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English PEN Auction at Sotheby’s: A Booklover’s Dream Collection


Our friends at English PEN, an organization devoted to literary freedom, are staging an exciting event later this month when 50 modern first editions are to be auctioned. However, these are no ordinary first editions. All the books have been annotated, usually at length and in great detail, by their authors specially for the ‘First Editions, Second Thoughts’ auction.

Many famous authors have added annotations, commentary or illustrations, including Margaret Atwood, Julian Barnes, Alan Bennett, William Boyd, Margaret Drabble, Helen Fielding, Nadine Gordimer, David Hare, Seamus Heaney, Kazuo Ishiguro, Howard Jacobson, Ian McEwan, Michael Morpurgo, J.K. Rowling, Lionel Shriver, Ralph Steadman, Tom Stoppard and Jeanette Winterson.

The authors have explained their inspiration for characters and scenes, added background information, context, and details about why plots took a particular turn.

J.K. Rowling added annotations on 43 pages of a first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (yes, a real first edition, first printing – one of the 500 from the initial Bloomsbury print run). Rowling’s annotations include 22 illustrations and 1100 words.

Hilary Mantel added annotations on 123 pages of a Wolf Hall first edition, which included 2,650 words.

DBC Pierre added annotations on 188 pages of a first edition of Vernon God Little, which included illustrations on 57 pages and about 3,400 words.

Julian Barnes added annotations on 68 pages of a Metroland first edition, worth about 2,300 words.

Ralph Steadman added new illustrations on 55 pages of a first edition of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, including 14 full page and four double page ink drawings across the text and rear end-pages. He also added two portraits of Hunter S. Thompson, the book’s author.

I could go on and on. Here’s the full list.

The auction takes place at 7:30pm on Tuesday, May 21st at Sotheby’s in London. The books can be viewed on Monday May 20th and on the day of the sale from 9am to 4:30pm. All proceeds will benefit English PEN. To attend the auction, order a printed catalogue, or arrange a telephone bid, contact Sotheby’s.

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Beth Carswell

About Beth Carswell

I've been reading, selling, researching, loving and writing about books with AbeBooks since 2000.

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