Gornii put’

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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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