When Faulkner, Hemingway, and other 20th-century novelists signed their own works
In the vast field of autograph collecting, the one area that's red hot
right now is autographed novels of 20th-century American authors.
After all, just as an artist signs a masterpiece after producing a
great work of art, so do some novelists sign their name to a first edition
copy as a testament of their labor and fame.
The market for such autographs has been growing consistently the last
few years, and shows no sign of slowing down.
Among signed novels, the most highly sought-after are what are called
"association copies," or books that the author signed along with
a personal note to its owner. Examples of association copies include those
with notes to close relatives and friends, or people that inspired the
characters in a novel — "the closer the association, the higher the
value," says Richard Austin of Christie's East books and manuscripts department in New York.
Christie's East holds the current auction record for an association
copy of a 20th-century American novelist.
Included in its May 2000 sale was an assortment of Ayn Rand memorabilia
from the collection of her long time lover and colleague, Nathaniel Branden.
His copy of Atlas
Shrugged signed by Ayn Rand and dedicated to him
sold for $70,500, including premium. The content of the note is intensely
personal and chronicles the early history of the Rand-Branden
By way of comparison, an unsigned first edition of Atlas
wasn't part of the Branden collection only brought $705 in the same
Rand is quoted as having said that Branden was "the kind of genius
that I write about."
More moderate prices are realized on signed first editions that are not
Depending on the title, a signed Hemingway would bring $3,000 to $5,000
at auction. A signed copy by William Faulkner would bring slightly less,
in the $1,500 to $2,500 range. Signed editions by Hemingway and Faulkner
are both very rare. The copies that Hemingway did sign were the ones sent
to him from the States by his publisher following the commercial success
Farewell to Arms. As a result, the inscribed early Hemingway
novels are exceedingly rare.
For the novice collector and contemporary fiction reader, attending
local author appearances is an inexpensive way to start a collection. A
good rule of thumb is if an author that you admire is coming to a bookstore
near you, buy his or her book and get it signed.
But, he says to remember that for a mediocre writer, the signature
won't necessarily increase the value. Though, if that same writer suddenly
publishes an award-winning novel or has a book turned into a film starring
Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, the price may skyrocket for all of his or
her titles, even the mediocre ones.
A $20 signed novel can immediately turn into a $200 or even a $2,000
book. A combination of luck and an appreciation of writing quality can
make contemporary book collecting a lucrative hobby.
First editions in good condition by contemporary
authors such as John Irving or Stephen King regularly sell in the few
King's recent brush with death, however, has lead to a decrease in
appearances and book signings, and the market value for his signed novels
has increased accordingly.
The commercial success of The
Cider House Rules has certainly
increased Irving's popularity and the prices realized for his signed
books, as well.
Experts in this field of autograph collecting believe that prices for
20th-century American novelists will continue to go up, and say that the
difficulty is finding good, fresh material. Autographs are considered to
be a good investment since there are only a finite number of signed novels
that an author can produce during his lifetime.
Future surprises in the market could include currently unknown
contemporary writers who develop a following.
However, there will always be disappointments in the market for
collectors of modern authors who have signed novels that are not yet
discovered or have received unfavorable reviews. A word of unsolicited
advice to readers of modern fiction: befriend today's struggling writers,
become the inspiration for their work, get your hands on an association
copy with a highly personalized inscription.
Then store everything in a trunk for 70 years as a gift to your