Published: March 30, 2021
Review by Rick Russack, Photos Courtesy PBA Galleries
BERKELEY, CALIF. – From Black Panther newsletters to Punk band posters and memorabilia, to works by Beat Generation icons, including Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, to Huckleberry Finn and Harry Potter, the March 18 sale at PBA Galleries could rightly be called varied. Included was a collection of Charles Bukowski material, as well as first editions of Stephen King, Ernest Hemingway and several science fiction firsts. The sale grossed $240,000.
The Beat Generation had its origins in New York city where three of the core members – Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs – met about 1944 while attending New York University and found they had similar opinions, rejecting some of the writing of the day. They sought more freedom in their writings and rejected what they thought of as economic materialism, and wrote of experimentation with psychedelic drugs and sexual liberation. They pushed existing boundaries of “good taste.” Both Ginsberg’s 1956 novel Howl and Burroughs’ 1959 Naked Lunch were the focus of obscenity trials, which both helped liberalize publishing in the United States and brought their concepts into the awareness of mainstream writers and the press. Many of the young writers with similar opinions gravitated to Greenwich Village and later, in the 1950s and 1960s, many relocated to the San Francisco area. Elements of their thinking were incorporated into the wider “hippie” and counterculture movements. The auction included numerous examples of their writings with numerous signed copies, as well as period photographs.
A signed, later printing of Ginsberg’s Howl with a drawing of a flower sold for $270, and a Grove Press paperback edition of Burroughs’ Naked Lunch sold for $216. Many Beat Generation writers found a willing publisher for their works, and a fellow traveler, in San Francisco’s City Lights Bookstore. Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the shop’s proprietor and publisher, died earlier this year.
There were numerous other works by Beat Generation authors. Numbers by Robert Creely and Robert Indiana, in an edition of 2,500, signed by both, brought $1,800. A first edition of Richard Brautigan’s Galilee Hitch-Hiker, of which only about 200 were printed, earned $2,040. A copy of his self-published Lay the Marble Tea: twenty-four poems earned $1,200. Original photographs of Brautigan, taken by his wife, were included, and each sold between $300 and $450. A run of about 82 copies of the Berkeley Barb, a weekly underground newspaper published in Berkeley during the years 1965 to 1980 sold for $840. From the catalog, “It was one of the first and most influential of counterculture newspapers, covering such subjects as the anti-war movement, the Black Panthers, the Civil Rights Movement, as well as the social changes advocated by the youth culture.”
The top selling item of the day was a poster promoting Hunter S. Thompson’s 1970 campaign for sheriff of Pitkin County, Colorado, which sold for $9,600. Thompson ran on a platform he called “freak power.” The poster was signed by the artist, Thomas W. Benton, and also signed HST by the artist, as was done on a few posters. Another Thompson poster, also by Benton, The American Dream: Aspen Wall Poster 4, sold for $1,920. Thompson is known as the founder of the “gonzo school” of journalism, in which the writer becomes a central figure or a participant in the story being recorded. A first edition of his first book, Hell’s Angels, A Strange and Terrible Saga, which brought $600, established his credentials. He had spent a year riding with the motorcycle “gang” prior to writing the book. A collection of Thompson’s stories, Fire in The Nuts, a signed limited edition, earned $2,700. Thompson committed suicide at the age of 67, and his ashes were fired out of a cannon in a ceremony funded by his friend Johnny Depp, and attended by Jack Nicholson and then-Senator John Kerry.
Other top selling items represented the scope of the sale. While Thompson’s campaign poster finished at the top, the second highest price, $8,400, was for a first edition, first printing, of the first Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, in wrappers. The third highest price was earned by a first trade edition, with dust jacket, of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. It ended at $7,200.
And for the fourth highest price, and one of the pleasant surprises of day, we have to shift gears and go to concert posters, of which there were several. Although it had a high estimate of $300, an early The Doors poster finished at $6,600. The poster advertised three The Doors concerts at the Kaleidoscope in Los Angeles, to be performed April 21-23, 1967, with the Peanut Butter Conspiracy as the supporting act. The venue, the Kaleidoscope, only existed for about six months. There was also a lot of nine vinyl LPs of poetry readings by Beat Generation poets Burroughs, Ferlinghetti, Henry Miller and others. The lot realized $270. Other concert posters included one for Bo Diddley at the Avalon Ballroom, which sold for $144, and one for High Mass, designed by Robert Fried, which brought $120.
Science fiction fans had plenty from which to choose, especially collectors of works by Ray Bradbury. He is perhaps best known as author Fahrenheit 451, which was listed as #8 on a published list of the 100 best science fiction novels. A first edition in dust jacket sold above estimate for $4,200. A signed first edition of his first book, Dark Carnival, of which only 3,000 copies were printed, brought $960, and a signed copy of The Martian Chronicles, his second book, earned $2,040. A first edition of Robert Heinlein’s The Green Hills of Earth: Rhysling and the Adventure of the Entire Solar System! went out for $1,140.
Horror fans vied for several Stephen King novels: a first edition of The Shining earned $1,080, a first edition of The Stand earned $720, and a first edition of Night Shift earned $1,020. The Opener of The Way by Robert Bloch, a first edition of his first full-length book, earned $420. It was published by Arkham House in an edition of 2,000, and King called it one of Arkham House’s “most important works.”
There were important works by many of the Twentieth Century’s leading writers. A first edition of The Old Man and The Sea, which earned Ernest Hemingway a Pulitzer Prize and contributed to his winning the 1954 Nobel Prize for literature, sold for $1,200. A first edition of J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in The Rye sold for $4,500. The collector of John Steinbeck, who also won a Nobel Prize, could have chosen from several first editions. Grapes of Wrath sold for $2,160, East of Eden sold for $390 and a review copy of Travels with Charley, In Search of America sold for $840. A first American edition of Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn published in 1885 earned $3,900.
PBA Galleries can trace its roots back nearly 65 years in California. In 1990, the original founder of California Book Auctions, Maurice Powers, died, and in 1992 the current company was reborn, changing its name to PBA Galleries in 2001. Sales are conducted about every two weeks. Presently, there is no bidding in the gallery, but Internet bidding is available on multiple platforms, along with phone and absentee bidding.
After the sale, Bill Taylor Jr, who cataloged and managed the sale, said, “We had some nice surprises and we saw strength continuing where it’s recently been strong. The Doors poster was probably the biggest surprise to me. It was one of their first posters and went way over estimate. Another pleasant surprise was the Bukowski letter where he talked about John Fante, whose works he really liked. Bukowski was responsible for the later interest in Fante’s works. The modern classics did well, and so did the science fiction. We’ve been doing well with that category lately. Political things, like the Black Panther newsletters, are hard to find. They usually show up just a couple at a time. We grossed $240,000, and we’re certainly pleased with that number.”
Prices given include the buyer’s premium as stated by the auction house. For information, www.pbagalleries.com or 866-999-7224.
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