Our top 25 sales from 2013 display a broad cross-section of the rare book world where age, scarcity and significance combine to create some highly priced items. Der Naturforscher, which sold for $60,321, became AbeBooks’ third most expensive sale ever in the website’s history. Only a first edition of The Hobbit and a 1644 copy of Areopagitica by John Milton have sold for more.
Elsewhere on the list, there are four bibles, Shakespeare’s works in French, photography of Tibet, poetry from Emily Dickinson, handwritten spell-books and classics from Charles Dickens, J.K. Rowling, William Golding, Frank Herbert, and Margery Williams.
The spell-books, or grimoires to give them the correct Wiccan name, are particularly interesting as they are cursed. We have not heard from the buyer since the purchase – and that could be good or bad. The opening page of the first one is inscribed with the warning:
“To those not of the craft – the reading of this book is forbidden! Proceed no further or justice will exact a swift and terrible retribution – and you will surely suffer at the hand of the craft.”
The same warning is then inscribed again in Theban, an ancient alphabet. The author, a witch, has signed the page using Theban. According to Wiccan traditions, a grimoire should be burned after the witch’s death. This ritual makes these spell-books very scarce.
The books include information on gems, planets, rites, potions, and exorcisms. They also cover alchemy, chemistry, cures, ceremonial perfumes and balms, as well as recipes for nerve tonics, liqueurs and even hairspray.
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1. Der Naturforscher (The Natural Scientist) by J.E.I Walch - $60,321
Bound in 13 volumes, this historic book of natural science features 143 folded engravings of which 85 are hand-colored. This work deals with entomology, palaeozoology, mineralogy and geology, zoology and botany.
2. Poems. First, Second and Third Series by Emily Dickinson - $30,000
A set of first editions of her first three works; published in 1890, 1891 and 1896 respectively.
3. Kupfel-Bibel (Copper Bible) by Johann Jakob Scheuchzer - $28,500
Published in 1731, the German translation of the Physica Sacra, concurrently published in Latin, is Scheuchzer’s famous scientific commentary on the Bible, with 762 plates on cosmography, paleontology, zoology, botany and anatomy.
4. Tibet and Lhasa by John Claude White - $28,000
Published in 1908 by Johnston and Hoffmann, this is the first single volume edition and contains White’s amazing photographs of the region taken during the 1904 British expedition to Tibet.
5. The Gentleman’s Magazine edited by Edward Cave - $26,083
Collection of issues, beginning with the first volume in 1731 through until 1814, 116 volumes in total.
7. Lord of the Flies by William Golding - $19,877
A 1954 first edition with its dust jacket. Written under the text of the half-title “for Angharad Ryder from William Golding with best wishes.” Loosely inserted is a hand-written envelope from Golding with a hand-written postcard inside, “Dear Miss Ryder, Yes Lord of the Flies is the alleged translation of Beelzebub. I will sign your Nobel Speech if you send it. Yours sincerely William Golding.” Also included are two hand-written letters from Golding to Ryder.
8. The Natural History of British Fishes, including Scientific and General Descriptions of the Most Interesting Species by Edward Donovan - $18,758
Published in 1803, this first edition contains an extensive selection of colored plates.
9= The Personal History of David Copperfield by Charles Dickens - $17,500
First edition as issued in the publisher's original 20 parts bound into 19.
9= Some Disordered Interior Geometries by Francesca Woodman - $17,500
Rare copy of the only book published in Woodman's lifetime. The book is in the form an Italian geometry notebook, with 16 black and white reproductions, handwritten text and whiteout pasted over arcane mathematical formulae. Following the artist's tragic death in 1981, just after publication, 450 of the 500 copies were returned to the family and distributed as a tribute at Woodman's funeral.
11. Oeuvres de Shakespeare Traduit de L’Anglois, Dedie au Roi by William Shakespeare - $16,816
Published in 1776, this 20-volume set was one of the few French translations of the Bard’s work in the 18th century.
12. Zanzibar: City, Island and Coast by Richard Burton - $16,500
Published in 1872 by Tinsley Brothers, this two-volume set includes 11 engraved plates and a folding map. Burton details the country and its natural history, and his various journeys between 1857 and 1859 in the lake regions of east Africa, including the discoveries of Lakes Victoria and Tanganyika.
13. The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams - $15,950
Published in 1922, first US edition of one of the first modern picture books for children.
15. Institutiones by Emperor of the East, Justinian I Accursius $15,050
Written on vellum and produced in Paris around 1250. A beautiful handwritten manuscript with decorations in the margins and initials in red and blue. Rebound with 16th century leather with one remaining clasp
16= In Dubious Battle by John Steinbeck - $15,000
A 1936 signed first edition with its dust jacket. One of the great social justice novels of the 20th century, detailing a fruit pickers’ strike. Inscribed by the author to his sister Elizabeth and her husband Gene, with his sister’s bookplate.
16=Dune by Frank Herbert - $15,000
Signed first edition published in 1965 by Chilton. This copy was complete with the first issue dust jacket and the $5.95 price on the front flap.
18. Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie - $14,005
Published in 1980, this is a fine uncorrected UK proof in the rare and fragile original proof dust wrapper.
