Poems and Lyrics
Chronology : 1460-1479
1470 Eternal Virgil
2013 SOLD 1.18 M£ including premium
In 1468 Venice hosts its first printer, Johann of Speyer, who had been a goldsmith in Mainz. Johann starts the task of publishing the masterpieces of Latin literature. The quality of his typography and layout is due to a clever imitation of the manuscripts.
In 1470, Johann died prematurely. His brother and collaborator Wendelin maintained until 1477 this excellent workshop now subject to the competition from Jenson. The tradition of the literary editions of Venice was launched. It will make the fame of Aldus.
On June 12 in London, Christie's sells the works of Virgil published in 1470 by Vindelinus de Spira. This book combining the Bucolica, Georgica and Aeneid along with comments (argumenta) is luxuriously printed on vellum and remarkably complete. It is estimated £ 500K. Here is the link to the catalog.
The Virgil of Wendelin is not the editio princeps but it is equally remarkable because it was built from a manuscript of a high literary fidelity.
POST SALE COMMENT
Very good price, £ 1.18 million including premium, for this incunabula produced by one of the best workshops of the time.
1477 The Canterbury Tales printed by Caxton
1998 SOLD for £ 4.6M including premium by Christie's
narrated in 2020
He is a very important promoter of English literature, himself making numerous 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. A copy was sold for £ 1.08M including premium by Sotheby's on July 15, 2014.
When Caxton returned to London in 1476, his new expertise was eagerly awaited. He instals a printing press in Westminster, the first of its kind in England.
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 including premium the only copy in private hands, which is also one of the most complete with only 4 lacking leaves.
1555 Belle Lyonnaise
2015 SOLD for € 520K including premium
Maurice Scève appears as the leader of this informal Lyonnaise school. It is interesting for understanding the practice of his time to remind that his major work, Délie, was published almost anonymously in 1544 : we have to recognize him in the printed portrait to identify who is MS, the author of that book.
In 1555, Jean de Tournes publishes a charming collection of poems entitled Euvres, authored by Louize Labé Lionnoize. Its themes are daring for their time, glorifying the sexual and intellectual freedom of women. Her texts are followed by praises written by the poets of the Lyon group.
A copy whose paper remained in a great freshness is estimated € 300K, lot 14 in the first sale of the library of Pierre Bergé in Paris (Drouot) on December 11. The sale is organized by the auction house Pierre Bergé et Associés in cooperation with Sotheby's France.
The young and friendly Louise Labé, 31 years old, is nicknamed La Belle Cordière from the trade of her father and of her husband. It was discovered only fairly recently that her biographical details were not reliable and questions were raised. How did the daughter of a craftsman manage to acquire such a subtle literary heritage ? Is her name only an altered spelling of Louise la Belle ?
The hypothesis of a collective work by the Lyon poets is appealing. Undoubtedly, the carnal love in the poems of "Louise Labé" could draw the attention of the censors on their own writings. It does not matter in fact if Euvres had been prepared by Louise or by the group. They are in any case an outstanding element in the history of French poetry.
1827 Just Before Edgar Poe
2009 SOLD 660 K$ including premium
It is a small book of 40 pages, 162 x 107 mm, printed in Boston in 1827 by Calvin Thomas, who has otherwise left no trace in literary history. For this format, it could be a pamphlet. It is a collection of poems by an anonymous author: "Tamerlane and Other Poems by a Bostonian."
Byron died in 1824. The very young author of Tamerlane was inspired by his illustrious predecessor to become himself the first great American romantic poet. The author, however, still seeks his own personality. His preface even states that his poems are of low quality.
Two years later, he chooses to use his real name to sign his works:
Edgar A. Poe.
Such a book published on author account had no chance of success at that time. In bibliophily, the rarest pieces are frequently unsuccessful editions like this one. Only twelve copies are known including only two in private hands.
One of them is that of Christie's, of course. The other one was purchased $ 15 on February 29, 1988 in an antique shop, and sold $ 198K at auction at Sotheby's on June 7 of the same year.
Source: Article Tamerlane and Other Poems of Wikipedia and its external links.
