Literature in English
See also : Ancient England Literature Poems and lyrics Books Incunabula 17th century books
Chronology : 1460-1479 1620-1629 2007
1473 Printed by Caxton
2014 SOLD for £ 1.08M by Sotheby's
He is a very important promoter of English literature, himself making many translations of secular texts. He understands the cultural incentive of the printing press during a visit to Cologne in 1471. He immediately transfers a printing press to Bruges.
Translated from French by Caxton and printed in Flanders in 1473, the Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye is the very first incunabula in the English language.
The court of Philippe le Bon had been the most luxurious in Europe. Perpetuating the traditions of chivalry, the Duke encouraged literature. One of his protégés, Raoul Lefèvre, successively wrote a story of Jason and a history of Troy.
Charles succeeds Philippe in 1467. His marriage in the following year with Margaret, sister of Edward IV, is an opportunity for Caxton. To please the newlyweds, he translates into English the Troy of Lefèvre. He finishes this work in 1471.
Charles the Bold was like his father a keen patron of the illuminators. Caxton had traveled throughout Europe and his confidence in printing is extraordinary in this context. The Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye becomes in 1473 or 1474 the first book printed in vernacular English. A copy was sold for £ 1.08M from a lower estimate of £ 600K by Sotheby's on July 15, 2014, lot 502.
This book was probably printed in Bruges in the entourage of Colard Mansion. Translator and probably editor, Caxton undoubtedly contributed actively to this achievement.
First book printed in English □#OnThisDay in 2014 a copy of The Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye, first published around 1474, sold at @Sothebys for £1,082,500. The book was a translation by British print pioneer William Caxton of a French original. pic.twitter.com/e2l95HRNLf— GuinnessWorldRecords (@GWR) July 15, 2019
1477 The Canterbury Tales printed by Caxton
1998 SOLD for £ 4.6M by Christie's
His passion for English literature is heightened by this possibility of dissemination. He is a great admirer of Chaucer, which he publishes without resorting to sponsors. Chaucer's masterpiece, The Canterbury Tales, becomes in 1477 the first masterpiece of English printing. This achievement is all the more meritorious as Caxton later complained of the poor literary quality of the manuscript at his disposal.
About ten copies of this original edition have survived, plus three important fragments. The only complete copy, which had belonged to King George III, is in the British Library. The illuminated copy kept in Oxford has been completed.
On 8 July 1998 at lot 2, Christie's sold for £ 4.6M the only copy in private hands, which is also one of the most complete with only 4 lacking leaves.
1623 SHAKESPEARE's First Folio
2020 SOLD for $ 10M by Christie's
This man of the stage died in 1616 without having paid attention to the literary value of his own works. Half of his plays were unpublished. The others had been issued as poor quality booklets of which we can be assume that they were not verified by the author.
John Heminges and Henry Condell, who owned overall half of the shares of the Globe Theatre, judiciously decided to reconstruct with the best possible accuracy the whole of Shakespeare's dramatic work. They knew 36 plays of which 18 had never been published. They will have to buy back the publishing rights to some of them and to retrieve the partial manuscripts that had been entrusted to the actors to perform their own role.
The print is of the top luxury, in relation to the literary magnificence of the work. What would later be called the First Folio is a superb volume of 454 leaves 32 x 21 cm, printed in 1623 by Jaggard and Blount. It is forever used as the top reference for any Shakespearean scholarship.
The production run of the First Folio is estimated at around 750 copies. Less than one third survive today. 56 copies are complete, of which only 5 are in private hands.
Shakespeare is the greatest success in English literature and editions are multiplying. Garrick puts Shakespeare still higher in fashion and Edmond Malone devotes his life to the study of his work. Malone proposes in 1778 a chronology of the plays, observes the literary greatness of the First Folio and has a new edition published in 1790.
On October 14, 2020, Christie's sold a complete copy of the First Folio for $ 10M from a lower estimate of $ 4M, lot 12. In 1809 its owner had submitted it to Malone's appreciation just before having it bound. The expert's autograph letter is joined to the volume. Malone found it to be a fine, genuine copy of the First Folio. A few small repairs will be carried out according to his recommendations. This copy has retained the cleanliness observed by Malone more than 200 years ago.
Only five complete copies of the 'First Folio' remain in private hands, and on 24 April in #NewYork, Christie’s will offer the first complete copy to come on the market in almost two decades during our #ExceptionalSale. https://t.co/orNUeX30H0 pic.twitter.com/k90SszIXD0— Christie's (@ChristiesInc) February 25, 2020
2001 SOLD for $ 6.2M by Christie's
2006 SOLD for £ 2.8M by Sotheby's
The image of the title page is shared by Wikimedia.
#OnThisDay in 2006, Sotheby's sold Shakespeare’s First Folio in NYC for $5.2m. Having only previously been owned by two people, the First Folio is the first collected edition of plays, without which there may never have been a William Shakespeare. https://t.co/IMGeqgcaoI. pic.twitter.com/C89bgVNPHJ— Sotheby's (@Sothebys) July 13, 2021
2016 SOLD for £ 1.87M by Christie's
The example offered at lot 101 was not yet known to scholars. It is resurfacing from the descent of a prominent bibliophile who was also a scientist of the Enlightenment. Untouched for two centuries, the book has kept a remarkably fresh condition but the nine preamble leaves are missing and several repairs are announced in the catalog. Please watch the video shared by Christie's.
