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By Major Jackson

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While Professor Stanley Fish argues the lack of relative worth of the Humanities over at the NYTIMES, I thought I would visit a few of my local, online rare books websites to gauge the fair market value of Poetry (Ruth Lilly, notwithstanding), that is, how much hard cash do works of poetry command in the dangerous, clandestine world of literary intrigue, secular humanism, and covert antiquarian operations.
Wallace Stevens’s art collection and furniture has the distinction of being the most expensive purchase at abebooks.com at a whopping $1.7 million dollars, which itself is followed by Petrarch’s 15th century opera at $400K.
While the below represents a personal wish list, if anyone wants to send me an early birthday gift . . . .


1. WALLACE STEVENS PERSONAL ART COLLECTION (Sold Only As a Group)
Bookseller: Elliot’s Books (Northford, CT, U.S.A.)
Price: $ 1,725,000
2. THE COLOSSUS. POEMS. PLATH, SYLVIA. London Heinemann (1960),
Bookseller: James S. Jaffe Rare Books, A.B.A.A. (New York, NY)
Price: $ 65,000
Inscribed by Plath to the poet Theodore Roethke on the front free endpaper: “For Theodore Roethke with much love and immense admiration, Sylvia Plath, April 13, 1961″.
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3. LEAVES OF GRASS. POEMS. WHITMAN, WALT. Camden, 1889.
Bookseller: Bauman Rare Books (Philadelphia, PA)
Price: $15,500
Notes: This copy with gift inscription by Whitman’s devoted nurse on the frontispiece tissue guard: “From Warren Fritzinger. Walt Whitman’s nurse. Friday, June 19—1892. Phil Pa,” and an additional pencil inscription stating, “Walt gave it to him.”
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4. SOUTH SIDE: CHICAGO (A MONTAGE). SIX POEMS BY LANGSTON HUGHES, DATED 1945.
Bookseller: Bauman Rare Books (Philadelphia, PA)
Price: $9,000
Notes: Rare typed manuscript containing early drafts of six poems by Hughes, 15 loose carbons with a title page entitled “South Side: Chicago (A Montage) that is warmly inscribed to Caribbean scholar Dr. Angel Rocabruna, “For A. Suarez Rocabruna, Sincerely, Langston Hughes, July, 1945,” featuring the poems “Summer Evening, Calumet Avenue,” “Migrant,” “Graduation,” “Third Degree,” Jitney” and “Interne at Provident.” $9000.
5. LE POETE ASSASSINÉ. PARIS, 1916. APOLLINAIRE, GUILLAUME. First edition, with original pictorial paper wrappers.
Bookseller: Bauman Rare Books (Philadelphia, PA)
Price: $8,500
Notes: Inscribed by Apollinaire: “A monsieur Pierre Piobb, Hommage distingué de son admirateur, Guillaume Apollinaire, Sous-lieutenant en traitement à l’hôpital du gouvernement et alien, 41 quai d’orsay, Paris.”
6. LAS UVAS Y EL VIENTO. NERUDA, PABLO. SANTIAGO, CHILE, 1954. First edition, boldly signed on the title page by Pablo Neruda in his characteristic green ink.
Bookseller: Bauman Rare Books (Philadelphia, PA)
Price: $4,000
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7. POEM “TO MR. AND MRS. ******* ON THE DEATH OF THEIR INFANT SON.” WHEATLEY, Phillis. Boston, September 1784. First appearance of this important poem by the first published African-American poet, printed just three months before her death. Bookseller: Bauman Rare Books (Philadelphia, PA)
Price: $3,000
8. TYPED POEM SIGNED BY PAUL LAURENCE DUNBAR, 1900.
Bookseller: Bauman Rare Books (Philadelphia, PA)
Price: $2,600
9. POEMS ON VARIOUS SUBJECTS, RELIGIOUS AND MORAL. WHEATLEY, PHILLIS. LONDON: A. BELL, BOOKSELLER, ALDGATE; AND SOLD BY MESSRS. COX AND BERRY, KING-STREET, BOSTON, 1773.
Bookseller: Printers Row Fine and Rare Books (Chicago, IL)
Price: $35,000
10. FIRST EDITION OF THIS SELECTION OF AKHMATOVA’S POEMS, THE FIRST POST-STALINIST EDITION OF HER VERSE. AKHMATOVA, ANNA.
Bookseller: James S. Jaffe Rare Books, A.B.A.A. (New York, NY)
Price: $35,000
Notes: Inscribed by Akhmatova to Boris Pasternak on the title-page: “Boris Pasternak – Anna Akhmatova, 3 May 1959, Moscow”, and with a correction to one word (“divnoi” for “shedroi” in ink on p. 65) in Akhmatova’s hand. Pasternak was in love with Akhmatova, on more than one occasion asking her to marry him – even while he was married to another woman. Pasternak would worry over Akhmatova in the most affecting manner, and came to her aid more than once during her most difficult and persecuted years.
11. A BOY’S WILL. FROST, ROBERT. LONDON DAVID NUTT 1913, 1913.
Bookseller: James S. Jaffe Rare Books, A.B.A.A. (New York, NY)
Price: $30,000
Notes: Inscribed by the author on the front free endpaper to “Eleanor Farjeon from Robert Frost.”
12. THE BRIDGE. A POEM. WITH THREE PHOTOGRAPHS BY WALKER EVANS.
CRANE, HART. PARIS : THE BLACK SUN PRESS. 1930. FIRST EDITION
Bookseller: James Fenning, ABA (County Dublin, Ireland)
Price: $30,295
13. COLLECTED POEMS OF FRANK O’HARA NY, Knopf, `, 1972.
Bookseller: NUDEL BOOKS (New York, NY)
Price: S27,500
Notes: 3rd Edition, but INSCRIBED by Allen Ginsberg to Peter Orolovsky: “For Peter Orlovsky from Allen Ginsberg.years later.after O’hara’s gone.Feb 4, 1977..437 E. 12th St.undeneath in a different hand “N.B.Borrowed indefinitely for research puroposes by Ted Berrigan March 1979.NYC”.a book which links the three key figures in the post war New York Po scene.O’hara-Ginsberg-Berrigan.
13. COLLECTION OF 27 INCUNABULA IN ONE VOLUME (1462 ONWARDS). PETRARCA, FRANCESCO
Bookseller: Antiquarischer Lexikonhandel (Hamburg, HH, Germany)
Price: $400,784
Notes: 1st Edition. Folio. Collection of 27 incunabula in one volume. This volume probably is the first copy of Petrarca’s “Opera” in the 15th century, containing most, if not all, of Petrarca’s works in the earliest print known. Petrarca (1304-1374) is considered one of the founders of humanism and one of the greatest Italian poets.
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14. HOOPS: POEMS. JACKSON, MAJOR. NEW YORK W. W. NORTON (2006)
Bookseller: Between the Covers-Rare Books, Inc. ABAA (Merchantville, NJ)
Price: S125
Notes: Uncorrected Proof. Wrappers. Very near fine. An uncommon issue of this collection of poetry. First edition.

