The oddest thing about the Nabokov lots in the Bonhams auction today in New York was that a copy of Grozd’ went for more than seven times its high estimate (estimate, $1200–1800; result $13,000 + 25% buyer’s premium). Two bidders got into a bidders’ war and someone paid an exorbitant price for a book not even in its original wrappers and with brown stains (water?) on some of the leaves. Grozd’, published in Berlin in 1923 by Grani, is certainly a rare and hard to find book from very early in Nabokov’s career. Bonhams’ estimate was a fair estimate. But such a book in such condition is not worth $16,250 in any real market. But then odd things happen at auctions.
Of the other lots, Gornyi put’, a very, very nice copy, sold for $3800 (before premium), $300 above the top estimate. Podvig, a bit banged up and inscribed in 1932, went for $6500 (est. $7000–9000); Podvig, plain and with repairs (est. $700–1000), got up to only $480 and didn’t sell; Stikhotvoreniia: 1929–1951, with extensive repairs of its cover (est. $500–700), climbed to $320 and then pooped out; an Olympia Press Lolita, a very worn first issue (est. $1200–1800), sold for $950; and, an Ada, inscribed and lepidopterized to close friend George Hessen (est. $15,000–25,000), made it to $14,000 and sold.
What conclusions can I draw from this? None. The market for these things is very small and runs on passions and perceptions. And all it needs is two bidders.