inscriptions

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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. (http://nebookauctions.com/shop/uncategorized/169-nabokov-vladimir/)

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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Two dealers are offering six allegedly signed/inscribed/lepidopterized Nabokovs on eBay. I’ve written about fraudulent copies inscribed for “Martin and Diana” before. See my postings of 16, 22, 23, 24, 25, and 27 April 2016. Also, one of the sellers has attached a supposed letter of provenance for the three paperbacks. That letter is as dubious as the sorry lots themselves.

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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: http://nebookauctions.com/shop/uncategorized/176-nabokov-vladimir/.

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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James O’Sullivan, a frequent commenter here, has some further observations about the Nabokov volumes supposedly inscribed to the Shuttleworth family and being offered by New England Book Auctions on the 26th.

Thanks for the nice detective work! This does indeed smell bad, and on close inspection the inscriptions in the new sale do look like quite poorly-done fakes in several respects.

A few supplementary thoughts on this:

The online listings I’ve come across (eBay etc) often refer to Shuttleworth as having been “late editor” or, in one case “freelance editor” (whatever that might mean) of The Paris Review. This seems unlikely and is not mentioned in his obituary, and it may even be the case that the lister is unaware that The Paris Review is an American periodical and highly unlikely to have been edited by a very English Englishman who doesn’t appear to have lived in the U.S. at all. More likely this refers to the fact that Shuttleworth and his friend, the skilled but eccentric English novelist Simon Raven, conducted an interview with Graham Greene which appeared in a 1955 issue of the Paris Review in the famous series on ‘The Art of Fiction’. But this hardly makes him an ‘editor’ of said periodical since it appears to be his only – rather tangential – connection to it.

On another note, and as you point out, if Diane Westberg is 73, then she cannot be the same Lucy (not Lucille) Shuttleworth whose birth in Bristol is (as a quick search reveals) recorded by the UK authorities as having taken place in the third quarter of 1963. I’m not really sure how ‘Lucy’ ends up as ‘Lucille Diane’, or (according to UK records) how ‘Jason F. Shuttleworth’ morphs into ‘[Jason] James’ (lots 118 & 121). (In fact Jason F. Shuttleworth does not seem to be, as you suggest (and the obituary ordering implies), the youngest child as he is listed as having been born in Bristol, in the third quarter of 1961 (i.e. Lucy is the youngest)).
On a connected note, two other books with similar provenance have also ended up at Mystery Pier Books – an inscribed Beckett and an inscribed Salinger (!):

http://www.mysterypierbooks.com/book/fizzles/
http://www.mysterypierbooks.com/book/franny-and-zooey-2/

Inscribed Salinger’s are scarce enough to be more-or-less intrinsically doubtful things. I don’t know enough about Salinger to be sure, but it really seems to be straining credulity to think that anyone with any sanity would be, as the listing claims (presumably echoing the letter of provenanace) “promoting Salinger for a Nobel” in 1962 on the strength of one novel and some stories…

Two things strike me as odd with regards to the Beckett inscription “en Paris 25-10-76”. The first is that a fluent French speaker like Beckett would be highly unlikely to use the wrong preposition (‘en’ instead of ‘à’), although it’s a common mistake for the non-fluent to make, and I also feel that he would have been unlikely to inscribe in French to a non-French recipient. Secondly, according to Beckett’s biographer, the second holograph manuscript of “but the clouds…” is dated on the same day as this inscription, but is also inscribed with “Le T[ouquet]”, a resort c.250km from Paris. (However, it should be said that the Reading University Library dates this manuscript as 25/11/76).

In any case, I agree that the Shuttleworth provenance looks iffy and I am surprised that Mystery Pier Books seem to have been caught out with several different books from that source.

And, a bit later on other questionable inscriptions, he added:

Another listing with the same provenance:

http://www.ebay.com/itm/Ides-March-Thornton-Wilder-SIGNED-H-C-D-J-1948-Longmans-and-Green-/221896172350?hash=item33aa0ae33e

It doesn’t bear much resemblance to Wilder’s signature and the ink is very fresh for a signature from 1948. I think an American would not abbreviate Connecticut as ‘Con.’ but ‘Conn’ or ‘CT.’ but that may be nit-picking?

And:

And two more:

http://www.ebay.com/itm/Virginia-Woolf-Signed-A-Room-of-Ones-Own-1st-edition-/252360680527?hash=item3ac1de644f:g:hd0AAOSwWTRWv9vz
http://www.ebay.com/itm/Roadl-Dahl-Signed-My-Uncle-Oswald-1st-edition-/252360680304?hash=item3ac1de6370:g:2RcAAOSwezVWwFaz

The Woolf signature is not a bad effort although Woolf often grouped the dots over the three i’s in her first name together. But the transition from the ‘W’ to the ‘O’ is clumsy and the word ‘Woolf’ tails off as if apologetically thereafter. She famously (if not invariably) signed and inscribed in purple ink.

