Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Record Price for 20th Century Literature at Antiquarian Book Fair
More about that copy of Ulysses, this from Ibookcollector - newsletter no.164
A world record for a 20th century printed book has been broken at the Antiquarian Book Fair, Olympia.
As the doors opened on Thursday 4th June, a private British collector paid £275,000 for an extremely rare, signed first edition of Ulysses by James Joyce offered by Peter Harrington Antiquarian Bookseller. Regarded today as a cornerstone of 20th century literature, the whereabouts of this copy (number 45 of 100) is one of four copies unaccounted for, it has remained in single ownership until now and is fresh to the market.
Ulysses had been banned in the United States where it had been smuggled into the country and sold by an avant-garde bookshop in New York, the Sunwise Turn, to Mrs Hewitt Morgan.
The book is in superb condition, unopened except for the famous last chapter, Molly Bloom’s long unbroken soliloquy ending in an orgasmic ‘yes’. The book also proved to be a major test case for laws of freedom of expression. ‘Forced underground by censors … this was a cryptoclassic already before it was read, a subversive colossus’, (Norman Sherry, James Joyce, Ulysses, 2nd edition).
Or as Joyce's long-suffering wife Nora succinctly put it, ‘I guess the man's a genius, but what a dirty mind he has, hasn't he?’ First edition, primary issue, one of 100 copies on Dutch handmade paper; this copy numbered 45 and signed by Joyce on the limitation page. The first printing of Ulysses consisted of 1,000 copies, divided into three issues. The first 100 were designated the primary issue: printed on fine Dutch handmade paper, numbered 1–100 and signed by Joyce, these copies bulk thickest of the three issues and were the most expensive, at 350 francs ($30).
Of the remainder, 150 unsigned copies were done on larger but inferior paper, and the remaining 750 on linen paper, noticeably thinner and slightly smaller than the Dutch paper issue. Owing to the size and weight of its text block, copies of the Dutch paper issue rarely survive in unrestored original wrappers, while the deep blue colour of the wrappers is liable to discoloration when not stored (as this has been here) in a suitable box from first publication.
This copy is not located in the 1996 census of copies of Ulysses, and was not in Sylvia Beach's notebook showing copies sold up to 1 July 1922 (the next copy, number 46, is marked down to another New York bookseller, Brentano's).
This is perhaps not surprising. Distribution of Ulysses in America was convoluted, Sylvia Beach believing that the Little Review trial rendered it particularly risky to post direct to New York. Accordingly she resorted to subterfuge, sending forty copies of the 750 issue via a friend of Hemingway's in Windsor, Ontario, who then carried them across the border by hand.
But she entrusted ten of the more expensive copies to her oldest childhood friend, Marion Mason Peters, in Highland Park, Illinois.
Of these, two were confiscated by postal authorities; the balance, readdressed by Peters, reaching their respective subscribers in New York. Whether this copy reached Sunwise Turn via Peters we do not know; however, it was sold by Sunwise Turn to Mrs Hewitt Morgan, passed down her family by descent, and is now fresh on the market.
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