My library runneth over so my friends are in for a treat

Karen here …

I love books. Period. I don’t know when I became aware of that fact, but I suspect I’ve been a latent bibliophile for some time, but never had the opportunity to really encourage the trait and let it thrive — until fairly recently. Auctions abound — and books go for the proverbial song at auctions.

My husband and I purchased an amazingly decrepit, huge old turn-of-the-century farmhouse back in 1995. It was what many people call a “fixer-upper.” What an understatement! We actually had relatives say, “Strike a match!” but for the $23,500 price tag and all the potential we saw, we just couldn’t pass it up!

As our work progressed on the house, ever so slowly, over the years we developed dreams/plans about what we would do with each room. A couple of years ago, we turned one of those dreams into a plan and put in a library, complete with built-in oak floor-to-ceiling bookcases. We wanted bookcases to cover as much wall space as possible, because over the years we’ve accumulated quite a collection of books: everything from contemporary novels to 19th-century reference books. Well, we’re at a point now where the shelves are all filled, I’m reading as fast as I can and moving out the novels as I read them, and there’s still a surplus.

And then I received boxes upon boxes of old books in the settlement of an estate.

My library runneth over.

Time to step up the pace in moving out the books that I know I’ll never read, and those that don’t really “speak” to me or hold a tight enough grip on my heart. It’s hard to let any of them go, but fortunately, we bibliophiles tend to hang together, so I know I’ll find suitable homes for those orphans who won’t be able to stay with me.

Who was it that said we should surround ourselves with great books, even if we never read them …

Anyway, Swann Galleries just had an auction, the Art, Press & Illustrated Books, and 19th & 20th Century Literature auction, and they sent us the highlights (below). I don’t have anything so extravagant as these in my collection, but I can always daydream about them …

Among the highlights of Swann Galleries’ two-part auction of Art, Press & Illustrated Books, and 19th & 20th Century Literature on April 24 were original illustrations, some used in well-known books, some that never appeared in print, and an exceedingly rare copy of the first work published by Leonard Baskin’s famed Gehenna Press.

Christine von der Linn, Swann Galleries Art and Modern Literature Book Specialist, said, “This sale featured many unusual items, some never seen at auction before and others that hadn’t appeared on the market in a long time. This made for a lively preview exhibition and a very successful auction. Prices for graphic material in particular were high—many of the art journals with original lithographs, etchings and woodcuts, and Art Deco pochoir portfolios were hotly contested.”

A group of three original watercolor illustrations from the 1950s by Félix Lorioux, best known for his illustrations of children’s books by Charles Perrault, brought $12,000*; and a set of 44 Art Deco gouache illustrations with text by poster artist Mary Louise Lawser for an unpublished children’s book titled Now A Days sold for $10,200.

A collection of works by Ludwig Bemelmans, popularly known as the author and illustrator who created the Madeline series, included a circa 1940 watercolor of a street scene, L’Apres-midi en face du Capitole de la belle ville de Sainte Paul, $11,400; and two signed lithographs, They Went Looking High and Low, from Madeline’s Rescue, $5,280, and To the Tiger in the Zoo, Madeline just said “Pooh, Pooh,” from Madeline, $5,040.

The featured small press book, a signed and inscribed copy of Leonard Baskin’s On a Pyre of Withered Roses, New Haven, 1942, realized $9,000. Baskin’s first book and the first publication of his Gehenna Press, this was the first copy ever to appear at auction and the only known copy outside that belonging to the Baskin family.

Beautiful works with pochoir illustrations included Sonia Delaunay’s Compositions Couleurs Idees, with 40 plates for textiles, wallpapers and other decorative uses, Paris, 1930, which sold for a record $7,350; Eugène Grasset’s La Plante et ses applications Ornementales, with 72 plates, Paris, 1895, $6,960; Paul Iribe’s own copy of his Les Robes de Paul Poiret, with 10 plates, one of 250, Paris, 1908, $5,760; Aleksandr Pushkin’s Conte de Tsar Saltan et de son fils le Glorieux . . . de Cynge, with spirited illustrations by Natalia Gontcharova, Paris, 1921, $4,655; and Emile-Alain Seguy’s Prismes, with 40 brilliant plates of natural reflections of light, Paris, circa 1930, $2,640.

Two gorgeous examples of French Art Nouveau illustrated books were La Porte des Rêves with illustrations by Georges de Feure, one of 200 copies printed on Japan paper, Paris, 1899, and Carlos Schwabe’s Hespérus, one of 20 reserved for member of the Société “Les XX,” Paris, 1904, $3,600 each.

Rounding out the illustrated books was Marc-George Mallet’s Le Ronde des Déesses, with an engraved frontispiece by Arthur Szyk, inscribed by the author, and with five inscribed and signed postcards by Szyk to the man who gave him his first solo show in Paris, Auguste Decour, Paris, 1925, $4,800.           

Modern Art highlights included a beautiful copy of Poèmes de Charles d’Orléans, a signed copy of Henri Matisse’s last book, Paris, 1950, $6,000; a small archive of Salvador Dalí material once belonging to his friends Maria and Jaume Miravitlles, which included a two-page inscribed pen drawing of Don Quixote, late 1950s, $19,200; Franz Meyer, Marc Chagall: Life and Work, one of 100 deluxe copies signed by Chagall, with an original numbered etching, New York, 1964, a record $5,760; and Andy Warhol’s Exposures, signed and inscribed to fashion designer Fernando Sanchez, with a signed photograph of a nude male posterior, New York, 1979, $5,280.

Part two of the auction was devoted to 19th & 20th Century Literature. Highlights of a comprehensive Robert Frost collection included a beautiful copy of his first regularly published book, A Boy’s Will, inscribed and signed, in the rare gilt-stamped bronzed brown pebble cloth binding, London, 1913, $10,800; two variant editions of the same title, one with a binding of cream boards, London, 1913, the other one of only three variant copies in cream wrappers, first edition, second issue, London, 1913, $4,080 each; and an inscribed copy of North of Boston, first edition, one of 200, London, 1914, $3,360.

Other literature highlights were Washington Irving, The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent., first edition in the original seven parts, New York, 1819-20, a record $5,760; first editions of William Combe, The English Dance of Death, and The English Dance of Life, together, three volumes, London, 1815-16, 1817, $3,600; and J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit or There and Back Again, first edition, first impression, London, 1937, which brought $3,600—even without the dust jacket.

You can look for this info in story form on, which will be placed soon, complete with some images to highlight the story.