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Natural science to curses and a hotel: AbeBooks’ most expensive sales of 2013

As another year of rare bookselling comes to an end, we can offer our most expensive sales of 2013. A German natural science book from 1774, Der Naturforscher, sold for $60,321, to head the list and become AbeBooks’ third most expensive sale ever in our history.

Also on the list are four rare bibles, Shakespeare’s works in French, photography of Tibet, Emily Dickinson, J.K. Rowling, Winston Churchill, Frank Herbert, and one of the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous.

You will also find two handwritten spell-books or grimoires to give them the correct Wiccan name. Naturally, they were cursed.

My favorite sale of the year was a guest book from the Castello Bar at the Castle Schloss Mondsee near Salzburg, Austria, which sold for $11,900.  Castle Schloss Mondsee, now a posh hotel, began life as a Benedictine abbey and was founded in 748. This book is full of famous signatures, including Burt Lancaster, Greta Garbo, Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer.

It belonged to an Austrian aristocrat, Countess Micheline Almeida (1911-2000), whose family used to own the property and she clearly hosted the rich and famous when they visited the area.

Bound in red leather, the guest book  even features some bars of music for the song, The Hills are Alive, from The Sound of Music, which was filmed in and around Salzburg in 1964. The book has been signed by the movie’s director Robert Wise, and the stars, Plummer and Andrews, and dated April and May 1964.

Other signatures include actor Tony Curtis, socialite Brooke Astor, boxer Gene Tunney, actress Natalie Wood, actor Jack Lemmon, poet W. H. Auden, comedian Peter Sellers, British politician Harold Wilson, fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent (who added a sketch), opera singer Kiri Te Kanawa, motor racing driver Niki Lauda, the Aga Khan, Looney Tunes artist Chuck Jones, many opera and ballet performers, and numerous European aristocrats.

See the list


Lisbeth Salander to return in Millennium Trilogy sequel

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson  The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson  The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson

Fans of Lisbeth Salander probably weren’t expecting to meet her again, considering Stieg Larsson‘s best-selling Millennium Trilogy was published posthumously.  The widely popular series was originally intended to include 10 parts, but it ended with just three titles due to Larsson’s death in 2004.   Norstedts, the Swedish publisher of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, has signed up ghostwriter David Lagercrantz to produce a fourth book, expected to be released next summer.  The yet-to-be-titled novel is said to have a different plot from the unfinished fourth book Larsson was penning before he passed away, but it will include the characters Lisbeth and Mikael Blomqvist.


Signed copy of Long Walk to Freedom sells for $7,000

A signed Easton Press edition of Nelson Mandela’s autobiography has sold for $7,000 on AbeBooks.com. This deluxe edition was published in 2000 and is bound in green leather with an embossed spine. Another signed Easton Press edition of the title also sold for $6,475 over the weekend as South Africa mourned the loss of the leader. Signed copies of his autobiography have been collectible for many years. Long Walk to Freedom was first published in 1996.

Several other rare Mandela items have also sold since his death on on December 5. A first day cover stamp celebrating 100 years of Johannesburg that had been signed by Mandela sold for $530 and a 1999 first edition of Rainbow Warrior by South African rugby star Francois Pienaar sold for $1,950 – it had been signed by both Mandela and Pienaar, who guided South Africa to victory in the 1995 Rugby Union World Cup. It was Mandela who handed Pienaar the trophy.

A copy of Christine Scott’s biography of the South African leader, Nelson Mandela: A Force for Freedom, signed by Mandela, sold for $1,130 to round out the interest in his rare books.


NYC’s new police chief salutes George J. Zaffo’s long forgotten ‘Your Police’ book

In other news, New York City announced its latest police chief, William J. Bratton, yesterday. What’s that got to do with us or books at all? Well, Mr Bratton, who is already a very known policeman for his pioneering strategies on crime reduction, took a faded yellow children’s book from 1956 into the press conference.

Your Police by George J. Zaffo is very obscure and long out-of-print but it’s a book that’s very special to Mr Bratton, who says he has carried the book from police department to police department during his long career.

Mr. Bratton told the New York Times: “I’ve taken this book everywhere I’ve ever gone, every department, it’s always proudly displayed, because it had such a profound influence on me.”

The NY Times adds:

It is easy to see how the book enchanted a young Mr. Bratton. Filled with bold, striking graphics and clear fonts, the book paints an exciting and sometimes sentimental portrait of life as a police officer. The book itself was larger than most picture books of its time and would have plainly stood out on a library shelf.

It follows the process of becoming a police recruit, training as an officer and performing police work. There are illustrations of a police laboratory, forensics equipment, a police helicopter, guns and mounted police.

AbeBooks sold out of copies of Your Police yesterday. Thank you, Mr Bratton.

