Rediscovered: Zobeck Zips Up the Watts Auction

Terry Zobeck kept an eye on the huge auction of books from the library of Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts. He even tossed in a bid himself, getting in on the action.

With prices paid and the gavel now quiet, Terry sums up the highlights of the crime scene bidding for anyone gumshoeing into These Mean Streets:

The auction of Charlie Watts’ rare books realized a whopping $4.7 million, including a 26% buyer’s premium.

Two of the books set world records. Charlie’s inscribed copy of The Hound of the Baskervilles went for $261,000, the highest price paid for any book by Doyle. His copy of Agatha Christie’s Thirteen Problems, the first to feature Miss Marple, brought $73,750, smashing the previous record for a Christie book by more than $15,000.

The auction had several Hammett items. The one that originally caught my eye was the corrected typescript for the story “The Hunter.”

Initially offered in the first part of the sale on September 27 and 28, focused on the premium items, it did not sell at that time and was moved over to the online sale that ended on the 29th.

The typescript sold for only $2,900 — I should have bid on it, but I had my eye on a multi-item lot on the 29th that included three extremely rare books by Hammond Innes. That lot ended up selling for more than three times my high bid. Oh well.

Charlie owned all five of Hammett’s novels, in dust jacket. His copy of The Maltese Falcon came with a price-clipped jacket with only a few chips. It went under the hammer for $37,780.

His signed copy of The Thin Man fetched $21,500, while Red Harvest, with some significant restoration to the jacket, sold for about $20,000. The Dain Curse and The Glass Key did not sell initially and so were moved to the online sale the next day, where they sold for $20,000 and $2,600, respectively.

He also owned a second copy of Red Harvest, which lacked the dust jacket, but with a nice inscription from Hammett. This copy went for $20,000. If I were Charlie, I would have married this copy to the dust jacket from the other copy. I know this practice is objectionable to purist collectors, but the hell with them. (In fact, the Christie’s description of Charlie’s copy of The Thin Man suggests the jacket may have been “supplied.”)

Charlie also owned all seven of Raymond Chandler’s novels, including an inscribed UK copy of his final novel, Playback. Signed to his agent and fiancé, Helga Green, to whom the novel is dedicated, it went for $38,400!

He also owned a copy of Chandler’s story collection, The Simple Art of Murder, inscribed to Chandler’s agent, Ray Stark. That book realized a price of $30,700.

Of most interest to me, however, was the set of all eleven issues of Black Mask with Chandler’s stories. The set sold for just under $20,000. (It’s odd that Charlie didn’t have a set of Chandler’s appearances in Dime Detective. I’ve always considered those stories superior to those from Black Mask.)

Charlie Watts was one of the finest rock ‘n’ roll drummers of all time. He also had excellent taste in books. I’m certain he would be pleased to see that his library brought in a tidy sum for his family and ended up in the hands of happy collectors — many of them hardboiled — throughout the world.

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