Rare Book Monthly

Articles - February - 2018 Issue

Marquis de Sade "National Treasure" Removed from French Sale by the State

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De Sade rolled manuscript (Aguttes' photo).

This would almost certainly have been the most expensive item sold at auction in the books and paper field last year had it been sold. It was not. This was not for want of a willing seller or buyer. It was because France is... France. With an estimate of €4-€6 million (euros, or about US $4.75-$7.15 million), that is about three to five times the highest price paid at auction for anything in the field last year. Some believe it might well have gone for more than the high estimate.

 

What happened? The French government stepped in and said "no sale." It has the right to do so when an item meets its criteria for being a "national treasure." And herein lies the difference between France and the United States. It is inconceivable that this item, even if made in America, would be labeled a "national treasure" by the American government, particularly the current one. It would more likely be called a national disgrace, a work of cheap pornography, something suitable for the obvious use of paper in rolls, as is this manuscript writing.

 

The manuscript is for the book 120 Days of Sodom, by the Marquis de Sade. If you have spent your life on another planet, and consequently never heard of the Marquis de Sade, just think of the word named for him – sadism. De Sade's novels are filled with sex, though many of his sexual fantasies go beyond what the average person thinks of as sex. Torture, animals, extreme orgies, brutal killings are among the words used to describe the episodes in this novel. I will accept these descriptions by others as I have not read the book myself (not that I would admit to it if I had). And while perhaps not every form of "sex" described is one de Sade participated in personally, undoubtedly many were written from such a vantage. De Sade was noted as an extreme libertine. If any one knew of these things, it was he.

 

Indeed, de Sade's lifestyle (and at times politics) resulted in his spending many years in prison. Many more were spent in insane asylums. Thirty-two of his 74 years were spent as guests of the French government, under the monarchy, Revolution, and Napoleonic era. Even such diverse governments as these were united in their opinion of where de Sade belonged.

 

As early as the 1760s, he was in jail at the behest of prostitutes who abhorred his behavior. He was back there is the 1780s, this time at the notorious Bastille, when he wrote this work in 1785. It was written on smuggled pages of paper, glued together to form a roll. He was released in 1789 with the Revolution, and with his far left views, was even elected to the National Assembly. However, he would end up back in prison during the Reign of Terror, freed when it ended, but again in jail and then an insane asylum under Napoleon. He was not appreciated as much by the French governments of his time as he is today.

 

Again referencing descriptions by others, 120 days is the tale of four aristocrats who determine to experience every sort of sexual perversion imaginable. Apparently, they succeeded in their goal. When de Sade was released from prison in 1789, the manuscript had to be left behind. De Sade was inconsolable, but fortunately (or not), it was later found and preserved. Say what you will about the Marquis, he played a major role in creating the more liberal attitude of the French toward sex, and such makes him an important person in the development of French culture and morés, even if the term "national treasure" sounds a bit odd for M. de Sade.

 

Returning to the auction, the manuscript was set to be part of the first of what is estimated to be 300 Astrophil sales. It was held December 20, 2017, in Paris by the auction house Aguttes. The Astrophil sale consists of some 130,000 items to be auctioned from the alleged massive Ponzi scheme fraud run by Gerard Lheritier. De Sade's manuscript was to be the highlight of the first sale, until the government stepped in. France has laws designed to prevent the removal of items considered important to the nation's cultural heritage, "national treasures" if you will, from the country. Items considered national treasures, more than 50 years old, and valued at more than €150,000, can be denied an export license. That starts a 30-month period in which the government or private French persons or institutions can raise the funds to buy the "treasure" at market value. If unsuccessful, then the item can be returned to the auction rooms for sale to the highest bidder.

 

