A 16th-Century Masterpiece And 20th-Century Rarities Help Make Heritage Auctions' Event One For The Books

Many Titles Came From Mystery Book Publisher, Dealer And Collector Otto Penzler

November 20, 2020

Heritage Auctions’ Rare Books Sale, held Oct. 15 and 16, was an absolute success thanks to one of the most spectacular works of the 16th century and some of the most significant authors of the 20th century. And a few mystery guests even made some noteworthy appearances during the two-day auction.
Over the course of four thrilling sessions, almost 1,300 bidders spent $2,287,797 on highly coveted tomes, many of which came from the celebrated assemblage of mystery book publisher, dealer and collector Otto Penzler. Even more books from Penzler’s shelves will be made available during three online sessions to be held Dec. 5, 6, and 7, many from authors seldom seen at auction.
“What we saw during this sale was inspiring,” said James Gannon, Heritage Auctions' director of Rare Books. “We weren’t necessarily surprised by the results, because a majority of the books in Otto’s collection are the best-known examples in the very best condition with just gorgeous dust jackets. We knew the market was there, based on results from parts one and two of the Penzler sale. But a lot of the authors in this event were relatively new to the auction market, as will many of those to be featured in part four in December.”
The “Astronomicum Caesareum of Petrus Apianus,” dedicated to the Emperor Charles V in 1540, realized $325,000 to become the event’s top lot. This comes as no surprise given its status as “the most spectacular contribution of the book-maker's art to 16th-century science,” in the words of Owen Gingerich, Harvard University’s Professor Emeritus of Astronomy.
So few copies of this richly handpainted folio have survived 480 years, especially in this remarkable condition. And the copy sold on day one continued to surprise right until it reached the auction block, as experts discovered 29 original silk threads and eight tiny seed pearls, each measuring 1 mm, among the rotating volvelles.
A first edition of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit or There and Back Again” from 1937 realized $60,000. Close behind at $55,000 was a first edition of J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.”
But from Penzler’s collection came some of the event’s biggest surprises and delights. An inscribed first edition of Earl Derr Biggers' 1925 “The House Without a Key,” the very first entry in the Charlie Chan mystery series, opened bidding at $4,600, but bidders fought mightily, eventually driving its final price to $50,000. The first-ever mystery novel by Ellery Queen, 1929’s “The Roman Hat Murder,” a signed first edition, sold for $40,000. Frederic Dannay and Manfred Bennington Lee were the writers behind the Queen pseudonym. A first edition of the very first Nero Wolfe mystery, Rex Stout’s 1934 “Fer-De-Lance,” went for $31,250.
And on and on the event went, one highlight after another. And it was no mystery why. “Otto’s name in the industry is as much a mainstay as some of the best-known mystery and detective fiction authors,” said Gannon. “Having something from his personal collection is probably a highlight of many current mystery and detective fiction collectors.”
For a complete list of titles and prices realized from the Rare Books Signature Auction featuring the Otto Penzler Mystery Fiction collection, part three, register for free at www.HA.com.


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