Spanning the extraordinarily long, eventful and sometimes challenging career of Pelham (‘Plum’) Grenville Wodehouse (1881-1975), one in which he spent almost the last three decades of his life living and working in the USA, the sale on May 7 offered 191 lots, of which 95% sold for a mid-estimate total of around $90,000.
Large numbers of bidders from around the world competed for the lots and several records were broken, though there were also a couple of disappointments.
One was the highest-valued book in the collection and the other a set of Wodehouse’s personal scrapbooks from the years 1911-60, each estimated at $3000-5000. The latter did sell at $2600 (£2115) but a rare 1931 first of Big Money failed to attract high enough bids and was passed.
Inscribed to his mother
In the catalogue the books were primarily arranged alphabetically by title, but this selection follows instead a more or less chronological path.
The earliest of them was a signed 1902 first issue copy of his very first book, The Pothunters, that made a slightly disappointing $1500 (£1220).
A 1910 first US issue in original pictorial boards of The Intrusion of Jimmy also sold just under the low estimate at $950 (£770), but records show only one copy making more. Retaining a jacket and inscribed to a friend, Oscar Blaisdell, that one made $4250 at Sotheby’s New York in 1998.
The first appearance of Psmith Journalist (not published as a separate work until 1915, also see facing page), is to be found in issues of The Captain: A Magazine for Boys & “Old Boys”. In a publisher’s decorative cloth binding, a volume covering the period October 1909-March 1910 sold for $650 (£530).
The sale spanned Plum’s extraordinarily long, eventful and sometimes challenging career
It was inscribed “To LH Bradshaw, England’s Favourite Son...”, whose essay ‘Impressions of P.G.Wodehouse’ it also contains.
Sold at $2200 (£1790) was a 1915, first English issue of Something Fresh, the first novel in the ‘Blandings Castle’ series. There was no jacket – as is the case with those few other copies noted in auction records – and the boards were cocked and faded to the spine. Only a copy seen in 2002 at Sotheby’s has made more, at least in dollar terms – £1600, then around $2500.
A 1924, first US edition of a book that is both the last of his four ‘Psmith’ novels and the second in the ‘Blandings’ series, Leave it to Psmith, made a record $780 (£635). It was not in the best condition, but was inscribed by Wodehouse to his bibliographer and biographer, David A Jasen.
Two other works inscribed for Jasen made good prices. One was Methuen’s 1924, first UK issue of Bill the Conqueror. His Invasion of England in the Springtime, which realised $800 (£650). Only a couple of copies in jackets have made more at auction. Also inscribed for Jasen was Doubleday’s 1947, US first of Full Moon, which sold at $600 (£490).
The cloth binding of a UK first issue of Carry On, Jeeves!, a 1925 collection of previously published short stories, was somewhat cocked and bowed but it retained its dust jacket and sold for a record $2200 (£1790).
Very Good, Jeeves, a collection of short stories originally published in Strand Magazine, was first issued in the US in 1930. A copy in a wraparound price band that offered it at a cut-price $1 sold for $1600 (£1300) at Freeman’s. In 2012, however, a copy of the first English edition made £3000 at Sotheby’s, even though the jacket was a later issue example.
Adapted by Wodehouse from his play Good Morning Bill, which in turn was based on the work of a Hungarian playwright, Ladislaus Fodor, a 1932 Methuen, first UK issue of Doctor Sally may also have set a record at $550 (£445).
A couple of copies have made a little more at auction but Toplis’ copy of Methuen’s 1933, English first issue of Heavy Weather was a good looking example in its skilfully restored jacket and reached $750 (£610).
Revisions and annotations
As expected, the most expensive lot in the sale, at $7000 (£5690), was one built around Wodehouse’s corrected typescript of Do Butlers Burgle Banks? of 1968. Showing extensive autograph revisions and annotations it was lotted with copies of the first US and English editions.
Sold for a record $1600 (£1300) was a 1970, UK first of another of Wodehouse’s last works, The Girl in Blue. Inscribed to Ira Gershwin, with whom he had worked on two major musicals, it was acompanied by a letter in which his wife, Ethel, writes: “Plum has been quite ill, but he is having oxygen every day, and he is much better now...”
From the pictures, photographs and other non-book inclusions, a half-hunter pocket watch bearing Wodehouse’s ornate monogram on the back of the case sold at $3500 (£2845).
The buyer's premium at Freeman’s was 25/20/12% buyer’s premium.
Two Wodehouse offerings from dealers
His first adult novel
Published in 1906, Love among the Chickens was PG Wodehouse’s first adult novel. This copy is inscribed by the author to the actor Seymour Hicks.
At the time of publication Hicks was starring in a musical comedy, The Beauty of Bath, for which Wodehouse had provided lyrics for some additional songs. It is priced at £9750 by Shapero Rare Books.
Prince becomes Psmith
First published in the UK as The Prince and Betty in 1912, this much-revised first edition under the title Psmith Journalist was released by A&C Black in 1915.
PG Wodehouse first wrote the stories for serialisation in The Captain. Offered with minimal wear, it is available for £1500.