Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Rare Edition of Lawrence Of Arabia $112,000 - $144,000 At Auction

by Stephen J. Gertz

A scarce "incomplete" Presentation copy of the Subscriber's ("Cranwell") edition of T.E. Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom, one of only thirty-two of a total edition of 211 copies and inscribed at the time of publication to writer E.M. Forster, is being offered by Sotheby's in their English Literature, History, Children's Books & Illustrations sale on December 12, 2012.

It is estimated to sell for  $112,000 - 144,000 (£70,000 - £90,000). That's $16,000 - $20,571 per pillar.

The book, in which Lawrence wrote of the Arab revolt, 1916-1918, against the Ottoman Empire during World War I and his role in organizing and leading it, set in stone the  legendary adventures of Lawrence of Arabia that emerged from the war's news coverage and stoked the mythos that had grown around one of the most fascinating, complex, and enigmatic characters of his or any other time.

"In 1913 Lawrence wrote a book entitled Seven Pillars of Wisdom. It was designed to cover seven Middle Eastern cities,,,The manuscript was burned in 1914....Lawrence began writing his version of the desert war in 1919...A major portion, if not all, of this first edition was lost at Reading Station in late 1919. A second version was written in London 1919-1920 in a period of three months. Lawrence burned this in 1922...The third manuscript was written in London, Jeddah and Amman, 1921, and in London 1922. This third manuscript, some 330,000 words long, was donated to the Bodleian Library" (O'Brien).

Lawrence had a eight copies printed of that third version in 1922, the first English ("Oxford") edition. He reworked the text 1923-1926, during which time he loaned copies of the 1922 version to various people for critical comment,  E.M. Forster amongst them.

"E.M. Forster was one of the most influential readers of Seven Pillars of Wisdom during the time that Lawrence was cutting down the 1922 ‘Oxford’ text to the abridged version that he issued to subscribers in 1926. Forster offered far more than general praise and admiration. He provided expert criticism of specific writing faults. The two became friends and remained in contact until Lawrence’s death in 1935" (Jeremy Wilson for Castle Hill Press, E.M. Forster and T.E. Lawrence, upon the publication of the Lawrence-Forster letters).

Despite the enormous amount of time, effort, craft and artistry that Lawrence invested in writing this classic his inscription to Forster modestly reads: "Not good enough, but as good, apparently, as I can do."

This, the elaborate "Cranwell" or privately printed Subscriber's (second English) edition - a text of 280,000 words - was published in 1926. Of the total of 211 copies, 170 were complete and 32 were incomplete with three plates lacking, a version "presented to the men who had served with him in Arabia and who were not able to pay the high price asked for the complete issue" (German Reed). the complete issue priced at £31 10s, a princely sum in 1926. The final nine copies were "spoils," i.e. plates only. Each copy was bound differently with various binders employed: for Bumpus (by Riviere); Best; Sangorski and Sutcliffe (as here); Harrison; Charles McLeish; Roger de Coverly & Sons; and Henry T. Wood.

Presentation copy inscribed by the author to E.M. Forster,
“E.M.F.  from T.E.S. ['T.E. Shaw' Lawrence's post-War pseudonym]:
Not good enough, but as good, apparently, as I can do. | I.XII.26"
on preliminary blank together with later inscription from E.M. Forster
to Bob Buckingham, “R.J. Buckingham  from  E.M. Forster 20-1-68”.

No incomplete copies (aside from the nine plates-only "spoil" copies the rarest of the "Cranwell" edition) have come to auction within the last thirty-six years. One of the 170 complete copies sold earlier this year at Bonham's for $65,000 (incl. premium). Only a small handful of copies of the first ("Oxford") English edition of 1922 are in private hands. Should one miraculously find its way to market it will surely fetch upwards of $500,000.

In 1927, Lawrence published Revolt in the Desert, an abridgment of Seven Pillars of Wisdom, in a limited and trade edition that brought his story to a wider audience.

[LAWRENCE, T.E.] Seven Pillars of Wisdom. A Triumph. [Privately Printed, 1926]. Quarto (251 by 188mm.). The subscribers' or "Cranwell" edition, one of 32 “incomplete” copies (from an edition of 211 copies) (annotated “Incomplete copy | I.XII.26 TES” on page XIX), presentation copy inscribed by the author to E.M. Forster (“E.M.F. | from | T.E.S. | Not good enough, but as good, apparently, as I can do. | I.XII.26.”) on preliminary blank together with later inscription from E.M. Forster to Bob Buckingham (“R.J. Buckingham | from | E.M. Forster | 20-1-68”) on preliminary blank, printed in red and black, frontispiece portrait of King Feysal after Augustus John and 62 (of 65) plates (mostly in colour) and other text illustrations after Roberts, Kennington, Nash, Nicholson and others, 4 folding coloured maps, decorative initials by Edward Wadsworth.

Original full tan morocco signed by Sangorski and Sutcliffe, tooled in gilt on covers, spine gilt in compartments, endpapers by Kennington, collector’s tan morocco backed folding box with thirty typed leaves and one handwritten leaf by Forster, occasional light spotting, one of the most complete of the “incomplete copies” but lacking plates ‘Waterfalls’ and ‘Mountains’ (within the plates following the text) and ‘Prophet’s Tomb’ (not listed, but noted by O’Brien).

O'Brien A040.

Images courtesy of Sotheby's, with our thanks.

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