Rare Books

Most expensive sales in 2023

Literary masterpieces, fantasy, poetry, a comic strip, and more.

Welcome to our most expensive sales of 2023. The list features a remarkable collection from Thomas Pynchon, author of ‘One of the Longest, Most Difficult, Most Ambitious Novels in Years,’ iconic works from the minds of Walt Whitman and Adam Smith, and a signed color proof from the well-loved comic strip, Calvin and Hobbes.

Thomas Pynchon Collection - $125,000

Gravity's Rainbow
One of approximately 30 copies of the uncorrected proof of Gravity's Rainbow (1973)

Thomas Pynchon is one of America's most reclusive novelists and the author of V., The Crying of Lot 49, Gravity's Rainbow, Slow Learner, Vineland, Mason and Dixon, Inherent Vice, and Bleeding Edge.

This is a collection of 246 items comes from a fine private library.

Highlights include: an advance reading copy of V. (1963), Pynchon’s first novel, in its original wrapper, as well as a first edition copy of V. in a dust jacket, advance unbound signatures and an uncorrected proof of Gravity's Rainbow (1973), the binder's dummy of Mason & Dixon (1997) in a proof dust jacket, and more.

Sold by Clouds Hill Books

Assembled over a lifetime by a dedicated private collector, this remarkable collection of Thomas Pynchon’s work contained over 240 items. One would be hard-pressed to find a more bibliographically complete collection containing so many Pynchon rarities in such perfect condition.
Joanne Overty (Clouds Hill Books)
Joanne Overty (Clouds Hill Books)

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J.K. Rowling - $85,620

Harry Potter and Philosopher's Stone
This first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone was once part of Edinburgh Public Library

This true first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone was published by Bloomsbury in June of 1997. Only 500 copies were printed, 200 of which were used to promote the book, and 300 were provided to libraries. This copy was originally owned by Edinburgh Public Library in Rowling’s hometown. She wrote the novel while sitting in various cafes around the Scottish city.

The book’s library card shows that it was borrowed 27 times between December 15, 1997 and October 12, 1999 before it was withdrawn from service. Those 27 readers were among the first people to experience the magic of Hogwarts.

This copy is a hardcover and was issued without a dust jacket. It has been restored and housed in a full red leather box lined with black suede. The sale marks our second most expensive sale of all time, and shows that the Harry Potter phenomenon, which began in 1997, has not diminished.

This is likely the most expensive online sale of a first edition of the Philosopher’s Stone. Another first edition sold at a live auction for $471,000 in 2021.

AbeBooks sold another true first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone for $37,000 in 2005. That price now looks like a bargain.

Sold by First and Fine

Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman - $75,000

Leaves of Grass
A very good copy, rare in the original cloth, re-cased in its original binding.

This may be the most important collection of poetry in American Literature.

Although Leaves of Grass was first greeted with derision and even shock - Boston's district attorney attempted to have some of the poems suppressed as obscene and Whitman was fired from his job - it eventually claimed its rightful place in the American canon.

Whitman himself helped to pay for the printing of the first edition, published in 1855. That initial run produced only 800 copies, most of which were unbound.

Sold by Whitmore Rare Books, Inc.

Leaves of Grass is an exceptional work in all respects. It was self-published by the author, who was involved in all aspects of the design and production of the book, even helping to set the type for this first print run. It doesn't look like any other first American book of poetry published in the mid-nineteenth century!
Dan Whitmore (Whitmore Rare Books, Inc.)
Dan Whitmore (Whitmore Rare Books, Inc.)

An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith - $62,500

An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations
Contemporary calf leather, re-backed, with original gilt spines and morocco labels laid down, corners renewed

First published in 1776, this Second Edition of The Wealth of Nations was published by W. Strahan & T. Cadell in 1778 and is scarcer than its predecessor with only 500 copies printed. It is the only other edition published in quarto format.

Adam Smith (1723-1790) spent ten years writing and perfecting this foundational work.

The book succeeded at once, and the first edition was exhausted in six months.

Sold by Charles Agvent, est. 1987

It's always a privilege to handle an important work, in this case a foundational book in the field of economics. I quote a contemporary author of another bestseller of the time, Edward Gibbon, on Adam Smith's classic: 'An extensive science in a single book, and the most profound ideas expressed in the most perspicuous language.'
Charles Agvent
Charles Agvent

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde - $46,875

The Picture of Dorian Gray
Deluxe first edition of Wilde's only novel, this being number 115 of 250 copies signed by the author

The Picture of Dorian Gray is the story of a decadent young man who trades his soul for eternal youth and beauty. It was first published in Lippincott's monthly magazine in 1890 before being expanded and published into book form in 1891.

The story was heavily edited at various stages in its publication to remove queer content which offended contemporary British sensibilities (and the law). The book was bowdlerized and used against Wilde at his trials, eventually resulting in a prison sentence for gross indecency.

