Two Nabokov Items at Swann Auction

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.


  1. James’s avatar

    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.


    1. admin’s avatar

      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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