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Early edition of Alice in Wonderland sells for $36,000

The copy of Alice in Wonderland that sold for $36,000 via AbeBooks

A rare early copy of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland has sold for $36,000/£27,500 on the AbeBooks marketplace. Only 22 copies of the true first edition are in existence after Lewis Carroll withdrew the entire print run of 2,000 copies. One such copy came up for auction earlier this summer and was expected to sell for between $2 million and $3 million, but it failed to meet its reserve and didn’t sell.

The copy that sold via AbeBooks was one of the first thousand copies printed for the American market. Bound in its original red cloth, this book was housed in a red morocco case created by famed bookbinders Sangorski & Sutcliffe. The publisher is Appleton of New York and the publication date is 1866.

The sale is the most expensive to take place on AbeBooks in 2016, easily beating the $25,679 sale of Selectarum Stirpium Americanorum Historia (published in 1763, one of the first detailed accounts of American botany) by Nicolaus Joseph Jacquin. The sale is also the most expensive Alice in Wonderland to ever sell through AbeBooks.

Find copies of the first US edition of Alice in Wonderland.

Browse our Alice in Wonderland Collection.


Classic children’s fiction: 5 reasons to read Elizabeth George Speare’s Sign of the Beaver

The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare

Last week’s bestselling book on AbeBooks was The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare. It’s good to see a revival in interest for this wonderful children’s historical novel. It was published in 1983 and remains one of the author’s best known books.

The novel describes the adventures of 12-year-old American settler Matt James Halloway and his father, who are building a new life in 18th century Maine. When Matt’s father returns to Massachusetts to pick up the rest of the family, Matt is left alone at their log cabin and his challenges begin. The Beavers in the title are a Native American tribe. The novel was adapted into a TV film called Keeping the Promise starring Brendan Fletcher and Keith Carradine.

1) Elizabeth George Speare (1908-1994) was an expert in writing historical novels for children.  She won two Newbery medals (that puts her level with the likes of Lois Lowry and Katherine Paterson) and in 1989 she received the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal for contributions to American children’s literature.

2) The author knew the woods of New England. Speare was born in Melrose, Massachusetts, and enjoyed a childhood spent mainly outdoors. She lived most of her life in New England.

3) The Sign of the Beaver explores the relationship between the white man and the natives, detailing the problems of when two such differing cultures collide.

4) Elizabeth George Speare was inspired to write the book after hearing a true story where a young boy was left alone in the New England wilderness.

5) Wilderness survival skills – from building a fire to finding shelter and hunting for food – are as relevant today as they were in 18th century Maine.

Find copies of The Sign of the Beaver


A little piece of Texas history sells for $6,180

A letter from Sam Houston, written when he was president of the Republic of Texas, has sold for $6,180 on AbeBooks.com. The letter, dated April 15, 1844, was one of the most expensive sales on our marketplace last month,

Texas was an independent republic from 1836 to 1846 before joining the United States, and Houston twice served as president. The letter, written and signed by Houston, is a humble affair. It orders a payment of $40 to be made to J.F. Brown, who ran a stagecoach service carrying passengers and the mail between Houston and Washington.

Houston is a key figure for buyers of Texas-related ephemera. His military career helped secure the independence of Texas from Mexico and his political work helped guide Texas into the United States. The city of Houston is named after him as well as a university, an army base, several naval vessels, a park and a museum.

Letters from significant historical figures continue to fascinate collectors. We may all communicate via email these days but historical letters can be valuable… if even the subject is the mail. Another longer letter from Houston is listed for sale on AbeBooks at $95,000. Earlier this summer, a letter from Winston Churchill to a society beauty who had turned down his marriage proposal sold for $12,500. Last year, a letter written by Princess Diana to her driver sold for $3,412. A few years ago, I remember a typed letter signed by Mohandas Gandhi selling for $9,500.

AbeBooks’ top 10 most expensive sales in August 2016

1) To a Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee – $16,000

A signed first edition from 1960. Interest in this book never wanes and rightly so. AbeBooks’ record for this book is $25,000.

2) Great Books of the Western World (a set in 96 vols) – $9,775

Published by the Franklin Library in leather in 1970, from Homer to Tolstoy, this is an instant library of classic literature.

3) Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë/Ellis Bell and Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë/Action Bell – $9,029

Two works in one volume, published in 1851 and a second edition.

4) Sports et Divertissements (Sports and Pastimes) by Erik Satie – $8,826

This is a rare collector’s album with beautiful Art Deco illustrations by Charles Martin of Satie’s cycle of 21 short piano pieces composed in 1914.

