The Edwin Blair Auction of Beat Literature

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Reports from the Bibliographic Bunker

Jed Birmingham on William S. Burroughs Collecting

The Edwin Blair sale is over and the results highlight issues raised in posts to RealityStudio. Manuscripts, the Olympia Press Naked Lunch, vinyl and even the Olympia Ticket That Exploded are all headline stories in the Burroughs items up for sale.

Without a doubt, manuscript and holograph material by almost any Beat author performed well. This is especially true of Burroughs. The carbon transcript to “Goat God Out of Site,” an early draft of a piece that appeared in Oui in July 1973 possessed a high estimate of $900. It sold for $3450 (this and all prices quoted include a 15% buyers premium). The typescript contains corrections in Burroughs’ hand and substantially differs from the published version. The typescript for a chapter of Soft Machine, “The Mayan Caper,” also performed well. Estimated at $1500-2500, the chapter sold for $5175. This was one of the high prices at the auction. The typescript is signed and dated by Burroughs and contains holograph corrections. Maybe the price ($530) reached by the one line item on eBay might not be so crazy after all. The “Mayan Caper” typescript comes from the same period and place as the Intrepid piece. The prices offered by BeatBooks for the Naked Lunch and the Invisible Generation manuscripts are backed up by the fine performance at the Blair auction.

The Beat classics, On the Road, Howl, and Naked Lunch also performed well. A signed Naked Lunch (a later, looser signature) doubled its high estimate and sold for $4025. The catalog describes the copy as seldom seen in better condition. This might be true for a signed copy. The jacket was definitely not fine. It had the typical splitting and rubbing to the spine, yet it seemed nice and bright and not faded or sunned like many copies. No mention of the price stamp. At the Roger Richards and Nelson Lyon Sales 6-7 years ago, Naked Lunch in lesser condition sold for $1955 and $2750, respectively. This seems like a fairly nice increase in value.

A nice collection of Burroughs vinyl reached its estimate and sold for $288. The records were mint some still in their shrink-wrap. The records included Burroughs and Giorno (1975), The Nova Convention (1979), Sugar, Alcohol, Meat (1980), You’re the Guy I Want to Share My Money With (1981), and Nothing Here Now But the Recordings (1981). Based on my experience, you can get these records cheaper from a record dealer, if you can find them. I talked to a record dealer about this auction and he felt that the estimates seemed high. Ferlinghetti and Ginsberg vinyl was also available.

Like manuscripts, iconic photographs performed extremely well. The legendary shot of Hal Chase, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and William Burroughs from 1945 chronicling the very beginnings of the Beat Generation sold for $7475. This photograph along with Carolyn Cassady’s shot of Neal and Jack that graces the book cover of On the Road might be neck and neck as “the” Beat Generation image. Several photographs of Bukowski, Henry Miller and Ginsberg were available.

I should have been more assertive in my bidding. Besides the one of a kind items, the action on the Burroughs items was rather slow and probably disappointing for the seller. Surprisingly, a mimeo program from Burroughs’ 1965 St. Valentine’s reading sold for $230. This is under the low estimate and cheaper than a copy that was heavily sought after on eBay in 2005. Burroughs magazine appearances were generally affordable. Black Mountain Review 7, an early Burroughs contribution, sold for $173, far below the estimate and much cheaper than on the rare book market. Big Table 1, one of the most famous and important of Burroughs’ appearances, failed to sell at all. My Own Mag 11 and 12 also sold cheaply for $69. There were exceptions. A copy of Gnaoua magazine signed by Burroughs scholar Eric Mottram sold for $345 far more than a copy signed by Burroughs and Michael McClure at the Nelson Lyon Auction ($95). Yugen 1-3 also priced high ($373).

Several other Burroughs rarities underperformed. An inscribed copy of the Olympia Soft Machine sold for $288. It is impossible to find a poor, unsigned copy for that from booksellers. The Olympia Ticket That Exploded generated no interest at all (low estimate $300). Both these items had some condition issues which reinforce the condition mantra. Time (1 of 886) also failed to sell. For roughly $90 it could have been yours.

Large lots featuring several Burroughs titles at once were also cheap and a great way to start a Burroughs collection. Lots grouping together 5 hardcover titles from the 1960s and early 1970s like Nova Express or Exterminator sold for $150. A similar selection of 7 titles from the 1980s and 1990s sold for $115. A nice grouping of wrapper bound titles, including Ah Pook Is Here, Blade Runner or Doctor Benway, fetched $138.

All in all, the Edwin Blair collection had a little of something for every level of Burroughs collector at a wide and in some cases surprising range of prices.

Written by Jed Birmingham and published by RealityStudio on 13 March 2006.

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