POST SALE COMMENT
The estimate might seem high, but the sale is successful: 660 K $ including premium.
Here is the picture of the cover of this copy, shared prior to the sale by Telegraph.
For #worldbookday, I asked my fellow specialists to share some of their favorite books that have passed through the Christie's salerooms. NYC specialist Heather's pick is the Self copy of the first edition of Poe's first book, Tamerlane. https://t.co/7ECjt2oYne pic.twitter.com/tIxK8xsNoZ— Christie's Books (@ChristiesBKS) March 1, 2018
1857 The First Issue of Les Fleurs du Mal
2009 UNPAID at € 775K including premium
2010 SOLD 200 K€ before fees
In France, Charles Baudelaire released art and literature from the classicism. Originally a middleman, he put himself on the sidelines by seeking to develop new aesthetic values. His early work on the Salons of painting renew as soon as 1845 the art critic, emphasizing quality over fame.
By the same approach, Baudelaire renews poetry. He ignores the limits of good and evil, offering new sensations by approaching sexual deviancy and drugs.
In 1857 he published the collection of his best poems under the title "Les Fleurs du Mal". Of course, moralists and religious object. We are under the reign of Napoleon III, who encourages censorship, and six poems are prohibited at the first trial. The judicial consequences of this case does not go out until 1949, confirming that Baudelaire was a century ahead of his time.
On December 1 in Paris (Hôtel Drouot), Gros et Delettrez sells the copy offered by Baudelaire to his legal advisor. This book contains a dedication, and some annotations made by the poet's hand correcting typographical errors. It is estimated 120 K €.
POST SALE COMMENTS
One of the most sought after books of French literature in its first edition, annotated by the author and coming from a person close to him: the result, 775K € including premium, rewards the outstanding qualities of this lot.
The estimate that had been published before the sale is hardly understandable, as so often in Paris. The Agence France Presse says that another copy, also dedicated, was sold 560K € by Sotheby's in 2007.
This prestigious book has not been paid by the buyer. The auction house Gros et Delettrez presented it again with the same estimate of 120 K €, on April 2. It was sold 200 K € excl. This is an excellent bargain for the new buyer.
According to the French procedure of "folle enchère" (false bidding), the first buyer must pay a fine equal to the difference of the two results, 420 K € plus costs. The hammer price obtained on December 1 had been 620 K €.
1864-1898 The Pursuit of Herodias
2016 SOLD for € 590K including premium
In 1864 he is a young poet aged 22 who admires Baudelaire. In his mind, poetry transcends words to reach emotion. His primary target is the theater, that spoken literature that allows the juxtaposition of rhythms and sounds.
Two projects are conceived simultaneously. Hérodiade is the myth of an ancient clash of civilizations. L'Après Midi d'un Faune is the pretext for an ode to the nymphs. When he starts Hérodiade a few months before working on the Faune, he already appreciates that perfection is impossible but he definitely desires to reach it.
The refusal of the Faune by the Théâtre Français is logical in its time and should still be understandable now. Mallarmé is too abstract to convince that his literary work is actually an absolute art. He soon abandoned the idea of theater for poetry but maintained a three-act structure of his Hérodiade.
His metaphysical doubts come in the next years. Inspired by reading Hegel, he becomes materialistic. The poet now expresses the nothingness. The power is provided to the verb. Mallarmé should be a hermetic poet if only his text had a meaning.
Mallarmé worked his Hérodiade from 1864 to 1866 and then in 1887. In May 1898 he restarts with an extended title : 'Les Noces d'Hérodiade. Mystère'. Once again it is in vain : Herodias remains eternally unfinished by the death of her poet on September 9, 1898.
The autograph manuscripts of the successive versions of Hérodiade were bound in one volume although the sizes of the pages are dissimilar. This book prophetic for a new trend in French poetry is estimated € 400K for sale by Pierre Bergé et Associés in collaboration with Sotheby's on November 9 in Paris (Drouot), lot 466.
