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How to sell a rare and possibly valuable manuscript?
December 8, 2009 11:08 PM   Subscribe

I have come into possession of a handwritten manuscript by Cecil Day-Lewis, noted British author and poet (and father of Daniel Day Lewis). I have been asked to determine the value of the manuscript, and sell it. It was inherited by a family friend, who wants rid of it. Aside from contacting rare book people (which I have done/am still doing) do any mefites have ideas on how to get the most for it??

The manuscript is handwritten, in amazing condition, and appears to be complete. It is apparently the manuscript to his young adult novel titled The Otterbury Incident, which was published in 1948. I myself am the progeny of a noted literary talent, and can not help but think that if I were Daniel Day-Lewis, I might be interested in the thing myself. Is that an insane idea? Is it even more insane to attempt to contact DDL about all of this? And, if one were to attempt to contact someone in his position, how would it be done? Will I come off as a horrible, leeching vampire if I do that?
posted by broadway bill to Media & Arts (8 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
And, if one were to attempt to contact someone in his position, how would it be done?

His agent would seem like the logical person.

Will I come off as a horrible, leeching vampire if I do that?

Not necessarily - certainly giving him the option to put in a first offer for a reasonable (neutral assessor's) price wouldn't look all "horrible vampire" to most people.
posted by rodgerd at 11:55 PM on December 8, 2009


Before I read your more-inside I thought that offering Daniel Day-Lewis the opportunity first would be the decent and considerate thing to do, before offering it for general sale. So yes, what rodgerd said.
posted by Lou Stuells at 2:22 AM on December 9, 2009


You may want to check and see if his papers have been donated to a university library. There may be Cecil Day Lewis collection somewhere.
posted by dortmunder at 4:20 AM on December 9, 2009


Before I read your more-inside I thought that offering Daniel Day-Lewis the opportunity first would be the decent and considerate thing to do, before offering it for general sale.
I think it would seem more decent and considerate if you offered it to all of Day-Lewis's children, rather than just the really famous one, though. I know Daniel Day-Lewis has a sister, and I think there might be half-siblings as well.
posted by craichead at 6:00 AM on December 9, 2009


When you say rare book people, I assume you are including the auction houses. Consider also Swann Gallery in your search.

Also, you are aware that University of Texas is one of the big guns for this sort of thing? Not that they would be necessarily the best price, but they have been voracious.
posted by IndigoJones at 7:25 AM on December 9, 2009


Rare book people will sometimes give you lowball offers - they have a lot of overhead. I've known people to have great success by hiring someone to sell it on ebay (hiring someone because if you're selling for lots of money, a feedback rating in the high thousands helps people feel safe).

This is obviously a bit more of a gamble. And it certainly doesn't take into account offering the book to the family.
posted by contrarian at 12:45 PM on December 9, 2009


My understanding (and I may be wrong here) is that the majority of CD-L's papers are still in the possession of the family. Some are held by Sean Day-Lewis, CD-L's son by his first marriage; others belonged to CD-L's second wife, Jill Balcon, who died a few months ago. Peter Stanford, who published a biography of CD-L in 2007, described Jill Balcon's archive as 'a treasure-trove of documents about 20th-century literary life'. I don't know what will happen to those papers now, though I can think of several libraries which would certainly be interested in buying them if they came on the market. It's quite possible that the family may want to hold onto them for the time being.

Two things to bear in mind. First: your friend will need to demonstrate a clear title to the manuscript. Just saying 'I inherited it' won't be enough; there needs to be a clearly documented provenance. Without this, most libraries won't even consider the item for purchase -- so this could make a considerable difference to the market value. Secondly: I don't know where the manuscript is located, but if it's in the UK, your friend will need an export licence to take it out of the country, as it's over fifty years old. Applying for an export licence can be a bureaucratic hassle and is probably best handled by a professional dealer or auction-house.

If you'd like more advice, drop me an e-mail.
posted by verstegan at 3:17 PM on December 9, 2009


Rare book people will sometimes give you lowball offers - they have a lot of overhead.

I don't get this point. "Rare book people" will always pay out less than what they think they can get for it on the market themselves. That's the business they're in, no? So, selling something like this directly (at auction, probably) is almost certainly the best way to go if you have the energy to handle it directly. If not, keep nosing around rare book dealers and auction houses until you find one that asks a percentage you're happy with.

offering Daniel Day-Lewis the opportunity first would be the decent and considerate thing to do

Huh? First, a scholarly library would almost certainly be a better spot for it. Second, I'm not sure where any moral claim to the manuscript by the descendants would come from. But third and most important, if your family friend is asking you to "determine the value of X and sell it," then offering the manuscript to the original owner's family at less than what your friend could get for it at auction can hardly be called the most morally responsible move. For sure, alerting the family to any auction is the decent and considerate thing to do. But any more than that and you're being unfair to your family friend.
posted by mediareport at 8:35 AM on December 13, 2009


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