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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.

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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.

A 1968 McGraw-Hill King, Queen, Knave with a Hairstreak butterfly, NEBA lot #121.

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.

449-118 (2)

A 1960 Weidenfeld & Nicolson Invitation to a Beheading with “Cinex moviola” butterfly, NEBA lot #118.

449-117 (2)

A 1971 McGraw-Hill Glory with butterfly, NEBA lot #117.

449-116 (2)

A 1976 Weidenfeld & Nicolson Details of a Sunset with butterfly on stalk, dated Jan. 19, 1977, NEBA lot #116.

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Up for auction at Bonham’s in London on 11 December is a letter of recommendation Nabokov wrote in 1949 in Russian to Sergey Osipovich Yacobson, head of the Slavic department in the Library of Congress. Nabokov was seeking to help his sister-in-law, Sonia Slonim, get a position as a “research analyst”. The auction house’s estimate is $6000–8000, before the 25% premium. It is lot 1039.

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Just in case you missed the comments on my previous post, “Two Nabokov Items at Swann Auction”, here is what James pointed out about another upcoming auction:

Swann tend to get good prices but I agree that both estimates seem to be optimistic – especially the Lolita which is more like a retail price. There are a couple of signed Nabokov’s at Skinner’s of Boston on 17th.

And I responded:

Thanks for the heads up. I hadn’t noticed the Nabokov lots—four of them—at the Skinner auction house on 17 November. Two are signed (lot 222, A35.2, 1962 British Pale Fire in a fair dust jacket, and lot 224, A26.5, 1967 American Speak, Memory, dust jacket not shown) and two (lots 221 and 223) are multiple volume lots. All of the estimates are fair. Lot 221 includes A27.1, Стихотворения: 1929–1951 [Stikhotvoreniia: 1929–1951 / Poems: 1929–1951]. At the low end of the estimate ($400–600), it alone would be a good deal.

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Two Nabokov items are coming up at Swann Auction Galleries in New York on 21 November, sale 2332. The descriptions are clear but too self-serving to give one a sense of how the items compare to other available copies. For example, the dust jacket on the Laughter in the Dark is in very poor condition. A copy with a decent dust jacket (good to very good) would go for $1000–3000. One without would go for $100–200. So the estimate of $500–700 here is high. The Lolita is also over-estimated. The two volumes show wear through their nicked edges and slightly turned corners. It is neither “uncommon” or “superlative”. A fair estimate would be $2500–3500. I don’t expect either copy to sell even at the low estimates.

To quote from the catalog:

Lot 204
NABOKOV, VLADIMIR. Laughter in the Dark. 8vo, original brown cloth, slight lean; dust jacket, scattered chipping with some loss to spine panel ends and top of front panel, cellotape repairs on verso, overall rubbing; housed in custom cloth drop-back case with leather lettering label to spine. Indianapolis and New York: Bobbs-Merrill, (1938)

Estimate $500 – 750

First American edition, presumed second state binding in the variant brown cloth, of Nabokov’s (here “Nabokoff”) own translation of his first book to be published in the United States. The work appeared first in London in 1936 as Camera Obscura. Nabokov objected to that translation to the extent that he prevented any reprint from appearing. Juliar A142. [That should be A14.2, variant c; brown cloth is the third variant, neither a state and nor the second.]

Lot 205
NABOKOV, VLADIMIR. Lolita. 2 volumes. Small 8vo, publisher’s green, white, and black printed wrappers, clean and bright with no soiling or staining; internally free from any markings, very uncommon in such fine condition; preserved in cloth slipcase with lettering label, and chemise. Paris: The Olympia Press, (1955)

Estimate $6,000 – 9,000

First edition, first issue of Nabokov’s masterpiece with unobscured printed price of 900 Francs on each volume. Lolita was not published in the U.S. and the U.K. until 1959. A superlative example. Juliar A28.1.1.

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I have finally received the results of the New England Book Auction on 24 September that featured 20 lots of Nabokov books, magazines, and Nabokov-related material. Some highlights. Prices are in American dollars and do not include the 15% buyer’s premium:

  • A black-and-white bromoil gelatin silver print by Philippe Halsman of Nabokov seated in his office, from 1968. Est. $2000–3000, sold for $2400.
  • Lolita, Olympia Press, 1955 (A28.1, issue a), very good condition. Est. $2500–3500, sold for $2800.
  • 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.
  • Lolita, Phaedra, 1967 (A28.7, state b), Russian translation in pink cloth over boards, near fine. Est. $500–700, sold for $400. Another copy in a chipped dj sold for $375.
  • Nabokov’s Dozen, Doubleday, 1958 (A32.1), in poor dj, with VN inscription and butterfly to the children of a cousin, Mariina Ledkovsky. Est. $1500–2500, sold for $3000.
  • The anthology Peterburg v stikhotvoreniiakh russkikh poeitov, Berlin, 1923, with the first book appearance of VN’s poem “Peterburg” (B7.1). Est. $100–150, sold for $110.
  • Pnin, Doubleday, Doubleday, 1957 (A30.1, variant a), in very poor dj, with VN inscription to Sophie Nabokov, dated March 1957. Est. $1500–2500, sold for $1800.
  • The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, New Directions, 1941 (A21.1, issue a), in very good dj. Est. $100–150, sold for $1600.

