Don McLean manuscript

A 16-page Don McLean manuscript, featuring the lyrics of the iconic song, American Pie, including the writer’s notes and an extra verse which was never recorded, was auctioned by Christie’s in New York on April 7, 2015. The manuscript achieved the 3rd highest auction price for an American literary manuscript selling for $1,205,000 (€1,109,182), including buyer premium. The complete work that includes some typed drafts was written in Cold Spring, NY and Philadelphia, PA, during the period of 1970-71.

It has long been established that the “The day the music died” line of the song referred to the death of Buddy Holly, but other than that it remained a cryptic masterpiece in the history of American music until the time of the auction. The singer finally opened up about the song’s meaning and revealed that he “wanted to make a whole series of complex statements. Basically in ‘American Pie,’ things are heading in the wrong direction.”   The lyrics had to do with the state of American society at the time; 1972.

Despite the general gloom embedded in the lyrics of the song, the manuscript contains a deleted verse from the song which suggests that McLean at one point considered a more upbeat ending:

And there I stood alone and afraid

I dropped to my knees and there I prayed

And I promised him everything I could give

If only he would make the music live

And he promised it would live once more

But this time one would equal four

And in five years four had come to mourn

and the music was reborn.

Much more so than books, manuscripts connect us to the person behind the work. Handwriting is a pictograph of the writer’s abstract portrait. In a way, it is an emotional contact to him through the handwriting, the spelling, the corrections, the ideas, the deletions, the style, the paper, the ink, the stains, the wear, the tears, the creases, the touch, the smell; a record of part of the writer’s creative process. Manuscripts have the ability to speak to us in a way by opening up windows into the author’s soul. As the English poet, John Clare, once said: “The Soul lies buried in the ink that writes”

Back in 2010, $1.2 million was paid for John Lennon’s lyrics to “A Day in the Life” from “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” It registers a price that is a bit higher than the price paid for “American Pie” after adjusting for inflation. The record holder of handwritten manuscript lyrics is Bob Dylan, whose “Like a Rolling Stone” sold for just over $2 million at Sotheby’s in June of 2014. The four small sheets of paper contained, in addition to the original working manuscript, the corrections, revisions and additions to the song.

Don McLean helped attract interest and promote the intellectual, aesthetic, emotional and financial aspects of his manuscript through the enigmatic lyrics that cultivated ambiguity. Interesting content that relates to significant events or themes is fundamental to a manuscript’s valuation. On the other hand, an example of a work lacking interest, is an original manuscript by Joey Ramone for an unrecorded Ramones song, “Let’s Go Playmates.” It is currently offered for sale on Abebooks by Baltimore book dealer, Royal Books, Inc., and is described as a “messy gathering of ideas–some crossed through–rather than a finished song.” Written around 1978, it is posted on Abebooks for a mere $6,500.

Drafts in particular are viewed as one of the unclaimed wonders of the world. However, good content is the pivotal attribute and number one ingredient to high valuation. I wonder if it was Christie’s knowhow that pushed McLean beyond his infamous explanation that the “American Pie” song “means I don’t ever have to work again if I don’t want to” or the realization that the music did indeed live on.



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Graphic Novel Market Vision

by Admin on March 13, 2015

Batman by Walter Minus

Graphic novel sales are outpacing the overall book sales at comics’ stores, bookstores and online booksellers. This trend includes both graphic novels and book-format comic collections. The audience for this type of books has recently expanded to include more women and younger readers as a result of a generational shift powered by the acceptance of the format by teen readers. Surprisingly enough, e-book sales are noticeably excluded from the group, an indication that e-books may be being pirated.

As demand for graphic novels increases, more publishers and more established authors have targeted the market. A market traditionally skewed more toward young men, is now crowded with young women and female authors and publishers who produce stories featuring female protagonists. The Wall Street Journal reports that “In 2014, women represented 43% of the 151,000 attendees at the New York Comic Con. In Seatle’s Emerald City Comicon, women were the majority: 52% of exit-survey respondents identified themselves as female.” [1]

The growth of graphic novel collections in college libraries has also been impressive. Historically the academic field led the way in institutional buying for the comics’ genre. A large number of university libraries, the Library of Congress, the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art (MoCCA) in NYC, the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco and others, have built comprehensive collections of comics and other forms of cartoon art through donations and acquisitions.

Institutions are now using their tremendous purchasing power to acquire and build their graphic novel collections. Columbia University Libraries (CUL) has recently started acquiring historical collections, concentrating on titles that have won awards or otherwise received critical and/or scholarly notice-with a specific focus on the role of New York City. [2] Old prejudices die hardest at school libraries, and the trend should take time to reach serious traction.

