Auction spotlight will shine on British espionage and thriller fiction April 8

NEW YORK — On April 8 Swann Galleries will offer the Otto Penzler collection of British espionage and thriller fiction. The sale represents a select portion of the private library of the well-known mystery fiction specialist and bookseller who amassed his collection over 40 years. In that time, Penzler befriended many noted authors including Eric Ambler, Ken Follett, John Gardner and others, who inscribed copies of their works.

“British spy novels are among the greatest of all works in the mystery genre,” Penzler said in the introduction to the auction catalog. “This is the first auction ever devoted entirely to this important literary genre.”

Perhaps the best known of the British espionage works are Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels, which were the source material for the iconic films spanning the last several decades. The auction offers more than 25 of these books, and among the most notable are a first edition of the first Bond book, Casino Royale, in near perfect condition, 1953 (estimate $20,000 to $30,000); a fine copy of Moonraker, inscribed and signed by the author to known Fleming collector Eileen M. Cond, 1955 ($15,000 to $25,000); and a signed limited edition of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the first novel published after the debut of the film series and an immediate bestseller on both sides of the Atlantic, 1963 ($6,000 to $9,000).

Other Fleming highlights include first editions of Live and Let Die, 1954 ($2,000 to $3,000); Diamonds are Forever, 1956 ($2,500 to $3,500); From Russia with Love, 1957 ($3,000 to $4,000); and two first editions in different bindings of Dr. No, 1958 ($3,000 to $4,000 for the pair).

There is also a fascinating archive of correspondence between Fleming, illustrator Richard Chopping—who created many of the best known dust jacket images for the series—and others, containing details about jacket art, payment information and more, 62 letters in total, 1950s-1960s ($12,000 to $18,000).

The sale offers many James Bond novels written in the 1980s and 1990s by John Gardner, including an original typescript for License Renewed, with editorial corrections in Gardner’s hand throughout, 1980 ($1,200 to $1,800); and signed copies of his first four Bond titles, inscribed to the Penzlers ($1,200 to $1,800 for the set).

A run of works by Eric Ambler includes a rare first edition in the scarce dust jacket of Cause for Alarm, 1938, signed and inscribed to Penzler ($5,000 to $7,000); a first edition of Journey into Fear, 1940, which was made into the popular film noir starring Orson Welles and Joseph Cotton ($2,000 to $3,000); and signed first American editions of both books.

Among notable first editions of Graham Greene works are a bright copy of Stamboul Train, 1932 ($2,000 to $3,000); and a wartime printing of The Ministry of Fear, written during his Foreign Service appointment in West Africa, 1943 ($1,000 to $1,500).

Also featured are several works by Dennis Wheatley, such as signed first editions of Black August, inscribed to a fan, “this is really good,” 1934 ($300 to $400); an inscribed copy of The Black Baroness, which the author considered one of his best Gregory Sallust stories, 1940 ($400 to $600); The Sword of Fate, 1941, and They Found Atlantis ($500 to $750 each).

A section of titles by John Le Carré includes a beautiful first edition of his first work, Call for the Dead, which introduced the character John Smiley, British Secret Service Agent, 1961, and a bright first English edition of his second book, A Murder of Quality, 1962 ($8,000 to $12,000 each); and several signed editions, such as a first American edition of Call for the Dead, New York, 1962 ($800 to $1,200); a first edition of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, 1963 ($1,500 to $2,500); and a first edition of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, 1974 ($300 to $400).

Among books signed and inscribed to Penzler are a first edition of Len Deighton’s first book, The Ipcress File, 1962 ($1,500 to $2,000); a first edition of Desmond Bagley’s first novel, The Golden Keel, 1963 ($250 to $350); four first printings of Frederick Forsyth’s The Day of the Jackal, two signed and inscribed to Penzler, London and New York, 1971-72 ($1,500 to $2,500 for the group); and first English and American editions of Ken Follett’s The Key to Rebecca, with Advance Uncorrected Proof copies, 1980 ($500 to $750).

Rounding out the sale are works by early masters of the genre, William Le Queux and E. Phillips Oppenheim, early 20th century authors who pioneered the spy novel and inspired Fleming, Greene and many others; a first edition of Geoffrey Household’s Rogue Male in the extremely scarce dust jacket, 1939 ($1,500 to $2,500); and books by Francis Beeding, Manning Coles, Brian Freemantle, Andrew Garve, H.C. McNeile (known as Sapper), Baroness Orczy, Anthony Price, and more.

The auction will begin at 10:30 a.m. on Thursday, April 8. The books will be on public exhibition on Saturday, April 3, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Monday, April 5 to Wednesday, April 7, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

For more information, visit Swann Galleries online at

Live online bidding is also available via

Photos courtesy of Swann Galleries.

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