From Fleming with Love: signed James Bond books live another day
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
For all his swagger while outsmarting villains, Bond’s all-action, brand-dazzling momentum has been temporarily stopped in its tracks by a truly cunning and stealthy adversary. But while Covid may have delayed the next instalment of the mega-budget franchise yet again, nearly two years after its original release date (it’s now scheduled for October 2021), some mega fans have been turning to a more vintage-style 007 – the one first created by British novelist Ian Fleming.
Unsurprisingly, first editions of the spy thrillers written by Fleming are highly sought after. But quite how much raises the pulse. When London bookseller Peter Harrington offered a full set of 81 books all inscribed by the author, it came with a price tag of £2.5m. Of all the books, it is the first, Casino Royale, that is rarest – printed in 1953 in an initial run of 4,728 copies. Peter Harrington has sold this book singularly four times in the past two decades, its price rising from £22,000 in 2002 to £50,000 in 2013. In 2019, a first edition set a world record at Edinburgh auction house Lyon & Turnbull, when it was hammered down for £55,000 by an anonymous telephone bidder. Last November, Fleming’s books and manuscripts were the subject of a dedicated online Sotheby’s sale, which included a copy of Live and Let Die inscribed to Winston Churchill that sold for £189,000.
“Along with Sherlock Holmes and Harry Potter, Bond is one of the best-known characters from 20th-century literature,” says John Atkinson, a rare-book dealer based in Harrogate, who is currently offering a collection of 15 signed first-edition books for £475,000. “The books are just very popular and probably always will be, given the success of the films.”
The star of the set is a copy of Casino Royale with a particularly “warm” inscription to Fleming’s lover Lisl Popper, who he met in Kitzbühel when he was 19: “Despite whose loving care this book was written”. “The collection gives you an insight into Fleming’s lifestyle,” adds Atkinson, also highlighting the copy of Goldfinger, signed and inscribed to Fleming’s friend, the champion golfer Henry Cotton. “The Spy Who Loved Me has a good inscription too, to writer William Plomer, who was instrumental in setting Fleming’s career off.”
Other titles include Live and Let Die, Moonraker, From Russia With Love, You Only Live Twice and Octopussy – the latter signed by actors Roger Moore, Maryam d’Abo and Maud Adams. The original cover illustrations all add to the appeal. “These books are like works of art,” concludes Atkinson, whose final addition to the group is a book not by Fleming, but by “the real James Bond” – an American ornithologist whose name Fleming borrowed for his infamous secret agent.
John Atkinson Fine & Rare Books, 5 Royal Parade, Harrogate HG1 2SZ (johnatkinsonbooks.co.uk)