This large paper 'edition de luxe' was published in July of 1891, three months after the first trade edition.

Sold by Shapero Rare Books

As Lord Henry Wotton says in The Picture of Dorian Gray, ‘The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it’. Who could resist the temptation of such a fine copy of the deluxe first edition of Oscar Wilde’s only novel? This is one of only 250 copies signed by Wilde himself, in the original publisher’s parchment-backed grey boards.
Bernard Shapero
Bernard Shapero (Shapero Rare Books)

Complete Set of Swallows and Amazon Novels by Arthur Ransome - $45,900

Complete set of the Swallows and Amazons novels by Arthur Ransome
Swallows and Amazons, Swallowdale, Peter Duck, Winter Holiday, Coot Club, Pigeon Post, We Didn't Mean To Go To Sea, Secret Water, The Big Six, Missee Lee, The Picts and The Martyrs, Great Northern?

Complete first edition sets of Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons sailing adventures novels are rare.

The first book was published in an edition of only 2,000 copies, compared to the print run for the first issue of the last book, which numbered around 11,000 copies).

This set features original green cloth, lettering to spines in gilt, illustrated endpapers, and attractive jackets.

Sold by Peter Harrington

Owning a first edition of Swallows and Amazons is about more than possessing a book; it's a tangible piece of literary history that encapsulates the magic of childhood adventure. This was a rare opportunity for someone to acquire a complete collection of first editions of Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons novels in their original dust jackets.
Pom Harrington (Peter Harrington Books)
Pom Harrington (Peter Harrington Books)

The Chronicles of Narnia Set by C.S. Lewis - $45,699

The Chronicles of Narnia Set
Seven volumes, illustrated by Pauline Baynes; the set comprises of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Prince Caspian, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Silver Chair, The Horse and His Boy, The Magician's Nephew, and The Last Battle.

This remarkable set is made up of the first editions of each book in the author's classic Chronicles of Narnia series, which has sold over 100 million copies and been translated into 47 languages.

Clive Staples Lewis (1898-1963) was one of the intellectual giants of the twentieth century and arguably one of the most influential writers of his day.

Find more collectible books by C. S. Lewis.

Sold by Raptis Rare Books

The New Review: A Complete Run in 17 Volumes (1889-97) - $40,000

The New Review: A Complete Run in 17 Volumes (1889-97)
17 volumes, large octavos, bound without wrappers in full cloth over boards with dark red leather spine labels stamped in gold, edges sprinkled red; an ex-library set with intermittent small ink stamps and bookplates on the front pastedowns.

This complete set of The New Review consists of every monthly issue published between June 1889 and December 1897, when the magazine ceased publication.

The complete run of this influential avant-garde magazine features the first published appearances of many important literary works, most notably H.G. Wells' The Time Machine.

The magazine was unique appealing to both conservative Members of Parliament and literary intellectuals, and championed 'uncommercial' writers.

Sold by Between the Covers-Rare Books, Inc

The Waste Land by T. S. Eliot – $35,000

The Waste Land
The original dustjacket is rich in color with minor repair

This is a copy of the first U.S. edition of one of the most influential works of twentieth century poetry published in 1922.

T. S. Eliot was awarded the 1948 Nobel Prize in Literature for his outstanding, pioneer contribution to present-day poetry.

The book is bound in the publisher's black cloth. It is in great shape with minor wear to the boards. The binding is tight with no cocking or leaning and the boards are crisp. The pages are clean with no writing, marks or bookplates in the book.

Sold by Magnus Opum Rare Books

Calvin and Hobbes: The Last Sunday, "Let's Go Exploring" by Bill Watterson - $35,000

Calvin and Hobbes - Let's Go Exploring
Signed color proof, 250 x 350 mm (approx. 10 x 13.5”); image size approximately 225 x 323 mm; printed in black and half-tone colors, light handling creases to margins

A rarity, this large color proof of the final Calvin and Hobbes strip is signed by Bill Watterson.

Calvin and Hobbes was a daily comic strip that ran between 1985 and 1995. It became hugely successful and was featured in thousands of newspapers around the globe.

This signed color proof was one of a small number produced and sent as a thank-you gift from Watterson to select newspapers who carried the strip.

Sold by Manhattan Rare Book Company

If you are of a certain age (like I am), you may remember opening the newspaper on December 31, 1995 with a little bit of excitement and more than a little bit of sadness, to see what Bill Watterson created for the last strip of his beloved Calvin and Hobbes. After 10 years and 3100 strips, it was all coming to an end. And Watterson didn’t disappoint. Here is that last strip, and it’s a perfect, joyous, and hopeful ending. Against a backdrop of fresh white snow serving as a template for possibilities, Calvin and Hobbes remind us that it is, after all, a magical world - let’s go exploring.
Michael DiRuggiero
Michael DiRuggiero (Manhattan Rare Book Company)


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