Apparently, George J. Zaffo, who died in 1984, was once an apprentice to Norman Rockwell.

Below are more works written or illustrated by Zaffo, and, frankly, they look amazing.

The Big Book of Real Trucks

The Big Book of Real Airplanes

The Big Book of Real Trains

The Big Book of Real Building and Wrecking Machines

The Big Book of Real Boats and Ships

The Big Book of Real Locomotives

Your Freight Trains

Building Your Super Highways

Whirlybirds: The Story of Helicopters


Barack Obama’s Holiday Shopping List

President Barack Obama loaded up on books at an independent bookstore last weekend in support of Small Business Saturday.  The White House reports that the President picked up 21 titles, ranging from children’s books and YA Literature to brand new best-sellers.  Looks like the Obama’s will be have a very bookish Christmas.

Here’s the list:
Lulu and the Brontosaurus
Half Brother by Kenneth Oppel

Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus

Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo

Jinx by Sage Blackwood

Lulu and the Brontosaurus by Judith Viorst and Lane Smith

Ottoline and the Yellow Cat by Chris Riddell

Moonday by Adam Rex

Journey by Aaron Becker
The Sports Gene
The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews

Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance by David Epstein

Collision Low Crossers: A Year Inside the Turbulent World of NFL Football by Nicholas Dawidoff

Ballad of the Sad Cafe: And Other Stories by Carson McCullers
All That Is
My Antonia by Willa Cather

Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka

All That Is by James Salter

Wild: From Lost to Found On the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed


The ultimate philanthropist: David Rubenstein spends $14.2m on Bay Psalm Book

As predicted by almost everyone, this small book of psalms from 1640, known as the Bay Psalm Book, has become the world’s most expensive printed book after being auctioned by Sotheby’s last night in New York for $14.2 million.

The Bay Psalm Book is the first known book to be printed in what became the United States. Sotheby’s reported the buyer was US financier and philanthropist David Rubenstein, who planned to loan it to libraries. That’s a special gesture from a very rich man but we have seen it before. In 2007, Rubenstein purchased a copy of the Magna Carta at auction for $21.3 million, and then loaned it to the National Archives in Washington DC.

A remarkable piece of Puritan and American history, the book is an English translation of the original Hebrew psalms, and was owned by a church in Boston. The book sold is one of 11 copies known to exist from about 1,700 copies originally printed.

Leonardo da Vinci’s handwritten notebook is the most expensive book ever sold at $30.8 million.

So who is David Rubenstein?

He is the co-founder of The Carlyle Group, a private equity investment firm and, according to Forbes, he is apparently worth $3 billion although I’m never sure how those figures are calculated. He also has an amazing track record of donating to good causes – $4.5 million to the US National Zoo for its panda reproduction program (goodness, those pandas need a lot of financial encouragement to get it on), $7.5 million to repair the Washington Monument, $13.5 million to the National Archives, and $50 million to the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.


AbeBooks sponsors BC’s Red Cedar Book Awards

With the goal of encouraging more young people to read, AbeBooks.com is sponsoring the 2013-2014 Red Cedar Book Awards – a unique book prize where the winners are selected by British Columbia’s young avid readers.

Every year, thousands of children between grades 4 and 7 from across the province are invited to read books from nominated lists of non-fiction and fiction, and vote for their favourites.

The program, administered by the Young Readers’ Choice Awards Society of BC, broadens the reading experience for students, promotes literacy through quality Canadian literature and encourages students to consider the books they have read.

The Red Cedar process begins in November, and students, who participate in the program through reading groups at their school or library, have until April to read the nominees in preparation for voting in April.  Two winners are announced in May – one fiction title, and one information book.

The winners of the 2012/2013 Red Cedar Book awards were Last Airlift: A Vietnamese Orphan’s Rescue from War by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch (information book award) and Count Me In by Sara Leach (fiction).

“The awards are run completely by volunteers – librarians and teachers – who are dedicated to putting books into the hands of young people,” said Richard Davies from AbeBooks.com. “We’re thrilled to lend a hand and help encourage reading among young people.”

Kate Adams from Red Cedar said: “We are thrilled that AbeBooks.com is one of our sponsors this year.  This generous donation will help tremendously, and will plan to put it towards a year-end party, where we will celebrate Canadian children’s literature, and children’s reading.”

