The sale, at a Sotheby's literature auction in London last week, of a first edition copy of JRR Tolkien's 1937 children's novel , The Hobbit for £137,000 (€188,942) was a reminder of how valuable certain rare books can be. It's an astonishing price yet is not – by some distance – a record for a 20th century first edition at auction. That honour belongs to Ireland – and a copy of Ulysses by James Joyce which sold, at Christie's in New York for $460,500 (€409,840) in October 2002.
Now, to coincide with the Bloomsday celebrations, Bonhams auctioneers in London has announced a sale of more key James Joyce first editions on June 24th. The books have been consigned from the library of an un-named "deceased Irish collector" who lived in the United States.
The top lot is a first edition copy of Ulysses, published in Paris in 1922, and estimated at £60,000-£80,000 (€82,000-€110,000). The copy is catalogued as "First Edition, Number 282 of 750 copies on 'hand-made paper', from an edition limited to 1,000 copies" and is inscribed: "To Lewis Galantière James Joyce Paris 11 February 1922".
Lewis Galantière (1893-1977) was an American translator of French literature, writer, playwright and journalist and was, from 1920 to 1927, secretary of the International Chamber of Commerce in Paris. His is the earliest known presentation copy of Ulysses apart from the one given by Joyce to his wife Nora on the day of publication and it last appeared at auction in Christie's, New York in 2002 where it sold for $119,500.
Also in Bonhams, a copy of the first English edition of Ulysses, published in 1936, described as "Number 28 of 100 copies signed by the author" is estimated at £10,000-£15,000 (€14,000-€ 20,000).
A copy of an edition of Ulysses with illustrations by Henri Matisse "one of 250 copies signed by both author and artist, from an edition limited to 1,500 copies, New York, Limited Editions Club, 1935" is estimated at £6,000-£8,000 (€8,200-€11,000).
Other highlights in the sale include a first edition copy of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Joyce's semi-autobiographical first novel, estimated at £20,000-£30,000 (€27,000-€41,000).
While Joyce dominates the sale, there are some items associated with WB Yeats who was born 150 years ago today on June 13th, 1865.
Among them is Lot 237, Poems by WB Yeats, published by T Fisher Unwin in 1895 and described as "First Edition, number 6 of 25 copies on Japan paper signed by the author" and estimated at £1,000-£2,000 (€1,400-€2,700).
Bonhams Fine Books and Literature auction takes place in Montpelier Street, Knightsbridge, London on Wednesday, June 24th at 11am. Viewing from June 19th