An inscribed Nabokov book—but with no butterfly—with an extremely strong provenance will be offered in June by a major New York auction house. Its estimated sale price range will certainly reflect its provenance. I won’t have details until next month. This is the kind of item whose provenance stands in sharp contrast with the lots of dubious provenance recently sold by New England Book Auctions.
Swann Auction Galleries is offering at its May 18 auction a slightly unusual copy of a 1955 Olympia Press first printing of Lolita. Each volume of the two-volume paperback edition is enclosed in a kind of dust jacket that the catalog describes as “[publisher’s?] photographically reproduced dust jacket with printed spines and back panels (‘Printemps * Paris * Primavera’ lettering repeated)”.
I’ve never seen any kind of dust jacket on this edition of Lolita or even a mention of one. The catalog says, “…it isn’t hard to imagine the publisher producing these as a way to slip Lolita past the censors, due to the book’s already notorious reputation.” That assumes that the covering was produced after Graham Greene praised the book at the end of 1955 (more than three months after its publication) and after the brouhaha over the book began a month later.
I doubt that this supposed dust jacket came from the publisher. Why would the French publisher print a band in French and Italian for an English language book? Or is it a generic Olympia Press covering? Never seen it before on any Olympia Press output, in particular the Traveler’s Companion series. Also, it is not unusual for a bookseller to wrap a book in covering of its own design. Or maybe the owner of the book made it himself and wanted to protect his copy.
The volumes themselves are in near fine condition. The Swann sale is #2416; the lot is #311.
All ten lots of books supposedly signed/inscribed/lepidopterized by Nabokov sold at auction last night, April 26, at New England Book Auctions for a total take of $6815 (before the 15% buyer’s premium). For the last few days I have been posting evidence and deductions questioning the legitimacy of the inscriptions.
The fact that the books sold for significantly less than would be expected if they had had strong provenances behind them shows that others also doubted their authenticity.
The results (before the 15% buyer’s premium):
- Lot 115, Bend Sinister, inscribed, $700.
- Lot 116, Details of a Sunset, lepidopterized, $700.
- Lot 117, Glory, lepidopterized, $650.
- Lot 118, Invitation to a Beheading, lepidopterized, $1500.
- Lot 119, King, Queen, Knave, inscribed, $225.
- Lot 120, King, Queen, Knave, signed, $190.
- Lot 121, King, Queen, Knave, lepidopterized, $750.
- Lot 122, Pnin, inscribed, $350.
- Lot 123, The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, inscribed, $450.
- Lot 124, The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, inscribed, $1300.
I’ll be keeping an eye on the market as dealers and others begin to offer these books presumably as legitimate.
James O’Sullivan has more valid points to make about the Shuttleworth family’s alleged Nabokov inscriptions going on the block tomorrow at New England Book Auctions. (For more on Thomas J. Wise, see the Wikipedia article.)
…processing further thoughts. I confess to finding literary frauds and fakes interesting (although this is hardly on a Thomas J. Wise level of sophistication).
Standing back to consider this group of books with Shuttleworth ‘provenance’, one notices a few things:
1) None of the books have much intrinsic (i.e. unsigned) value – there is no first Olympia Lolita, no first U.S. Catcher in the Rye, no first Godot or Murphy, no Mrs Dalloway or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The books on offer are not high spots that (if one were being skeptical) would a) cost a lot to acquire and b) invite unwanted attention.
2) From all the available evidence we can deduce that Martin Shuttleworth was (and I don’t imply disrespect) a very minor player in the post-war British arts scene, with occasional periodical work, a brief spell in the BBC, a couple of translations and books to his name, and a long teaching career in provincial tertiary education. From this, one can say that it would perhaps be plausible – if still unlikely – for him to have developed relationships with some of his peers and contemporaries in the U.K., and yet the collection seems to contain no inscribed books from John Osbourne, or Pinter, or Larkin or Kingsley Amis or Ted Hughes. Instead, he seems to have been able to foster friendships with the cream of international literary talent, even with those not known for being especially open to cultivating new associates (Salinger, Nabokov). The latter seems highly implausible in itself, and more so in the absence of any evident association with writers closer to home. Not only that, but there is also a signed Woolf, whom he could not possibly have known, and which would normally imply a larger collection of impressive books beyond the circle of writers he is purported to have known (and beyond the pursestrings of a provincial lecturer with four children).
