An auction house’s catalog is a bibliophile’s dream of a museum between two covers. Open any catalog, and you will find literary treasures — valuable first editions, rare inscribed copies, manuscripts, letters, screenplays, and author portraits — from some of the most famous authors in the world.
Bonhams is one of the world’s oldest and largest auctioneers. Although Bonhams was created in 2001, the firm was a merger of two esteemed long-standing auction houses, Bonhams & Brooks (founded in 1793) and Philips Son & Neale (founded in 1796). It holds its auctions of antiques, art, books, and manuscripts in London, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Hong Kong, Paris, Singapore, and Sydney. As you can imagine, the auction business is extremely lucrative. In 2007, sales of auction items brought in more than $600 million. Here are some of the items found in their most current catalog, Extraordinary Books and Manuscripts (New York, March 9, 2018).
Saint Augustine: De Civitate Dei, second edition ($200,000 – 300,000)
Claudius Ptolemaeus: Cosmographia, third edition ($600,000 – 800,000)
Sir Isaac Newton, Manuscript Detailing Creation of Philosopher’s Stone ($200,000 – $300,000)
George Washington, Signed Letter to Governor Morris, dated May 6, 1779 ($40,000 – $60,000)
Alexander Hamilton, Letter to Baron von Steuben, dated June 12, 1780 ($10,000 – $15,000)
Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass, First Edition, first binding, 1855 ($50,000 – $70,000)
Inaugural Bible of Ulysses S. Grant, 1869, only presidential inauguration bible in private hands ($80,000 – $120,000)
Oscar Wilde, Manuscript Draft of an Unknown Wilde Poem, 1890s ($50,000 – $70,000)
Albert Einstein, Letter Addressing his Involvement with Creation of the Atom Bomb to his son, Hans Albert, dated Sept. 2, 1945 ($100,000 – $150,000)
The letter includes this paragraph: ““My scientific work has only a very indirect connection with the atomic bomb. Indeed, I showed (39 years ago already) that according to the special theory of relativity, there exists an equivalence between the mass and energy of a system, that is, that the two are only different manifestations of the same thing. Also I noted that the energies released by radioactive decay are great enough to be emitted in a nuclear reaction when there is an imbalance of mass. That is all.”
The Only Copy of the Navigator Log of the Flight of the Enola Gay by Major Theodore Van Kirk, dated August 6, 1945 ($100,000 – $150,000)
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