17 November 2008

Plath at the Boston Book Fair

The 32nd annual Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair concluded Sunday, but sales figures and the success of the fair won't be known for some time. There were 139 dealers displaying their wonderful books: old, new, rare, signed, weird, etc. I kept my eye open for Plath titles, as you'd probably expect!

Jett W. Whitehead, of Bay City, Michigan, who specializes in Modern Poetry, First Editions, Chapbooks, and Broadsides, has two extremely lovely Plath items for sale at the moment. The first, a copy of the first Faber edition of Ariel signed and inscribed by Ted Hughes to the Hungarian poet Janos Csokits, stained of thatch drippings from Court Green. At $12,995 it's available for only the most serious collector. The letter that accompanied this gift to Janos Csokits is reprinted in the Letters of Ted Hughes, see page . The actual letter is held in the Ted Hughes papers at Emory Univeristy. The other unique item he has, at $17,500, is a handwritten manuscript of a poem entited "The Snowflake Star". "The Snowflake Star" was written about 1946, and was published on page 9 of the The Phillipian in February 1946, while Plath was a student at the Alice L. Phillips Junior High School in Wellesley. The school is now, plainly, the Wellesley Middle School. Autograph manuscripts of Plath on the market are rare. Jett even flattered me by having, on hand, a copy of my biography of Plath which he asked me to sign. It's all poetry all the time with Jett W. Whitehead Rare Books, and Plath's poem "Kindness" clearly speaks of him: "The blood jet is poetry, / There is no stopping it."

Royal Books, of Baltimore, Maryland, had a binders copy of Plath's Crystal Gazer, for a cool $4250. Royal recently acquired it, and based on the description on the sellers website, I believe it may be the same copy formerly for sale through Nigel Williams Rare Books of London, also present at the Boston Book Fair. Sales between dealers before the Fair is a common sort of thing. Crystal Gazer was one of a number of limited editions of Plath's work that Ted Hughes, Olwyn Hughes, the Rainbow Press, and others printed in the early 1970s. The timing coincides with the UK and US publications of Crossing the Water and Winter Trees, and the first US publication of The Bell Jar.

Between the Covers, of Gloucester City, New Jersey, has a very, very nice true first edition of The Bell Jar (Heinemann 1963) by Victoria Lucas ($10,000) They have dozens of other Plath titles for sale, all recently acquired and cataloged. Some of these were on hand including a first Faber Ariel, first Faber Winter Trees, and first Knopf Colossus. I was completely struck by Winter Trees - which a number of sellers had, on average for $200 - in a shockingly bright blue dust wrapper. Completely gorgeous.

Peter L Stern, of Boston, had the most expenive edition of a Victoria Lucas The Bell Jar at $12,500. Behind glass for a good reason, for as Yoda would say, "Not good for books drool is".

Thomas Goldwasser, of San Francisco, had the the most expensive Plath book at the show, the signed and inscribed copy of the first, Heinemann Colossus that Plath gave to Theodore Roethke ($65,000). Books inscribed by Plath are few and far between. Rick Gekoski talked about selling Ted Hughes's copy of The Colossus, given to him by Plath, in his wonderful book Nabokov's Butterfly (in the UK, this book is called Tolkien's Gown). Goldwasser also has two copies of Howls & Whispers, the limited edition that Hughes and Leonard Baskin published in 1998 of 11 poems not included in Birthday Letters. These poems were printed in The Collected Poems of Ted Hughes.

Charles Montieth's copy of The Colossus was also for sale at one point, I believe, but has since been snatched up. Likewise, in 2002, Wilbury Crockett's copy of The Colossus, signed and inscribed by Plath, was sold at auction. Other known inscribed copies went to W.S. and Dido Merwin and to her mother and father-in-law. Aurelia Plath and Warren Plath likely had a signed/inscribed copies, but there whereabouts are not known, and presumably are still in the family. Signed copies of The Bell Jar by Victoria Lucas would be even more rare, if they exist at all; and signed copies with Sylvia Plath as author would be improbable, and a forgery.

A number of dealers had fine, first edition copies of Winter Trees, Crossing the Water, and Ariel. Other works by Plath were not visibly represented at all. A couple of dealers had limited editions for sale, like Crystal Gazer and Lyonnesse, but overall I saw fewer of these than in years previous. And from one day to the next, I did notice that a copy of Lyonnesse was sold at some point. That certain titles are prohibitively expensive is a shame, but being able to walk around, look, and touch, these items is a good experience. If you're considering building a book collection of Plath titles - or books on another subject or author - never hesitate to contact a seller who has stock you are interested in or considering puchasing. They can give you advice and become a friend and ally. I wrote a post on Collecting Sylvia Plath in August 2007 and hope that if you've started a collection since that it was useful.

Many of the books mentioned in the posting I've been seeing at the fair for a number of years. It gives much pleasure to see and re-see them year after year. I'll probably miss them if they do sell. I'm doing a little further research on another title that I saw at the fair; a title familiar to me but in an edition I never knew existed. I should hopefully have something on this blog for you before too long.

1 comment :

Jett Whitehead said...

Peter: Many thanks for the fine review of the Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair -- and for the coverage of our booth. Your kind words are very much appreciated. Cheers to you for the New Year! Jett

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