It’s rare to find first editions of classic literary books for sale, and rarer still to find a collection with hundreds of them up for auction all at once.But that’s exactly what Dame Brigitte Kruse curated earlier this month at GWS Auctions Inc., an auction house she founded 11 years ago in Agoura Hills.The Literary Masterpieces & Treasured Archives Auction, held Oct. 17, saw the sale of more than 165 first-edition books sourced by Mystery Pier Books in Los Angeles. The list included a U.K. first edition complete set of J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy epic series “Lord of the Rings,” along with signed first edition titles from Bram Stoker, Dr. Seuss and Hunter S. Thompson. It also had autographed movie and television scripts including Martin Scorcese’s “The Irishman,” Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite,” and the pilot episode of HBO’s “Game of Thrones.” Kruse said the auction was particularly notable for its breadth.
“Literary auctions are generally specialized in one genre,” she said.
Collectible and antique literature can be a lucrative asset. Among the auction’s largest sales came from a 1897 yellow cloth first edition of Stoker’s “Dracula,” which fetched $15,000 including fees and premiums, an 1885 sheepskin first edition of Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” which went for $12,500 and a 1951 first edition of J.D. Salinger’s “Catcher in the Rye,” which hit for more than $7,000.Since its inception in 2009, GWS has become a successful boutique auction house. Kruse, a fifth-generation auctioneer, has ongoing business relationships with myriad Hollywood celebrities, production studios, three U.S. presidential estates and 17 royal families around the globe, including the de’ Medici royal family of Italy, which knighted Kruse earlier this year as an “Ambassador of the Arts.” She said she works primarily with sellers, while her husband, Mike Sislyan, works with buyers to nurture interest in available purchases.To create noteworthy auction events, Kruse said she looks for things that inspire her, be that from fashion, history or entertainment.She said that during COVID-19, her children have been schooling from home, and aren’t able to have as many social engagements as they would in a traditional school setting.“That prompted me, actually it was an accident, to walk into Mystery Pier looking for … investment quality first edition books for my children,” she explained.
In discussing the importance of reading as a way to engage your brain with co-owner Harvey Jason, Kruse convinced him to partner with her on an auction of high-profile items from Mystery Pier’s bookshelves.
“We were really hoping this would inspire people to remember to read and to sit and read with your children,” Kruse said.
Logistically, auctions during the pandemic look a little different. Like other industries, GWS has shifted to digital formats.
“Everything we’re doing is 100 percent online right now. What we’ve had to do internally is find ways to have contactless deliveries and contactless previews. In accordance with auction law, you have to allow the benefit of a public preview,” Kruse explained.
Previews, where a prospective buyer can inspect an item before bidding on it, are now being held virtually over teleconference software made by Zoom Inc. in San Jose.
As a result, Kruse said, business at GWS has remained strong during the pandemic. An “Artifacts of Hollywood” auction in August earned the auction house more revenue than any previous celebrity memorabilia auction in its history. Notable sales included Jimi Hendrix’s 1960s Japanese Sunburst electric guitar for $216,000 and Prince’s custom purple suede boots for $15,600.“My industry is a multi-billion dollar a year industry,” Kruse said. “This is big business. A lot of people don’t realize just how big it is.”