Sports et Divertissements sold for $8,826

5) Lord Randolph Churchill by Winston S Churchill – $8,750

Two volumes, Winston’s biography of his father.  The first volume is inscribed “To David Thomson, and best wishes from Winston S. Churchill. 17 Nov, 1906.” The second volume is signed “Winston S. Churchill, 17 Nov, 1906.” Thomson, a New York attorney, was the husband of Eva Purdy Thomson, an American cousin of Churchill.

6) The Notorious Sophie Lang by Frederick Irving Anderson- $6,938

Published in 1925, a first edition of a novel about a beautiful jewel thief, which became a film in 1934. A scarce novel, only one other copy for sale on AbeBooks.

7) An autograph letter from Sam Houston – $6,180

A letter from 1844 ordering payment for mail delivery services between the cities of Houston and Washington.

8) Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury – $6,000

A 1953 signed first edition of this thought-provoking novel.

Fahrenheit-451 sold for $6,000

9) Original Leaves from Famous Books – $5,548

A rare limited edition book containing pages from other books, including six manuscript leaves (1122 -1470), five incunabula (1472-1493), 15 leaves from the 16th century (1502-1598); and 14 leaves from books published between 1602 and 1923.

10) Poems on Golf by Robert Clark – $5,500

Privately printed in 1867 for subscribers, this 78-page book contains poems collected by members of the Royal Burgess Golfing Society from Edinburgh, which is believed to be the world’s oldest golfing society. Among the writers are Robert Chambers, one of the founders of the Chambers publishing company; his son Robert Jr, winner of the first open Amateur Tournament held in 1858, and Patric Proctor Alexander, a member of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club. An extremely scarce book.


Amazon Editor’s Best Books of the Month – September 2016

Oh dear, my to-be-read pile just grew again thanks to these recommendations from the Amazon book editors. Which books on this list are you going to read?

mischling

Mischling by Affinity Konar

It’s 1944 when the twin sisters arrive at Auschwitz with their mother and grandfather. In their benighted new world, Pearl and Stasha Zagorski take refuge in their identical natures, comforting themselves with the private language and shared games of their childhood. As part of the experimental population of twins known as Mengele’s Zoo, the girls experience privileges and horrors unknown to others, and they find themselves changed, stripped of the personalities they once shared, their identities altered by the burdens of guilt and pain.

nix

The Nix by Nathan Hill

A Nix can take many forms. In Norwegian folklore, it is a spirit who sometimes appears as a white horse that steals children away. In Nathan Hill’s remarkable first novel, a Nix is anything you love that one day disappears, taking with it a piece of your heart.

It’s 2011, and Samuel Anderson—college professor, stalled writer—has a Nix of his own: his mother, Faye. He hasn’t seen her in decades, not since she abandoned the family when he was a boy. Now she’s re-appeared, having committed an absurd crime that electrifies the nightly news, beguiles the internet, and inflames a politically divided country. The media paints Faye as a radical hippie with a sordid past, but as far as Samuel knows, his mother was an ordinary girl who married her high-school sweetheart. Which version of his mother is true? Two facts are certain: she’s facing some serious charges, and she needs Samuel’s help.

torch-against-night

A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir

Elias and Laia are running for their lives. Following the events of the Fourth Trial, an army led by Masks hunts the two fugitives as they escape the city of Serra and journey across the vast lands of the Martial Empire. Laia is determined to break into Kauf—the Empire’s most secure and dangerous prison—and save her brother, whose knowledge of Serric steel is the key to the Scholars’ future. And Elias is determined to stay by Laia’s side…even if it means giving up his own chance at freedom. But Elias and Laia will have to fight every step of the way if they’re going to outsmart their enemies.

when-in-french

When in French: Love in a Second Language by Lauren Collins

A language barrier is no match for love. Lauren Collins discovered this firsthand when, in her early thirties, she moved to London and fell for a Frenchman named Olivier—a surprising turn of events for someone who didn’t have a passport until she was in college. But what does it mean to love someone in a second language? Collins wonders, as her relationship with Olivier continues to grow entirely in English.

hero-empire

Hero of the Empire: The Boer War, a Daring Escape and the Making of Winston Churchill by Candice Millard

Churchill arrived in South Africa in 1899, valet and crates of vintage wine in tow, there to cover the brutal colonial war the British were fighting with Boer rebels. But just two weeks after his arrival, the soldiers he was accompanying on an armored train were ambushed, and Churchill was taken prisoner.  Remarkably, he pulled off a daring escape–but then had to traverse hundreds of miles of enemy territory, alone, with nothing but a crumpled wad of cash, four slabs of chocolate, and his wits to guide him.

