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Art Investment News, 10-16: Epics
Balthus does Bronte, Curtis's American Indian epic, rare Jack London & more @ Bonhams Fine Books auction

From Bronte, Emily, "Wuthering Heights." (New York: The Limited Editions Club, 1993.) Folio (410 x 315 mm). One of 15 lithographs by Balthus. Original tan goat, upper cover lettered in brown, beige suede-lined beige clamshell case, tan goat box label. Fine, lightest shelfwear to case. Number 67 of a limited edition of 300 copies, signed by Balthus. Original prospectus laid in. Bonhams pre-sale estimate: $2,000 - 3,000. Courtesy of Bonhams.

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Text copyright 2013 Paul Ben-Itzak

What does an album of vintage Ballets Russes photographs and postcards have in common with a first edition of Jack London's paene to the father of the modern American labor movement, "The Dream of Debs," a rare volume of Edward S. Curtis's mammoth monographic study of the American Indian, and a limited edition of Emily Bronte's "Wuthering Heights" illustrated and signed by Balthus? All are among the 378 lots on sale in Los Angeles October 16, at mostly moderate prices, in Bonhams auction of Fine Books and Manuscripts including Historical Photographs.

If scholars were dubious about Curtis's methods -- among other causes for concern, if the Indians featured in Curtis's ambitious survey were authentic, the photographs for which they posed were often contrived reconstructions -- there's no questioning the heroic scope of his endeavor: 20 volumes of narrative text and photogravures, each volume accompanied by a portfolio of large photogravure plates. Published over a 23-year span, from 1907 through 1930, Curtis's epoch document conforms with the 19th-century European and American obsession with the otherness of the indigenous American Indian. Curtis's plans to publish 500 complete sets were stymied by the expense; in the end, less than 273 were produced.


Curtis, Edward S., "The North American Indian." (Cambridge, MA: Edward S. Curtis, 1911.) Volume six of a 20-volume study, this one illustrating the Piegan, Cheyenne and Arapaho. Limited edition, rarest state, with the gravures printed on Japanese tissue. Bonhams pre-sale estimate: $12,000 - 18,000. Book itself 20 volumes; this is six volumes. Courtesy of Bonhams.


The lot on sale at Bonhams, Volume 6 (1911, Cambridge, MA), illustrates the Piegan, Cheyenne, and Arapaho tribes, with 75 sepia-toned photogravures after Curtis printed on Japanese tissue and mounted, 1 hand-colored. The auction house estimates it should fetch between $12,000 and $18,000.

If the price is too steep for you -- or if we've piqued your curiosity to further explore this epic tome -- Northwestern University's library has put all 20 volumes online here.

If the name Jack London (1876-1916) evokes for you only "The Call of the Wild," "To Light a Fire," and "The Sea Wolf," you might want to take a gander at the collection of 21 first editions, published from the 1910s through '20s, on auction from Bonhams at a pre-sale estimate of $2,000 - $3,000. With all in original cloth (one in dust-jacket), they include titles like "The Cruise of the Snark" (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1911), "The House of Pride" (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1912), "A Son of the Sun" (New York: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1912), "The Valley of the Moon" (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1913), and "Smoke Below" (New York: The Century Co., 1912).


London, Jack, "The Mutiny of the Elsinore." (New York: Macmillan, 1914.) First edition in jacket. Bonhams pre-sale estimate: $1,000 - 1,500. Courtesy of Bonhams.


As far as the man who with Dashiell Hammett set the standard for the San Francisco Bay Area literary scene in the early 20th century, though, the real gem may be a first edition of the May 1899 edition of Black Cat Magazine (Boston: The Shortstory Publishing House), containing the first short story London sold (for $40), "A Thousand Deaths," bundled with 17 other magazines featuring London stories like "To Build a Fire" (from The August Century Magazine, Vol. LXXVI, NO. 4 (New York, Century Co., 1908) and "The Dream of Debs" (Chicago: Charles H. Kerr & Company), an ironic tribute to the great labor activist's dream of a general strike told from the first-person perspective of a rich San Franciscan suffering from the labor action, a package estimated pre-sale at $2000 - $3,000.

Towards the beginning of "The Dream of Debs," a servant enters the narrator's bedroom to bring him his breakfast tray and the morning's grave news.

"'The Creamery did not deliver this morning,' he explained; 'nor did the bakery.'"

"I glanced again at the tray. There were no fresh French rolls -- only slices of stale graham bread from yesterday, the most detestable of bread so far as I was concerned.