The Second Folio, published for the first time in 1632, is very close to the First Folio with respect to the Shakespearean corpus and the bibliophile had perhaps not desired to own it. The copy sold at lot 102, printed circa 1641, comes from another source.
The other two books were in the same collection as lot 101. The Third Folio was published in 1664. This edition is very rare. At lot 103, its copy has an exceptionally fresh preservation.
Lot 104 is the Fourth Folio, dated 1685.
The First Folio was sold for £ 1.87M from a lower estimate of £ 800K, the Second Folio for £ 195K, the Third Folio for £ 360K and the Fourth Folio for £ 47K.
2010 SOLD for £ 1.5M by Sotheby's
On December 7, 2010, Sotheby's sold for £ 1.5M a First Folio in very good condition, lot 13. It has the rare feature of being complete as regards to the texts of all the 36 collected plays.
1804 Jane Austen
2011 SOLD for £ 1 M by Sotheby's
In 1804, she has already tested several literary genres, but has not yet published. She began writing a new novel, The Watsons. In accordance with her favorite theme, she develops the various social strategies of four sisters. This largely autobiographical novel was finally stopped at the death of her father.
The first twelve pages of the manuscript of The Watsons are kept at the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York. The following eight pages have not been located, and the last 68 pages were sold for £ 1M from a lower estimate of £ 200K by Sotheby's on July 14, 2011.
Jane Austen's manuscripts are extremely rare. They are also of great interest to understand the creative process of this excellent author, thanks to the numerous revisions made by Jane to look for the right word.
Please watch the video shared by Sotheby's :
1951 On the Road by Kerouac
2001 SOLD for $ 2.43M by Christie's
His bulimia of reading turns into a frenzy of autobiographical writing, with which he stages under pseudonyms his companions of travels, drugs, alcohol and homosexual or heterosexual relationships. In 1948 he coins a title for his "travel notes": On the Road.
In December 1950 Neal Cassady sends him the Joan Anderson letter, an exaggerated story triggered by the suicide attempt of a girlfriend. Cassady typed 16,000 words in a total of 18 pages, in a row, without punctuation, without chapters, fulfilling Breton's old dream of a spontaneous prose fueled by feelings.
The final version of On the Road is inspired for style by the Anderson letter, with much more emphasis. It is written on semi-translucent paper of which we will know much later that Kerouac recovered it after the suicide of a friend. He glues the pages end to end as if to form an endless road that unwinds in his typewriter, without punctuation and without paragraphs.
Kerouac worked continuously from April 2 to 22, 1951 on this unprecedented novel. The result is a document 36.50 m long and 23 cm wide, with many handwritten revisions. The format can be compared to the 12.10 m x 11.3 cm autograph roll of the 120 Journées de Sodome by Sade.
The On the Road typescript was sold for $ 2.43M by Christie's on May 22, 2001, lot 307. The final segment is missing because it was chewed by a friend's dog, as reported in an autograph inscription by the author. A photo of an exhibition in 2012 in Paris is shared by Wikimedia with attribution.
Kerouac has never been phased with his own time. His Beat friends reproach him for his refusal to commit in politics, which indeed seems to contradict his rejection of society. On the Road was refused by publishers until 1957. Discouraged by such an incomprehension, Kerouac was even more unseated by the recognition. He died of cirrhosis in 1969, becoming forever the symbol of this modern nomadism that he had launched in his pathetic breakthrough.
2007 Manuscript of Beedle the Bard by JK Rowling
2007 SOLD for £ 1.95M in charity sale without fees by Sotheby's
In seven books, Harry Potter reaches an unprecedented popular success with 450 million copies sold. J.K. Rowling uses much of her immense wealth for charities.
The author has learned to maintain the excitement through the media. In 2007, the final volume of Harry Potter is published. A character in this book reads a fictitious collection of fantastic stories entitled The Tales of Beedle the Bard.
J.K. decides to give a reality to this fictitious book. She writes five stories which she collects and prepares in seven autograph copies, illustrated by herself. The first six are sent by mail on December 12, 2007 in gratitude to friends who had helped her to publish the Harry Potter books.
The next day (December 13) the seventh manuscript was sold by her at Sotheby's for The Children's Voice charity after an intense media buzz. Estimated between £ 30K and 50K and offered without buyer's fees, it is acquired by a broker acting for Amazon for £ 1.95M. See report in Wikipedia page dedicated to the title. The public is excited and frustrated by this book which is not accessible to them. J.K. authorizes Amazon to use their copy for preparing an edition which becomes a new best seller as soon as it is released.
One of the six presentation manuscripts of The Tales of Beedle the Bard was sold for £ 370K by Sotheby's in London on December 13, 2016, lot 319. Please watch the video shared by Sotheby's.