Modern Library Pricing
[Editor's Note: This information is obviously quite old. Tracking was only done for two years. We're keeping it on the website for historical interest. — S.K.]
This is my second pricing column for our Modern Library web site. And, as usual, I will be referring to ML volumes in dust jackets on ebay unless otherwise noted.
Prices still are very weak, as the national recession and an exodus of ML collectors has led to very little competition for some of the items.
The highlight of the Boni and Liveright lots on ebay was a copy of Strindberg’s Married, one of the first twelve titles issued in May of 1917. The copy came with a first issue (twelve titles listed on the flaps), very good DJ. It sold for $228, probably only a third to a half of what it would have sold for three or four years ago. Note that there are only a very few copies on these first titles in the correct DJ known. Additionally a VG copy of Swinburne’s Poems in the 60 cents, first issue DJ reached $127 in a contest between two bidders.
There was more activity in the 1925-1927 ML Inc. period. A Dostoyevsky's Poor People in a VG jacket with browning to the spine sold for $99 and a Nietzsche's Zarathustra in a strong, VG+ DJ hit $104 in a contest among three bidders. A rare title, Flaubert’s Temptation of St. Anthony, with some browning to the spine and minor chipping hit $66. Meanwhile a VG copy of O’Neill’s Emperor Jones/The Straw, went for $60, as five bidders vied for this item.
There were some solid prices in the flexie first area. Several Fitzgerald's Gatsbys sold. A VG+ first in the first issue, 225-title DJ sold for only $295, as six bidders vied for this quality item. Surprisingly, another Gatsby first in a later DJ, described as Good, sold for $455. I don’t know, and can’t fathom, while the later copy in worse condition sold for much more. In other action, a decent Hammett's Maltese Falcon first with some browning to the DJ spine sold for $200 (one bidder) and another Falcon with a browned spine, described as G/VG hit $138 (nine bidders). Unless I missed something, the only other first to crack the $100 level was Wallace's Ben Hur (VG+, four bidders, $109). Nice firsts of Gogol’s Dead Souls, Hart’s War in Outline and Norris’ The Pit sold in the $60 to $70 range.
In the hardbacks, the highlight was a jacketed Schreiner's African Farm (very rare in the hardback issue). It reached $356 in a contest between two bidders. A G/VG three volume set of Shakespeare stated firsts went for $150 (one bid), while a VG Comedies first hit $90 (four bidders) and a Tragedies first in a Good only DJ sold for $57 (two bidders). Two copies of Jackson's Lost Weekend firsts sold for around $35.
Some ML Giant prices were very strong. A Plutarch in a Greek Urn jacket from 1934 (not the first DJ), a truly beautiful copy, went all the way to $127 in a contest among five bidders. Bewley’s English Romantic Poets in a VG DJ hit $234, which I believe is a record for this item. In the ephemera area, a Modern Library matchbook from 1934 sold for $76.
As I said last time, with the problems in the economy, I don’t expect prices to recover to prior years’ levels anytime soon. We still need to get more collectors interested in the hobby. Unfortunately, I do not have any great ideas on how to accomplish this.
Please let me know if I have missed anything or if you have any suggestions for future columns.