Cormac McCarthy's First Edition Price Analysis

In a discussion with a fellow McCarthy collector, I was reminded that it might be useful to add a write-up on dealt prices of McCarthy's first editions. So here are some of the realized prices, including 25% hammer premium, from the recently concluded Sep 2017 Heritage Auction session for rare books.

  • USD 2,125: A NF copy of Suttree with bookplate signed by McCarthy laid-in. Publisher's black cloth backstrip over yellow boards, front board and spine lettered in gilt, dust jacket. Jacket spine a bit sunned, some rubbing and mild edgewear and a few short tears to jacket, minor rubbing to binding.
  • USD 2,000: A VG copy of The Orchard Keeper. Jacket spine somewhat sunned, some rubbing, thumbsoiling, and a few short creased tears to jacket. Front jacket flap joint is overstruck (some copies of the jacket were accidentally overstruck at this joint causing excessive creasing - this copy has that crease and an accompanying short tear). Minor rubbing to binding (binding is quite bright), endleaves foxed and offset, some light intermittent foxing in text. Edge of text block is foxed.
  • USD 1,375: A VF copy of Blood Meridian. Publisher's red boards backed in red cloth with titles in gilt on spine, in original dust jacket. Some moderate edgewear and rubbing to jacket with a few tiny tears, cloth spine just a bit dull, some upbraiding to front joint, front hinge just barely starting, previous owner's signature on front free endpaper. Skewed.
  • USD 813: A NF copy of Suttree with remainder mark. Publisher's black cloth backstrip over yellow boards, front board and spine lettered in gilt, dust jacket. Jacket spine a bit sunned, some rubbing and mild edgewear and a few short tears to jacket, tape repair to jacket verso, cloth spine a bit dull, some rubbing to binding, minor offsetting to endleaves, edge of text block foxed. Publisher's red ink remainder mark on lower text block.
  • USD 688: An ex-library, Fair copy of The Orchard Keeper. Publisher's green cloth backstrip over red boards, front board stamped in gilt and blind, spine stamped in red and gilt, in original dust jacket. Jacket spine sunned, front flap joint over-creased (as is common for this title), some rubbing, mild soiling, and a few tears, two tape repairs to jacket verso. Ex-library with library pocket on front free endpaper and library stamp in a few places in text. Tape residue on boards and endleaves. Binding rubbed. Skewed.
  • USD 525: A Fine copy of No Country for Old Men, signed by McCarthy on the title-page. Octavo. 309 pages. Publisher's black boards, rear board stamped in blind, spine lettered in gilt, dust jacket. Minor rubbing, else fine. Note that this is not one of the publisher-issued signed copies.
  • USD 425: A VG copy of Outer Dark. Publisher's blue cloth backstrip over gray boards, front board stamped in black, spine stamped in black, silver, and blue, price-clipped dust jacket. Jacket toned (especially at spine), a few tears (with several tape repairs to jacket verso), some rubbing and edgewear to jacket and binding, cloth spine a bit toned.
  • USD 325: A NF copy of Child of God, but with price-clipped DJ. Publisher's blue cloth backstrip over red boards, front board stamped in blind, spine stamped in gilt, price-clipped dust jacket. Jacket spine just barely sunned, some minor edgewear to jacket, front jacket flap with one crease, light toning to rear jacket panel, light rubbing to cloth spine, small sticker residue on front pastedown.

These prices are interesting and confirm the popularity of Blood Meridian and signed copies of McCarthy's work. However, it is hard to tell how much premium a NF copy of Blood Meridian, for example, command over a VG copy over time. It is difficult to do such an authoritative analysis for two reasons. One, unlike numismatic or comic collection where there are third party grading and official statistics, grading for books are subjective and the book vs dj grading complicates the issue further. Two, there are myriad sources of book sales and it is almost impossible to track all sales prices.

