Published: December 21, 2004
Christie’s sale of fine printed books and manuscripts, including Americana, on December 16, totaled $8,086,559, a record total for a books and manuscripts sale at Christie’s. On offer were 702 lots, and the sale was 89 percent sold by lot, 92 percent by value.
One of the most popular lots was the rediscovered set of 144 page proofs of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s (1804-1864) The Scarlet Letter, which set a new world auction record for a Nineteenth Century American literary work at $554,100, more than doubling the presale estimate. Topping the sale was Edward Sheriff Curtis’ (1868-1952) The North American Indian, 1907-1930, which when it sold for $679,500 achieved a world auction record for Curtis’ work and a world auction record for a Nineteenth Century American photographically illustrated book.
Strong results were achieved for Faulkner letters, an autograph letter by Jesse James and an entirely unpublished first-hand account of New Orleans and Louisiana in 1729-30.
Francis Wahlgren, head of Christie’s books and manuscripts department, said, “Producing a record result for a various-owners books and manuscripts sale at Christie’s, this marathon auction clearly demonstrated the extraordinary variety and depth of the market and the serious demand for quality material. From literary works, over historical documents and accounts to autograph letters and correspondences, world auction records were set at a swift pace, often easily outperforming previous results.”
The discovery of the corrected page proofs of Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, 1849-1850, constitutes a significant literary find. Hawthorne’s original handwritten manuscript, used as printer’s copy, is known to have been burnt after it was returned by the publisher to its author. The 144 page proofs feature numerous press corrections, some probably by Hawthorne, others by the publisher’s proofreaders, plus some 38 substantive alterations or additions, probably by the author. In all, on some 144 pages, the sheets exhibit some 650 corrections of accidentals (spelling, type alignment, punctuation, word division and capitalization).
Rounding out the sale’s top 10 lots were: Prince Maximilian zu Wied-Neuwied (1782-1867), Voyage dans l’intérieur, 1839-41, $477,900; Pierre Caillot, manuscript “Relation du Voyage de la Louisianne ou. . . “, 1730,$276,300; William Faulkner (1897-1962), a group of 62 letters to Else Jonnson from 1950 to 1960, $253,900; Jesse James (1847-1882), autograph letter from the outlaw gunman to his stepfather, March 23, 1875, $175,500; John Knox Laughton, The Nelson Memorial, limited edition, richly illustrated, 1896; Publius Vergilius Maro (70-19 BC), Opera, edited by Sebastian Brant, 1502, $164,300; Willa S. Cather (1873-1947), typescript draft of her last novel Sapphira and the Slave Girl, 1940, $164,300; and George Washington, autograph letter signed as commander-in-chief, March 31, 1781, $141,900.
Prices reported include buyer’s premium.
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