Rare Books

Most expensive sales from July to September 2022

Welcome to AbeBooks' most expensive sales of July, August and September 2022. Our list is dominated by fine art in various forms and includes an illustrated book of poetry, a portfolio of surreal lithographs, a new luxury book showcasing iconic Renaissance art, and a complete set of influential French art magazines.

Cantique des Cantiques de Salomon - $35,000

Cantique des Cantiques
Eric Gill illustrated this book of poetry.

The Song of Songs, also known as the Canticle of Canticles or the Song of Solomon, is an erotic poem. This is a 1931 edition in French produced by the Cranach Press with beautiful wood engravings by Eric Gill, the British artist known for his typefaces and printmaking. Only eight copies were produced in French and they are printed on vellum.

The Cranach Press was dedicated to printing fine editions of famous literature. The Song of Songs appears in the Hebrew Bible (the Tanakh) and is read on the Sabbath during Passover. However, it is not a traditional piece of religious scripture that offers wisdom or guidance. The poem celebrates sexual love.

This particular copy is bound in red full morocco leather, has no wear and is preserved in its original shipping materials from Cranach Press. A rare find.

Les Vitraux by Salvador Dalí - $25,000

Les Vitraux
Les Vitraux by Salvador Dali contains 24 loose lithographs

This is a portfolio of 24 loose color lithographs, each signed and numbered in pencil by Salvador Dalí. Published in 1973 in Italy, this is a limited numbered edition of 250 copies. These lithographs are a typical example of Dali’s work in surrealism, including an appearance of a melting clock made famous by his Persistence of Memory painting from 1931. Les Vitraux translates as stained glass.

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell - $25,000

A first edition, first printing of Margaret Mitchell’s landmark novel about the American South during the American Civil War and its aftermath. The book is signed by the author on the front free endpaper. Gone With the Wind was published in May 1936 by Macmillan and this copy still has its original dust jacket. An immediate bestseller, a movie adaption of the novel followed in 1939. Mitchell won a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1937 thanks to this book.

The Dark Tower by Stephen King - $24,000

No introductions are necessary for Mr King, who released a new novel called Fairy Tale in September. These are the nine volumes of King’s Dark Tower fantasy series published by Donald M. Grant, and they have all been signed by the author and their respective illustrator. The nine volumes are Dark Tower: Gunslinger (published in 1982), The Drawing of the Three (1987), The Wastelands (1991), Wizard and Glass (1997), Wolves of the Calla (2003), Song of Susannah (2004), The Dark Tower (2004), The Little Sisters of Eluria (2008), and The Wind Through the Keyhole (2012). All copies are first editions.

The Sistine Chapel by Vatican Museums - $22,000

The Sistine Chapel art book
A spread from The Sistine Chapel luxury art book showing Jesus in The Last Judgment.
Callaway Arts & Entertainment

A five-year collaboration between the Vatican and two publishers resulted in this luxury three-volume elephant folio-sized art book that includes 1:1 scale images of the masterpieces by Michelangelo, Botticelli, and other Renaissance artists.

This limited edition was created after two photographers took more than 270,000 images over 65 consecutive nights while the Sistine Chapel was closed to visitors - a photographic assignment of biblical proportions. A 33-foot-tall scaffold – which was constructed and taken apart each night - helped the photographers get close to the famous art decorating the walls and ceiling. Our review provides more information.

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Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K Dick - $21,275

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep
Philip K. Dick provided a humorous review of one of his own books.

This is the 1968 US first edition of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep published by Doubleday. First editions of this influential science fiction book, which inspired the Blade Runner movies, are scarce.

This book was sold with an original letter to Venom Magazine typed and signed by Philip K Dick. In the letter, which was also published in The Selected Letters of Philip K. Dick 1980-1982, Dick asks if he can review his own work. The third part of this sale is Dick's typed humorous review of his own book, The Divine Invasion.

A Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne – $20,000

An 1874 first American edition of A Journey to the Center of the Earth, published by Scribner Armstrong and Co, with a laid-in author signature. Verne’s novel imagines an underground world inhabited by prehistoric creatures where travel is possible via volcanic tubes.

A complete set of Verve Magazine - $19,900

Verve Magazine
Verve Magazine featured numerous styles including surrealism.

Verve was a pivotal French art magazine that published 38 issues between 1937 and 1960. Numerous major artists contributed artwork including Henri Matisse, Georges Braque, Joan Miró, Marc Chagall, Paul Klee, Pierre Bonnard, Georges Rouault, Aristide Maillol, and Pablo Picasso. Complete sets are rare.

