Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Signed, First Edition of "Grief & Stupidity" (with dustjacket)

Abebooks just published its list of the most expensive book sales of 2011 on the Abebooks website. It's an interesting read, especially the books by category. I generally pay a little more attention to the moderns than I do the truly antiquarian books, just because that's what I'm most likely to stumble across in used bookstores, rummage sales and thriftshops.

So what could I expect to get for that first-edition (with dustjacket) To Kill A Mockingbird I paid a quarter for at a garage sale?* Oh, about $25,000 or so...

*in my dreams...

From the Abebooks site...

It was a bumper year for rare bookselling. The combined total of AbeBooks’ top 10 most expensive sales during 2011 is $220,330. The November sale of Karl Marx’s Das Kapital for $51,739 was the year’s most significant transaction on AbeBooks and one that sparked many wry smiles.
The sale of a signed first edition of Harper Lee’s one hit wonder, To Kill a Mockingbird, for $25,000 illustrated that this novel remains one of the most desirable of modern firsts.

Our third largest sale was a complete set of all 10 issues of Aspen Magazine, a multimedia publication that ran from 1965 to 1971. Many leading figures in contemporary art, both British and North American, were contributors to Aspen including Andy Warhol, John Lennon, Timothy Leary and Susan Sontag.

Browse the acquisitions of big spending book collectors and you will encounter the Grinch, a Hobbit, the world’s most famous pilot, a spy licensed to kill, the Boy Wizard, a novel about the Spice, courageous senators, banned poetry and a book about teeth.

 As (my) luck would have it, I do have a heartbreaking (for me, anyway) story concerning one of the titles on the sci-fi and fantasy list, which is...

1. The Hobbit or There and Back Again by J.R.R. Tolkien - $20,447
First edition, first impression copy of Tolkien’s classic with a complete dust jacket.
2. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? By Philip K. Dick - $12,500
First edition, first printing of the book that inspired the Blade Runner movie. Published in 1968 and signed by Dick.
3. Dune by Frank Herbert - $7,500
First edition, first printing with a laid-in signature by Herbert. Includes a dust jacket in fine condition. 

Back when I was younger and much, much stoopider, I worked at the Norman, Oklahoma Goodwill store during my hazy and mostly unproductive college years. As part of my job I sorted untold numbers of boxes of donated books. In a college town with a fairly literate demographic, this could have been a veritable gold mine of potential finds (I even got a discount!).

Unfortunately for me, back then I was a reader and a reader only, and I had absolutely no idea of the value of modern first editions. If I came across a nice, hardback copy of a title I already had in paperback, I'd pass on buying it. Even now, I want to cry in anguish at the books I let slip through my hands just because I already had a tattered, worthless paperback copy of the same title sitting on the milk crate bookshelf back at the apartment.

Anyways, I'm certain, absolutely certain, that I passed on a first-edition Dune (with dustjacket) because I already had a paperback. I recall this particular instance because I distinctly remember thinking at the time how damn ugly the dustjacket art was compared to my cool 1977 sixteenth printing Berkley Medallion paperback copy. I could have gotten it for...fifty cents.

Folly. Of. Youth.

At least I'm comfortable in the knowledge that I never made the same mistake with number two on the list. I don't recall ever seeing a hardbound copy of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and my paperback edition (the Blade Runner movie tie-in, even!) is the only one that's ever passed through my hands. I think. Or at least I hope.

I won't even mention some of the fiction moderns I passed on, because I'm trying to ease up a bit on the drinking.

I still have that worthless paperback copy of Dune sitting on my bookshelf, and I still wail and gnash my teeth every time I see it. Scares the hell out of my family, but they're getting used to it.


  1. The mice ate my comic collection, as well as my handful of really good baseball cards (e.g. rookie Roberto Clemente). My younger brothers destroyed my classic GI Joe collectibles when I went off to college. And Hurricane Fran turned my collectible vinyl into a blackish lump.

    So I can relate to the pain you describe. Depending on the market, somewhere in that tale of woe could have been my retirement... or at least paid for a nice dinner to celebrate retirement.

  2. If I had every old book and gun of value I ever owned I could retire. Which I wouldn't anyway.

    From one insomniac up late to another...