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Category Archives: Books

The world’s most valuable signature

Day in day out we sell some of the world’s rarest autographs.

From James Dean to Henry VIII, if you can imagine it we’ve either got it or can get it.

However, there’s one I can guarantee that we’ll never have in stock.

I’ll give you a clue.

It belongs to the greatest writer in history.

The Chandos portrait of Shakespeare has led some to speculate that the bard may have been Jewish

The Chandos portrait of Shakespeare has led some to speculate that the bard may have been Jewish

There are only six known copies of William Shakespeare’s autograph in existence – all of which feature on legal documents and are housed under lock and key in some of the world’s most prestigious institutions.

If one was to ever sell, it’s estimated that it would go for around $5m.

That figure would increase significantly if it was attached to a manuscript copy of one of his plays, not a single copy of which has ever surfaced.

Shakespeare's will - one of the few manuscripts to feature his signature

Shakespeare’s will – one of the few manuscripts to feature his signature

The extraordinary value placed on his signature is far above that for any other person, a phenomenon that can be explained both by his extraordinary contribution to literature and the air of mystery that surrounds him.

Despite his fame and status, we still known very little about Shakespeare.

The fact that very few records or relics are known to have survived means that there is no market for memorabilia pertaining to him, despite enormous demand.

As a result copies of his folios, printed after his death, regularly break six figures – with one selling for $6.1m in 2001.


Origin story – just who was the world’s first superhero?

Origin story – just who was the world’s first superhero?

If you have a head for comics, you’ll know that the sale of a copy of Action Comics #1 has just been announced.

Without a doubt, Action Comics #1 is the most important comic book of all time, as reflected in its price

Without a doubt, Action Comics #1 is the most important comic book of all time, as reflected in its price

The comic is expected to be the first to make over the $3m mark, with another example – owned by the meme-mogul Nicholas Cage – selling for a staggering $2.1m back in 2011.

That’s the world record price for any comic book. So what’s so special about Action Comics #1?

Quite simply, Action Comics #1 is what started it all. Comic books captured the imaginations of the pre-war population, but until Action Comics arrived on the scene, it was all super sleuths and jungle-dwelling ape-men, not the laser-eyed, lycra-clad crime fighters we know today.

Then Superman appeared with his superhuman strength, invulnerability to harm, ability to fly, superspeed and x-ray vision, changing the game forever. He was the archetype for all others to come, the standard by which all others would be tested.

Yet there is an often overlooked hero that also lays claim to being the world’s first superhero. Devoid of any super powers, he instead gave rise to the classic superhero image – skin-tight suit, masked face and muscle bound.

The super camp superhero look is all down to The Phantom

The super camp superhero look is all down to The Phantom

The Phantom, real name Kit Walker, is the 21st in a line of crime fighters that originated in 1536, with his ancestor swore an oath to fight evil after his father was killed by a pirate.

While many believe he is immortal and his nicknames include, “The Ghost Who Walks” and “The Man Who Cannot Die”, The Phantom relies on his strength, intelligence and reputation to kick butt in the fictional African country of Bangalla.

What’s more, he debuted in 1936 as part of a newspaper syndicate, meaning he arrived two full years before Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster came up with Superman.

The Phantom could be considered the start of the "Golden Age" of comic books

The Phantom could be considered the start of the “Golden Age” of comic books

And for those collectors out there fascinated with the history of comic books, The Phantom couldn’t be a better buy. Currently, works from the early days of the Phantom’s long career sell for around $10,000 – a steal compared to Superman and some of the other early stars.

Even better, as The Phantom made his way through the decades, his looks was penned by some of the industry’s top artists, including Carmine Infantino, Steve Ditko and John Romita Sr.

And The Phantom set for his very own big-screen appearance, with the news announced in May 2014. Hopefully, Billy Zane (who starred in the awful 1996 movie effort) will stay well clear of this one.

The current hype surrounding any superhero blockbuster means prices are rising fast in the collecting market, and The Phantom could be a top-seller before long – you heard it here first!

‘The dingo stays here’

Did you see that Jane Austen’s ring will be staying in the UK after all?

The Jane Austen House Museum managed to get together the required £149,000 ($238,000) to keep the ring on British shores, after US singer Kelly Clarkson had “bought” it at auction last year.

Clarkson had reckoned without the might of the British government, which from time to time slaps temporary export bans on some “national treasures” that look like they’re about to leave the country.

The dingo leaves the UK on November 5 unless a new owner is found

Stubbs’ dingo leaves the UK on November 5 unless a new owner is found

The bans, which last just a few months, are intended to provide museums and institutions with sufficient time to purchase the items. In this case, it worked.

“The export licensing controls for objects of cultural interest are designed to balance the need to keep nationally important objects in this country, the rights of owners and the encouragement of a thriving art trade,” says England’s Arts Council, which advises the government on these matters.

The current collection of items in limbo makes for interesting reading, and suggests that someone at the Arts Council, or perhaps Britain’s minister for culture, Ed Vaizey, has a particular penchant for Australian animals.

