'Anne of Green Gables' 1st edition sells at auction for US$37,500, a new record

Published on December 12, 2009
A rare 1908 first edition of Anne of Green Gables, one of Canada's most beloved literary works, sold for nearly $37,500 U.S. at a New York auction on Friday, smashing the previous record price of $24,000 for a vintage copy of the classic children's novel. Canwest News Service photo

A rare 1908 first edition of Anne of Green Gables, one of Canada's most beloved literary works, sold for $37,500 US at a New York auction Friday, smashing the previous record price of $24,000 for a vintage copy of the classic children's novel.

And an equally rare printing of the 1909 sequel by P.E.I.-born author Lucy Maud Montgomery - Anne of Avonlea - sold shortly after for $15,000 US, making it a banner day for the red-haired queen of Canadiana.

Only eight first-run editions of the original Anne of Green Gables - printed in April 1908 by Boston publishing house L.C. Page - have been auctioned in the last 35 years, Sotheby's said prior to Friday's sale of rare books and manuscripts.

The copy sold Friday, which emerged from the private holdings of an unidentified collector, was almost identical to the previous record-setter auctioned by Sotheby's in 2005.

Described as "one of the most sought-after children's books" for North American bibliophiles, the novel spawned seven sequels, two Hollywood films, various stage adaptations, a hit Canadian TV series and a tourism jackpot for Canada's smallest province.

Last year, an authorized "prequel" to the Anne story by Nova Scotia children's author Budge Wilson was published in celebration of the original's 100th anniversary.

Before the 2005 sale, Sotheby's apologized for what it admitted was an "obnoxious" error after listing the Anne of Green Gables first edition as a beloved "American" children's book.

Montgomery's novel was first published in Boston and it would be 35 years before a Canadian edition appeared. But the author, the character of Anne Shirley and the island setting in which her adventures unfold are all icons of Canadian culture.

The book has been translated into 17 languages and thousands of Japanese tourists travel each year to Green Gables House in Cavendish, P.E.I., a testament to Anne's widespread and enduring appeal.

Previous first editions of Anne of Green Gables have drawn bids of as much as $20,000 at auction, but Friday's sale price sets a significantly higher benchmark for the book.

The cover of the 1908 edition features gold lettering and a striking profile portrait of Anne.

Library and Archives Canada has several 1908 copies of the book. In 1999, Ottawa-area book collector Ronald Cohen donated 300 Montgomery titles to the national library, including an autographed first edition of Anne of Green Gables.