The nominees for the 2013/2014 Red Cedar Fiction Award are:

My Name is Paravana  by Deborah Ellis

Mr & Mrs Bunny, Detectives Extraordinaire! by Polly Horvath

Summer in the City by Marie-Louise Gay and David Homel

Torn Apart: The Internment Diary of Mary Kobayashi (Dear Canada) by Susan M. Aihoshi

Ungifted by Gordon Korman

Encyclopedia of Me by Karen Rivers

Grave Robber’s Apprentice by Allan Stratton

Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis

Cat’s Cradle Book 1: The Golden Twine by Jo Rioux

Redwing by Holly Bennett

Gargoyle at the Gates by Philippa Dowding

Mimi Power and the I-Don’t-Know-What by Victoria Miles

The nominees for the 2013/2014 Red Cedar Information Book Award are:

Bodyguards!  From Gladiators to the Secret Service written by Ed Butts, illustrated by Scott Plumbe

The World in Your Lunchbox: The Wacky History and Weird Science Of Everyday Foods by Claire Eamer.  Illustrated by Sa Boothroyd

Earth-friendly Buildings, Bridges and More:  The Eco-Journal Of Corry Lapont by Etta Kaner, illustrated by Stephen MacEachern

The Big Green Book of the Big Blue Sea by Helaine Becker, illustrated by Willow Dawson

Mimi’s Village and How Basic Health Care Transformed It by Katie Smith Milway, illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes

Cryptic Canada: Unsolved Mysteries From Coast To Coast by Natalie Hyde, illustrated by Matt Hammill

Secret Life Of Money: A Kid’s Guide To Cash by Kira Vermond, illustrated by Clayton Hanmer

City Critters: Wildlife In The Urban Jungle by Nicholas Read

Rescuing The Children: The Story of the Kindertransport by Deborah Hodge

Willie O’Ree: The Story of the First Black Player in the NHL by Nicole Mortillaro


Seattle’s Twice Sold Tales, Used Books and a Cat on Your Head

Last week, we were in Seattle and stopped by Twice Sold Tales, a used bookstore and AbeBooks bookseller. Twice Sold Tales is located just a short walk from the Elliott Bay Bookstore, which still gets the majority of Seattle’s press when it comes to independent booksellers.

Twice Sold Tales is a classic used bookstore serving the community of Capitol Hill. It was a  dreary Tuesday afternoon, and people were popping in and out while we were there. The sign alone indicated there would be bookstore cats and we soon met Smoo (so named because he smoozes the customers) and Eleanor, who was settled in a cardboard box atop a pile of books. The owner Jamie Lutton has been a bookseller since 1987 and began her bookish business life selling from a cart. Twice Sold Tales eventually found its way to this former doctor’s surgery in 2008 and today it is packed with thousands of used books, most general used copies but a few rare books too. Jamie’s blog illustrates her passion for books and writing. She also writes a regular column for the Capitol Hill Times.

While my colleague filmed and photographed the stacks, I browsed the shelves and found a 1960 edition of Bitter Lemons by Lawrence Durrell – a book, first published in 1957, I had discovered through writing book lists for AbeBooks and been thinking about buying for some years. I just love that yellow cover art.

While we talked to Jamie, a broke musician came in, hoping to sell some books to find the cash for his next meal. Jamie bought a few of them and then, quite seriously, advised that selling plasma to the blood bank was a good way of raising funds when things are really tight. A minute or two later, Jamie found a customer, or least a visitor, sitting in the middle one of the aisles with this shoes off. She briskly told him that his feet smelled and that his shoes should go back onto his feet. When I went to pay for the book, the ginger cat, Smoo, took a close interest in the transaction. As I pulled out my credit card, the cat leaped onto the counter and then onto my shoulders, and then stepped up and stood on my head. I have bought a lot of books in my life but never with a cat on head.

“Does the cat always do this when someone pays?” I asked, trying to stand still while the cat circled my scalp.

“Quite often,” replied Jamie’s assistant in all seriousness.

Just another afternoon in a community used bookstore. A cat on my head while paying in Twice Sold Sales


A Literary Tourist’s Search for the Books of Gregynog Press

The Literary Tourist

Writer, broadcaster, bibliophile, and globetrotting literary journalist Nigel Beale recently paid a visit to Wales in search of all things literary, including the elusive works of Greynog Press.   Read about this bookish exploration and many more on his aptly named and entertaining blog, Literary Tourist.  It certainly has us packing our bags.


Underdog James McBride takes National Book Award

The Good Lord Bird by James McBride

Winners of the prestigious National Book Award were announced Wednesday evening, with James McBride taking the fiction prize for The Good Lord Bird. Many are calling the win a surprise, considering the underdog was up against favorites Thomas Pynchon and Jhumpa Lahiri. But the winning novel is said to be wildly entertaining, darkly funny, and well deserving. The historical tale tells the story of a young slave’s adventures with abolitionist John Brown. McBride is best known for his 1996 memoir, The Color of Water but we have a feeling that’s about to change. A few signed copies of the winning novel can be found on our site.  

Other 2013 National Book Award winners include George Packer for The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America (nonfiction), Mary Szybist for Incarnadine: Poems (poetry), and Cynthia Kadohata for The Thing About Luck (young people’s literature).


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