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The small auction house New England Book Auctions in western Massachusetts is offering 20 lots of Nabokoviana at its Sept. 24th auction (sale #419, lots #64 and #118–136). Included are first editions of American books, a Lolita Olympia Press first, and other Lolitas in English and Russian, inscribed and lepidopterized copies, some journals in which VN’s works appeared, a photograph of VN by Philippe Halsman, and other material. The majority, if not all, of the lots appears to have been consigned by the Ledkovsky family, cousins of Nabokov.

The catalog descriptions aren’t very detailed. I plan to drive up to the gallery next week to examine the goods.

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The eight lots of Nabokov books that the Bloomsbury auction house in London offered today (see my posting of 13 February) didn’t do very well. Only two sold: a jacketed 1938 Bobbs-Merrill copy of Laughter in the Dark (A14.2) went for £450 ($683) and Stikhotvoreniia 1929–1952 / Poems 1929–1952 (A27.1), inscribed and with a flutter of little butterflies, went for £3800 ($5764). The prices are exclusive of the 24% buyer’s premium.

Also, on 17 February, the Bonhams auction house in San Francisco sold one of two Nabokov lots (see my posting of 18 January), a copy of Gornii put’ / The empyrean path (A6.1) for $1000, including the premium.

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Eight of the ten Nabokov lots that didn’t sell at the Bloomsbury auction in November are being offered again by the London auction house on 28 February, all at reduced estimates. That means that the opening bids and the reserve prices will be lower. Click here to link to the items, lots 341–48. (Thanks to James O’Sullivan for pointing the auction out to me.)

Podvig/Glory (A13.1) was originally given an estimate for the November auction of £600–800; this time it’s £400–600. Kamera obskura (A14.1) was £500–700, now £250–350. Laughter in the Dark (A14.2) was £750–1000, now £500–700. Otchaianie/Despair (A15.1) was £400–600, now £250–350. Priglashenie na kazn’/Invitation to a beheading (A16.1) was £200–300, now £150–200. Sogliadatai/The eye (A12.1) was £800–1200, now £500–700. (A17.1) Dar/The gift was £200–300, now £150–200. Stikhotvoreniia 1929–1952/Poems 1929–1952 (A27.1), inscribed and with a flutter of little butterflies, was £6000–8000, now £3000–4000. Vozvroshchenie Chorba/The return of Chorb and the lot of 30 letters and cards to the de Petersons were not relisted for this auction. A buyer’s premium of 24% applies.

A big word of warning to any non-UK resident contemplating bidding on these lots: Bloomsbury’s shipping process is disorganized, sometimes unresponsive, and unthinkably expensive. I personally know of three winning bidders, two in the US and one in the Netherlands, who were at first hit with exorbitant shipping estimates and had to complain loud and long to get the charges reduced. And even then it sometimes took a long time for Bloomsbury to ship the items out. Therefore, I strongly recommend that you negotiate with Bloomsbury before the auction. Ask them about the expected shipping costs and fees, and the different possible carriers (DHL, postal service, etc.). BTW, if you have household or collectables insurance, you may not have to absorb the carrier’s insurance, since your purchase may be covered the moment you pay for it. Check with your insurance agent.

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The British auction house Bonhams is offering two Nabokov lots—one an early book of poems, rebound, and the other a set of correspondence between Véra and an editor—on 17 February (a Sunday) at its San Francisco branch (auction #20940).

The auction house’s own descriptions are:

  • (Lot 6237) Gornii put’. [The Empyrean Path.] Berlin: Grani, 1923. 8vo. 180, [1 ad] pp. Modern quarter cloth, morocco spine label. Title toned and with two small marginal repairs, ad leaf detached. FIRST EDITION of this very early collection of poems, among Nabokov’s first publications. The Nabokov family moved to Berlin in 1920. Juliar A6.1. Estimate: US$ 1,000–1,500
  • (Lot 6238) 4 Typed Letters Signed and 1 Holiday Card Signed (“Véra Nabokov” and “V. and V. Nabokov” in Véra’s hand ), including 1 with Nabokov’s butterfly insignia, 4 pp, 8vo and 4to, Montreux, Switzerland, 1967-1972, to Peter Kemeny, w/ 3 original transmittal envelopes, some wrinkling and creasing, tears to blank margins of one letter. Véra writes to Kemeny, Vladimir’s one time editor at McGraw-Hill, about Kemeny’s planned visits to Europe, news of family, thanking him for letters, etc. On March 3, 1972, she writes, “VN is deep, deep in his new book, to be titled TRANSPARENT THINGS.” In the same letter she registers her and Vladimir’s opinions of Updike’s Rabbit: VN always finds a million of [sic] things that he loves in Updike’s books. To be quite frank, I was not enthusiastic.” Estimate: US$ 800–1,200

There is nothing special about the material. The Gornii put’ is not in its original wrappers, it appears that the original covers may not even have been bound in, and the ad leaf is detached. (In comparison, in New York on 5 December Bonhams moved a very, very nice copy of Gornii put’ for $3800, before the premium.) The letters are not in Nabokov’s hand or even composed by him, though one has been lepidopterized. The estimates are fair, reflecting these shortcomings. The buyer’s premium is the usual 25%.

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