1897 Chance and Insanity
2015 SOLD for € 960K including premium
Stéphane Mallarmé is 55 years old. An admirer of Poe and translator of The Raven, he removes any narrative from poetry for developing free lines, sonority and also repetitive emotions brought by the juxtaposition of words. He reportedly told Valéry: "Do not you think that this is an act of insanity?".
Mallarmé is close to artists and had composed texts for musicians. With "Jamais un coup de dés n'abolira le hasard", he properly becomes an artist by designing the arrangement of the words within the pages. This poem is the forerunner of a great tradition by which French speaking poetry became inseparable from art, through Apollinaire and Cendrars.
Ambroise Vollard is 31 years old. His gallery in Paris is already well established and he is determined to shake up the art world by unprecedented initiatives. He meets Mallarmé.
Mallarmé authorizes a first edition of the Coup de dés without the participation of Vollard. The format of the magazine does not please him. Vollard proposes to do better. He imagines that the poem can be illustrated by Redon and chooses as printer the Firmin-Didot company.
Mallarmé is a perfectionist who requests that his typographic instructions are executed in the smallest details. Firmin-Didot prepares five successive states. The last proof is done in November 1897 but unfortunately Redon has not yet provided his illustrations.
On October 15 in Paris, Sotheby's is devoting a sale to the library of Mallarmé.
Lot 160, estimated € 60K, is the autograph of a preliminary draft for the Coup de dés.
Lot 163, estimated € 500K, is the autograph model prepared by Mallarmé including many instructions for the typography.
Lot 164, estimated € 100K, gathers six prints spanning the last four states of the Firmin-Didot proofs. One of the two sets from the last state is again corrected by the hand of Mallarmé for further improvements.
The project is abandoned by Vollard after the sudden death of the poet in September 1898.
RESULTS INCLUDING PREMIUM :
Early draft : € 62K
Autograph model : € 960K
Printed proofs : € 123K
1935 The Facile Muse of Eluard
2017 SOLD for € 820K including premium
For the poet Nusch is the ideal woman whose body is confused with the forces of nature. She is the "tranquille sève nue" !quiet naked sap) of his declaration of love. While Paul composes his poems, he entrusts his muse to Man Ray, the photographer of the surrealist group.
The collection of poems titled Facile is published in 1935. Its seven double pages are imbrications shocking in that time of the pantheist text and of the 24 x 18 cm photos of the nude body of Nusch. Printed in héliogravure, these twelve photos by Man Ray mark the variety of his know-how with lighting effects, solarizations and silhouettes.
Paul receives one of the five hors commerce copies on Imperial Japanese paper. Paul Bonet realizes in 1943 a surrealistic binding by drawing the intertwined silhouettes of the hands that the two lovers are alternately posing on his maquette.
The copy has been dedicated to the poet by Nusch and especially by Man Ray who expresses in words their close collaboration and friendship. Man Ray adds silver prints of three photos from the book as well as an original rayograph in superimposition of a solarized nude of Nusch and six smaller photos.
The book is estimated € 500K for sale by Christie's in Paris on October 19, lot 23.
1965 Bob Dylan, the Poet of Rock and Roll
2014 SOLD 2.05 M$ including premium
Dylan is a teller who builds his music, sometimes rudimentary, from the rhythm of his speech, with his hoarse and monotone voice. In the bohemian life of Greenwich Village, his culture is a synthesis of all popular musics : blues, folk, jazz.
He will use this versatility to unnerve his audience whenever he can. It was a bold but winning path as his public eventually accepted all forms of his art, blowing forever the boundaries between folk and rock.
On June 24 in New York, Sotheby's sells the final autograph draft of the lyrics for two of the most important songs of Bob Dylan.
When he wrote A hard rain's a gonna fall in December 1962, Bob is 21 years old. This poem is a political scream saying the impotence of the poet facing the endless violence of the Cuban missile crisis.
This manuscript from his folk period consists in two 23 x 15 cm pages torn from a spiral notebook. It is estimated $ 400K, lot 141.
