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A 1955 Olympia Press first printing of Lolita signed by Nabokov is being offered by Heritage Auctions on March 7 in New York. The house’s website gives no estimate. But the opening bid of $2000 is at least half of what the book can be expected to be hammered down for.

The signature appears to have been dashed off with a broad-tipped pen. The date is simply “III . 57”. The copy is one of many books in the auction from the James C. Seacrest Collection. No other provenance is given.

Here’s a link to the lot. Additionally, Heritage is offering an unsigned but very nice copy of the first edition.

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New England Book Auctions has finally posted its catalog for sale 465 on Sept. 26. It includes as lot 169 a 1973 British first edition of Strong Opinions allegedly inscribed, signed, and crudely lepidopterized by Nabokov to Martin and Diana Shuttleworth in 1974. (http://nebookauctions.com/shop/uncategorized/169-nabokov-vladimir/)

We’ve been through this before. See my previous postings about the Shuttleworths: Signed/inscribed/lepidopterized books (not just by Nabokov) to any member of the Shuttleworth family are almost certainly fraudulent. But some dealers and auction houses continue to peddle them as the real thing.

Not all, though. James O’Sullivan writes that

A few months ago I corresponded with a very well-known London antiquarian dealer who had offered up a Mishima with the Shuttleworth provenance. They withdrew it from sale immediately, but really should have known better.

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A Beckett collector has written to me to point out that many bogus book signatures and inscriptions, including those of Nabokov, appear to emanate from Australia. And that some sellers use Julian Jebb (a British arts journalist who died in 1984) as the provenance source of the books.

The collector wrote:

[The sellers] are based in NSW, Australia and their eBay ID history looks like this:

therepository Jan-03-17 – Present
jebboroam May-15-15 – Jan-03-17
worthingness Mar-12-15 – May-15-15
keramikoz Jan-21-11 – Mar-12-15

Several things should be pointed out: therepository mentioned above is still active; it has a 100% positive feedback since 2011, probably because buyers still aren’t aware that they may have been taken in; 17 of the varied 17 books therepository has listed on eBay today claim to be signed; but, the seller never explicitly says they were “signed by” the authors.

My correspondent collector also wrote:

I have been advised that if anyone is taken in by this fraud, and the seller is based in Australia, that they report it to the local fraud office – depending where the item was sent from.

Queensland: http://www.fairtrading.qld.gov.au/lodge-your-complaint
New South Wales: http://www.fairtrading.nsw.gov.au/biz_res/ftweb/General_complaint/?type=general

Fraud reporting forms for other territories can be found online. Apparently eBay will only take action against these sellers if this is escalated through legal channels.

An additional eBay seller is socrates349.

On the other hand socrates349 seems to have a fairly clean looking eBay account, lots of feedback with none of it bad and their ID has not been changed since 2003 (and that would appear to be because they used their email as their seller ID). I would suspect they are downstream of the scam and are likely unaware of it’s workings – as you pointed out many other dealers have been taken in by these books and the Shuttleworth provenance can be now seen beyond eBay.

I think given the long history of these forged books coming from Australia, I’ve come across quite a few mentions online, it’s likely the person behind it is known to the Police or at least local book dealers as they potentially have tried various avenues to offload their creations.

Last of all, New England Book Auctions (again) is offering an inscribed and signed 1973 British first edition of Strong Opinions (on Sept. 26, sale number 465, lot 169) with a “UACC Member certification provided”. I haven’t seen the book or its inscription yet and can’t judge its authenticity. In any case, UACC (Universal Autograph Collectors Club) membership certification means nothing. Anyone can become a member for $29. And that anyone can say that a particular signature is the real thing. We’ll see.

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Two dealers are offering six allegedly signed/inscribed/lepidopterized Nabokovs on eBay. I’ve written about fraudulent copies inscribed for “Martin and Diana” before. See my postings of 16, 22, 23, 24, 25, and 27 April 2016. Also, one of the sellers has attached a supposed letter of provenance for the three paperbacks. That letter is as dubious as the sorry lots themselves.

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New England Book Auctions is reoffering a Putnam Lolita inscribed to Nabokov’s cousin, Sophie Nabokov (estimated at $1000/1500) in its auction on January 31st.

 

 

The details are here: http://nebookauctions.com/shop/uncategorized/176-nabokov-vladimir/.

I wrote about its previous appearance at NEBA on 26-Oct-2016:

Lolita, Putnam’s, 1958 (A28.2), eighth printing, in very poor dj, with VN inscription and butterfly to a cousin, Sophie Nabokov, dated 1-Mar-1959. Est. $800–1200, sold for $1100. This copy is now being offered by Wootton’s Books in Worthington, MA, for $6500.

This appears to be the real thing and not fraudulent (unlike some Nabokov inscribed books recently offered by NEBA).

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Laura is back.

The 138 index cards comprising the manuscript of Nabokov’s final uncompleted novel, The Original of Laura, are back on the market. Forum Auctions, a new London auction house, is offering the manuscript at its inaugural sale on 13 July with an estimate of £60,000 to £80,000 (about $78,000 to $103,000, depending on which day you check the falling pound sterling).

Forum’s auction page is here.

The Nabokov manuscript has a depressing sales history. It was first offered by Christie’s New York, on consignment from Dmitri Nabokov, amid much hoopla and speculation in December 2009 as the book was being published by Knopf. It then had an estimate of $400,000 to $600,000. But it was bid up to only $280,000 and failed to reach its reserve.

Less than a year later in November 2010, Christie’s London offered the index cards with an estimate now lowered to £100,000 to £150,000. They did sell this time for £78,050 (about $100,000 at that time), premium included.

Soon after, the manuscript showed up in the catalog of Philobiblon, a Rome book dealer, for €180,000 (somewhere around $150,000 at that time). Philobiblon is in partnership with Forum.

To see my blog postings about the selling of the Laura manuscript, search under “Laura”, “auctions”, and “manuscripts”.

With the latest estimate at about one-fifth of the original in 2009, maybe Laura will now find a home in an institution or on the shelf of a collector. But I think not. In five and a half years, Philobiblon couldn’t move Laura. Unfortunately, she doesn’t have the cachet of Lolita or even Pnin. She occupies almost no space in the Nabokov cultural imagination.

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.

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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)”.

Supposed dust jackets for Olympia Press Lolita being offered by Swann Auction Galleries on May 18.

Supposed dust jackets for Olympia Press Lolita being offered by Swann Auction Galleries on May 18.

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.

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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.

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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.

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