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  • Books & manuscripts - 2014 auction review
  • Post author
    Paul Fraser
  • &Booksmanuscripts

Books & manuscripts - 2014 auction review

The books and manuscripts market is one of the most stable in collecting - bookworms have been collecting rare tomes ever since man first put pen (or quill!) to paper.

But that hasn't stopped there being some big surprises in 2014, with many important lots seeing staggering sums in sales across the world.

Ancient manuscripts and antiquarian books have seen continued strength, with the record for an illuminated manuscript set early in the year by the Rothschild Prayerbook, bringing a wave of fresh interest from both collectors and investors.

Meanwhile, modern classics have seen their share of the spotlight, with Baz Luhrmann's 2013 film adaptation of The Great Gatsby exciting bidders to a new world record for a first edition of the book.

American writers such as Walt Whitman and Henry David Thoreau were celebrated in several sales over the year, while markets emerged for more contemporary writers such as Cormac McCarthy, with an archive of correspondence selling with superb results at Heritage Auctions.

Among the year's stand out sales was the Sotheby's First Editions: Redrawn auction, which followed on from the previous year's edition, offering unique first editions redesigned and annotated by their illustrators for charity.

Top books and manuscripts sale of 2014


The Rothschild Prayerbook marginally beat its own record set in 1999



Following on from 2013's record for a printed book set by the Bay Psalm Book at $14.2m, Christie's got the market off to a strong start in 2014 by announcing its sale of the Rothschild Prayerbook.

A wonderful illuminated manuscript dating to the early 1500s, it is among the most impressive ever seen. It was bought at the January auction for $13.6m - beating its own record for an illuminated manuscript - by Australian businessman Kerry Stokes, who now keeps it in his private collection.

2014's important books and manuscripts sales

A first edition copy of F Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, one of the most sought after modern first editions, sold for $377,000 to set a new world for the work. Copies complete with the striking dust jacket in mint condition are highly prized - there are thought to be just five left unharmed.

Under much controversy, the Law Society of England and Wales decided to part with the Thomas Mendham Collection of Ecclesiastical Books. The sale realised 15% on estimate at Dreweatts, as collectors bid on important antiquarian books with superb provenance.

In tribute to William Caxton, the man who introduced the printing press to England in 1476, one collector paid $1.7m for his translation of The Recuyell of the Histories of Troye, an important text in the history of English literature.

Samuel Beckett saw continued success with a $1.4m sale of his manuscript for Murphy in 2013. A collection of his letters, revealing much of his personal and private life, sold for just over $250,000 - a 22% increase on estimate.

An autograph manuscript of Walt Whitman's The Voice of the Rain sold above estimate at $52,500 with Bonhams, just before Sotheby's announced a celebration of the author in December, selling many of his works and memorabilia well above initial valuation. A first edition - the Neville copy - of Leaves of Grass made $245,000.

It was a breakout year for…

Though already well remembered, the works of poet Dylan Thomas were in the spotlight in 2014, as the world celebrated 100 years since his birth on October 17, 1914. His notebook made $163,268 at Sotheby's, while Bonhams sold several items in a November auction.

It was a year to forget for…

Neal Cassady, the man who inspired Jack Kerouac's On the Road and many of the Beat generation's finest works.

The sprawling, multi-page letter he wrote that is said to have been the main inspiration for On the Road was set to sell at Profiles in History in December, giving the muse the literary recognition he deserved. However, the lot - along with an archive of material from the Golden Goose press - was pulled at the last moment.

One you may have missed…

A wealth of Cormac McCarthy correspondence crossed the block at Heritage Auctions, establishing a collectible market for the well-respected author. Revealing much about his career, the archive sold for $56,250 - well above its $50,000 high estimate.


  • Post author
    Paul Fraser
  • &Booksmanuscripts