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Fine Books & Manuscripts Sale Achieves Record Results

Potter and Potter's recent Fine Books and Manuscripts Sale was the company's highest grossing auction to date. After a day of spirited bidding, 107 lots realized between $1,000-4,999; 22 lots realized between $5,000-9,999; and 16 lots broke the five digit mark. Prices noted include the company's 20% buyer's premium.

Collections of writings from Samuel L. Clemens (Mark Twain, 1835–1910) and Charles Dickens (1812–1870) were high spots in this sale, with two generating world-record prices. A 38 volume set of Twain's works, was estimated at $4,000-6,000 and sold for $33,600 - a new world's record. Published in New York by Gabriel Wells in 1923–1925, this example, number 499 of 1024 copies of the “Definitive Edition,” was signed (in advance) by Twain on the front flyleaf of volume I with the attestation on the facing page signed by Clemens' biographer and executor, Albert Bigelow Paine.  Another 22 volume set of Twain's work, was estimated at $600-800 and brought $8,400. It was published in Hartford, CT by the American Publishing Company in 1901. This set retained the original dust jackets, was number 583 of 625 copies printed, and was the first uniform edition of all Twain’s works.  
A collection of five Christmas books by Dickens, was estimated at $6,000-8,000 and fetched $28,000 - another world's record. All were first editions and published in London in the 1843–1848 period. Titles included A Christmas Carol, The Chimes, The Battle of Life, and The Haunted Man. Each volume was finely bound , with their upper covers featuring various color morocco inlays depicting a Dickens character from its corresponding work.

Materials related to Herman Melville (1819–1891) caught the eye of enthusiasts worldwide. A first American edition, first binding of Melville's Moby–Dick; or, The Whale, brought $60,000. Published in 1851 in New York by Harper & Brothers, in Grolier’s 100  Influential American Books, it is described as containing “the sounds and scents, the very flavor, of the maritime life of our whaling ancestors” and in Johnson’s High Spots a “masterpiece” after rising from semi–obscurity in the 20th century.
An 1872 autographed signed note from Melville to Miss Coffin, was estimated at $8,000-10,000 and sold for $11,400.  In this document, with possible ties to the story behind Moby Dick, Melville wrote, “So long a time has elapsed that I cannot recall where I got the facts alluded to in your note of the 9th inst. Neither– I am so sorry to say– can I direct you where to get information additional to what you may now possess." The Coffins were a prominent Nantucket whaling family through the 19th century. A three volume set of Melville's Moby Dick illustrated by Rockwell Kent (1882–1971) was estimated at $3,000-4,000 and sold for $10,800. It was published in Chicago by The Lakeside Press in 1930. This example was one of 1000 copies and one of R. R. Donnelly and Sons’ Lakeside Press “Four American Books” campaign. Of the four books produced for the series, Moby Dick was the only work to sell out completely.  

William Jardine (1784–1843) and Prideaux J. Selby's  (1788–1867) four volume Illustrations of Ornithology, made $15,600 . This first edition was published in Edinburgh by W. H. Lizars and produced to compliment Selby’s Illustrations of British Ornithology (1821–33) and in response to the lack of works on non–European avifauna.

A first edition of Thomas Hobbes' (1588–1679) Leviathan; or, The Matter, Forme, & Power of a Common–Wealth Ecclesiasticall and Civill, sold for $21,600. It was printed in London by Roger Norton and Richard Cotes for Andrew Crooke in 1651 and is considered one of the most important books in the history of political philosophy.

Charles Darwin's (1809–1882) On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life, fetched $10,200. It was published in London by John Murray in 1860. This second edition, second issue had an 1860 imprint and “fifth thousand” on title page; in actuality only 3,000 copies were printed bringing the total to 4,250.

Henry Francis Cary's (translator, 1772–1844) The Vision; or, Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise, of Dante Alighieri, was estimated at $6,000-8,000 and brought $10,200. It was printed in London by J. Barfield in 1814. This example was the first complete Cary translation of the Divine Comedy and the first accurate commentary with about a third of the work devoted to notes.

A three volume set of John James Audubon (1785–1851) and John Bachman's (1790–1874) The Quadrupeds of North America, was estimated at $7,000-9,000 and sold for $10,800. This early octavo edition of Audubon's final work was published in New York by V.G. Audubon in 1854 and featured 155 hand-colored lithographed plates.

Original antique maps and atlases also performed well in the sale. George H.V. Collot's  (1752–1805) A General Map of the River Ohio made of four engraved plates by Tardieu, was estimated at $9,000-12,000 and made $16,800. This copy, one of 100 printed in English, was considered the finest period map of the upper Ohio River. A second edition of Gerard Mercator (1512–1594) and Jodocus Hondius', (1563–1612). Atlas sive Cosmographicae Meditationes de Fabrica mundi et fabricati figura, sold for $20,400. It was published in Amsterdam in 1632 by Johannis Cloppenburgh and included 179 maps mostly engraved by Pieter van der Keere after Hondius, Beins, Surhon, and Martin.  

A first edition of James Burney's (1750–1821) A Chronological History of the South Sea or Pacific Ocean, doubled its high estimate to sell for $12,000. This five volume set was published in London in the 1803–1817 period. This book was considered the “most important general history of early South Sea discoveries, containing practically everything of importance on the subject (Hill).”

Charles Wilkes' (1798–1877) six volume Narrative of the United States Exploring Expedition During The Years 1838–1842,  published in Philadelphia by Lea & Blanchard in 1845, was estimated at $5,000-7,000 and made $10,800. This first trade edition was limited to 1,000 copies and documented the “most ambitious Pacific expeditions ever attempted” (Forbes).  

The sale was rounded out with antiques, photographs, and other ephemeral items with ties to famous people, places, or events of the 20th century. A set of two Playboy Magazines from January and February of 1954, was estimated at $400-600 and brought $5,520. Both were in very good condition, saddle stitched, and retained their original wrappers.

An album of 224 albumen silver prints of scenery along the Santa Fe Route Railways by William H. Jackson (1843–1942), was estimated at $10,000-15,000 and sold for $22,800. The full grain leather bound example was published in Denver by W. H. Jackson & Co. and included various photo format sizes, each mounted on 23 leaves of heavy card stock.

A typed signed letter from Nikola Tesla (1856–1943) to Hereward Carrington (1880–1958), was estimated at $1,500-2,500 and brought $10,800. In this note from 1908, Tesla responded to an investigator of psychic phenomena agreeing that “the subject is most interesting." During the height of this spiritualism craze of the 1900s, Tesla was experimenting with wireless power as a way to transmit worldwide communications.

A program from the opening dedicatory concert celebrating the Chicago Orchestra’s new home at Orchestra Hall in 1904, was estimated at $400-600 and fetched $3,120. It was illustrated with a portrait of music director Theodore Thomas; a façade of Orchestra Hall; and oval portraits of Wagner, Beethoven, Handel, and Richard Strauss, whose compositions were featured in the concert.  

According to Christopher Brink, Potter & Potter Auctions' Director of Fine Books and Manuscripts, "This was our strongest sale to date with hundreds of lots selling past their high estimates. We broke several auction records and greatly surpassed our own goals in the process..."  For more information contact Christopher Brink, at (773) 472-1442 or