A Brief Publishing History of Don Quixote

Collectors of Don Quixote have fastened on to the complex parameters of published editions like true bibliomaniacs. Tracking down each morsel of minutiae appeals to those of us with a certain book-loving bent. In this sale we have the fruits of Ken Rapaport’s efforts. If you as a collector are on the same page, you’re welcome. You will find a variety of firsts that tick a number of boxes, and hope that you rejoice, as we do, in the chase and in landing your quarry.

Lot 80: Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote, third Madrid Cuesta edition, Mardrid, 1608. Estimate $80,000 to $120,000.

The publication history of Don Quixote, Cervantes’s two-part masterwork, is complicated. It’s complicated for a number of reasons. Firstly, the first part preceded the second part by a healthy nine-year interval. Part one came out in 1605, and part two was not printed until 1614. Cervantes had to write it first! The original Spanish language version (Castilian, really) drew readers from across the Iberian Peninsula, and so publishers in Spain and Portugal found ready audiences for this new picaresque comedy, coming up with multiple Spanish-language editions within the first few years of its first appearance in print.

As a result of the almost immediate bestseller status of part one, printers with no legal copyrights jumped right in, producing numerous pirated editions of part one, and cashing in on the novel’s great success. When the second part came out, pirates again took their piece. Then printers saw new opportunities, why not print both parts at the same time, issue two volume sets, or print two parts in one single volume, more permutations.

Have we talked about the large number of different languages spoken in Europe? We definitely need a French translation, and one in Dutch, German, Italian, and of course English! Just imagine, first part in Spanish: Madrid editions, Barcelona editions, Lisbon editions. First part in French, both parts in Italian, two different dates for the two parts in English. DQ’s publication history is a hot mess covering all of continental Europe and Britain.

Next consider the text’s great charm to illustrators. Who wouldn’t want to see an engraving of Quixote tilting at windmills, an image of the tall slender knight errant accompanied by his stout squire astride a comical donkey, Quixote fashioning a helmet from a shaving basin, and Dulcinella? Clearly, it’s time to publish illustrated editions in both parts in each, all, and every known language. It’s a lot.