Comments (7)

  • On January 17, 2008 at 8:40 am Anonymous wrote:

    Hi, Major– While I can’t score any of the books you’ve listed, I can give you the book I’ve written about here for your upcoming birthday. Happy Birthday!
    A Book of Matches
    Ephemera hardly worth noticing
    until a man lights a woman’s cigarette,
    writes a phone number on it,
    puts it in his pocket.
    Then it becomes part of a story,
    a detail remembered about a certain time,
    a certain place.
    Whoever opens this book expects
    a brilliant beginning, a consuming plot,
    and a tossed-off ending:
    a man may be sitting at a bar,
    staring for a long time at a matchbook
    next to his glass before absent-mindedly
    picking it up.
    Here the author perhaps tells us
    the matchbook becomes a door, the way
    everyday objects sometimes open up
    and allow us to wander deep
    within ourselves.
    Anyone else sees the cover with some
    advertisement, which he untucks
    and retucks behind the sand striking bar:
    did anyone actually go back to
    the World’s Most Romantic Restaurant—
    Shangri-La in Sisseton, South Dakota,
    Learn Basic Computer Programming at Home
    and become one of the Experienced Men
    Earning $7-12K Per Year,
    or see Bill and Fay at Southside Pool Hall
    in Caldere, Kansas, You’ll Like Their Beer?
    Opening the cover, he finds stapled inside
    two rows of ten matches—dipped red
    phosphorous heads, cardboard tinders
    and handles—that can be torn out of the book
    to strike, followed by the familiar scratch
    and sizzle in the dark, the comforting small glow
    inside a cupped hand.
    Twenty little tales to tell, he imagines.
    Each one beginning a story: one to light
    a joint an old high school buddy offers,
    one to illuminate a forking path
    on a moonless mountain, another to light
    a candle beside a bed where his lover waits.
    Not the light of a firefly, a star,
    the eye of a cat, but the spark of something
    just as brilliant, something
    that makes him feel
    there is no match like love.
    John Blackard
    http://www.johnablackard.com

  • On January 17, 2008 at 10:42 am Campbell McGrath wrote:

    When is your birthday?

  • On January 17, 2008 at 11:53 am Major wrote:

    Hi Campbell. September 9th. I am excited to see you in a few days.
    John, an even greater gift than Steven’s art collection, a poem! Thank you.

  • On January 19, 2008 at 10:13 pm Emily Warn wrote:

    Hey, Major,
    Thanks for this fantasy collecting trip. From what I understand, online rare booksellers have inflated the cost of these books, partly the result of so many people jumping into the business because it was easy to do.
    These prices seem much more expensive than they were ten years ago. And all over the place. I just searched and sorted on “poetry,” too, and discovered an “Extremely Rare First Edition of Keats’s Poems” is selling for $125,000, far below the ten poems and three stories by Hemingway, which is going for $225,000.
    Emily

  • On January 20, 2008 at 9:12 am Major wrote:

    Hi Emily,
    I have not studied economics in some time, but I thought many sellers would lower the cost of rare items rather than inflate prices. Still, that Keats seems like a steal. Are you insinuating Hemingway is less valuable than Keats?

  • On January 22, 2008 at 10:42 am Emily Warn wrote:

    Hi Major,
    How deep into economics did you get? I have never studied it, but obviously feel no qualms about hazarding an opinion. In this case, I think the web scrambled supply and demand theories. It did create more sellers and so more supply, but simultaneously created many more buyers and many more opportunities to market the goods, so the prices went up. But I’ll check in with a rare book dealer I know to see if I’ve got my facts straight.
    And, yes, for me, Keats’ first book is more valuable than all of Hemingway.
    Emily

  • On January 29, 2008 at 2:24 am D.A. Sachs wrote:

    If these are prices of books available online, they don’t represent the amounts that works of
    poetry command; they are the prices of books that dealers have not been able to sell.


Posted in Uncategorized on Wednesday, January 16th, 2008 by Major Jackson.