Hemingway market consistently strong

by Robert Reed

More than half a century after his death, the works and related memorabilia of novelist Ernest Hemingway remain highly collectible.

Hemingway of course wrote many different books during the 20th century. As his literary reputation grew in acclaim, more of his books were printed and distributed in various editions.

Consequently, more Hemingway volumes were saved and preserved as the decades went by. It is not surprising then that the earlier works are usually more valuable on the collector’s market. However, in addition to the books themselves, there are vintage magazines which bore his articles and short stories, advertisements for his books, and even descriptive postcards.

Books by Hemingway can turn up in major auction houses, but they can also turn up in yard sales and thrift shops.

In the book, More of Modern Book Collecting author Robert Wilson relates the story about cartons of books that were being stored in the basement of an apartment building. After they were abandoned the building superintendent took the contents to a thrift shop.

“There they remained all one summer,” notes Wilson, “occasionally thumbed through by apparently ignorant browsers, until my scout finally saw them. There were approximately 100 books from the 1930s, all in superb condition, in their dust jackets. All had long generous inscriptions from authors, who ranged from Clarence Darrow to Ernest Hemingway. And in one of the Hemingway volumes was the rough draft manuscript of a chapter of a book.”

Such an anecdote undoubtedly feeds the imaginations and aspirations of book collectors the world over.

Ernest Miller Hemingway was born July 21, 1899 at Oak Park, Illinois. After an uneventful childhood he took a newspaper job at age 17 at the Kansas City Star. In later years he would comment that editors at The Star instilled in him the ability to write in a clipped and concise style, which characterized most of his later literary accomplishments.

At the onset of World War I young Hemingway became a part of a volunteer ambulance crew working for the Italian army. After being wounded and decorated for his military service he returned to the United States and resumed his newspaper career. That career, ironically, returned him to combat zones in Europe.

July 21 is the 113th anniversary of Ernest Hemingway’s birth. Shown here are three of the most collectible of Hemingway’s novels published by Charles Scribner’s Sons: For Whom the Bell Tolls, Green Hills of Africa, To Have and Have Not. A limited edition of God Rest You Merry Gentlemen published by House of Books, LTD. (Photos courtesy Robert Reed)

It was during the 1920s that his experiences in foreign countries began to show up in his fictional works. The Sun Also Rises was first written in 1926. He followed it with the equally successful A Farewell to Arms in 1929, which centered around an American ambulance officer’s frustration with war and his eventual desertion.

Even in the late 1920s there were various editions of each book, and even British editions of A Farewell to Arms. Moreover there was eventually a short-lived stage play based on the book.

Regarding the play, Wilson explains, “It lasted fewer than ten performances, automatically making a program for it very rare and consequently high-priced.”

The prolific Hemingway also wrote short stories as well. In 1925 a volume titled The Contact Collection of Contemporary Writers was published in Paris. It included the works of writers who were then making names for themselves, including James Joyce, William Carlos Williams, Gertrude Stein and Hemingway.

According to Wilson each of the authors only contributed a few pages and did not work with the others on any of the contents. It makes the point however that Hemingway’s writings can sometimes be found in relatively obscure locations and publications.

During the Great Depression years of the 1930s Hemingway was writing and selling a number of novels, which in turn appeared in various editions. Death in the Afternoon was first published in 1932. House of Books published a limited edition of God Rest You Merry Gentlemen by Hemingway in 1933. The Green Hills of Africa was first published in 1935, and the first edition of To Have and Have Not appeared in 1937.


Determining a first edition Hemingway book

How do you know if the Hemingway book you want to purchase is a first edition or a later one? The following is from Rick Allen, a writer for a rare books web site:

“Scribner’s employed various methods of defining first editions. Early in 1929 the dates on the title and copyright pages had to be identical with no indication of later printings on the copyright page. Later that year the letter “A” was placed on the copyright page to indicate a first printing. It was later removed or replaced with subsequent letters of the alphabet, usually in the form:

A-3.64 [H] where A represents the edition (A=1st, B=2nd, etc.) 3.64 is the date it was published (e.g., March, 1964) [H] indicates [H]ardcover or [P]aperback.

This system was discontinued in 1973 and replaced by a series of descending numbers, the smallest being the edition:

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2

The above example would indicate the 2nd edition because it ends with 2.

One of Hemingway’s most popular books, For Whom The Bell Tolls, based in part on the author’s experiences in the Spanish Civil War, was published in 1940. Three years later it appeared in a special edition of 75,000 copies. It was an immediate favorite of collectors during World War II.