Even though the term “graphic novel,” had been in use since the 1960s, it was little known until Will Eisner popularized it with A Contract with God (Baronet Press; 1978). With the critical acceptance of underground comics in the 1970s, Eisner saw a potential to market to an adult audience, and sell his work in bookstores rather than comic shops. The trade paperback of A Contract with God, printed the term “graphic novel”, on the cover though it consists of a collection of stories rather than a full novel.

Acclaimed graphic novels like Art Spiegelman’s Maus – A Survivor’s Tale, My Father Bleeds History (Book 1; Pantheon; 1986), and Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s Watchmen (DC Comics; 1987), were first released as a series in successful comics before collected and packaged in a graphic novel format. These works proved that graphic novels are capable of smart, emotionally resonant narratives worthy of the label ‘literature’.

Award-winning titles like Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis (2000), originally published as a graphic novel to wide critical acclaim in France, tells the story of life in Tehran during the time of overthrow of the Shah’s regime, the triumph of the Islamic Revolution, and the devastating effects of war with Iraq. More recently, Raina Telgemeier, author of Smile (Scholastic; 2010), had her award-winning memoir about her childhood dental accident, published in a graphic novel. These authors’ successes underscore the diversity of content as well as how much the audience for graphic novels has expanded over the last few years.

Two months after the attack on the French satirical weekly newspaper, Charlie Hebdo in Paris, buyers at the Bande Dessinée auction, achieved a record sale for comics with a total of €3,821,947 at the Sotheby’s Paris saleroom. The sale offered a superb indication of how well works of the “ninth art”, are received by collectors and investors. The continuing growth of the graphic novel medium in readership as well as in the quality of authorship, presents a turnkey point for collectors. The eminent growth of institutional buying due to the tremendous increase in circulation, suggests that this is a point in time between glut and scarcity; a tremendous buying opportunity. It is quite feasible to collect tomorrow’s high spots at reasonable prices today.

Will Eisner - A Contract with God Raina Telgemeier - Smile















[1] Maloney, Jennifer. “The New Wave of Graphic Novels,” The Wall Street Journal (Dec/ 31/2014)

[2]  “Graphic Novels Page”, Columbia University –


Raymond Carver Short Story Wins on the Big Screen

February 27, 2015
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Bibliophilia rejoice when the Academy Award winner chosen is a film adaptation of a favorite book. It is a very special year when the film that got the Best Picture award is due to receive an extra bonus of publicity and a boost in readership. 2014 is about to become a manifestation of that through the Oscar winning American […]

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Valentine, Caviare, and Bittersweet by Grant Richards

February 11, 2015
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So many people read romance novels these days that it is hard to accept the mediocre performance that the genre exhibited in our rare book index – Rare Book Sales Monitor, over the last year. This trend was recorded primarily through sales of modern romance editions that lag behind the corresponding romance classics. The most sought-after romantic novels […]

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Some Disordered Interior Geometries

January 23, 2015
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American photographer Francesca Woodman started making photographs when she was 13 years old and had a working span of eight and a half years before her death at the age of 22, in 1981. Her suicide came a few days after the release of the only artist’s book to get published during her lifetime – […]

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Rare Book Sale Monitor update – 4th Quarter 2014

January 9, 2015
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Investment experts engaged in discussions on the topic of making money in collectibles are quick to point out that investing in collectibles may not be a good idea. Their argument mainly focuses on the lack of liquidity and efficiency of the marketplace causing such investments to be highly speculative in nature. Rare Books Digest has […]

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Bible Scarcity Reaches the Civil War

December 20, 2014
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Collectors who buy and sell Bibles have pushed the pricing of older editions printed prior to the 1700’s in Europe, and prior to the 1800’s in North America, to unreachable levels for the majority of liturgical buyers. During the second half of the last century, institutional and private collectors have driven these editions of the […]

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Obelisk Scarcity

November 21, 2014
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A mix of censorship and bad novel-writing can provide the right ingredients in bringing about scarcity in rare books. That is exactly what the 1930’s, semi-underground literature publisher Jack Kahane created through his production at Obelisk Press. This is not to say that Obelisk published strictly smutty books since well known writers such as Henry […]

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Valuable Encyclopedias

November 7, 2014
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Stopping at a yard sale a few years back, I picked up a set of The Encyclopedia Britannica 11th edition, produced during the year 1910.  Fascinated by the idea of owning a cross section of the trunk of the tree of knowledge just prior to the First World War, when the publication was at a crossroads with […]

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Happy 75th Anniversary Madeline

October 23, 2014
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“In an old house in Paris that was covered in vines”…… For seventy-five years, Ludwig Bemelman’s iconic words have graced numerous playrooms and nurseries around the globe, as children of all walks in life have snuggled down to hear all about the young girl Madeline’s many adventures. What is extraordinary about Bemelman’s creation is that […]

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