Thursday, June 12, 2014

Lucia Davidova's Copy of George Gershwin's Song-Book

Anyone seeking a fine copy of George Gershwin's Song-Book (1932) illustrated by Constantin Alajálov could look for one of the three-hundred limited edition copies from May 1932 signed by both Gershwin and Alajálov. Here is the limitation page of copy no. 74 sold by Heritage Auctions in 2009 for $3,883.75 including the buyer's premium:

George Gershwin's Song-Book, limited edition, copy 74/300. 1932

A still more extraordinary copy of the book is being offered by Bauman Rare Books. This copy is not from the limited edition. It belonged to Lucia Davidova, associate of Igor Stravinsky and friend of choreographer George Balanchine who contemplated a collaboration with Gershwin on a ballet. Her copy is signed and inscribed by Gershwin in October of 1932. Alajálov also signed and dedicated the book, adding a small "mask" drawing of Davidova herself, or so we are told.

A photograph of Davidova taken in Havana in the 1920's does precious little to indicate how accurate the likeness might be. It's probably not too bad.
Lucia Davidova, second from the right, c. 1920's.

The mask theme, incidentally, appears in the book's illustration accompanying Gershwin's "Fascinating Rhythm."
Constantin Alajálov, "Fascinating Rhythm," George Gershwin's Song-Book, 1932

Bookseller Image

Well, this is quite a rarity, perhaps the most extraordinary copy of this book out there. It is exceptional because it was signed by both author and illustrator, the illustrator provided an original drawing, and the recipient was a close friend of Balanchine's. Original drawings by Alajálov in books are not common; indeed this is the first I've seen. The bookseller's price is $17,500. That's a nice piece of change.

Copies of the George Gershwin Song-Book signed by Gershwin can often by obtained for $4,000 to $5,000 or maybe a little higher. Alajálov's signature is certainly desirable, although whether it adds much value to the book beyond Gershwin's I'm not sure. The same goes for the drawing. If an original magazine cover illustration by Alajálov should be worth on the order of, say, $3,000 to $5,000, then it's exceedingly generous to suggest a minor drawing might add $500 to the value of the book. The value of the association with Lucia Davidova I find hard to quantify as well. Surely it's worth more than a book with no such association. But is the whole thing worth $17,500? The market will tell. Perhaps there's some synergy among the elements of a rare book, with autographs, drawings, and associations combining to propel the value to a level in excess of the sum of any of the individual elements. And surely there is no better copy of the book available at any price.

But there is another way of looking at it. With $17,500 to spend, a Gershwin lover might very well wish to spring for the book. A fan of Alajálov, on the other hand, could spend the same amount of money and put together a very fine collection of  original published art, including several magazine covers and other high-quality items. That's not a bad option.

November 27, 2016 Update:  The book is no longer available and presumed sold.

Note:  By all means see what else I have to say about the artwork of Constantin Alajálov.

This blog contains many examples of original drawings made inside of books!

There are also a few blog posts on the music of George Gershwin.

Don't forget about Friday the 13th!


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