A Pricey Used Book Sale

John Brennan talks about the prison at Guantanamo Bay at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on August 6, 2009. CSIS

The nondescript copy of Ian Fleming's second James Bond novel, "Live and Let Die," hardly looks like it belongs in an upscale auction house, let alone selling for tens of thousands of dollars.

Until you open it.

"To Sir Winston Churchill: From whom I stole some words," reads Fleming's inscription to the former British prime minister, scrawled in blue ink on the inner dust jacket of the first edition.

The 1954 novel is among more than 350 inscribed first editions of 20th-century literary classics - including James Joyce's "Ulysses" and Ernest Hemingway's "For Whom the Bell Tolls" - to be sold at Christie's Manhattan auction house Friday.

Literary experts say it's one of the most significant collections of signed books to be sold at auction.

"It's certainly the talk of the book world right now," said Ken Lopez, president of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America, a New York-based trade organization.

The books are the personal collection of Roger Rechler, a Long Island real estate developer who amassed them over the last decade. Rechler did not return telephone calls for comment, but in the foreword of the auction catalog, he states: "Many of these books have never been owned by earlier collectors."

Most of the novels and poetry anthologies in the collection are highly regarded works of literature, desirable as first editions but even more so for the inscriptions scribbled into their front pages, brief messages to spouses, friends and others.

A fine edition of L. Frank Baum's "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz," bound in original green cloth with an amusing illustration of a bespectacled lion, is inscribed with four lines of verse to a family friend, Elizabeth Hubbard: "When in this book you take a look; My little sweetheart Beth; Just think I write the whole of it; And yet am yours 'til death."

William Faulkner's first novel, "The Marble Faun," is dedicated to his parents with a simple inscription: "To Dad and Mother, Xmas 1924."

Jack Kerouac's classic "On the Road," is inscribed to his girlfriend, Joyce Johnson, with a lighthearted greeting: "To Joyce, With Love, From Amigo Beholden Jack." And Vladimir Nabokov's 1958 first American edition of "Lolita" is dedicated to his wife with one word - her name, Vera, in Russian.

Book experts say inscribed copies are valuable because they often offer rare insights into an author's personal life.

"It gives the book a place in history that just the imprint and date of printing can't give it," said Jennifer Lee, librarian at Columbia University's library of rare books and manuscripts.

The estimated prices range from several thousand dollars to several hundred thousand dollars.


By Eric Tucker
  • Bootie Cosgrove-Mather

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