Matisse provided the cover illustration for the first issue. The second had four original lithographs - two from Wassily Kandinsky and two from André Masson. The third issue contained original lithographs from Chagall, Miró, and Klee. The fourth featured photographs from Bill Brandt and Brassaï. And so it went on.

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas by Jules Verne - $17,500

An 1873 first edition of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas published by James R. Osgood. This underwater adventure story first appeared in serial form in a French periodical in 1871. Verne’s depiction of the Nautilus correctly foresaw the impact that submarines would have on the maritime world, starting in World War I when both Germany and Britain used submarines to sink naval and merchant shipping.

Facsimile of the Coronation Gospels of the Holy Roman Empire – $15,200

Coronation Gospels of the Holy Roman Empire
A blue sapphire rests on God's chest.

The original Coronation Gospels of the Holy Roman Empire is one of most important manuscripts from the Middle Ages. It was created around 800 years after the birth of Christ at the request of Charlemagne, ruler of the Holy Roman Empire. Too fragile to display, it is housed in Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum. This facsimile was created in 2012.

Roman-German kings, who ruled the Holy Roman Empire, used the book in their coronation. The cover, featuring God in the Annunciation (where Gabriel tells Mary she will give birth to Jesus), is an example of late Gothic goldsmithing with jewels and a sapphire on God’s chest.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J.K. Rowling – $12,500

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.jpg

A 1997 Bloomsbury first edition fourth printing of the first Harry Potter book, signed by J.K. Rowling on the front free endpaper with its original dust jacket. This copy includes a rare Harry Potter postcard signed by the author.

Virginia Woolf typed and signed letter - $12,000

Virginia Woolf letter
The letter was written in November 1932.

The letter is dated November 6, 1932, and contains a handwritten postscript. It is addressed to Logan Pearsall Smith, an essayist and critic. Virginia Woolf appears to address the rivalry between the literary sects in the Bloomsbury and Chelsea areas of London.

An excerpt reads: “I have known Chelsea for many years. For many years they have asked me to tea and dinner and I have asked them to tea and dinner. And then I discovered that they were laughing at me and my friends behind my back; and they discovered that I was laughing at them and their friends behind their backs. So I gave up asking them; and I gave up accepting their invitations. This is not due to having a good heart, it is simply that such intercourse seemed to me dull, barren, fruitless, uninteresting."

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens - $12,000

An 1843 first edition first printing published by Chapman & Hall bound in half maroon morocco letter. A Christmas Carol was published on December 19 in 1843 and became an instant bestseller. A novella, this book helped craft the modern version of Christmas with its focus on family, food, and giving. Scrooge has entered the lexicon for anyone who is tight-fisted. AbeBooks sold another first edition of this book, accompanied by a Dickens letter, earlier in 2022 for $20,000.

Spherical Trigonometry by Murray J. Leventhal & Charles Salkind - $11,600

Spherical Trigonometry
This copy of Spherical Trigonometry was signed by Alan Turing.

A copy of this 1943 softcover trigonometry pamphlet signed by British mathematician and World War II code-breaker Alan Turing, who had also added the single word “check” to page 4. Books and documents signed by Turing, who helped crack Germany’s enigma code, are rare and command high prices.

Turing (1912-1954) was an early pioneer in computing and artificial intelligence, and his code breaking work at Bletchley Park arguably helped shorten World War II.

Tragically, he committed suicide at age 41 after being forced to undergo a treatment program for his homosexuality.

Alcoholics Anonymous by Bill Wilson - $11,500

A 1939 first edition of Alcoholics Anonymous. Nicknamed the 'Big Book' by early AA members for its thick paper and wide margins, this is the most influential self help book ever published. Early copies are treasured by collectors, particularly ones who have been through the AA’s 12-step program, which is detailed in the book. Bill Wilson was an alcoholic stockbroker who had found sobriety and, in 1934, decided to help other people with addiction problems.

The first help groups were created in Akron, Ohio, and New York, and Wilson’s formula – no last names and therapeutic sessions where alcoholics recount their experiences – started to take shape. In 1938, he began writing down his strategy for sobriety. The book opens with Wilson’s own descent into alcoholism and his subsequent recovery. The draft chapters, as he finished them, would be read aloud at AA meetings so Wilson could obtain feedback.

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