Assuming the Shuttleworth provenance to be fraudulent, my mind then sets to wondering why he was selected. Was it thought out from the start, or perhaps (as the varying names and ill-researched back story suggests) imposed ex post facto on a pre-existing set of fraudulently inscribed books? The fact that Shuttleworth could be proven to have had some cultural connections, but not himself be famous enough to provoke doubt or easy research, perhaps made him a good ‘target’? It certainly seems to have been sufficient to fool a few booksellers who must have taken the letters of provenance at face value with little or no further examination
3) These are not very good fakes. Most signatures and (in Nabokov’s case, drawings) betray the lack of confidence of the maker – they are either jerky or timid; rarely fluent. The proportion of inscribed places and dates included in the batch is very high, and the places are uniformly obvious – places with a strong association to the author which could easily be drawn from Wikipedia or the like. There are small errors and inconsistencies throughout – misspellings, grammatical errors, unusual abbreviations. Indeed there are so many errors, and some are so basic, that one might almost suspect this to be a prank inviting discovery. But it is perhaps more likely that the originator(s) do not have English (or French) as a first language.
James O’Sullivan, a frequent commenter here, has some further observations about the Nabokov volumes supposedly inscribed to the Shuttleworth family and being offered by New England Book Auctions on the 26th.
Thanks for the nice detective work! This does indeed smell bad, and on close inspection the inscriptions in the new sale do look like quite poorly-done fakes in several respects.
A few supplementary thoughts on this:
The online listings I’ve come across (eBay etc) often refer to Shuttleworth as having been “late editor” or, in one case “freelance editor” (whatever that might mean) of The Paris Review. This seems unlikely and is not mentioned in his obituary, and it may even be the case that the lister is unaware that The Paris Review is an American periodical and highly unlikely to have been edited by a very English Englishman who doesn’t appear to have lived in the U.S. at all. More likely this refers to the fact that Shuttleworth and his friend, the skilled but eccentric English novelist Simon Raven, conducted an interview with Graham Greene which appeared in a 1955 issue of the Paris Review in the famous series on ‘The Art of Fiction’. But this hardly makes him an ‘editor’ of said periodical since it appears to be his only – rather tangential – connection to it.
On another note, and as you point out, if Diane Westberg is 73, then she cannot be the same Lucy (not Lucille) Shuttleworth whose birth in Bristol is (as a quick search reveals) recorded by the UK authorities as having taken place in the third quarter of 1963. I’m not really sure how ‘Lucy’ ends up as ‘Lucille Diane’, or (according to UK records) how ‘Jason F. Shuttleworth’ morphs into ‘[Jason] James’ (lots 118 & 121). (In fact Jason F. Shuttleworth does not seem to be, as you suggest (and the obituary ordering implies), the youngest child as he is listed as having been born in Bristol, in the third quarter of 1961 (i.e. Lucy is the youngest)).
On a connected note, two other books with similar provenance have also ended up at Mystery Pier Books – an inscribed Beckett and an inscribed Salinger (!):
Inscribed Salinger’s are scarce enough to be more-or-less intrinsically doubtful things. I don’t know enough about Salinger to be sure, but it really seems to be straining credulity to think that anyone with any sanity would be, as the listing claims (presumably echoing the letter of provenanace) “promoting Salinger for a Nobel” in 1962 on the strength of one novel and some stories…
Two things strike me as odd with regards to the Beckett inscription “en Paris 25-10-76”. The first is that a fluent French speaker like Beckett would be highly unlikely to use the wrong preposition (‘en’ instead of ‘à’), although it’s a common mistake for the non-fluent to make, and I also feel that he would have been unlikely to inscribe in French to a non-French recipient. Secondly, according to Beckett’s biographer, the second holograph manuscript of “but the clouds…” is dated on the same day as this inscription, but is also inscribed with “Le T[ouquet]”, a resort c.250km from Paris. (However, it should be said that the Reading University Library dates this manuscript as 25/11/76).
In any case, I agree that the Shuttleworth provenance looks iffy and I am surprised that Mystery Pier Books seem to have been caught out with several different books from that source.
And, a bit later on other questionable inscriptions, he added:
Another listing with the same provenance:
It doesn’t bear much resemblance to Wilder’s signature and the ink is very fresh for a signature from 1948. I think an American would not abbreviate Connecticut as ‘Con.’ but ‘Conn’ or ‘CT.’ but that may be nit-picking?
