Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Notes on PEN's annotated first edition auction

This week's sale of acclaimed first editions signed by their authors, which I've helped organise, invites a few questions – which I've set out to answer here

Monday 20 May 2013   
PEN first edition auction
Questions of lots ... some of the author-annotated first editions in PEN's charity auction

My bookselling colleagues wonder if I have gone walkabout, my business colleague Peter Grogan shrugs his shoulders, my bank manager phones solicitously. How am I? Where am I? What have I been up to? I don't mind, I've been having a ball.
This is partly due to finishing a book, which is just out, but more the result of organising – over the last year – a charity auction on behalf of English PEN (at Sotheby's: 7:30 on the evening of May 21) which is called "First Editions, Second Thoughts" – or, though I generally hate acronyms: FEST.

We asked major contemporary writers to annotate a first edition of one of their most famous (and valuable) books. In each case I chose the book, rather than asking which the author might want to contribute. The reason was simple: I chose the one most likely to fetch a high price at auction. (It was pleasing that the writers almost unanimously accepted the brief, though a couple suggested that they might have more to say about a different title, which of course we allowed).

"Feel free to scribble second thoughts, marginalia or drawings throughout the work in whatever fashion moves you, thus singling out this particular first edition and making it even more desirable for a reader or collector to want to own."

When asked to elucidate what this actually entails, I stonewalled with Humpty Dumpty's wise view, that a word (such as "annotate") can mean whatever you want it to mean. (He adds: "when I make a word do a lot of work like that, I always pay it extra.") It is not up to me to determine how an author responds to his or her own work. And different writers did markedly different things, as you can see from the following extracts:
The rest here

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