlier works and featured a large section of scarce and early titles by Raymond Carver, many of them signed, including his first chapbook of poetry and his first story to appear in book form. The auction had a 90 percent sale rate, with a large amount of early bidding on numerous lots, and competitive bidding throughout the sale, according to cataloger William Taylor Jr. Highlights included first editions of modern classics, such as The Catcher in The Rye, On the Road and the first edition of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot in the original French, all of which fetched impressive prices.
Leading the sale was a first edition copy of J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, (Little, Brown and Company, Boston,) 1951, which exceeded its $3,500 high estimate to sell for $6,600. It’s the classic story of the “cynical adolescent” Holden Caulfield as he deals with issues of innocence, identity, belonging, loss, connection, sex and depression. The book’s first issue jacket carried the photo credit of Salinger’s portrait by Lotte Jacobi on rear panel, and with Salinger’s hair just touching the top edge of the rear panel, unclipped, with a $3.00 price present at top of front flap. In 2005, the novel was included on Time magazine’s list of the 100 best English-language novels written since 1923, and although Salinger originally intended it for adults, it is often read by adolescents for its themes of angst, alienation and as a critique on superficiality in society.
In 1931, Pearl S. Buck’s novel The Good Earth dramatized family life in a Chinese village in the early Twentieth Century. It was the first book in her House of Earth trilogy, continued in Sons the following year and A House Divided in 1935. It was the best-selling novel in the United States in both 1931 and 1932, won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1932, and was influential in Buck’s winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1938. Buck, who grew up in China as the daughter of missionaries, wrote the book while living in China and drew on her first-hand observation of Chinese village life. Published by Methuen & Co. Ltd., London, this blind-stamped brown cloth first edition, spine lettered in gilt with pictorial jacket, was pursued by 23 bids, taking it from a starting price of $100 all the way to $5,100.
Fetching $4,500 was another icon of Twentieth Century literature, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 541, a signed review copy in jacket that was among a large collection of Bradbury works, with many signed and scarce pieces, offered in the sale’s second section. Published by Ballantine Books in 1953, this first hardbound trade edition had original red boards, lettering in orange and pictorial dust jacket. It was signed by Bradbury on the title page and a review slip was laid in. A short novel expanded from the novella “The Fireman” published in 1951, the novel depicts an American society where citizens live a mindless life and are encouraged to lose themselves in such distractions as four-wall television, hearing-aid radios, high-speed travel and group sports. More ominously, books are seen as the greatest enemies of the status quo and when they are occasionally discovered, they are burned by firemen, who no longer put out fires but set them.
An advance copy publisher’s dummy of John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, set during the Great Depression and focusing on the Joads, a poor family of tenant farmers driven from their Oklahoma home by drought and economic hardship, achieved $4,200. The 1939 New York edition by the Viking Press was in tan buckram, lettered in blue with blue ruled borders. Its contents consisted of half-title, title page, dedication page, a second half-title page, and eight pages of text, the rest remaining blank.
One of the most important novels of the Twentieth Century, a bible, in fact, for the Beat generation, Jack Kerouac’s On the Road (Viking Press, New York), 1957, sold for $3,600. With a first state jacket that carried a $3.95 price, the book had its original black cloth boards, lettering in white, the top edge colored red, and dust jacket.
And one of the Twentieth Century’s foremost fathers of weird and horror fiction, Howard Phillips (H.P.) Lovecraft (1890-1937) was represented by the first volume of posthumous works and the first book published by Arkham House. It was also bid to $3,600.
Included in the sale as well was original art by German-American poet Charles Bukowski and writer Henry Miller, and the first edition of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot in the original French. Bukowski’s Hot Water Music, a classic collection of stories, one of 100 copies, with an original abstract oil painting by him, signed “Buk” in black ink, tipped-in following title, sold for $3,000
The first Edition of Beckett’s most famous work in original French (En Attendant Godot) brought $2,400.
Additional top highlights included a scarce limited edition of Simone de Beauvoir’s The Mandarins, which was signed by the author on the limitation page, going out at $3,000, and a first edition copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone that changed hands at $2,700. Far fewer copies of the first US edition of the first Harry Potter book were issued than the sequels in this wildly popular series.
Prices given include the buyer’s premium as stated by the auction house. For additional information, 415-989-2665 or www.pbagalleries.com.
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