A treasure trove of rare, autographed books by William Faulkner, one of the great American novelists of the 20th century, is expected to fetch as much as $1-million (U.S.) when they go on auction later this month in New York, along with the Royal Canadian Air Force uniform he wore in 1918.
The Faulkner material, 88 items from a catalogue of 326 lots of Americana, is among the finest collection of Faulkneriana ever to come to market, according to Tom Lecky, head of Christie's books and manuscripts department.
Included are rare and signed first editions, copies of virtually ever major and minor work of fiction, as well poetry, correspondence, film scripts, photographs, a Halloween telegram to his daughter, his own transcription of his famous December, 1950, Nobel Prize acceptance speech, as well as the green wool air force uniform, with belt and cap.
Projected to bring a bid of $8,000-$12,000, the uniform is said to have been purchased by Faulkner in Toronto, where he trained. Although he never saw wartime action, his RCAF experiences did inform portions of his first novel, Soldier's Pay, published in 1926.
A rare first edition of the book, with what Christie's catalogue calls "the scarce pictorial dust jacket," is part of the collection, carrying an estimated bid price of $15,000-$20,000.
Faulkner is thought to have enlisted in the RCAF because the U.S. military declined his application, dismissing him as too short and too frail. Back home in Mississippi after the war ended, he was said to have significantly embellished his record, inventing tales of dogfights over Germany and other aerial feats of derring-do.
The entire Faulkner archive, Mr. Lecky said, was collected by a single, "particularly focused, keen-eyed" owner over a period of about 30 years.
The scarcity of the works included is such that he expects robust demand when the bidding begins in earnest on June 22.
The items will be auctioned off in roughly chronological order, beginning with a rare, autographed poem, An Old Man Says, on lined legal paper thought to be written when Faulkner was still in his teens - one of a series of 15 poems he presented to his great-aunt, Bama McLean, between 1916 and 1921.
The final item in the catalogue is Faulkner's 1954 Mississippi State Hunting and Fishing licence signed "Wm Faulkner." It records his address (Oxford, Mississippi), weight (150 pounds), height (5 foot, 6 inches) and age (56). His occupation was left blank.
"We see something new everyday," said Mr. Lecky, who first inspected the Faulkner collection with colleagues some months ago. "It was a great day because we just don't come across this kind of material very often."
The most expensive item on auction is the dedication copy of the first edition of his first collection of poetry, The Marble Faun (1924), which bears an estimated price of $80,000-$120,00. The inscription on the front free endpaper reads: "To Dad and Mother. Xmas 1924 William Faulkner," though he only dedicated the book to his mother on the printed dedication page, "To My Mother."
But many of the lots are priced at more affordable levels of less than $5,000, including some first editions. Generally, there were two kinds of first editions of his novels - a very limited edition of perhaps 300 "presentation" copies, and then the trade version.
One of the reasons for the level of excitement surrounding the collection, says Mr. Lecky, is that Faulkner, more than most authors, was very astute about the value of his signature and rather "stingy with it." The effect has been to make those signed copies of his books that much more valuable.
For example, a signed first edition of his 1929 novel Sartoris, inscribed to his childhood friend Edith Brown, whose father had taught the writer at university, is projected to fetch a bid of $25,000-$35,000. But a copy of the British first edition of the same novel, published in 1932, is priced at just $1,000-$1,500.