19. Original Personal Handwritten Manuscript Grimoire by Persephone Adrastea Eirene - $13,865
Two spiral-bound books of spells handwritten in the 1960s by a high priestess of Wicca called Persephone Adrastea Eirene, an American witch of Swedish and English ancestry who led her own coven.
20. The New Testament (2 volumes) by Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam - $13,808
Published in 1548, this is the first English translation of Erasmus’ account of the New Testament, “Enpriented at London: in Fletestrete at the signe of the sunne by Edwarde Whitchurche the last daie of Januarie.” In 1547, King Edward VI had ordered that a copy of this book be placed in every church within a year. It contains the bookplate of Jacob Post from Islington. Erasmus (1466-1536) was a priest, scholar and theologian.
21. A Complete History of the Lives and Robberies Of the Most Notorious Highway-Men, Foot-Pads, Shop-Lifts, and Cheats by Captain Alexander Smith - $13,353
Published in 1719, this fifth edition was published in two volumes and contains “the most secret and barbarous murders, unparalleled robberies, notorious thefts and unheard of cheats, setting them in a true light and exposing them to public view for the common benefit of mankind. The accounts and confessions are drawn from imprisoned villains who awaited their fate at the gallows.”
22. Méchanique Analitique by Joseph Louis Lagrange - $13,112
Published in 1788, this text is the result of more than two decades of work by one of France’s greatest mathematicians.
23. Alcoholics Anonymous by Bill Wilson - $13,000
A 1939 first edition of the ‘Big Book’ that helped launch AA’s 12-step program of recovery in near fine condition.
24= Holy Bible 1572 - $12,500
Imprinted in Powles Churcheyarde by Richard Lugge, this is the second folio (a.k.a. ‘Leda’) edition of the Bishops’ Bible: the Old Testament is a close reprint of the 1568 text as revised under the supervision of Matthew Parker, but with fresh revisions to the New Testament as directed by Giles Lawrence.
24= Thoughts and Adventures by Winston S. Churchill - $12,500
Signed association copy. Churchill signed the half-title page for Herbert Morrison, who served as Home Secretary in Churchill's war cabinet, and later served as Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the Commons in the post-World War II era. The book is a first printing of the first Odhams edition, previously issued in 1932. Complete with its dust jacket.
More than 500 books priced $3,000 and higher were sold during the year via AbeBooks. That list includes two Robert Frost books (worth a combined $16,000), two signed copies of The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith aka JK Rowling, (worth a combined $6,976), three Agatha Christie novels (worth a combined $13,450), four books by Isaac Asimov (worth a combined $10,817), five books by James Joyce (worth a combined $22,855) and five Great Gatsbys (worth a combined $27,300). Below are 10 more sales that caught our eye during the year.
1. Guest Book for the Castello Bar at the Castle Schloss Mondsee near Salzburg, Austria - $11,900
Castle Schloss Mondsee, now an upmarket hotel, began life as a Benedictine abbey and was founded in 748. This guest book is full of famous signatures, including Burt Lancaster, Greta Garbo, Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer.
2. The Handmade Papers of Japan by Thomas and Harriet R. Tindale - $9,500
Printed in Paris, this is pioneering book on astronomy and geography from 1551.
3. The Lindisfarne Gospel - facsimile edition - $9,026
The Lindisfarne Gospel is an illuminated manuscript produced around 700 AD on the island of Lindisfarne. The original, considered one of the finest works of post Roman Britain art, is on display in the British Library. This facsimile was produced in limited numbers (980 copies) in 2002 and contains two volumes of commentary.
4. A Signed Photograph of Ernest Hemingway - $8,250
Sitting on a sailboat gunwale, Hemingway looks healthy and tanned. The photo is inscribed “Norma - glad you finally came to Key West - ever, Ernest” and dated 1937.
5. Memoir and Poems of Phillis Wheatley - by Phillis Wheatley - $8,250
First edition from a pioneer of African-American literature who defied slavery and became a published poet.
6. Long Walk to Freedom - by Nelson Mandela - $8,152
Illustrated edition of Mandela’s autobiography, published 1996, limited to 425 copies which were signed by Mandela.
7. The Moment, for Miriam - by Kenneth Patchen - $7,500
Patchen was an American poet (1911-1972) and novelist. This rare poetry book was published in 1955 and limited to 42 hand-bound copies produced at Henry Geiger’s printshop. The Moment gathers together two of Patchen's 1955 works of illustrated poems, Glory Never Guesses and A Surprise for the Bagpipe Player. Miriam was Patchen’s wife.
8. An Autograph Letter Signed by Franz Liszt - $5,993
Handwritten two-page letter written by the composer to A. René at Feodosiya. He thanks him for a musical manuscript, and tells him he will spend the winter in Budapest. Signed “F. Liszt”.
9. The Shop Signs of Peking - by H.K. Fung & the Chinese Painting Association - $5,500
Rare 1931 book filled with paintings of shop signs. Fung wrote the preface in English.
10. Ballet - by Alexey Brodovitch - $5,500
First edition published in 1945. Between 1935 and 1937, Brodovitch photographed several of the leading Russian ballet companies while they performed in New York.