"'Nothing was delivered this morning, sir,' Brown started to explain apologetically; but I interrupted him.

"'The paper?'

"'Yes, sir, it was delivered, but it was the only thing, and it is the last time, too. There won't be any paper to-morrow. The paper says so. Can I send out and get you some condensed milk?'

"I shook my head, accepted the coffee black, and spread open the paper. The headlines explained everything -- explained too much, in fact, for the lengths of pessimism to which the journal went were ridiculous. A general strike, it said, had been called all over the United States; and most foreboding anxieties were expressed concerning the provisioning of the great cities."

(To read the rest, click here.)


London, Jack, "A Thousand Deaths," in The Black Cat magazine (Boston: The Shortstory Publishing House, May 1899.) First edition of the first publication London ever received payment for, together with a collection of 17 other magazines including work by Jack London, mostly from his early years. Bonhams pre-sale estimate: $2,000 - 3,000. Courtesy of Bonhams.


Elsewhere in Bonhams Fine Books auction, a literary icon from the 19th century sees her masterpiece enhanced by one of the 20th's most brazen artists, with the sale of one of only 300 copies of a Limited Editions Club publication of Emily Bronte's "Wuthering Heights (New York: The Limited Editions Club, 1993) featuring 15 lithographs by Balthus. Numbered 67, the signed copy is estimated by Bonhams at $2,000 - 3,000.

A bevy of beauties and beaux garcons is featured in the 34 silver print photographs and photographic postcards of dancers associated with the Ballets Russes from 1910 - 1940, several of them signed, on auction at a pre-sale estimate of $1,500 - $2,000. The cache includes signed or inscribed photographs of Alicia Markova, Anton Dolin, Lubov Tchernicheva, and Marie Rambert, seven photographs of Margo Fonteyn taken for Vogue, a collection of early photographic postcards of Vera Fokinea in poses and costumes from "Cleopatra," "Scheherazade," and "Le Dieu bleu," and of her with Michel Fokinee in "Scheherazade" as well as "Karneval."

A 4 x 3 inch silver print press photograph of an elderly Rambert receiving flowers on stage is inscribed on the reverse side, "Here's me, with / best wishes / M.R." Even that signature British ballet bibliophile Cyril Beaumont makes a cameo appearance, sitting at his desk in a 4 1/2 x 6 inch silver print photograph, giving this collection of cards a truly literary imprimatur.


Anton Dolin, from Ballets Russes, an album of 34 silver print photographs and photographic postcards of dancers associated with Ballets Russes. Includes signed or inscribed photographs of Adeline Genee, Alicia Markova, Anton Dolin, Mary Honer, Lubov Tchernicheva, and Marie Rambert; a group of seven photographs of Margo Fonteyn, taken for Vogue; and a collection of early photographic postcards of Vera Fokinea and Michel Fokine in various roles. Bonhams pre-sale estimate: $1,500 - $2,000. Courtesy of Bonhams.


Lubov Tchernicheva, from Ballets Russes, an album of 34 silver print photographs and photographic postcards of dancers associated with Ballets Russes. Includes signed or inscribed photographs of Adeline Genee, Alicia Markova, Anton Dolin, Mary Honer, Lubov Tchernicheva, and Marie Rambert; a group of seven photographs of Margo Fonteyn, taken for Vogue; and a collection of early photographic postcards of Vera Fokinea and Michel Fokine in various roles. Bonhams pre-sale estimate: $1,500 - $2,000. Courtesy of Bonhams.


Alicia Markova, from Ballets Russes, an album of 34 silver print photographs and photographic postcards of dancers associated with Ballets Russes. Includes signed or inscribed photographs of Adeline Genee, Alicia Markova, Anton Dolin, Mary Honer, Lubov Tchernicheva, and Marie Rambert; a group of seven photographs of Margo Fonteyn, taken for Vogue; and a collection of early photographic postcards of Vera Fokinea and Michel Fokine in various roles. Bonhams pre-sale estimate: $1,500 - $2,000. Courtesy of Bonhams.


Mary Honer, from Ballets Russes, an album of 34 silver print photographs and photographic postcards of dancers associated with Ballets Russes. Includes signed or inscribed photographs of Adeline Genee, Alicia Markova, Anton Dolin, Mary Honer, Lubov Tchernicheva, and Marie Rambert; a group of seven photographs of Margo Fonteyn, taken for Vogue; and a collection of early photographic postcards of Vera Fokinea and Michel Fokine in various roles. Bonhams pre-sale estimate: $1,500 - $2,000. Courtesy of Bonhams.



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