It was a good day to be a dead author.
August 19, 2016
IT WAS A GOOD DAY to be an author.
At least, it was a good day to be a book, but only for certain books and only written by certain authors.
Swann Galleries in New York, as it always does, showcased an auction for nineteenth and twentieth century works of literature.
The books are rare, a collector said.
If you gaze upon one in a lifetime, he said, you’ve seen more than most.
The books would not be read.
They would be banked.
Placed in vaults.
Hidden away in safety deposit boxes.
Donated to libraries only if the collector needed a tax break, and collectors almost always do.
On the auction block was a first English edition of The First Men in the Moon, written by H. G. Wells.
They couldn’t believe it.
They didn’t care about the words.
But – Lord God Almighty – the book had its original dust jacket.
So the bidding began.
It didn’t begin cheap.
It ended at $26,400, which was an auction record for Swann Galleries.
Everyone was buzzing.
They wouldn’t likely see that kind of money thrown around again.
Up came a first edition of Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon.
- G. Wells was a literary giant.
Dashiell Hammett wrote pulp fiction
The bidding began
It began cheap.
Like pulp fiction.
It didn’t end there.
The Maltese Falcon was sold for $26,400.
Wait a minute.
So did The First Men on the Moon.
One record set.
One record tied.
A matter of hours.
It was a good day for authors and books alike.
The collectors settled in to bid on The Lost World, written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
It’ll probably sell it for $6,000, said one on the front row.
I think it’ll bring $9,000, said the man beside him.
You gonna buy it?
For $9,000 I will.
He didn’t buy it.
The Lost World was auctioned for $22,800.
There’s a lot of money tucked away between the pages of good books.
George Orwell’s first novel, Burmese Days, sold for $16,800.
William Faulkner was running right alongside the thoroughbreds. A first edition of The Sound and the Fury brought $24,000, and a first edition of his Soldier’s Pay was packed up and taken home for $18,000.
Ernest Hemingway did all right himself. His first limited edition of In our Time fetched $24,000, and Three Stories & Ten Poems, a first edition from Paris, was auctioned for $14,400.
Signed editions of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath and Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird each sold for $15,600.
A first edition of Gone With The Wind, by Margaret Mitchell, brought $14,400.
It’s certainly a good day for the authors, someone tells the collector.
Only for the books, he says.
What about the authors?
The authors are dead, he said.
Writers, it seems, only last a lifetime.
Words are forever.