Otto Penzler Collection Leads Heritage Auctions Rare Books Auction Above $1.4 Million

Rare titles from the personal collection of one of the legends of the New York literary community sparked frenzied bidding from eager collectors, driving the final total for Heritage Auctions’ Rare Books Auction Featuring the Otto Penzler Collection of Mystery Fiction Part II to $1,437,530 Sept. 5 in New York City. The auction featured sell-through rates of 97.2% by lots sold and 95.9 percent by value.

Otto Penzler, a leading editor and publisher of Mystery Fiction, has spent most of his life collecting prized first editions and is the founder and proprietor of the Mysterious Bookshop in Manhattan. Of the 828 lots in the overall auction, 481 lots were from Penzler’s collection, a group that boasted a 100% sell-through.

Leading the sale was Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock, which more than doubled its pre-auction estimate before closing at $93,750, thanks to bids from 17 eager collectors. The first edition is one of just two copies known to have been brought to auction, and the other had a restored jacket. This novel, which solidified Greene’s position in 20th-century literature, was adapted several times for television and film, and appears on the Haycraft Queen Cornerstone list, which is billed as “the definitive library of mystery fiction.”

A rare first edition of James Joyce’s Ulysses realized $48,125. Loosely based on Homer’s OdysseyUlysses had a total of 1,000 copies in the first edition; this copy is one of the 750 copies of the trade edition. Initially censored in the United States after being labeled as obscene, copies brought into the U.S. were seized and destroyed. Ultimately Random House Publishing brought the book into the country with the intention of having it seized in order to start a legal trial, the goal of which was to strike the obscenity rating from the book. The litigation, in which the book was defended by attorney Morris Ernst, who later founded the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), gave the book significant importance in the history of American publishing.

Arthur Rackham’s The Pied Piper drew multiple bids before doubling its pre-auction estimate when it brought $30,000. The 1934 image, from The Pied Piper of Hamelin, is done in pen, ink and watercolor, and is signed “Arthur Rackham” on the lower left.

The next four prices realized, and five of the next six, went to novels by Agatha Christie. The sale included 80 titles by the English author who was known best for her mystery novels that featured detectives Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. The top Christie lots in the auction were:

Agatha Christie The Mystery of the Blue Train: $22,500

Agatha Christie Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?: $22,500

Agatha Christie The Mysterious Mr. Quin: $18,750

Agatha Christie The Murder on the Links: $17,500

Agatha Christie Dumb Witness: $15,625

Other top lots included, but were not limited to:

$15,625: Leslie Charteris Meet the Tiger

$15,000: Arthur Rackham And There Were Gossips Sitting There by One, by Two, by Three (The Witches’ Frolic)

$13,750: Arthur Rackham I’ll kiss thy foot: I’ll swear myself thy subject

$13,750: Wilkie Collins After Dark