Here’s the list:

  • Two paintings by George Stubbs, depicting a kangaroo and a dingo, respectively.
  • A photo album containing snaps by British photographer Julia Margaret Cameron.
  • Rembrandt van Rijn’s ‘Rembrandt Laughing’.
  • Letters and documents from British army officer James Wolfe.
  • A Bentley Blower 4.5 litre racing car.
  • A collection of works pertaining to Thomas Baines’ North Australian Expedition from 1855 to 1857.

When we get word on the dingo’s new home, you’ll be the first to know.


Sotheby’s Japanese erotic prints – Piscicolous prints for over 18s only

A number of sexually explicit Japanese prints are bound for Sotheby’s Hong Kong.


From July 18 until July 31, the x-rated images, on loan from the collection of antique dealer Uragami Mitsuru, will adorn the international auction house’s walls, presenting art lovers with a rare opportunity “to understand more about shunga as well as the general social and cultural perception of sexuality during the Endo period,” according to gallery director Angelika Li.

“Shunga” is a Japanese word for erotic art.

In terms of subject matter, shunga created during the Endo period (1603-1868) varies enormously, reflecting the protean, and often symbolic, nature of sexual desire during the age.

“The influence of Western ethics after the Meiji period meant that shunga came to be regarded, both socially and academically, as taboo,” collector Uragami Mitsuru explains.

However, following recent cultural re-evaluations, shunga has been repositioned as a serious art form worthy of solemn aesthetic consideration.

The exhibition has been deemed suitable for over 18s only…a rule that seems a bit mean, but is likely to reduce levels of giggling.

In exploring the (often complex) relationship between sex and society, the exhibition offers attendees a chance to view works by renowned artists Suzuki Harunobo (1724-1770), Katsukawa Shunsho (1726-1792) and Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849).


Should you keep your collectibles to yourself? The case of Samuel Beckett’s notebooks

On July 10, six of Samuel Beckett’s notebooks are to cross the auction block at Sotheby’s.

Filled with Beckett’s seemingly interminable scrawlings and scribblings, the notebooks offer a rare glimpse into the avant-garde author’s imagination during a period in which he underwent psychoanalysis.

Written between August 1935 and June 1936, the books, which are valued at $2m, have emerged from a private collection.

Their contents have never been widely available to scholars.


Whoever happens to cast the highest bid come July will gain access to a flood of new information regarding Beckett’s often gelid, occasionally comic, yet always captivating canon.

Rightly or wrongly, it will be completely up to that individual or institution whether or not they chose to share this information with Beckett scholars…

I really like the idea that the planet is covered in secret clues out of which people might patchwork together new versions of men and women long departed, be it a telegram sent by Vladimir Lenin mere months before the October Revolution took place in Russia, one of the many letters written by Charles Dickens, or the present bundle of heavily-illustrated notebooks.

Whether accidentally or on purpose, we all leave behind some sort of paper trail, which might one day be picked through by historians, or police officers.

What do you think?

Should the contents of the Beckett notebooks be made public?

What would you chose do with them if you bought them? Have them incinerated or digitised? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

First Editions, Second Thoughts

Every so often, an auction comes along that stands out from the rest, that is moving, inspiring, and captures the imagination.

The press release sitting in my mailbox that most recently had this effect was Sotheby’s upcoming auction, ‘First Editions, Second Thoughts’ in London, scheduled for May 21.


It is a fantastic idea – to return authors and illustrators to first editions of their contemporary classics, and have them annotate and scribble and doodle all over them.

To name a few of the highlights, authors, playwrights and poets such as Margaret Atwood, J.K. Rowling, Tom Stoppard, Seamus Heaney, Ian McEwan, Yann Martel, Philip Pullman and others have taken up their pens against their most celebrated works.

Some authors annotate copiously, correcting their writing, criticising their choices. Some speculate as to their own intentions at the time of writing. Others clarify what has been misinterpreted.

The famed illustrators of novels also feature: Quentin Blake returns to Roald Dahl’s Matilda, and Ralph Steadman to Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

What stunning pieces of memorabilia, the ultimate first edition. And what a revelation in the study and understanding of each work. If made public, these notations could change the way these books are perceived forever.

Even better, the proceeds of the auction are going to charity English PEN, which aims to promote the freedom to write and read in the UK and around the world.

By Louise

African Americana at Swann Auction Galleries

Swann Galleries’ forthcoming auction of African Americana looks set to thrill collectors. With both Spielberg’s Lincoln and Tarantino’s Django Unchained rapidly accruing plaudits; the sale’s contents perfectly reflect the zeitgeist, with items relating to slavery, abolition, civil war and reconstruction all garnering intense interest.


An extraordinary collection of 19th century photographs featuring America’s Buffalo Soldiers is expected to command some of the highest bids on March 21, while ephemera, art and advertising from the same period shines a light on both progress and prejudice.

The 20th century is equally well represented in the auction, with items relating to the Black Panthers, and to the Civil Rights movement more generally, evidencing the prolonged struggle for equality that coloured American politics throughout the 1960s, 70s and 80s.

These are items which are not merely valuable in terms of monetary worth, but in terms of their inherent historical, cultural and political significance.

With interest in African Americana arguably at an all time high, this could be a sale to watch.

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