The incredibly rare and desirable dust jacket to the first edition, first printing of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, has definitely seen some better times in the past. Specifically, a copy that sold at a Bonham’s auction in New York on June 10, 2009, for $182,000. Last October 20th, 2011 however, the celebrated art in twentieth-century American literature remained unsold at a Sotheby’s auction event in New York. The event tagged “Library of an English Bibliophile Sale Part II” attempted to sell the widely disseminated jacket at an estimated price of between $150,000 and $180,000. The only potential drawback – the front flap was price clipped.
The dust jacket for The Great Gatsby carried a depiction of a woman’s face (Daisy’s) brooding over an amusement park at night. The pictorial dust jacket after Francis Cugat design of a gouache painting, which came to be known as Celestial Eyes, has been deemed the most eloquent in American literary history. The artwork had an effect on Fitzgerald’s literary masterpiece, as revealed in the editor-author correspondence between Maxwell Perkins and Scott Fitzgerald containing several references to the Gatsby jacket art. Fitzgerald wrote to his publisher sometime in August 1924 from France: “For Christ’s sake don’t give anyone that jacket you’re saving for me. I’ve written it into the book.” Exactly what Fitzgerald found inspiring from Cugat’s art which he then wrote into the novel is an open question. On the other hand, no other books wrapped in Cugat’s art have so far been identified.
Since I am sure I will not be able to afford my own copy of this rare treasure any time soon, I have decided to do the next best thing – review what the market has available for sale. Focusing strictly on first editions, first printings, first/second states, I have found that there are three distinct groups:
- No jacket $7,000-$10,000 .
- With second state jacket (first printing had an error on the rear panel of the jacket; it has a lower case “j” in Gatsby’s name in line 14. With the second printing of the jacket the “J” is in the correct upper case). The second state jacket was ink-corrected by hand by the publisher. Apparently no copies of the first state, i.e. uncorrected are available. $150,000-$200,000 .
- With second state jacket and also signed or inscribed by the author. $250,000-$750,000. A few copies in this group contain inscriptions that are considered association copies, because they relate the author to a particular event or personality.
The variance in pricing within the groups 2 or 3 is for the most part attributed to the condition of the dust jacket. Unfortunately or fortunately depending on which way one chooses to look at it, the wrapper was left by the publisher a little taller than the book itself. As a result the jacket was more prone to edge wear and tears and the small number of examples that do survive have wear of some description at the edges. It is apparent from the book dealer offerings at this level of pricing that a badly enough damaged wrapper can potentially boost its value by undergoing professional repair. Here are a couple of examples along with their descriptions:
<– Slightly chipped, first printing dust wrapper with a little professional judicious repair. The folds have been internally strengthened, the chips have been stabilized, and several tears repaired, with retouching to the creases and rubbing
This original dust jacket has some chipping to the edges and –> light wear to the panels. Otherwise, an extraordinary rare dust jacket that is still rich in color and has the $2.00 price present.
Next week we will examine some of the dust jacket abuses that the trade of rare books is accused of. In the meantime, why not drop us a line and let us know what your preferences are: chipped and torn, or professional repair.