Dahl’s signature is rather inconsistent but the one on this copy looks horrible: the gap between the ‘l’ and the ‘d’ in ‘Roald’ even suggests the pause of someone who has momentarily forgotten how to spell the name. I’m no expert but I don’t think Dahl commonly noted the place and the addition of ‘Gypsy House’ merely suggests the spurious attempt to add authenticity by an appeal to basic knowledge (as per Montreux, en Paris, Montreux etc)

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Here are three Hairstreaks drawn in copies of Nabokov books. I’m posting these details of these drawings so that you can see the differences among them. A) is legitimate. It’s provenance is through the Nabokov estate. B) is very dubiously legitimate. It is from the April 26 NEBA auction. The James in the inscription is probably meant to be Martin Shuttleworth’s youngest child, Jason James. And C) is almost certainly fraudulent. It was the focus of three posts I made seven years ago. (See “Fake Inscriptions”, parts 1, 2, and 3.)

Detail of Hairstreak drawn in copy of 1969 McGraw-Hill King, Queen, Knave for his wife.

A) Detail of Hairstreak drawn in a Russian 1969 McGraw-Hill Korol’, dama, valet for Véra.

Detail of Hairstreak inscribed to “Young James [Shuttleworth?]”

B) Detail of Hairstreak for “Young James [Shuttleworth?]” in a 1968 McGraw-Hill King, Queen, Knave

C) Hairstreak dated “Xmas 1969”.

C) Hairstreak dated “Xmas 1969” drawn in a 1969 McGraw-Hill Ada.

This is a follow-up to my April 16 posting, “Dubious Ada Inscription Resurfaces”. Mystery Pier Books of West Hollywood, CA, had offered, since withdrawn, an inscribed Ada (picture C) supposedly from Diane Westberg of the Shuttleworth family.

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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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The dubiously lepidopterized <em>Ada</em>

The dubiously lepidopterized Ada dated 1969.

An apparently fraudulent lepidopterized Ada that was highlighted here seven years ago, was recently being offered by Mystery Pier Books in West Hollywood, CA, for $13,500.

Co-proprietor Harvey Jason said on Wednesday that he was unaware of the item’s history and was going to look into it. Two days later the book was removed from the store’s website at mysterypierbooks.com. Jason declined to give the book’s provenance.

The three-part posting about the book, titled “Another Fake Inscription”, appeared in June, 2009.

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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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Bloomsbury Auctions in London has 21 lots of Nabokov books (many inscribed) and a lot of 30 letters coming up for sale on 27 November. Go to bloomsburyauctions.com and click on the “Important Books & Manuscripts” auction. The Nabokov lots are #133–154. (Or click here to go directly to the catalog page where the Nabokov lots begin.)

The estimated prices are accurate. The conditions of some of the books are, from the fastidious collector’s point of view, not very good. Many copies are not in their original bindings. But there are many desirable pieces. I think that the most delightfully desirable is lot #148, Stikhotvoreniia [Poems] 1929–1951 (A27.1 in my bibliography), published in Paris by Rifma in 1952. The book itself contains 16 Russian poems in a compact 48 pages. The real attraction is the quickly sketched flutter of eight giddy butterflies over Nabokov’s inscription to Jacob Frumkin. Take a look.

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The 138 penciled index cards comprising the manuscript of VN’s The Original of Laura failed to sell at Christie’s on Friday. With a pre-auction estimate of $400,000-600,000, the bidding moved quickly from the $200,000 opening to $280,000 and then stalled out. It took less than 23 seconds.

There was obviously much interest in this first open offering of the manuscript of a VN novel. Four broadcasting video cameras covered the event including one from the Russian TV network Zvezda. As soon as the the cards in lot number 95 failed to sell, three of them, including Zvezda, immediately began to break down their equipment and pack up.

The five inscribed and lepidopterized VN books that were also offered all sold at prices within or just under their estimates. A 1947 Henry Holt Bend Sinister, presented to Véra Nabokov’s sister, Sonia Slonim, got knocked down at $9500 (estimated $7000-10,000); a 1952 Rifma Stikhotvoreniia 1929-1951, presented to Véra Nabokov’s cousin, Anna Feigen, $10,000 (estimated $10,000-15,000);  a 1952 Chekhov Dar, presented to Slonim, $8000 (estimated $10,000-15,000); a 1959 Putnam Invitation to a Beheading, presented to Feigen, $6500 (estimated $7000-10,000); and, a 1962 Putnam third printing of Pale Fire, presented to Slonim, $11,000 (estimated $8000-12,000). The five prices do not include the buyer’s premium of 25%. A large number of the bids on the presentation copies appeared to have been placed over the phone.

The auction went as I had expected. The presentation copies were estimated fairly and all sold. But the TOoL manuscript failed at its estimated price level for several reasons. For one, even though its recent publication has generated a tremendous amount of publicity and interest, that does not automatically translate into the passion that is necessary for someone to want to lay out big bucks for a piece of literature. Laura is not Lolita. At least not yet. It is a new book. It does not yet occupy real space in our literary imaginations. And the economy is still limping along. Maybe Cornell or some other such institution couldn’t find a benefactor willing to put up the cash. The top failed bid of $280,000 was, I think, a relatively accurate pricing of the manuscript.

Incidentally, a copy of James Joyce’s Ulysses, a first edition, limited issue, one of 100 copies on Dutch handmade paper, and signed by Joyce, the most desirable version, estimated at $200,000-300,000, was also passed over. The biggest surprise, though, wasn’t a book, a manuscript, or even a piece of paper. It was the Olivetti portable typewriter on which Cormac McCarthy typed all of his work from 1958 to 2009. It was estimated at $15,000-20,000. It went for a whopping $210,000 plus $44,500 for the buyer’s premium. The tall, middle-aged man who bought it obviously had the passion and the bucks.

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