Thursday, September 10, 2009

For Whom the Bell Tolls Gold

When I opened this recently acquired Hemingway classic, a first edition with no jacket, I found a newspaper clipping and a typed note. I also found a silverfish.

The first two items are called flyaways, or things left behind in books, which get blogged about here on occasion.

The silverfish is an evil insect to book collectors and libraries, a destroyer of books and paper. This one wished it could have flown away, but merely scampered and was itself destroyed rather easily by my thumb.

No signs of damage to the book, so it couldn't have been there too long.

The newspaper clipping is a 1965 column, Gold in Your Attic, by Van Allen Bradley, who wrote a book by the same title all about finding rare and valuable books, or gold, in attics and other unlikely places. The book also lists prices for many collectible books and has become collectible itself among bibliophiles.

This article focuses on Hemingway's rare first book, Three Stories and Ten Poems, published in France in 1923. Bradley recites auction prices of $475 and $525 for unsigned and signed copies. I would think Hemingway's signature would have added more than 50 bucks to the value, but this was 1965.

Bradley did note "a good copy in original paper cover" and the owner of For Whom the Bells Toll made note that in the typed memo to self or any future owners perhaps:
This is a "First Edition", complete with Dust Jacket, so keep this in mind when you decide finally to dispose of it--after having read it, of course.

It should be worth retail around 8 to 10 bucks.
Somebody wasn't paying attention. I got this book without the jacket. It's also too bad that the writer of the note left a piece of acid newspaper in a book to leach out the discoloration you see on the pages in the photos above.

So what would a jacketless first edition of For Whom the Bell Tolls go for in today's market? There's a wide range of prices from $50 to around $300, depending on condition and what the bookseller believes the book is worth. Add a jacket and your prices climb easily into four figures. And if your copy has Hemingway's signature on it, add another zero for a five-figure sum.

And what of Hemingway's first book, mentioned in Van Allen Bradley's 1965 column--the $475 to $525 piece of gold in the attic? Three copies turn up pretty quickly (as of this writing) and show an appreciable appreciation in price since 1965. How about $25,000 to $65,000? And if you happen to find a signed copy in your attic, you truly do have a big chunk of that precious metal. I find one copy and it's priced at $225,000... Now there's some real gold in your attic!

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