The story of his escape is incredible enough, but then Churchill enlisted, returned to South Africa, fought in several battles, and ultimately liberated the men with whom he had been imprisoned.

here-i-am

Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer

In the book of Genesis, when God calls out, “Abraham!” before ordering him to sacrifice his son, Isaac, Abraham responds, “Here I am.” Later, when Isaac calls out, “My father!” before asking him why there is no animal to slaughter, Abraham responds, “Here I am.”

How do we fulfill our conflicting duties as father, husband, and son; wife and mother; child and adult? Jew and American? How can we claim our own identities when our lives are linked so closely to others’? These are the questions at the heart of Jonathan Safran Foer’s first novel in eleven years―a work of extraordinary scope and heartbreaking intimacy.

gentleman-moscow

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

A Gentleman in Moscow immerses us in another elegantly drawn era with the story of Count Alexander Rostov. When, in 1922, he is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, the count is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin. Rostov, an indomitable man of erudition and wit, has never worked a day in his life, and must now live in an attic room while some of the most tumultuous decades in Russian history are unfolding outside the hotel’s doors. Unexpectedly, his reduced circumstances provide him a doorway into a much larger world of emotional discovery.

juniper

Juniper: The Girl Who Was Born Too Soon by Kelley and Thomas French

Juniper French was born four months early, at 23 weeks gestation. She weighed 1 pound, 4 ounces, and her twiggy body was the length of a Barbie doll. Her head was smaller than a tennis ball, her skin was nearly translucent, and through her chest you could see her flickering heart. Babies like Juniper, born at the edge of viability, trigger the question: Which is the greater act of love–to save her, or to let her go?

now-physics-time

Now: The Physics of Time by Richard A. Muller

In Now, Muller does more than poke holes in past ideas; he crafts his own revolutionary theory, one that makes testable predictions. He begins by laying out―with the refreshing clarity that made Physics for Future Presidentsso successful―a firm and remarkably clear explanation of the physics building blocks of his theory: relativity, entropy, entanglement, antimatter, and the Big Bang. With the stage then set, he reveals a startling way forward.

born-to-run

Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen

In 2009, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band performed at the Super Bowl’s halftime show. The experience was so exhilarating that Bruce decided to write about it. That’s how this extraordinary autobiography began. Over the past seven years, Bruce Springsteen has privately devoted himself to writing the story of his life, bringing to these pages the same honesty, humor, and originality found in his songs.


The origins of The New Yorker’s dandy mascot

And here is the very first issue of The New Yorker, published on February 21, 1925. Our friends at Appledore Books just listed this copy for sale on AbeBooks priced at $2,500. For collectors of ephemera, this is a highly prized item – a little piece of magazine and journalism history. The famous cover illustration features dandy Eustace Tilley created by Rea Irvin. Tilley, of course, is the magazine’s mascot – well known for that top hat and monocle – and is familiar to anyone who has read away the hours in a dentist waiting room.

Eustace Tilley on the maiden issue of The New Yorker

Irvin was The New Yorker’s first art editor, who also designed the famous New Yorker font. Tilley began as a character in a series of spoof humor articles by Corey Ford that was intended to provide an insight into the making of the magazine itself.

The articles also had another purpose during that rocky first year of the magazine:

Ford’s pieces were commissioned so that there would be something to run on pages that advertisers were not buying. Advertisers were not buying because they were not sure what The New Yorker was. Neither were the editors. The second issue ran a mock apology for the first. “There didn’t seem to be much indication of purpose and we felt sort of naked in our apparent aimlessness,” the magazine confessed. It knew its audience, which was educated, reasonably well-off New Yorkers. It just didn’t know how to reach them. Circulation began to drop; by fall, it stood at around twelve thousand, and the publisher nearly pulled out. Then things picked up. Janet Flanner and Lois Long, a fashion writer, joined the magazine, along with the editor Katharine Angell. Advertising deals were signed with Saks and B. Altman department stores. In 1926, E. B. White came aboard, and, a year later, he brought James Thurber along. The knowingness and the name-dropping that characterized the early issues disappeared. And Eustace Tilley has shown up on almost every anniversary cover since.

Irvin was inspired to create Tilley after seeing a drawing of a Count D’Orsay – a true Victorian dandy and fashionable man about town – that he spotted in Encyclopædia Britannica. Over the years, artists at The New Yorker have used Tilley to riff on all sorts of subjects – there have been female, black and punk interpretations of Tilley.

