Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Tennessee Williams Rocks the Rare Books Round Up at L.A. TImes Festival of Books

A fine copy in near fine dust jacket of the first edition of Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie was appraised at $10,000 by the members of the Southern California Chapter of the ABAA this weekend at its Rare Books Round Up - Free Appraisal booth during the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, the largest book event in the United States with attendance routinely at 100,000+ for the weekend.

Why the high appraisal? The copy was signed by Williams, plus each member of the original Broadway cast (including the immortal Laurette Taylor), as well as the composer of the original production's music.

Who, you may ask, composed the music for the original production of The Glass Menagerie and what's the big deal about the composer's signature to this copy? Two words: Paul Bowles, who, before embarking on his career as a novelist, was a successful composer of theatrical incidental music. A student of Aaron Copeland, Roger Sessions and Virgil Thompson during the 1920s-1930s, Bowles' first visit to Morocco - so closely associated with him through his writings - occurred in 1931 when, traveling with Copeland in Europe, Gertrude Stein suggested that they visit the North African country.

Upon his return to New York, Bowles rose to prominence as a composer of theatrical music, working for Orson Welles and John Houseman, and others, becoming the go-to composer for literary dramas of his era. He composed the music for plays by Saroyan, Hellman, Koestler, Werbel, and Rostand as well as productions of Shakespeare. By the early 1940's, he had also added respected music critic to his resumé.

This copy of The Glass Menegerie is, without question, the collector's dream for this book; they don't get any better.

Other noteworthy books were offered for appraisal, one of which is rarely seen: A first American edition, first printing, first issue, in the publisher's full sheep binding, of Huckleberry Finn. The bibliographical nightmare that is this book is well-known. Copies are usually seen in a mixed issue, so to have a "pure" copy is quite extraordinary. In the original green pictorial cloth binding, "pure" copies can fetch upwards of $50,000 - $75,000 and more. Less desirable in sheep, similar copies can go for $25,000 -$35,000. The copy presented for appraisal was, alas, in poor condition. Estimated value: $6,000-$8,000.

A fine copy of the signed, limited Presentation Edition of Charles Lindbergh's The Spirit of St Louis flew in below the radar, estimated value: $2,000-$3,000. And, finally, an inscribed, fine copy in very good dust jacket of Saul Bellow's The Adventures of Augie March goose-stepped up to the Rare Books Round Up booth. Bellow didn't sign very many books. Estimated value: $2000.

It has become axiomatic that the first life-sucking, brain-pan par boiling, walking on the sun sweltering weekend of the year in Los Angeles will occur during the Festival of Books. Providing further evidence of global climate change, this year visitors (and exhibitors, to be sure) to the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, held annually on the UCLA campus during the last weekend of April, were spared. With sunny skies and temperatures in the mid to high 60s, it was a two-day dream, particularly for the man who left the Festival with a million mega-watt smile, his copy of The Glass Menagerie carefully tucked into his briefcase.


Three brief notes for budding collectors, based upon routine appearances at the Festival of Books ABAA Rare Books Round Up: Never store your books in plastic storage bags, zip-lock or otherwise. If the publisher is Grosset & Dunlop, don't bother bringing the book for appraisal; it's a reprint. And that copy of Gone With The Wind? The copyright page has to state: "Printed May 1936" for it to be a first edition, first printing, and the dust jacket has to have GWTW listed as an upcoming book in the right column on the rear panel for it to be a first state DJ.

 Originally appeared in Fine Books & Collections on this date.

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