If you thought paying $13.57 for “Lolita” on Amazon for your Lit and Arts core was pricey, think again. The Lame Duck Bookstore, specializing in rare books and manuscripts, recently sold a first edition copy of Vladimir Nabokov’s provocative masterpiece to a bookseller in London for $50,000.
The book is inscribed with an illustration of a butterfly and is addressed to George Hessen, Nabokov’s closest friend. “It was common for Nabokov to draw butterflies in inscribed copies of his books for those close to him,” said Nabokov scholar Professor Leland de la Durantaye, the Gardner Cowles Associate Professor of English.
John W. Wronoski, the owner of Lame Duck, acquired the book from a Soviet emigrate as part of a larger collection of pieces inscribed by Nabokov. “I must have offered to buy the collection 600 times before he sold it to me,” said Wronoski.
“The price it sold for wasn’t even that high,” he said. “It was in poor condition—the spine was broken and there was a tear along the front hinge.” In fact, the other first edition copy of “Lolita” that Wronoski sold, which was in better condition, was priced at $65,000.
The rare book business is notably complex and clandestine, with a personal flair. “I knew who I thought was the best person to sell the piece to, so I offered it to them,” said Wronoski, referring to the recent transaction.
The bookstore features various valuable first edition books, as well as a more affordable selection of used books. Booksellers don’t always sell to the highest bidder, but it’s worth a shot: if you’re a Houghton habitué, make sure you bring along your Black Card.