The long song Like a rolling stone whose title was inspired from the Rollin' stone by Muddy Waters is a philosophical poem. The topic reminding some chansons réalistes of the early 20th century is anti-romantic and ambiguous when the forfeiture of Miss Lonely is considered as a blessing for her because she is freed from previous constraints.
After two legendary episodes confirming the genius of Bob to thwart any conformism, this song was his biggest hit.
The recording was difficult because the atmosphere was not suited to the author. He found the solution by entrusting the organ to a musician who had never played such instrument. This song also had a major role in the revolution of the Newport Festival where Bob forced his fans to hear his electric guitar.
This manuscript which opened the way to the American rock and roll is a four-page document 24 x 15 cm on hotel stationery, with many corrections and additions, written in June 1965. It is estimated over $ 1M, lot 146.
POST SALE COMMENT
Here are the results including premium for these two outstanding poems: $ 485K to A hard rain's and $ 2.05M for Like a rolling stone.
1967 A Day in John Lennon's Life
2010 SOLD 1.2 M$ including premium
John Lennon, of course.
In 1967, the fame of the Beatles is already huge but still contested. John Lennon wrote in bulk on a sheet the lines of "A Day In The Life" and brought many reworks. Happy with his work, he copied his poem in a more structured manner on the back of the same sheet. This original piece, so typical of the spontaneous creation of John, is for sale by Sotheby's in New York on June 18. The image of the draft is clearly legible as shared in an article in The New York Times.
The words are simple but the thought is dark enough to generate dream and interpretation. After an addition by Paul McCartney, the final version of the song will be banned by the BBC which saw therein a hidden apology on LSD, the serious bone of contention between the generations at that time. Such a case of censorship is extremely rare in England.
Anything that directly affects the creation of a Beatles song has the value of a relic, as I explained in one of my first articles. On July 10, 2008, Christie's had sold 420 K £ including premium a manuscript of Give Peace a Chance, which was not even autograph. John had problems to read his own poem and made it being copied by a girl.
POST SALE COMMENT
This autograph, sold $ 1.2 million including premium, has got a much better price than the sheet that I had taken as a reference, and thus has greatly exceeded its estimate. Good.
1969 Relic from a Happening of John and Yoko
2008 SOLD 420 K£ including premium
Of course, these events were also a pretext to create a fetish song, which was in Montreal "Give Peace a Chance". In eleven irregular lines, John scribbles in the text, very short, but where he still manages to pay tribute to Timothy Leary, Allen Ginsberg and twice proclaim Hare Krishna. The Woodstock Festival was to be held in August the same year, the tone is set (with virtually no pun).
His work being unreadable, John had it copied by a young girl who had managed to be accepted inside the room. She recovered the autograph that day or later, whatever.
Still being quite wise, nearly 40 years later, the depositary of this relic went to Christie's. The auctioneer considered it to 200 K£, for sale under number 250 on July 10 in London.
Christie's does not take its customers by surprise for such important pieces: the press release was published more than two months ago. Christie's is right: some feast lovers of 1969 have become rich.
POST SALE COMMENT
Sold 420 K £ including fees. Therefore this type of object has buyers, as anybody knew.
1971 The Day the Music Died
2015 SOLD for $ 1.2M including premium
During his very short career, Buddy Holly had embodied the development of rock and roll. When he dies, his fan Don McLean is barely out of childhood. Before entering adult life, he appreciates the transience of music, of life and of relationships between boys and girls. He decided to become a musician and poet.
American Pie is a long poem in four verses, a chorus, an intro and an outro, written in 1970 and 1971 by Don McLean and recorded by him in May 1971. The sentence The Day the music died jumps into the American popular culture. Madonna sings in 2000 a shortened satanless version of the poem.
The considerable success of this modern anthem is linked to its enigmatic text, blending the tragic events of rock and roll with apocalyptic allusions, and also to an exceptional control of the sound of the English language. McLean never explained how the text and even the title must be understood.
The poet had gathered his working manuscripts including the final version. This group includes unused sections and numerous revisions unknown to this day for which we do not yet know if they will clarify or darken the prophetic message of the troubadour. This set is estimated $ 1M, for sale by Christie's in New York on April 7, lot 1.