First editions of James Joyce’s ‘Dubliners’ now classed as antiques

Copies can sell for thousands but why does the price vary so much?

A first edition of ‘Dubliners’ with the original green dust-jacket went for £86,500 at Sotheby’s in 2013.

A first edition of ‘Dubliners’ with the original green dust-jacket went for £86,500 at Sotheby’s in 2013.

 

Since the new year, first edition copies of Dubliners by James Joyce can officially be classified as “antiques” – or antiquarian as they’re described by rare book dealers.

In July last year, two first edition copies of the collection of short stories by James Joyce – published in 1914 – went under the hammer at auction. One, at Fonsie Mealy Auctioneers’ sale of rare books in Dublin sold for €5,800; the other, at a Sotheby’s Literature auction in London made £37,500 (€46,275). Why the huge price difference and why is the book so keenly-sought by collectors?

Dubliners is widely considered to be one of the best collections of short stories ever written. Joyce had originally hoped to publish the book in 1906, after it was accepted for publication by the London publishers, Grant Richards. But, according to Sotheby’s, “after skirmishes with printers over objectionable passages, the publisher abandoned the book”.

Four years later, the Dublin publishing house Maunsel & Company agreed to publish the book and 1,000 copies were printed in 1910. But, there was another row, over allegedly objectionable passages in at least one of the stories which Joyce refused to remove, and the copies were burnt.

Another four years passed and in 1914, back in London, Grant Richards finally published the book.

 

Complicated

As so often with Joyce, the publication history is complicated and scholars differ on the exact number of copies that were printed. It is believed that 1,250 sets of sheets were printed, of which 746 were bound up in London and the remainder shipped to the US for an American edition.

So the “true” first edition of Dubliners is one of the 746 copies published in London in June 1914 by Grant Richards. Some 500 copies were reputedly lost in a shipwreck so only 246 copies are believed to have survived.

If you happen to own one, look after it. For collectors, a copy of the 1914 first edition of Dubliners – originally priced at three shillings and sixpence – is one of the most sought-after books of the 20th century – and can be very valuable. As with Ulysses, the price depends upon condition, whether or not the book is signed or inscribed by the author, and if the original dust-jacket is still intact.

Copies with the original green dust-jacket are extremely rare. The highest price ever paid for a first edition of Dubliners was for a copy – with the dust-jacket – inscribed by Joyce to Crosby Gaige (a famous New York book collector) which sold at Christie’s in New York in 2002 for $262,500 (€221,450). In December 2013, at Sotheby’s London a copy with the dust-jacket sold for £86,500.

In 2012, a copy – without the dust-jacket – inscribed to Roberto Prezioso (a friend of Joyce’s in Trieste) sold for £127,250.

Copies occasionally turn up at auction in Ireland. Try Fonsie Mealy Auctioneers and also rare book dealers Ulysses in Duke Street, Dublin 2 whose website (rarebooks.ie) currently lists a copy for €9,950 and De Búrca Rare Books in Blacrock, Co Dublin (deburcararebooks.com) who have a copy for €5,850.

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