On June 16, 2015, Bonhams, a privately held British auction house, will be auctioning a 1925 first edition of F. Scott’s Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. The book was consigned by the family of the original owner, Harold Goldman. During the 1930s, Fitzgerald and Goldman worked as screenwriters for MGM studios. They collaborated on the film “A Yank at Oxford,” released in 1938, starring Vivien Leigh and Robert Taylor.
The inscription in the book reads: “For Harold Goldman/ The original ‘Gatsby’ of this story, with thanks for letting me reveal these secrets of his past/ Alcatraz/ Cell Block 17/ (I’ll be out soon, kid. Remember me to the mob. Fitzgerald [signature]).”
Despite the inscription [“For Harold Goldman/the original Gatsby”] and the Bonhams catalog copy that states that Harold Goldman was the inspiration for the novel’s leading man, several Fitzgerald scholars and biographers would disagree. It is very likely that Gatsby is a composite of several men that Fitzgerald had met. However, legendary editor and biographer (and close pal), Matthew Bruccoli believes that Gatsby was principally based on a former WWI officer, Max von Gerlach, who was a well-known bootlegger and former used-car dealer. And Gerlach actually used the phrase “old sport.”
The other references in the inscription suggest that Fitzgerald and Goldman did not particularly enjoy their gig in Hollywood — it was perceived as a prison sentence. “Alcatraz” is his nickname for the MGM lot, and “Cell Block 17” referred to the office in the writers’ building where they both worked.
So what is this literary treasure worth? According to Bonhams, the book is estimated to bring in $80,000 to $100,00. Consider that over at AbeBooks, one of the most respected online marketplace for antiquarian books, there are two true first editions for sale: one for $150,000, another for $100,000; both of those are not inscribed by the author. So an inscribed edition for $100,000 is a real steal, wouldn’t you say, old sport?
Update: On June 16, 2015, the book actually sold for $191,000, almost double the original estimate.
For further reading: www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/will-the-real-great-gatsby-please-stand-up-53360554/