Price of SaltThere is no doubt that 20th-century genre novels which inspire unforgettable film productions, are on collectors’ target lists. And there is no better group of novelists that continue to inspire an endless procession of films than the ones that include Stephen King, J.G. Ballard, Phillip K. Dick, Elmore Leonard, and of course, the ringer of American women crime writers, Patricia Highsmith. The fact that a number of her works were adapted into successful film productions, with A-list actors has helped make posterity’s cut with editions that are still in print, and first editions that are scarce and pricey.

Patricia Highsmith, who is primarily remembered for having written “The Talented Mr. Ripley” in 1955, and its four sequels: “Ripley under Ground” in 1970, “Ripley’s Game” in 1974, “The Boy Who Followed Ripley” in 1980 and “Ripley Under Water” in 1991, started her novel-adaptation career in 1951, with “Strangers on a Train.” Hitchcock directed the film which was based on Highsmith’s book with the same title, published a year before. The success story, however, remains with the books of the “Ripliad” saga, with the first three books in the series having been adapted into films five times:

In 1960, “The Talented Mr. Ripley” was adapted as the French film, Plein Soleil, (Purple Noon) , directed by René Clément and starring Alain Delon as Tom Ripley.  Then, in 1977, the German-language film Der Amerikanische Freund ,(The American Friend), based on “Ripley’s Game” and a fragment of “Ripley under Ground”, directed by Wim Wenders, with Dennis Hopper as Ripley.   Again in 1999, “The Talented Mr. Ripley”, was adapted as an American production, directed by Anthony Minghella, with Matt Damon as Ripley.  “Ripley’s Game”, was adapted in 2002, in an English-language Italian production, directed by Liliana Cavani ,with John Malkovich as Ripley. And finally, in 2005, “Ripley under Ground,” directed by Roger Spottiswoode, with Barry Pepper as Ripley.

Creating characters that are believable in a world of bruised romanticism, lies the enduring attraction that film noir thrives in. There is no better example than Highsmith’s 1952 second novel, “The Price of Salt”, published under the pseudonym Claire Morgan, and republished as “Carol”, in 1990, under her true name. The Oscar-nominated film adaption also titled Carol came in 2015, written by Phyllis Nagy and directed by Todd Haynes, and starred Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. Because Highsmith wove such intricate tales of abnormal psychology with terse and declarative language, her work lends itself easily to cinematic interpretation. In the 1954 novel,“The Blunderer” for example, the protagonist and tormentor are drawn against their wills into a co-dependent relationship; a condition known by therapists as folie à deux.

Successful film productions that are based on novels often have the effect of steering awareness towards the author’s work, despite a lack of readership immediately after publication. Unlike most women crime writers of the time, Highsmith was fortunate enough to gain exposure from Hitchcock’s production of her “Strangers on a Train,” right after the book got published by Harper & Brothers. Furthermore, a large number of films which were based on her books were produced in foreign languages, which helped boost international awareness of her work:  In 1963, “The Blunderer”, was adapted as the French-language film, Le Meurtrier; in 1977, “This Sweet Sickness”, was adapted as French-language film, Dites-lui que Je l’aime; in 1978, “ The Glass Cell” was adapted as German-language film, Die gläserne Zelle; in 1981, “Deep Water” was adapted as French-language film, Eaux profondes;  in 1983, “Edith’s Diary” was adapted as German-language film Ediths Tagebuch;  in 1986, “The Two Faces of January” was adapted as German-language film Die zwei Gesichter des Januars; in 1987, “The Cry of the Owl” was adapted as French-language film, Le Cri du Hibou; and,  in 1989, “The Story Teller” was adapted as German-language film Der Geschichtenerzähler.

Beyond film production, collector interest is also fueled by censorship. Highsmith’s only major work that does not contain actual murder, is the “The Price of Salt”,which was published by Coward-McCann in 1952, at a time when it was illegal to publish or distribute content about gay people. Originally published in small numbers, the novel sold more than a million copies after being released as a 25-cent Bantam paperback. For decades Highsmith publicly disavowed the book, though she agreed to a new edition in 1990, without the pseudonym.  The semi-autobiographical work, noted for many years as the first love story between two women with a happy ending, is the scarcest of all of her titles. Of the 20 copies held in US institutions, fewer than 15 are in special collections. GRIER p.111 1.

Highsmith’s rare book  track record provides the ideal exhibit of the influence that the factors of: film adaptation, censorship, and internationalization can exert on collectible book price appreciation.

Lesbian in Literature: A Bibliography (Paperback), Grier, Barbara. Naiad Pr; 3 Rev Sub edition (January 1981)



Rare Book Sale Monitor

Factsheet: Rare Books as an alternative investment:

  • Tangible assets, such as Rare Books, are by nature, illiquid.
  • Collectible books of interest have shown value appreciation over the years.
  • Many more collectible books of less interest have not appreciated or have declined in value.
  • Supply outstrips demand for all but the rarest books.
  • Tangible alternative investments have little if any correlation with stock market movements, offering a valuable diversification option.
  • Currently there are no investment funds, which invest in rare books and offer a high level of service and transparency.