De Sade's 120 Days was not the only item forced withdrawn from the sale. Four items by surrealist André Breton, with total estimates of €4.5 million - €5.5 million ($5.4 million - $6.6 million) were also withdrawn for the same reason. The highest price for an item sold at the Astrophil sale was €1.17 million for a manuscript by Honoré de Balzac, apparently not as much of a national treasure.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <center><b>Cowan’s Auctions<br>The Road West: The Steve Turner Collection of African Americana<br>February 20, 2020</b>
    <br>Cowan’s, Feb. 20:</b> Harriet Tubman Cabinet Card by H.S. Squyer, Auburn, NY, 1892. $10,000 to $15,000
    <br>Cowan’s, Feb. 20:</b> Scarce <i>Events of the Tulsa Disaster,</i> First Edition, 1922. $4,000 to $6,000
    <br>Cowan’s, Feb. 20:</b> Unpublished CDV of Frederick Douglass by Benjamin F. Smith, 1864. $3,000 to $5,000
    <center><b>Cowan’s Auctions<br>The Road West: The Steve Turner Collection of African Americana<br>February 20, 2020</b>
    <br>Cowan’s, Feb. 20:</b> California Imprint of <i>President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation</i> Broadside, 1864. $10,000 to $15,000
    <br>Cowan’s, Feb. 20:</b> John C.H. Grabill Cabinet Card of Buffalo Soldier Wearing Buffalo Coat, ca 1886. $8,000 to $10,000
    <br>Cowan’s, Feb. 20:</b> Rare <i>What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Old Southern Cooking,</i> 2nd Cookbook Published by African American. $6,000 to $8,000
    <center><b>Cowan’s Auctions<br>The Road West: The Steve Turner Collection of African Americana<br>February 20, 2020</b>
    <br>Cowan’s, Feb. 20:</b> Frederick Douglass Walking Stick, 1888. $3,000 to $5,000
    <br>Cowan’s, Feb. 20:</b> Only Known Slave Narrative Published Independently in California, <i>Life and Adventures of James Williams.</i> $2,000 to $4,000
    <br>Cowan’s, Feb. 20:</b> Rare First Edition of History of Black Literature, Abbé Grégoire <i>De La Littérature des Nègres</i>. $2,500 to $3,000
    <center><b>Cowan’s Auctions<br>The Road West: The Steve Turner Collection of African Americana<br>February 20, 2020</b>
    <br>Cowan’s, Feb. 20:</b> African American Soldier and Medal of Honor Winner Christian A. Fleetwood CDV, PLUS. $8,000 to $10,000
    <br>Cowan’s, Feb. 20:</b> Jack Johnson vs. Jim Jeffries Pennant, 1910 Reno, Nevada. $2,000 to $4,000
    <br>Cowan’s, Feb. 20:</b> Joe Gans Photograph at 1906 Goldfield, Nevada Fight by Percy Dana. $600 to $800
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Francis Scott Key, <i>Star Spangled Banner,</i> first printing, c. 1814-16. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> William Sydney Porter, a.k.a. “O. Henry,” archive of drawings made to illustrate a lost mining memoir, c. 1883-84. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> [Bay Psalm Book], printed for Hezekiah Usher of Boston, Cambridge, c. 1648-65. $50,000 to $75,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Book of Mormon, first edition, Palmyra, 1830. $40,000 to $60,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> <i>Noticia estraordinario,</i> probable first announcement in Mexico City of the fall of the Alamo, 1836. $40,000 to $60,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Patrick Gass, first edition of earliest first-hand account of the Lewis and Clarke expedition, Pittsburgh, 1807. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Diploma from the Princeton Class of 1783, commencement attended by Washington & Continental Congress. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> <i>Sprague Light Cavalry!</i> color-printed broadside, NY, 1863. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> <i>The Lincoln & Johnson Union Campaign Songster,</i> Philadelphia, 1864. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Lucy Parsons, labor organizer, albumen cabinet card, New York, 1886. $800 to $1,200.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Daniel L.F. Swift, journal as third mate on a Pacific Whaling voyage, 1848-1850. $3,000 to $4,0000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Two photos of Thomas Moran, Grand Canyon, silver prints, 1901. $1,500 to $2,500.
  • <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Helvelius. Two Autograph Letters Signed to Francis Aston, Royal Society Secretary, noting his feud with Robert Hooke, 5 pp total, 1685. $70,000 to $100,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Newton, Isaac. Autograph manuscript on God, 4 pp, c.1710, "In the beginning was the Word...."?$100,000 to $150,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. First edition, first issue. Untrimmed copy in contemporary boards. $30,000 to $50,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Lincoln, Abraham. Signed photograph, beardless portrait with Civil War provenance. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> IMPEACHMENT. Original engrossed copy of the first Andrew Johnson impeachment resolution vote. $120,000 to $180,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Mucha, Alphonse. 11 original pencil drawings for?<i>Andelicek z Baroku,</i> "Litte Baroque Angel," Prague, 1929. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Einstein, Albert. Annotated Galley Proofs for <i>The Meaning of Relativity.</i> 1921. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Silverstein, Shel. Original maquette for <i>The Giving Tree,</i> 34 original drawings. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Roth, Philip. Typed Manuscript with substantial autograph corrections for an unpublished sequel to <i>The Breast.</i> $10,000 to $15,000.
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    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> Walt WHITMAN. <i>Leaves of Grass.</i> Brooklyn, New York, 1856. Second edition gathering 32 poems. Est. 3 000 / 4 000 €
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    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> David Herbert LAWRENCE. <i>Lady Chatterley's Lover.</i> Florence, 1928. Privately printed first edition. Est. 4 000 / 5 000 €
    John STEINBECK. <i>The Grapes of Wrath.</i> New York, 1939. First edition. Nice copy with $2.75 on the cover. Est. 1 000 / 1 200 €

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