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Swann Galleries present rare American classics in New York book sale

Rare first editions of American classics will lead a rare book sale at Swann Galleries in New York next month.
Leading the auction is a rare first edition of Henry Roth’s 1934 novel Call It Sleep, which tells the story of a Jewish immigrant family in New York’s Lower East Side.

Although acclaimed on its release, the book swiftly fell out of print and was only rediscovered when literary critic Irving Howe reviewed it on the front page of The New York Times Book Review in 1964.

Now regarded as a classic of both American and Jewish literature, first editions are scarce and this copy – signed and inscribed by Roth to his friend and literary executor Lawrence I. Fox – is expected to sell for $15,000-$20,000.

The auction will include several other fine association copies of American classics, including a first edition of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, which belonged his last lover Sheilah Graham, estimated at $4,000 to $6,000.

One of the rarest volumes on offer is a true 1947 first edition of Anne Frank’s diary, titled Het Achterhius and published in the original Dutch. Although the book became one of the biggest-selling and most-translated literary works of the 20th century, just 1,500 copies were initially printed and this example is expected to sell for $5,000-$7,000.

The sale will also feature a rare pair of presentation copies of the Lewis Carroll classics Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. Inscribed by Carroll to members of the Slater family, with whom he was close friends, the two volumes will be sold together with an estimate of $15,000-$25,000.

Further standout lots will include a first edition, second impression of James Joyce’s Ulysses, one of around 1,500 copies which escaped being burned for obscenity by U.S customs in 1924, estimated at $5,000-$7,500; a second edition of Walt Whitman’s seminal Leaves of Grass, valued at $9,000-$12,000; and a signed first edition of Samuel Beckett’s first book Whoroscope, published in 1930, estimated at $5,000-$7,000.

The Swann Galleries 19th & 20th Century Literature sale takes place in New York on Wednesday May 18.

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