When The New Yorker turned 90 in 2015, the magazine printed nine different covers featuring modern renditions of its mascot. I like the one of Eustace bent over his smartphone. This old man, the dandy about town, is here to stay.

Find vintage copies of The New Yorker magazine

Browse a New Yorker Collection from the Cary Collection


The world’s toughest librarian

“Detective 359” might not mean much to most people but to comic fans those words signify the true introduction Batgirl in 1967. Batgirl had appeared in print earlier in the 1960s. However, Detective Comics #359 is the famous issue that marks her appearance as a key superhero depicted as the daughter of Gotham City police commissioner James Gordon.

Detective 359 where Barbara Gordon’s Batgirl makes her debut

Detective 359 where Barbara Gordon’s Batgirl makes her debut

Barbara Gordon is head of Gotham City’s public library, professional and educated with a doctorate in library science.

The story in Detective 359 sees Barbara Gordon going to a costume party dressed as a female version of Batman. She intervenes in a kidnap attempt on Bruce Wayne and a career in crime fighting ensues. Few librarians can kick ass like Barbara Gordon’s Batgirl. Earlier incarnations of Batgirl were present to provide romance, the Barbara Gordon version of Batgirl is all about fighting crime – a landmark moment in equality in the comic book industry.

Drawn by legendary artist Carmine Infantino, Batgirl dominates the cover of Detective 359. This is a collectible comic – this copy has just been listed for sale on AbeBooks for $1,100.

Batgirl’s superhero career lasted until 1988 when she was retired by DC.  However, later that year, she appeared in Alan Moore’s graphic novel Batman: The Killing Joke where she is shot by the Joker and left paraplegic. Of course, superheroes don’t die but live on in various new guises and that’s the case with Batgirl.


What does scaramouche mean?

“Scaramouche. Scaramouche. Will you do the fandango?”

Ever wondered what Freddie Mercury and Queen were singing about in Bohemian Rhapsody when you hear ‘Scaramouche, Scaramouche. Will you do the fandango?’

First edition of Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini

I thought exactly that when I saw AbeBooks had recently sold a 1921 first edition of Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini for $3,000. What does scaramouche mean? Or rather, who was Scaramouche?

Scaramouche is a clown from traditional Italian ‘Commedia dell’arte’ theater where characters usually appear in masks. Scaramouche often wears black and ‘Scaramuccia’ translates into English as skirmisher. He’s a bit of a rogue and a buffoon.

The Scaramouche character was popularized in the 17th century and Regency era actor Joseph Grimaldi and his son J. S. Grimaldi both went onto play Scaramouche numerous times. Scaramouche also appears in Punch and Judy puppet shows.

Sabatini’s book, a popular adventure novel in its day, is a swashbuckler set in the French Revolution featuring plenty of sword fights. Just look at the dashing dust jacket illustration by Harold Cue. The hero of the novel, a fugitive, takes shelter in a theater troupe playing Scaramouche.

There were two adaptions of this movie, a 1923 adaptation starring Ramón Novarro, Lloyd Ingraham, and Alice Terry, and another in 1952 starring Stewart Granger, Eleanor Parker, Janet Leigh, and Mel Ferrer.

Sabatini went on to publish a sequel to Scaramouche in 1931, called Scaramouche the Kingmaker. He wrote more than 30 novels and his other bestsellers included two notable pirate stories, The Sea Hawk from 1915 and Captain Blood from 1922.

Stuart Granger and Eleanor Parker in Scaramouche on the cover of French cinema magazine, Mon Film


It’s 70 years since John Hersey’s ‘Hiroshima’ New Yorker article shocked the world

Seventy years ago, The New Yorker published a ground-breaking piece of journalism from John Hersey. The 30,000-word article – published in the 31 August 1946 issue – was called ‘Hiroshima’. It detailed the horrific effects of the American nuclear attack on this Japanese city on 6 August 1945, which helped to finally end World War II.

The 1946 Random House edition of Hiroshima by John-Hersey

The entire issue was dedicated to Hersey’s remarkable article. It has been hailed as one of the 20th century’s great works of journalism, and it is still widely read and referenced today. The article made headlines around the world as it was the first time that the full destructive nature of nuclear warfare was made clear to the general public.

