Every year or two, Heritage Auctions in Dallas conducts a big auction of a major science fiction book collection. In 2007, it was the Ventura Collection.
The Ventura Collection auction was very successful, and since it occurred right before the advent of The Great Recession, many of the prices achieved in that auction have not since been equaled. (It may also be the first auction catalog Heritage mass-mailed to prospective SF collectors; I had not received any before then.)
In 2008, it was The Robert and Diane Yaspan collection, which included a vast array of SF firsts as well as several SF manuscripts and a few select non-SF firsts, such as mystery writer Earle Stanley Gardener.
Later in 2008 was the auction of The Frank Collection, which was mainly SF art, but included a number of notable SF first editions as well.
The just completed auction of the Jerry Weist collection was of the same caliber. There was some original art and pulp magazines in the collection, but the bulk of it was collectible SF/F/H first editions. The auction realized more than $1 million (though a significant fraction of that was for the artworks).
I’m going to talk about some of the more interesting items sold, and how the prices realized compared to comparable copies of the same firsts in previous years. I’ll also mention when I have a copy of the first edition discussed in my own library.
A few general observations:
Unlike previous Heritage SF Auctions, there were very few multi-volume lots of less desirable titles. I think Heritage will be selling those books individually on their weekly Internet book auctions.
Weist, like myself, settled for less than perfect copies of many difficult titles, including some worn, corner-clipped, or ex-library copies. (By contrast, the vast majority of the Ventura collection were pristine copies.)
The Weist collection was very strong in Golden Age and pre-Golden Age authors, but very weak in Hypermodern SF.
It was strong in Ray Cummings and Edgar Rice Burroughs (neither of which I collect), Isaac Asimov, John W. Campbell, Arthur C. Clarke, Philip K. Dick, Robert A. Heinlein, William Hope Hodgson (many if not all of the firsts published in his lifetime), Robert E. Howard, Curt Siodmak (more about which anon), Clark Ashton Smith, and Olaf Stapledon.
Conversely, assuming the volumes presented in the auction do constitute the cream of the crop and nothing has been held back, it was weak in Jack Vance, Stephen King, Avram Davidson, R. A. Lafferty, Gene Wolfe and (save the two Fahrenheit 451s) Ray Bradbury.
I’ve tried to do some trending for various titles here, but there’s a lot of volatility at the high of the market. A book that normally goes for $100-200 might hit $2,000 for a signed copy at auction If two deep-pocketed collectors each need it to complete their collection.
To me, far and away the most interesting and desirable item was one of only five copies of Stanley G. Weinbaum’s Dawn of Flame to have the unsigned introduction by Amazing editor Ray Palmer. Weinbaum’s widow evidently objected to the introduction, which is why only five copies were so produced. Even the 245 copy Currey B state (with Lawrence Keating’s introduction replacing Palmer’s) is rare enough, and the book is widely considered the first true SF small press book. I don’t believe I’d seen a copy of the Palmer state for sale before, but I think one was sold when the Sam Moskowitz collection was auctioned off (they didn’t send me a catalog). Moreover, this particular copy once belonged to legendary collector and fan Forrest J. Ackerman, and was inscribed by him to Weist. Counting the buyer’s premium (a little shy of 20%, and which I’m going to include for all the other prices listed here), it went for $9,560.00; it wouldn’t have surprised me to see it go for twice that much.
There were some other SF collecting “holy grails” sold there:
One of 50 copies of the signed, presentation hardback state of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, which went for $8,365.00. This represents an increase over the $5,377 a copy fetched in the Yaspan auction.
One of 200 asbestos bound copies of Fahrenheit 451 graded Very Good, went for $5,975.00. This represents something of a decline; a Fine copy went $15,535 in the Ventura Collection auction, a Very Good copy in the Yaspan collection went for $8,962, and a Near Fine copy in the Frank auction went for $9,560.
To me one of the most surprising outcomes was seeing a signed copy of Philip K. Dick’s Confessions of a Crap Artist go for $5,078.75, since there’s at least one signed copy from the 90 copies originally signed by Dick available online for $1,500. (And I think there were two copies for well under $5,000 when the auction commenced…) I have one of the unsigned firsts, which goes for considerably less.
Speaking of Dick, a copy of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? went for $6,572.50, despite tape stains on the jacket folds. I thought the $9,560 fetched by a Near Fine copy in the Ventura auction was outrageous at the time, but the value seems to have held up. (I have an ex-library copy myself, and even Ex-Lib copies list online for two to four grand.)
One of only 75 sets of E. E. “Doc” Smith’s History of Civilization, the six volume signed, leatherbound Fantasy Press set (in box, but without lid) went for $5,377.50. A set with the lid went for $5,676.25 in the Yaspan auction.
Other Notable Books
From Holy Grails we move on to books that are merely Really Freaking Expensive. There are usually a few copies of these bumping around on Bookfinder.com, albeit with a comma in the price.
A signed copy of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation and Empire ($1,912) went for more than a signed (via bookplate) I, Robot ($1,553.50), probably due to some mild water damage to the latter. A Fine but price-clipped copy of I, Robot went for $2,270 in the Ventura auction, while another imperfect copy went for $1,434 in the Yaspan auction. I, Robot has become by far the hardest to find among the Gnome Press Asimovs.
