A portion of the private library of dedicated mystery fiction collector Otto Penzler, including first editions from Graham Greene, Eric Ambler and John Le Carré, to be sold at auction
From a $30,000 first edition of Casino Royale to an archive of correspondence from its author Ian Fleming, a vintage trove of British spy novels is being put up for auction by mystery fiction supremo Otto Penzler.
Penzler – publisher, author and owner of The Mysterious Bookshop in New York – has amassed a considerable private library over the last 40 years, and yesterday announced that he would be putting a portion of his collection up for auction in New York.
Highlights of Penzler’s British espionage and thriller fiction auction at the Swann Galleries on 8 April will include the 1953 edition of Casino Royale, which has a guide prize of $20,000 to $30,000, a rare first edition of Eric Ambler’s 1938 novel Cause for Alarm, signed to Penzler, as well as first editions from Graham Greene, Dennis Wheatley (inscribed to a fan, “this is really good”) and John Le Carré.
Writing in the introduction to the auction house’s catalogue, Penzler described himself as “the quintessential impecunious collector”, earning $42 a week — $37 after taxes — when he started. After opening The Mysterious Bookshop in 1979, he’d divide every collection he bought into two piles, one for his shop and one for his private library.
“Because my bookshop was in Manhattan, most authors sooner or later found themselves visiting, where I distinguished myself as an enormous irritant by asking them to inscribe my books,” he said. Initially built to hold 9,000 volumes “just in case”, Penzler built his shelves two rows deep “and they rapidly filled”. The collection, which also includes “an equally extensive” range of American espionage fiction, now numbers around 60,000 volumes.
Penzler said that although the books have now “overtaken the space created for them”, and it “seems time to let them go”, he is nonetheless “already [having] terrible separation anxiety”. “To see gaps on the shelves that held my first editions of Ambler, Greene and Fleming is wrenching, but no more so (eccentric as it may be) than the loss of the incredibly scarce early titles by [early 20th century authors] Le Queux, Oppenheim, Orczy [and] McNeile,” he said. “British spy novels are among the greatest of all works in the mystery genre.”