Simulcast between Los Angeles and New York, the October 19, 2009 auction of Fine Books and manuscripts garnered international attention with competitive bidding both on the telephone and via absentee bid. “It was an energetic sale reflecting the strength and continuing interest in Hollywood history, Hawaiiana and historical documents. We saw strong participation from the East Coast and abroad,” said Dr. Catherine Williamson, Department Director, Fine Books and Manuscripts.
Highlighting the sale was a highly sought after first edition copy of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath (1939) inscribed to legendary producer, director and studio executive Darryl Zanuck. The heartfelt text written by Steinbeck to Zanuck reads: “with thanks for a fine picture / John Steinbeck / 1939 / Los Gatos.”
According to text from Steinbeck: A Life in Letters, the author writes lines of praise to his sister Elizabeth on December 15, 1939 regarding the film: “…saw Grapes at Twentieth-Century. Zanuck has more than kept his word. He has a hard, straight picture in which the actors are submerged so completely that it looks and feels like a documentary film and certainly has a hard, truthful ring…”
Estimated to bring $20,000-30,000, the volume sold for $45,750, the second highest price paid for a copy of Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath at auction. The world auction record was set in February 2007 at Bonhams & Butterfields and stands at $47,800.
Also featured during the October sale were two remarkable documents dating from the birth of the State of California: Descended together through an old California family with ties to the Santa Clara valley region, the first text is a registrar leaf from the 1849 California State Constitutional Convention signed and inscribed by 46 members of the delegation. Signatures include those of Henry W. Halleck who would later serve as a Union general in the Civil War; Robert Semple, president of the Convention ; and John Sutter, owner of the land where gold was first discovered in California. Each leaf includes the signatures, place of birth, residence, and age of each Delegate “convened in general Convention on the 1st day of September 1849 “at Monterey, to frame a State Constitution for California.”
The accompanying document is believed to have been a preliminary signatory page prepared for a printed version of the Constitution. The text at the upper margin reads: “Signatures of the Delegates assembled in Convention in Colton Hall September & October 1849 to form the first Constitution of California.” The pair sold for $32,940.
A strong offering of Hawaiiana and selection of surfing history from the Collection of Mark Blackburn, Honolulu, Hawaii was also featured. Works of note included the auction catalogue’s cover lot, an exceedingly rare printed broadside from King Kamehameha III of Hawaii announcing a stiff punishment for sailors on shore leave who carry weapons to his island (sold for $15,860); an exceptional color etching on glass depicting the decapitation of Captain James Cook (sold for $14,640) and a treatise on Hawaiian language navigation noted for the use of Greek lettering (est. $17,080) as well as a copy of Hawaiian Surfboard by Thomas Edward Blake from the Collection of Mark Blackburn (sold for $3,965). The book was the first definitive work on surfing by one of the sport’s greatest innovators.
Additional highlights from the October sale included an autographed personal letter written by Eugene Gauguin to his friend Pissarro discussing Manet, Renoir, Sisley and his personal struggle with art (sold for $31,720) and an illustrated color lithograph titled Le Pomme de L’Angle Droit by Le Corbusier (sold for $23,180) as well as an archive of rare correspondence and black and white photographs related to the personal life of Winnie-the-Pooh author A. A. Milne, his wife, and his son Christopher Robin (sold for $10,980). The offering included two rare pictures of Christopher Robin with his beloved Winnie-the-Pooh bear, which was the inspiration for Milne’s classic character.