RARE BOOK GUIDE - THE RUNNERS, THE RIDERS & THE ODDS
02 November 2009
At an Alcoholics Anonymous auction...Part 2
Result were fairly good at the dispersal of this serious Alcoholics Anonymous collection, although mostly under the low estimates with about 30% bought in. The sale took place at Pacific Book Auctions in San Francisco on 22 October. Most early printings of the A. A. Big Book were in bright facsimile jackets and one that was in a decent original jacket- a fourth printing from 1943 made $3600. There were about a dozen books inscribed by Bill W, often quite late in the century but only two by his co-creator Dr. Bob (Robert Smith.) One book from Dr. Bob's library with his ownership signature made a healthy $2280. It was a copy of David Seabury's 1937 work 'The Art of Selfishness'. This is a sort of early self help book by a psychologist ( founded the Centralist School of Psychology.) He also wrote 'What Makes Us Seem So Queer '(1934) and 'How to Worry Successfully' (1936). Ordinarily the book would make $20 but Dr.Bob's signature is rare. The book also had his calling card tipped in showing him to be a surgeon. When selling it the auctioneer said -'...here's one to boast about at the next meeting..' something you would be unlikely to hear at a British auction.
It is hard to overstate the importance of the 'Big Book' - a landmark work not merely in saving the minds, souls and bodies of millions of out of control drinkers but also in being the first broad manifestation of group movements, 'steps', 'sharing' 'self help' and what later became known as 'recovery.' Early editions, whilst not rare, are much sought after. A genuine first inscribed by Bill W to a character called 'The Brewmeister' (Clarence 'Cracker' Snyder) made $10,800 in very mediocre condition. The story of the 'Home Brewmeister' is dealt with in the book and Snyder was a founding member known to have disagreed with Bill W on the subject of anonymity.
The big result came with a sixth printing (1944). It was a less than brilliant copy in a worn d/w but inscribed in 1948 by the three founders of AA--Bill W, Dr.Bob and Bill Dotson and later by Bill W's sponsor Ebby Thacher and a few others. It made $27000 against an estimate of $30,000 to $50,000. It was news to me that Bill had a sponsor (like being 'The President's Analyst'…) Thacher had attended the Oxford Group meetings, seen as a precursor to AA - another much collected movement some of whose books were in the sale.
Three real firsts of the 'Big Book', all somewhat used but acceptable examples in facsimile jackets, made between $6600 and $7800. A big lot (169 books) on 'alcoholism, substance abuse and recovery' was bought in against an estimate of $3000 to $5000. It was the kind of lot that would have sold in the boom years. Likewise a lot of 60 of the 72 printings of the third edition (pic above) all in jackets (1976-1998) failed to garner a bid of $750. A patient and diligent Ebay seller could probably have trebled his or her money on this lot but as a wise old bookseller once advised me - 'never buy hard work.'