A signed, Near Fine copy of Alfred Bester’s The Demolished Man went for $872.35. I have a Fine copy, but not signed.
A merely Very Good copy of Bester’s Tiger! Tiger! (the hardback first of The Stars My Destination) went for $1,015.75, which is probably about market. A Fine copy in the Ventura auction went for $1,792.
The late Jack Chalker’s inscribed copy of Hal Clement’s Cycle of Fire went for $1,015.75. The title is harder to find than most of Ballantine Books SF hardbacks of the fifties.
Bob Weinberg’s inscribed ex-library copy of Philip Jose Farmer’s Green Odyssey went for a relatively modest $334.60. Like Cycle of Fire, this is one of the most difficult Ballantine Books hardbacks to find, especially for non-ex-library copies. Despite that, a Very Good signed copy failed to sell in the Yaspan auction, while a restored ExLib copy went for $448.13 in the Ventura auction.
A Fine, signed copy of the Gollancz (first hardback) edition of William Gibson’s Neuromancer, probably the essential novel of Hypermodern Science Fiction, went for $1,553.50. This is one of the few items for which you can see a clear, unambiguous decline across auctions, as a similarly Fine, signed copy went for $2,695 in the Ventura auction, while a similarly Fine, signed copy went for $2,151 in the Yaspan auction. I have a signed Fine- copy.
A copy of Robert A. Heinlein’s Podkayne of Mars went for $985.88. I don’t think it’s quite as good as the copy I just picked up last month for $235.
A Very Good+ copy of Heinlein’s Starship Troopers went for $2,270.50. A Fine copy fetched $4,780 in the Ventura auction. I have a very nice Ex-Library copy.
A Near Fine copy of Frank Herbert’s Dune went for $4,780. A Fine- copy (a rating I thought was a bit generous, given the rubbing along the dj spine) in the Ventura auction went for $10,755. I have a very worn Ex-Library copy.
An inscribed, Near Fine copy of Daniel Keyes’ Flowers for Algernon went for $2,390. A similar copy (though with a tipped-in signature rather than an inscription) went for $1,434. My copy is a bit less fine, and unsigned.
A copy of H.P. Lovecraft’s The Outsider and Others (the first Arkham House book and a cornerstone for both SF and horror collections) went for a healthy $3,883.75.
Another rare Lovecraft item, an exceptionally nice copy of the Visionary Publishing edition of The Shadow Over Innsmouth, went for a hefty $7,170.00. That’s toward the high end for an unsigned copy (since it was published in Lovecraft’s lifetime, signed copies do exist, and can be had for less than the price of a new Lexus), but there’s a dizzying number of variant states, and I’m not sure which are considered the more desirable among high-end Lovecraft collectors.
A Very Good+ copy of Walter M. Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz went for $2,031.50, mainly because it has the rare orange promotional band. I have an Ex-Library copy.
An inscribed, conservatively graded Very Good copy of the Gollancz (first hardback) edition of Larry Niven’s Ringworld went for $2,390.00. In the Ventura auction, a Fine signed copy went for $5,206.25, while in the Yaspan auction, the better of two copies (not signed) went for $1,792. I have an unusually clean Ex-Lib Gollancz Ringworld, which might pass for Fine save an excised front free endpaper. (Did you know there was an unused dust jacket state for the Gollancz Ringworld? Lord knows how this guy (who I believe also owns this amazing Jack Vance collection) got a copy of it…)
A price-clipped copy of Connie Willis’ Doomsday Book went for $507.88. One of the more interesting outliers at the Ventura collection was a Fine signed copy going for an eye-popping $1,912. I have a Fine copy Connie inscribed to me after she attended Turkey City I picked up when it came out at cover price.
One of the most puzzling results of the auction was a signed first of Curt Siomdak’s Skyport was initially reported going for a stunning $8,611.17. That’s only about $8,500 more than it’s worth. But now when you go to the auction page for the item itself, it shows a far saner $101.58. I’m assuming there was some sort of glitch.
Slightly less puzzling was a signed, Near Fine copy of L. Sprague de Camp’s The Wheels of If (which has one of Hannes Bok’s most famous dust jacket illustrations) went for $717, which is a good bit more than it usually goes for; Lloyd Currey has a comparable-to-better signed copy online right now for $150. Before this I had the impression de Camp was out of fashion among collectors (and thus I have been able to pick up a number of signed copies of his work pretty cheap). I suspect this is an outlier.
Although I bid on several items, I only won one: an Ex-Library first of the UK David Bruce & Watson (first hardback) edition of Richard Matheson’s The Shrinking Man for $95.60. Fine copies go for over a grand.
Other science fiction book collecting topics (and glimpses into my own bibliomania) you might find of interest:
A description of my own library of science fiction first editions
My Books Wanted List
Lame Excuse Books, my own side SF/F/H book business, where a discerning collector may find several books of potential interest.
Other book related posts (including new acquisitions to my library)