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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. (

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.

New South Wales:

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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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:

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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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.


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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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.

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Seven Nabokov items are among the 230 lots of “Russian Literature and Works on Paper” (Akhmatova, Belyi, Bulgakov, Mandelshtam, Mayakovsky, Olesha, Pasternak, and other writers, artists, and composers) that the British auction house Bonhams is offering on 5 December at its New York branch. Click here to see them.

They are, with a note about each item and its estimate:

  • Grozd‘, rebound, $1200-1800
  • Gornii put’, original wrappers, $2500-3500
  • Podvig, rebacked, inscribed, $7000-9000
  • Podvig, repaired, $700-1000
  • Stikhotvoreniia: 1929-1952, badly stained, $500-700
  • Lolita, issue a, worn, $1200-1800
  • Ada, inscribed & lepidopterized, $15,000-25,000

The estimates are a bit high considering the relatively tarnished conditions some of the books are in. The buyer’s premium is 25%.

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My instant post-game analysis of today’s auction of 22 Nabokov lots at Bloomsbury Auctions in London: Ho-hum.

Twelve of the lots were sold, ten were passed on. The first lot, a battered Mashen’ka, went for the minimum expected, £1500 (plus the buyer’s premium of 24%). Three rebound Russian novels (Kamera obskura, Otchaianie, and Priglashenie na kazn’) were passed on. One rebound novel, Zashchita Luzhina, sold at £320, above the high estimate. I think that’s due to the difficulty of finding any copy of ZL and this copy’s relatively low price.

Some Russian novels in wrappers didn’t sell (Dar, Sogliadatai, and Podvig). Most of the English language lots sold: a 1936 John Long Camera Obscura without dust jacket at £1400; a 1959 Putnam Invitation to a Beheading with a tipped in letter from Véra Nabokov at £180; an Olympia Press Lolita, second issue, at £1700; a Bend Sinister, inscribed and lepidopterized, at £3800, the most expensive lot sold; an inscribed Pnin at £2200; a Putnam Lolita, ninth impression, inscribed and lepidopterized, at £3500.

The lot of 30 letters from 1958–1981, two with butterflies, to Nabokov’s cousins, the de Petersons, didn’t sell (estimated at £8–12,000). Nor did the most delightful piece, an inscribed and 8X-lepidopterized copy of Stikhotvoreniia: 1929–1951, estimated at £6–8000. You have your good days and you have your so-so days. One could say that that’s how the ball bounces.

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