Auction Highlights: Fine Books & Autographs — October 26, 2023


The spirits of conflict and exploration are intertwined in the autographs on offer. Among the most respected explorers of the unknown are scientists, each of whom must contend with the antagonist in any scientific enterprise: ignorance. This auction contains items created by some of the best-known heroes to have enlightened the world, chief among them Albert Einstein, with a selection of autographs from the physicist.

Lot 65: Albert Einstein, Autograph Letter Signed, “A.E.” to Melaine Serbu in German, sketching a suggestion for her dissertation topic, Huntington, 1937. Estimate $35,000 to $50,000.

The sale includes an extraordinary archive of 19 letters to Melanie Serbu, a Romanian bank clerk and aspiring physicist whom Einstein had hoped to bring into the fray of scientific research. Available in a separate lot is an extraordinary letter to Serbu, written in 1937 when Einstein was revisiting his ideas about gravitational waves, showing equations demonstrating his insight about high-frequency waves generated during the deformation of bodies, which Einstein believed might make a fruitful dissertation topic for her.

Left: Lot 21: Benjamin Franklin, Autograph Letter Signed, “BFranklin,” concerning the Massachusetts Governor’s conflict with the provincial legislature, 1773. Estimate $35,000 to $50,000.

Another remarkable autograph is that by one of the foremost American scientists, Benjamin Franklin, who wrote an autograph letter signed to a diplomat in 1773 concerning the conflict between the legislature of Massachusetts and their Governor, who seemed to show more sympathy toward England than was appropriate for the time.

What more important American conflict can we name than that of the Civil War, and this auction contains several notable autographs written by both Union and Confederate soldiers during that period. Among them is an autograph letter signed by Stonewall Jackson in 1863, hoping to enlist General Edward Johnson as his commander. Also in this sale, an autograph letter signed in 1862 by George McClellan to General Ambrose Burnside, introducing a Russian officer visiting to observe the Union Army, as well as War-dated items by Edwin Stanton, William Seward, and others. Uncommon autographs by figures in other categories include those by writers, artists, world leaders, and entertainers.

Left to right: Lot 115: Keith Haring, catalogue for the exhibition held at Tony Shafrazi Gallery, signed and inscribed, “K. Haring 82 / To Shawn,” with an ink drawing, 1982. Estimate $2,500 to $3,500; Lot 118: Georgia O’Keeffe, archive of 47 items each signed, to her travel agent, including letters showing her love and fear of travel, 1960s. Estimate $15,000 to $25,000.

19th & 20th Century Literature

From left to right: Lot 203: Edgar Allan Poe, Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque, two volumes, Philadelphia, 1840. Estimate $15,000 to $20,000; Lot 131: Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility: A Novel. In Three Volumes, an interesting association copy of the second, revised edition of Austen’s first published novel, London, 1813. Estimate $6,000 to $9,000.

The 19th & 20th Century Literature portion of the sale features a first edition of Edgar Allan Poe’s Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque, and a set of the five Christmas books by Charles Dickens, first editions handsomely bound by Morrell. Modern first edition highspots include a superb copy of Animal Farm by George Orwell, as well as the signed, limited American edition in the scare dust jacket of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince. A run of fine bindings will be offered, including an exceptional Cosway-style by Bayntun Riviere with an Abraham Lincoln portrait, and several French Art Deco examples.

Lot 210: John Steinbeck, Of Mice and Men, first edition, first issue, presentation copy, inscribed by the author on front free endpaper to the founding editor of The New Yorker Magazine, New York, 1937. Estimate $3,500 to $5,000.
Lot 129: Eric Ambler, Uncommon Danger, first edition, dedication copy, inscribed by Ambler to his mother, 1937. Estimate $2,500 to $3,500.

Art, Press & Illustrated Books

Lot 241: Sonia Delaunay, Ses Peintures, Ses Objets, Ses Tissues Simultanés, Ses Modes, Delaunay’s magnificent portfolio of designs incorporating the color and design theory “simultane” or, simultaneous contrast, Paris, 1925. Estimate $6,000 to $9,000.

Among the highlights found within the art, press and illustrated books section are two seldom-seen titles from the Limited Editions Club: one a unique copy of Robert Motherwell and Octavio Paz’s Three Poems, representing the sole ‘Position Proof’ that includes the verse; and the complete set of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s four signed photogravures, one of sixty produced. Finally, among many appealing fine press books on offer is one of the major works from Ashendene Press, The Noble and Joyous Book entitled Le Morte d’Arthur.

Lot 258: Robert Motherwell and Octavio Paz, Three Poems, unique copy, the sole position proof from the first presentation, each lithograph with the facing text, and signed by Motherwell, New York, 1987-88. Estimate $15,000 to $25,000.

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