Note to high school students: Before annotating your next copy of The Great Gatsby, please check the publication date. It could be a fortune.
“In terms of collectability, The Great Gatsby is considered the first collectible novel in America,” said Peter Harrington, a rare book dealer in London. “A lot of it has to do with the dust jacket – people seem to want it very much.”
Harrington will soon be bringing the first edition of this 1925 book, widely regarded as the masterpiece of F Scott Fitzgerald, at the New York International Antique Book Fair, April 21-24 at the Park Avenue Armory. .
Harrington’s book sold for £275,000 (about $360,000), putting it in the upper echelons of the booming collectibles market. “For 20th century literature, it’s definitely the highest,” he said. “The truth is that the lockdown and the whole period has been very kind to the rare book market.”
Like most books, editions of The Great Gatsby are priced based on a fairly strict set of criteria: how long the book was printed, the condition of the dust jacket, and whether any part of the book or jacket is damaged and/or not or repair.
The first edition numbered 20,870 copies. The easiest way to determine if a book is from this printing (other than looking inside the cover) is to check for errors that were eventually corrected.
An obvious sign of the first print is a mistake in the jacket itself. The main character’s name, Jay Gatsby, is spelled with a lowercase j, “instead of reprinting the entire book, they actually had someone check it with a rubber J stamp,” Harrington said. “So, you see a big J on the back that looks a little weird. That part of the story when you collect these things is the part that makes it interesting.”
The first question also contains at least five typos. Rare bookseller Heather O’Donnell writes in Lapham Quarterly’s first edition of Gatsby’s Market Primer, on page 205,” Meyer Wolfsheim’s secretary told Nick Callaway, she’s tired of trying to force her way into the office.”
The jacket is a painting by painter Francis Cugat that Fitzgerald had apparently seen before finishing the book. “For God’s sake, don’t give anyone that jacket you saved for me,” Fitzgerald wrote to his publisher ahead of publication. “I’ve written it in the book.”
The only problem is that on the first print, the cover is slightly larger and tends to tear. “The jacket is made in one place, the book is made elsewhere,” explains Harrington. “So, it’s usually chopped up.”
About 20 years ago, Harrington continued, it was popular to fix these broken versions. “If there’s a missing piece on the spine, the keeper will fill it in so it looks like a good copy,” he said. But he said an original, unaltered, intact version like the one he brought to New York would only come out, “every five years or so.”
The book “just sits on someone’s shelf, in a box, and God knows how long,” Harrington said.
He went on to say that while on the one hand it is regrettable, on the other “the moment it is disposed of is the moment it is thrown away”. As such, there is a clear silver lining to its neglect. After the recent owner passed away, his heirs knew of the quality of the book they had inherited, and they contacted a Midwestern dealer who in turn contacted Harrington, who bought the book outright and prepared Sell yourself.
The $360,000 price tag is steep, but it does have some precedent. In 2014, an unrestored first-edition jacket sold at Sotheby’s with an estimate of $250,000 to $350,000 and sold for $377,000.
A signed first edition with some conditional issues recently sold for $162,500 at Heritage Auctions in New York. In 2009, the first edition sold for $180,000 at Bonham’s New York.
Harrington said there are Gatsby collectors all over the world, but he hopes to take it to New York and sell it to an American. “There are definitely some candidates in the market to buy it,” he said. “They just need to see.”