In a nutshell, rare books, similar to any other type of investment can gain or lose considerable value and offer some diversification benefits, but have the disadvantage in that they cannot easily be converted into cash. Under normal circumstances, rare books change hands infrequently, with collectors predominantly setting a fair market value. Such conditions create large spreads between the seller’s asking price and the buyer’s offer price, and frequently vary considerably in comparable sale prices. Towards the end of the last century, the Internet has made book collecting more accessible, increased demand, and helped reduce the spread somewhat. However, it still remains an “imperfect market” primarily due to:

  1. The large spread between the buyer and the seller prices.
  2. Nonstandard reporting on the performance of rare books as an investment.

The Rare Book Sales Monitor (RBSM), is not by definition a rare book investment index. The RBSM is designed to capture trends in rare book sales on a quarterly basis by recording historic sales, learning and adjusting constantly in accordance to changes in supply. The two biggest challenges that the RBSM is confronted with are:

1. Availability of trades. A highly collectible rare book does reach a point when the number of its trades is reduced significantly and ultimately depleted.
2. Quantitative analysis of quality. No two rare books of the same title, which have the same author, publisher, year of publication, edition, imprint etc., are identical. The RBSM ranking mechanism compares near identical items after adjusting for the differences.

During the second quarter the RBSM’s comprehensive comparative engine has recorded the biggest jump for the genre of Art, Photography and Architecture during its existence. The demand for, and the value of rare editions with artistic content, particularly of collectible items from modern 20th Century artists containing original lithographs, has reached new highs. The ability to “drill down” on the performance of the specific genre in a granular way to review some of the details is quite a nice feature to have:

Art books

In the RBSM author breakdown we are implementing a change to the selection of the reporting. In particular, Harper Lee is being replaced by Aldous Huxley, who demonstrated an increase of interest while offering a wider selection of titles than Harper Lee for activity monitoring purposes. The last time an author was replaced in the configuration dates back to the 3rd quarter of 2012, when Jonathan Swift was replaced by Ian Fleming.

RBSM 2017-Q2 Genre

RBSM 2017-Q2 Author breakdown


The High Price of Baskett’s Mistake

June 8, 2017
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In 1709, John Baskett, purchased the exclusive, royal patent to print Bibles in England. His edition of the Bible is also his most important work and is described by Darlow/Moule as: “A magnificent edition, printed in large type. With many plates at the beginning and end of books, engraved on steel from the designs of […]

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I am a pre-1950 Pocket Book with Leo Manso cover art, paperback collector

May 17, 2017
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  During a recent visit to Provincetown MA, I had the opportunity to spend some time at the Julie Heller Gallery.  Provincetown’s rich heritage as an art colony was quite unexplored by me, up until I took this walk through the gallery’s walls filled end to end with striking treasures of artists who helped develop […]

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Rare Book Sale Monitor update – 1st Quarter, 2017

April 24, 2017
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Rare book sales in the first quarter of every year are usually kept in balance by a slow auction season start on one hand, with two major book fairs on the other. The California International Antiquarian Book Fair, which takes place in February, is the world’s largest, both in terms of attendance and dealer participation.  […]

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Interview with Laurent Ferri

March 21, 2017
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We recently had the opportunity to speak with Laurent Ferri, Curator of the pre-1800 Collections Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, at Cornell University. RBD: Within the scope of your definition of a book [“a closed/bound container of ideas and symbols which reflects and supports the intentions and worldview of its “author(s)”], what are some […]

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The First Dystopian Novel

February 27, 2017
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Before Ernest Cline’s “Ready Player One”, George Orwell’s “Ninteen Eighty-Four” and Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World”, there was Yevgeni Zamyatin’s “We”, the first dystopian novel ever written. The book is a satire on life in a collectivist futuristic state, “One State”, located in the middle of a wild jungle.  It is surrounded by a wall […]

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Rare Book Sale Monitor update – 4th Quarter, 2016

January 27, 2017
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  Last quarter’s coverage of the big rare book auctions, focused almost entirely on the new price record set by a first edition of Sir Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica, which has become the most expensive printed scientific book ever sold at auction after a winning bid of $3.7m (£3m), nearly two and a half times […]

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Pleased to Meet you, Hope you Guess my Name

January 10, 2017
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I was born in Mainz, Germany. I lived for the first month of my life in a printing plant before being brought to a merchant. I can remember very little about that time, for as soon as I left the plant I was securely stored away in a bookcase outside of town.  I was very […]

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The Ingredients of the Rarest Christmas Book

December 15, 2016
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At a local book trade show not more than three months ago, I had the opportunity to meet up with a few old friends and exchange some provocative conversations relating to my favorite topic – books.  The antiquarian book dealer in this particular conversation was delighted to bring up some quite interesting points on the […]

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