Success followed success and in 1952 Hemingway’s The Old Man and The Sea became a bestseller. However the novel of an aging fisherman’s long and lonely journey appeared first in complete form in a single issue of Life magazine, one of the largest circulating magazines at the time. However, other smaller magazines also carried his works from time to time over the years including one known simply as Transition.

Hemingway was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1953. The following year he won the Nobel Prize for Literature. By then he was a full-blown celebrity and his activities were duly recorded in newspapers and news magazines. A number of postcards were published over the years including those of him fishing in various locations and of his birthplace in Illinois.

During the late 1950s Hemingway moved from a rather adventurous life in Cuba to Ketchum, Idaho. During the course of his life the famed author was married four times and when he died in 1961 he left a widow, Mary Welsh Hemingway.

So is Ernest Hemingway stock a sound investment? According to Mark Allen Baker, an authority on autograph collecting, indeed it is: “To be honest I’m astonished at the market for Hemingway-related material. I spent many years collecting first edition books and prices for Hemingway material are going through the roof. You can’t find pre-1940 material. I’m not shocked so much at the prices as I am the unavailability of earlier editions prior to 1940.”

Midwest book dealers count Hemingway as gold

by Leigh Elmore

Even though rare book dealer Lloyd Zimmer doesn’t specialize in mid-20th century fiction in his Topeka shop, Lloyd Zimmer Rare Books and Maps, “I will always acquire one of his books whenever I run across one, because I know there’s a market for it out there, even if it isn’t the most rare edition or title. Hemingway always sells well,” Zimmer said.

And boy do they. First editions in relatively good condition can easily bring prices in five figures. A quick check of various on-line rare book dealers shows an amazing range of prices and indicates strong collectability for editions beyond the first. And if you are interested in getting into the market, there are Hemingway books that are surprisingly affordable.

For example, a first edition copy of Across the River and into the Trees, published in 1950 by Charles Scribner’s is priced at $50,000 on the AbeBooks.com Website. It is a special edition, one of 25 copies bound for presentation. It is signed and inscribed by Hemingway three weeks prior to publication: “For Ben Meyer / from his friend / Ernest Hemingway. / Havana 21/8/50”. It comes with the original letter and envelope, from Mary Hemingway to Ben Meyer, on Finca Vigia San Francisco de Paula Cuba stationery. Other popular Hemingway titles, all inscribed by the author, and all first editions range in price from $18,000 to $27,000 at AbeBooks.

Conversely, Abound Book Company, an online bookstore (aboundbookcompany.com) operated in Overland Park, KS by owner Michael Wildman, lists many later editions for very affordable prices in the $20 to $50 range. Wildman does list a second edition In Our Time, an early collection of stories (1930, Scribner’s) at $1,900. “It was Hemingway’s first collection of stories, published first by Boni and Liveright in 1925. Scribner’s bought the rights and came out with its edition in 1930,” Wildman says. “The original, unsophisticated first issue jacket retains the original $2.50 price. Very good jacket has overall age tone with a bit more on spine.”

“I used to have a lot more Hemingway titles listed on our site, but they are hard to keep in stock,” Wildman said. “When you consider trends in the rare book business, Hemingway is like a blue chip stock; over the years it will always be trending up in value.”

Wildman notes that the Hemingway market is prone to seasonal spikes, especially at Christmas, and whenever the media might pick up on a Hemingway story. He said the Woody Allen movie, “Midnight in Paris,” caused sales of A Moveable Feast to shoot up, since the film is based on that book. Also, the current HBO drama, “Hemingway and Gelhorn,” based on the romance and marriage between the author and Martha Gelhorn, who actually inspired him to write For Whom the Bell Tolls, has aroused new interest in that particular title, Wildman said.

Interest in Hemingway spans economic classes, Wildman said, while interest in an author such as F. Scott Fitzgerald tends to center on people interested in people with money. “Hemingway fans tend to be all over the place economically, while those interested in his contemporary, Fitzgerald, tend to me more aspirationally affluent or have old money themselves,” Wildman said.

“I think other reasons that he appeals to such a broad audience is that he led such a colorful life. People are just into the romance of the man; his exploits in World War I, his adventures in Africa, his associations with women, his overall machismo just holds a lot of people in awe,” Wildman said.

So what if you run across a first edition Hemingway selling for $25,000? “It’s absolutely worth it and people will pay for it, even in the sluggish market we’ve all experienced over the last few years,” Wildman said

“Obviously, as Hemingway’s career blossomed and he became internationally famous his publisher, Charles Scribner’s, printed thousands and thousand of his books. So the earlier titles retain more value for collectors and the prices reflect that,” Zimmer said. Yet, simply because of that popularity there are still opportunities to come across a collectible title that has been stored away in a family’s home for decades, just waiting for a collector to stumble upon it at a flea market. It still happens.