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.
A 1960 Weidenfeld & Nicolson Invitation to a Beheading with “Cinex moviola” butterfly, NEBA lot #118.
A 1971 McGraw-Hill Glory with butterfly, NEBA lot #117.
A 1976 Weidenfeld & Nicolson Details of a Sunset with butterfly on stalk, dated Jan. 19, 1977, NEBA lot #116.