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Mark Twain's Unpublished Manuscript, 'A Family Sketch', Sets Auction Record
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. Literary Portrait and autograph manuscript of the final four sentences of The Great Gatsby, late 1920’s. Estimate: $25,000 - 35,000. Sold for: $98,500 (£67,162).
NEW YORK, NY.- Today at Sotheby’s New York, the second offering of rare books and manuscripts from The James S. Copley Library achieved a total of $2,783,347, bringing the total for the first four auctions of the Library to $7,146,231. The Mark Twain Collection totaled $936,012 and was led by Samuel Langhorne Clemens’ unpublished autobiographical manuscript A Family Sketch, which achieved $242,500, a world auction record for an autograph manuscript by Twain** (est. $120/160,000*). The James S. Copley Library: Arts & Sciences Including the Mark Twain Collection brought $2,210,847(est. $2.2/3.3 million) and was 87% sold by value and 78% sold by lot. A single-lot sale of The James S. Copley Library: A July 1776 Broadside Printing of the Declaration of Independence brought $572,500 (est. $600/800,000).

Encompassing almost two hundred original letters, manuscripts and photographs, The Mark Twain Collection shed light on the wit, pathos, and tragedy of the acclaimed author of the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Samuel Langhorne Clemens. The top lot of the collection was Clemens’ unpublished manuscript, “A Family Sketch,” his most intimate and introspective memoir of his family and his own boyhood days and the missing chapter of his autobiography. The manuscript sold to a member of the trade bidding in the saleroom for $242,500 after competition from at least four collectors, setting a world auction record for an autograph manuscript by Mark Twain at auction (est. $120/160,000*). Clemens’ notion of autobiography took a discursive approach, with his recollections of his youth, sketches of people he had met, and essays on various subjects cobbled together in rambling fashion. What initially began as a tribute to his late – and undisputed favorite – daughter Susy thus devolved into a narrative that encompasses the whole of this family and friends as well as glimpses of incidents of his own childhood.

Other highlights from today’s offering included an autograph transcription of the final two paragraphs from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, including the iconic concluding sentence, ‘So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past,’ which sold for $98,500, far exceeding presale expectations of $25/35,000; a collection of autograph manuscript books by Charles Cramer detailing his travels in Europe and the United States, which brought $52,500 (est. $15/25,000); and twenty-six bars of George Gershwin’s song, “Clap Yo’ Hands”, dated November 1926, which exceeded the high estimate and sold for $28,750 (est. $8/12,000). Other highlights of The Mark Twain Collection included the Clemens’ autograph manuscript of Chapter 8 from The Gilded Age, which achieved $68,500 (est. $30/50,000) and an original manuscript chapter from A Tramp Abroad, which sold for $59,375 (est. $30/50,000).

Also from the James S. Copley Library, A Broadside Printing of the Declaration of Independence, presumably Salem, ca. 16 July 1776, was sold in a single-lot sale and brought $572,500 (est. $600/800,000).

*estimates do not include buyer’s premium

**The previous record was set by Sotheby’s New York on June 18, 1987, when lot 27, the autograph manuscript story, ‘The $30,000 Bequest’, 1903, sold for $110,000.

Sotheby's | Mark Twain | New York |




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