Most expensive sales December 2011
We sell a lot of very interesting books and ephemera on AbeBooks each month. I love researching and putting together the monthly list of most expensive sales because beautiful first editions, amazing photography books and insightful inscriptions from influential authors are routinely found on the lists and December 2011 was no different.
The oldest and most expensive item was a single leaf from the first edition of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales which sold for $10,529. This fine piece of incunabula is one of the most sought-after works of Middle English writing. As you know, the stories are told by a group of pilgrims, during a story-telling contest on a journey from Southwark to the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral.
However the most interesting item on the list maybe a sequence of photos of the notorious French criminal Jacques Mesrine, who was responsible for multiple bank robberies, jail breaks, burglaries, murders, and kidnappings in France and Canada. This set of photos was taken by Alain Bizos, a French journalist, who managed to catch up with Mesrine for the photo-shoot even though the man was on the run from the police.
Mesrine’s life and crimes played out like a Hollywood script, in fact at least three films were made about the criminal’s life: Mesrine, Mesrine: Killer Instinct and Mesrine: Public Enemy No. 1. He was born in Clichy-la-Garenne near Paris in 1936 and grew up to a continent at war and a country occupied by Germany. He was a troubled child who was expelled from several schools before being drafted into the French Army where he served until 1959 becoming a veteran of the Algerian War. From there Mesrine became briefly involved with a French right wing terrorist organization and then turned to a life of crime, receiving his first prison sentence for robbery in 1962.
After several more robberies in France and Switzerland, he fled to Quebec with his mistress. She took a job as a chauffeur for a textile millionaire allowing Mesrine to make a failed attempt to kidnap the man. Forced to flee to the US, he was taken in by an elderly lady; who a month later was found strangled. Mesrine and his mistress were then extradited back to Quebec and sentenced to 10 years in the slammer. Now this is where things get really crazy. Mesrine broke out of prison, was recaptured and then busted out a second time. Once free, he came back to the same prison to try and precipitate a failed mass break-out of his former inmates and a couple weeks later he gunned down a pair of forest rangers.
Mesrine evaded capture again until 1973 when, back in France, he got into an argument with cashier in a coffee bar. He drew out a gun and seriously injured a police officer. Again he was arrested. Again Mesrine pulled off another daring escape, this time from the courthouse. He was able to retrieve a gun, planted by an accomplice, from the courthouse bathroom and then held a judge hostage allowing him to escape and stay on the run for another four months. Mesrine was captured again four months later and finally placed in a maximum security prison called La Santé in 1973.
Against all odds on 8 May 1978, Mesrine and an accomplice produced a gun and a grappling iron, stole keys, shot a guard, and forced their way out of the escape-proof La Santé before hijacking a car and getting clean away.
Mesrine continued his crime spree with several robberies as well as kidnapping a banker and a judge in the months between his breakout and the January 1979 interview where these photographs were taken by Alain Bizos. Mesrine was eventually trapped and shot multiple times in a police raid later that year putting an end to one of the most violent criminal stories of modern history.