John Hersey (1914-1993) had spent the war working as a correspondent and had also written a novel called A Bell for Adano about a Sicilian town occupied by the US army. He was a talented writer and A Bell for Adano won a Pulitzer Prize. He visited Japan nine months after the bomb was dropped from Enola Gay but did not file his copy until he had returned to the United States. It would probably have been censored by the occupying US forces.

The New Yorker had never before dedicated an entire issue to a single story but the editors realized that Hersey’s report was very powerful. All 300,000 copies quickly sold out and the article was reprinted in numerous newspapers and magazines. Every word of the article was also converted into chilling radio programs for listeners in the US and Britain.

Six people are prominently featured in the article, including two doctors and a German Jesuit priest. Importantly, the report revealed that the effects of the bomb were still killing people long after the initial explosion – this was shocking news to readers. Radiation sickness was unknown.

The article was also remarkable because it did not demonize the Japanese, who had been lambasted in the media since the attack on Pearl Harbor. Hersey described the awful experiences of the six ordinary people in order to illustrate the overall event. This storytelling style was new for a journalist.

The article was published as a book also called ‘Hiroshima’ in November 1946. The book has never been out-of-print and has been translated into many languages.

In 2007, Easton Press published a leather-bound edition of Hiroshima but the most interesting edition to be published came from the Limited Editions Press in 1983. LEP published 1,500 copies signed by Hersey, Robert Penn Warren (who contributed a poem) and artist Jacob Lawrence (who contributed eight beautiful but haunting silk screen illustrations, one of which you can see below). These Limited Editions Club copies – bound in black leather and contained in a slipcase – are prized by collectors.

Find copies of Hiroshima

Find copies of Hiroshima published by Easton Press

Find copies of Hiroshima published by the Limited Editions Club

One of Jacob Lawrence’s illustrations from the Limited Editions Club edition of Hiroshima


False alarm: no valuable magic in “1 Wand” typo in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

The “1 Wand” error in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

Earlier this month there was a news story concerning copies of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone that were judged to be valuable if they contained a particular wand-related error. The story originated from a British auction company, who have a Harry Potter sale coming up in November, and it was picked up by a large number of media outlets around the world, including The Independent.

The reports said a first edition of the Philosopher’s Stone containing this error was expected to sell for as much as £26,000 at auction.

Now, exciting though this story is, it is misleading.

True first editions of the novel – which are as scarce as hens’ teeth – do indeed contain the typo but the mistake also appears in later printings. That means a fair number of copies containing the mistake are in circulation. A week ago AbeBooks started receiving messages from people who had a copy with the typo and suddenly thought they had a valuable book on their hands. It was the same situation for London rare bookseller Peter Harrington, who also started to receive emails from hopeful Harry Potter fans. Search for “Harry Potter wand typo” on Twitter and you will see at least nine people who have copies of the book with the error.

This whole thing sounded fishy to me, so I contacted Peter Harrington to double-check and they were kind enough to provide this statement:

Several items in the press have recently suggested that a typo found on p. 53 of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone renders a copy extremely rare and valuable.

The repetition of ‘1 wand’ on the list of Harry’s required equipment for Hogwarts does indeed appear in true first editions, but in fact also appeared in later printings and does not, on its own, mean that the book is rare or valuable. The typo only confirms the rarity of the book if it is a first edition, first printing and the following criteria are also fulfilled:

  1. The publisher must be listed as Bloomsbury at the bottom of the title page.
  2. The latest date listed in the copyright information must be 1997.
  3. The print line on the copyright page must read “10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1”, ten down to one, exactly. The lowest figure in the print line indicates the printing. (For instance, if your copy has “20 19 18 17”, it’s a less valuable seventeenth printing.)
  4. The book must be printed in the UK, not Canada, Australia or anywhere else.

So there you go – if you have the typo, Bloomsbury, 1997, 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1, and it’s printed in the UK then you have a rather valuable book. Peter Harrington has an excellent blog post on the Philosopher’s Stone first edition. You can also use AbeBooks’ Harry Potter Collecting Guide for further information.


Rhinoceros by Albrecht Dürer – Armour-plated Awesomeness

Rhinoceros by Albrecht Dürer

What’s amazing about this woodcut, apart of the artistic brilliance and the $300,000 price-tag, is that Dürer had never seen a rhinoceros when he created this image in 1515. The German artist relied upon a written description in a letter and a brief sketch provided by an unknown person. Armour was clearly on his mind. People thought it was an accurate representation of the animal for several centuries. Today, Dürer’s rhino looks like something from a fantasy movie. Even though this image was wildly popular during Dürer’s time, prints are very scarce today.