And two more:
The Woolf signature is not a bad effort although Woolf often grouped the dots over the three i’s in her first name together. But the transition from the ‘W’ to the ‘O’ is clumsy and the word ‘Woolf’ tails off as if apologetically thereafter. She famously (if not invariably) signed and inscribed in purple ink.
Dahl’s signature is rather inconsistent but the one on this copy looks horrible: the gap between the ‘l’ and the ‘d’ in ‘Roald’ even suggests the pause of someone who has momentarily forgotten how to spell the name. I’m no expert but I don’t think Dahl commonly noted the place and the addition of ‘Gypsy House’ merely suggests the spurious attempt to add authenticity by an appeal to basic knowledge (as per Montreux, en Paris, Montreux etc)
As of today, the 24th, of the 10 inscribed/signed Nabokov items for sale on April 26 by New England Book Auctions, only one, lot #122, the Pnin (because of the facsimile dust jacket?), is marked in the catalog and online, ”sold-as-is”. None of the nine others are so marked. Paul Muller-Reid told me several days ago that he would announce before the lots are auctioned that they were being offered “as is”. It isn’t clear how NEBA will notify advance bidders of this change in condition of sale.
The Nabokov Online Journal has posted, on this April 23rd, Nabokov’s 117th birthday (or thereabouts if you celebrate it on the 10th or the 22nd), an interview with me about my collecting and bibliographical work, “The Collector’s a Hedgehog, The Dealer’s a Fox”.
Here are three Hairstreaks drawn in copies of Nabokov books. I’m posting these details of these drawings so that you can see the differences among them. A) is legitimate. It’s provenance is through the Nabokov estate. B) is very dubiously legitimate. It is from the April 26 NEBA auction. The James in the inscription is probably meant to be Martin Shuttleworth’s youngest child, Jason James. And C) is almost certainly fraudulent. It was the focus of three posts I made seven years ago. (See “Fake Inscriptions”, parts 1, 2, and 3.)
This is a follow-up to my April 16 posting, “Dubious Ada Inscription Resurfaces”. Mystery Pier Books of West Hollywood, CA, had offered, since withdrawn, an inscribed Ada (picture C) supposedly from Diane Westberg of the Shuttleworth family.
When I learned last week of ten signed/inscribed copies of Nabokov’s books (four with butterfly drawings) being offered by New England Book Auctions in South Deerfield, MA, I was naturally excited. I thought that this might be the real thing. But very quickly some aspects of the pieces dampened my enthusiasm.
The facts: The NEBA sale number is 449 on April 26. The Nabokov lots are #115–124. The estimates are very low, ranging from 150/250 to 400/600. NEBA owner, Paul Muller-Reed, said that he received the books from a lawyer in New York who had acquired them from the daughter of Martin Shuttleworth, a British writer and editor who lived in England from 1929 to 1999. That daughter is Diane Lucy Westberg, née Lucille Diane Shuttleworth.
The day I learned of the auction, a friend asked NEBA to send him photos of the four books with butterfly drawings. The friend forwarded copies to me. Together we examined them and together we felt that the drawings were too crude to have been done by Nabokov. In fact one was a repetition of a drawing of a Hairstreak with extraordinarily long tail ends that Nabokov made for his wife for Christmas 1969 in a copy of the McGraw-Hill Russian edition of King, Queen, Knave. Odd that VN would repeat that drawing.
More about the Shuttleworths: In February, eBay auctioned a second printing of the 1959 Weidenfeld & Nicolson edition of Lolita with the inscription, “for Martin and Diane | from Vladimir Nabokov | Dec. 1959”. (Nabokov was in Italy for that entire month.) Included with the book were two letters written by Diane Westberg describing her father’s friendships and relationships with well-known twentieth-century British and French writers. At one point, Westberg says that she was disposing of books from the family collection because she was 73 and broke. A little arithmetic tells us that she was born in 1943 or thereabouts and that her father, Martin, must then have been 14-years old. Also, she is the third of four siblings. With a starting price of $4277, the book got no bids. BTW, the seller was based in Tokyo.
More inconsistencies: The 1999 Martin obituary in the British paper, The Independent, says he married Diane Moorsome in 1953. Diane Westberg says her mother was Diana Boehmer.
I spoke to Muller-Reid about these details. He said that, taking everything into account, he would auction the books “as is”, meaning that he will not guarantee their authenticity as he normally would.
Here are three more of the lots with butterflies.
Here are the draft pages for translations in Hungarian. Nineteen of Nabokov’s books have been translated into Hungarian and issued in 28 editions.