Rare Books

The Ray Bradbury chronicles: tribute to a literary legend

First edition of Fahrenheit 451
First edition of Fahrenheit 451

Ray Bradbury was a giant of American literature. The man just could not be stopped - in his 91 years of life and a career spanning over 70 years, he wrote nearly a dozen novels and somewhere in the neighborhood of 600 short stories. His imagination and vision took us to Mars, to dystopian worlds of mind control, to carnivals and space and beyond. His contribution to science fiction, and literature as a whole, cannot be overstated, and scores of fans the world over would agree. But like most legends, there is one of the stacks of Ray Bradbury books which will be best remembered.

When you ask a stranger about Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451 will be the first thing to pass their lips nine times out of 10. Themes from the dystopian book-burning novel are as relevant today as when it was written in 1953 and when a book stays socially relevant for more than 50 years it's sure to have a legion of fans.

There are four first editions of Fahrenheit 451 that can be found. First is the soft cover edition released about six weeks before the hardcover version, which, despite being second in the timeline, is usually preferred by collectors. The hardcover commands four figures for a decent copy and more when signed. The special fire-proof asbestos cover edition that was limited to 200 copies is rarely seen priced at less than $10,000. The granddaddy of them all is the special cloth and gilt presentation copy which Bradbury had specially bound and limited to 50 copies. These extremely scarce editions may actually sell for more than the Asbestos Edition depending on who the book was inscribed to.

David Aronovitz of The Fine Books Company estimates Bradbury, famous for being one of literature's most obliging authors, may have "signed or inscribed a million" or more books, magazines and other ephemera during his long career, so there is no shortage of signed Ray Bradbury books available. However, serious and sophisticated collectors who enjoy signed books should still take this statement as a challenge to build a library of desirable and rare Ray Bradbury books. What particularly remains appealing today are those books which Ray signed and dated at the time of publication, especially those copies signed / inscribed during his earlier years. Also, there are a goodly number of association copies to be had as well. With patience, even these more coveted items may be located too. Since Bradbury's death at age 91 in June 2012, signed, inscribed and autographed Ray Bradbury books have increased in value, but for now affordable options are still quite plentiful.

Five limited edition Ray Bradbury books

Limited leather-bound copy from Easton Press
Limited to 500 copies, Bradbury wrote this novella in 2007.
Deluxe edition, limited to 100 copies. Signed by Bradbury.
First edition, limited to 300 copies numbered and signed by Bradbury.

Bradbury: educated in libraries

Ray Bradbury
Ray Bradbury on his bike

Bradbury truly was the father figure of modern American literature. Born in Illinois, Ray Douglas Bradbury, (Douglas after actor Douglas Fairbanks) grew up loving two things, magic and libraries, and spent much of his youth perusing both. However, it was Mr Electro who convinced him to take up full time writing. In 1932, Bradbury attended a Labor Day carnival where the magician, Mr. Electro, knighted the young writer with his electric sword and commanded that he "live forever." Bradbury considered this for a while and decided he should forget about being a magician and become an author, where his words could live for eternity. Bradbury graduated from high school in 1938 but did not proceed to college due to a lack of funds. He received his higher education somewhere else; explaining "when I graduated from high school, it was during the Depression and we had no money. I couldn't go to college, so I went to the library three days a week for 10 years."

It was during this time Bradbury began publishing short stories in science fiction pulp magazines such as Imagination! and Super Science Stories, and even launched his own fanzine in 1939 called Futuria Fantasia. By the 1940s, Bradbury was married, and published his first full length work called Dark Carnival, a collection of short stories. Dark Carnival has since gone out-of-print and continues to be hunted by collectors.

In 1950, Bradbury cemented himself in the science fiction community with the publication of The Martian Chronicles. However, Bradbury himself considered the work to be fantasy because "science fiction is a depiction of the real. Fantasy is a depiction of the unreal. So Martian Chronicles is not science fiction, it's fantasy. It couldn't happen."

