OK, I haven’t blogged in an unconscionably long time. Things have been busy in ye olde Casa de Perplexed, what can I say. But this bit of Johnson trivia struck me as blog-worthy–and maybe getting my feet wet will bring me back into circulation:

Johnson’s bibliographer, J.D. Fleeman, estimated that as many as half of the 2000 copies originally printed may still be around, but noted that “few copies survive in booksellers’ boards, and all such have restored spines, for when standing upright, the contents are too heavy for the binding cords”.

The re-appearance at auction of a stunning copy in a wholly unrestored original binding at Christie’s on October 27 was always likely to become a defining moment in terms of auction records.

Uncut in original half-sheep and comb-marbled boards, this was the copy that in 1975 was bought from the House of El Dieff for $9000 by Haven O’Moore, and then sold for $60,000 when his spectacular ‘Garden’ library was dispersed by Sotheby’s New York in 1989. This time it was offered as part of Ladislaus von Hoffmann’s ‘Arcana Collection’, and the price was a record £130,000.

The previous best had been the $140,000 (then £94,710) paid for a copy, unusually bound as three volumes in original sheep-backed boards, in the Abel Berland library, sold at Christie’s New York in 2001.

Copies not retaining those original bindings are priced very differently.

A hugely successful Sotheby’s sale of October 28 saw records tumbling for any number of famous works of English literature, but the copy of Johnson’s Dictionary in that sale, while a very fine one and in 18th century half calf and marbled boards, was sold at just £14,000. The fact that it had once belonged to Ross Smith, who in 1919 made the first flight from England to Australia, seemed not to help at all.

It seems somehow…right, that Johnson should hold some records.

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