John Larson’s Specialist Picks: Five to Watch in the March 2, 2023 Sale

John Larson, Swann’s nineteenth and twentieth century literature specialist, shares five exciting lots from the March 2, 2023 sale of Fine Books & Autographs.

An Inscribed First Edition of Richard Fariña’s Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me

It is surmised that the dedicatee is Richard Gillespie who was at Cornell University at the same time as Richard Fariña and Thomas Pynchon. The three shared the same residence in Ithaca and would have crossed paths frequently; Farina was known to have signed letters to his friends as “Dick.” The fact that the inscription is in red correction pencil suggests it was likely accomplished prior to his book signing at the Thunderbird book store in Carmel, California (the few copies he signed there were done in ink) whereafter, later that same day, April 30, 1966, two days after the novel’s publication, he tragically died in a motorcycle accident.

A sorely grievous passing. Fariña was poised to take the leap into counter-culture stardom, both of the literary and folk-rock cast. The present copy is one of only a few known to be inscribed by him and with a provenance that suggests this example is an East Coast presentation, pre-dating the tragic event in California that followed shortly thereafter. His only book published in his lifetime. 

An Exceedingly Scarce Copy of the First Mystery by Brett Halliday

Lot 212: Asa Baker [Brett Halliday}, Mum’s the Word for Murder, first edition of the first mystery by Halliday, exceedingly scarce, New York, 1938. Estimate $800 to $1,200.

A fellow who’d be in the running for the best collection of pseudonyms among the genre fiction writers of the twentieth century. Born Davis Dresser, he knocked off dozens of books written under such names as Matthew Blood, Peter Shelley, Anthony Scott, Sylvia Carson, Kathryn Carter…. This is his first mystery, published under the name he is best remembered by, just a year before he hit payday with his Michael Shayne novels. This one is rare in the dust jacket. 

A Rare First Fully-Illustrated Book-Length Edition of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas

Lot 231: Clement C. Moore, A Visit from St. Nicholas, rare first fully-illustrated book-length edition of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, New York, 1848. Estimate $6,000 to $8,000.

There are a number of “firsts” of St. Nick’s furtive journey— as told by Clement C. Moore and most commonly known as The Night Before Christmas—that have merrily sold at Swann over the years; here is a quick survey to impress and/or bewilder your Cousin Eddie. None of these examples are in the uncommonly fine condition as the present copy. Presented chronologically as below (all published in New York except the 1842 Philadelphia broadside):  

  • A Visit from St. Nicholas in The New-York Book of Poetry, 1837—A first edition of the first book appearance, as well as the first time Clement C. Moore’s is identified in print as the author. Sold in 2015 for $688.
  • A Visit from St. Nicholas in The Poets of America, 1840—the first illustrated appearance in book form. Sold in 2022 for $358.
  • The first separate printing of The Night Before Christmas, 1842—broadside, crediting Moore as the author. Sold in 2021 for $2,750.
  • Clement C. Moore, Poems, 1844—the first appearance of the work in a collection devoted to Moore’s own works. Sold in 2020 for $5,200.
  • An 1848 first fully illustrated book-length edition. At auction March 2, 2023. Estimate $6,000 to $8,000.
  • A second fully illustrated book-length edition published in 1849.

The Third Inscribed Copy of Henry Roth’s Call It Sleep to Appear at Auction

The first edition in the first state jacket, inscribed to his sister, Rose. No other family-owned copies have been sourced. Further, this will be just the third inscribed copy to appear at auction, all sold in these rooms (June 14, 2001, $18,000, Ben Sackheim copy; May 18, 2016, $12,500, Lawrence Fox copy). His second novel, Mercy of a Rude Stream, was published a full 60 years after the 1934 debut in 1994, thus ending what is literary legend as the longest writer’s block in history.  

A First Edition of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway in the Rare, Entirely Unrestored Dust Jacket

Lot 253: Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway, first edition, in the rare dust jacket, entirely unrestored, London, 1925. Estimate $15,000 to $20,000.

The jacket designs from Vanessa Bell for many of Woolf’s books are inseparable from the contents within. This copy retains all their collaborative ideas in that a clumsy hand did not mar it with an ill-advised repair. This one, within and without, shines.  

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