Despite these difficulties, I did a rudimentary analysis based on a grading scale similar to how PMG grades currency notes on a 70 points scale. The detailed grading descriptions are:
  • 65-70 points: Fine copies with great dj with no closed tears, chipping, crease, or price clip, and only the slightest rubbing and tanning not obscuring the vibrancy of the dj. The book must not have any internal writing (e.g., owner's name) or shaken spine, and may only have some foxing/dust on edges and very minor rubbing on board and spine not affecting the lettering or print.
  • 60-64 points: Near Fine copies with great dj that nevertheless suffers from minor issue like a few short closed tears or very minor chipping, and no more than 2 short creases. The book must also be largely problem free but may have some short internal writing like ex owner's name. There may also be more pronounced tanning at edge, foxing on paper, and some rubbing to the board and spine but still do not obscure the general aesthetics of the book.
  • 50-58 points: VG to VG+ copies with price clipped DJ, some minor tape repair or paper filling as part of dj preservation or restoration, multiple short closed tears or no more than 2 medium tears, moderate loss of material from chipping, and moderate rubbing, and numerous short crease or at least one vertical crease that, collectively, affect the aesthetics of the dj to some degree. The book may have moderate rubbing like the removal of a bookplate, longer internal writing like owner's gift inscription, or a large pasted bookplate. Remaindered books will have a maximum grading of 58, and books of similar conditions will be differentiated with a 0.5 point difference, e.g., 58.5 for non-remaindered book vs 58 for remaindered book.
  • 40-48 points: Good to Good+ copies with DJ may suffer from defects of the higher grades and moderate repair, more than 2 moderate closed tear or at least one long closed tear, severe chipping affecting the lettering or print, severe rubbing obscuring print, and several vertical creases. The book, in addition to defects of higher grades, may be ex library, which can at best be given a 48 grade, severe rubbing, and extensive notes internally. 
  • 30-38 points: Fair copies with DJ that is in danger of disintegrating from one complete piece, and very severe defects. The same goes for the book.
On the prices, I took the final, i.e., including hammer premium, prices from Heritage Auction's database, and give each book a grading based on the catalogue description. As there were insufficient data for other titles, I only did the analysis for Blood Meridian and Suttree.

Blood Meridian: From the top chart, it is easy to see that signed copies  (red dots) of Blood Meridian have a price of at least USD 4,000. The association copy with a rather lengthy inscription that sold for over USD 14K in 2014 was kind of an outlier, and if we also exclude the 55.5 grade copy sold in 2015, VG signed copies are worth about USD 4K-5K and a Fine one, just under USD 8K. By interpolation, a NF signed copy should be in the USD 6K range.

Unsigned copies of Blood Meridians, amplified in the bottom chart, never exceeded USD 2,750, and that was also an anomaly in 2013 for an unremaindered VG+  55.5 grade copy. In the same year, a copy of similar condition but remaindered of grade 55 also looked like an outlier. If we remove these two copies, then there is a more or less linear relation between the grading and price. Roughly, a 5 points difference commands about USD 700 premium with NF copies averaging USD 1.5K and Fine copies about USDUSD 2.2K. It is also interesting to note that the 2017 prices dominated its preceding year's prices, indicating a general increase in value for books of the same grade. 

Suttree: Again, signed copies (red dots) of Suttree commanded significant premium over unsigned ones. The two orthodox signed copies sold, roughly, for USD 4.8K and USD 7.9K respectively. Then there was a signed copy with DJ that sold for about USD 2.5K, and a Fine copy with laid-in bookplate that went for just over USD 2K. 

For the unsigned versions, the price premium over grading was clear. VG copies, some remaindered, were roughly USD 1K in value while NF copies of similar condition with 62 grade increased in value from USD 1K in 2006 to just below USD 1.5K in 2016. Fine copies go for just below USD 1.5K to about USD 2K. It is a pity that the 2017 offerings of this title were all of VG quality only, but they are holding the prices of those at least 2 grades higher sold from 2009 to 2014, implying a general increase in price premium. The 68 grade copy sold in 2011 was at about the same price that the 62 grade copy sold in 2012, implying a significant increase in price over that period. This was confirmed by the USD 2K price tag for the 69 grade copy. It remains to be seen when would Fine unsigned copies break the USD 2K barrier.

You may also be interested in my thoughts on collecting McCarthy's first editions.