It doesn't really matter whether the Martian Chronicles are labelled science fiction or fantasy. Bradbury was a master of both genres as well as myriad other styles - mysteries (Death Is a Lonely Business, A Graveyard for Lunatics, Let's All Kill Constance), horror (Something Wicked This Way Comes), poetry (The Last Good Kiss, Then Is All Love? It Is, It Is!), children's stories (Dogs Think That Every Day Is Christmas) and non-fiction (Zen in the Art of Writing, The God in Science Fiction) are all part of the Bradbury canon.

15 most expensive Ray Bradbury books sold by AbeBooks

Sold for: $4,500

A hardcover first edition of Bradbury's most famous novel published in 1953.
2. Pacificon Combozine
Sold for: $3,500

World Science Fiction Convention booklet 1946. (pictured 1939 World-Con booklet)
Sold for: $2,850

One of the most elusive of Bradbury publications, this little chapbook was printed on a small pilot-press from handset type, in an edition of only 90 copies. None were originally offered for sale, but the story did appear in The Golden Apples of the Sun, pictured here.
Sold for: $2,772

First edition of Bradbury's fourth novel, published 1962 – a fantasy horror story about a carnival. Signed: "For Joan & Eric [Ambler]- SOMETHING WICKED" for someone, I hope, good - with the friendly wishes of Ray Bradbury."
Sold for: $2,250

A complete run of 71 issues of Planet Stories, one of the short story magazines in which a young Bradbury developed much of his artistic skills. (winter issue 1948 copy shown above)
Sold for: $2,250

This association copy was warmly inscribed by Bradbury to his fellow science fiction/fantasy writer A. E. Van Vogt, "For Van with my admiration and thanks for 'Slan' and 'coeurl' and all the other wonderful creations - from a fan - Ray Bradbury - March 1953."
Sold for: $2,000

One of 52 lettered copies of Bradbury's third publication, the full leather lettered edition contains extra content not included in the numbered edition fetched two grand. The 1951 Doubleday first is pictured here.
Sold for: $1,750

Two original souvenir booklets issued at the first two World Science Fiction Conventions, which included a Bradbury signature from 1939, when he was 19.
Sold for: $1,750

A first edition of Bradbury's collection of short stories from 1947, though it remains out-of-print the majority of the stories have been republished in other collections. However in 2001 there was a limited edition pressing of the book by Gauntlet Press which contained five extra stories by Bradbury.
Sold for: $1,400

A first edition, first state, copy of Bradbury's landmark novel published in 1950 that began as a series of short stories. The short stories were reworked into a complete novel that outlines the colonization of Mars by humans fleeing from a troubled Earth.
Sold for: $1,294

First English edition of The Martian Chronicles, the book was renamed by the British publisher in 1951. It was printed with one additional story, The Fire Balloons, but omitted Usher II. Signed by Bradbury.
Sold for: $1,250

First edition of Bradbury's 1955 collection of macabre contains 15 of the 27 stories from Dark Carnival plus four new ones, signed by Bradbury and illustrator Joe Mugnaini.
13. Ylla
Sold for: $1,000

This totally unique 16-page manuscript for what later became a short story, and then a chapter in The Martian Chronicles (shown above). This copy was destined for E. Ernest Evans, an editor at Weird Tales Magazine: "6TH Draft. For E.E.E. With Great Affection From Ray Bradbury June 1950."
14. How Not to Burn a Book - or 1984 Will Not Arrive
Sold for: $750

A limited edition 2002 reprinting of a 1975 Bradbury lecture at the University of California at Santa Barbara - 60 pages, printed with gold and red ink designs.
Sold for: $750

The first "best of" collection. Only a handful of copies hardbound in cloth were produced, making this a very collectible book, most Bradbury fans only posses the more common paperback (shown here).

What Ray Bradbury book will the author be best remembered for?