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The Neubauer-Joyce Collection (review)

From: James Joyce Quarterly
Volume 48, Number 4, Summer 2011
pp. 784-789 | 10.1353/jjq.2011.0092

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The Neubauer-Joyce Collection and sales exhibition, mounted this past summer in New York, must surely represent the most impressive treasure trove of works by and related to James Joyce ever to have been assembled and brought to market. But it is the magnitude of this collection’s literary importance, more than its amazing monetary levels, that made the sale so remarkable.

The press announcement for the exhibition was succinct: “Joyce material for sale individually and on view by appointment throughout the summer in the Manhattan offices and East Hampton, Long Island gallery of Glenn Horowitz Bookseller.” Upon spotting this notice, my wife and I, prospective viewers if not buyers, happily began making plans for a day trip to the city and the possibility of an overnight stay at the beach.

The majority of the Neubauer-Joyce Collection was found in the Flatiron District of the city, just a few doors west of Fifth Avenue. Racked along the front wall of a full sixth-floor office space, the books were individually slipcased or boxed while the letters, photographs, and manuscripts were safely protected in plastic and placed in binders resting on a nearby table.

The collection includes Joyce’s letters, photos, signed and inscribed copies of each of his books, books from his personal library, contracts and correspondence related to Joyce and his books from his publishers, other books signed and inscribed to and from Joyce and his literary colleagues, and items from his brother Stanislaus and wife Nora. In short, the Neubauer-Joyce Collection represents the best Joyce collectibles that about $5 million dollars could buy.

My first instinct was to remove from the rack each of the signed and inscribed copies of Joyce’s books and to look at the signatures. Then I paged through Joyce’s handwritten letters, several of which were unpublished. But, ultimately, I balanced on my fingertips a single small sheet of plastic-protected paper, a manuscript fragment note of just seven penciled lines, twenty-nine words in all, a variant description of Blazes Boylan from “Sirens” (U 11.524–27). Joyce’s handwriting on this page was more uneven than usual, probably related to the eyesight problems he was experiencing at the time. The note was priced at (take a breath!) $125,000. But there was more to be had from this exhibit, much more, so I gently brushed a single grain of sand off the document’s plastic protector and carefully placed the item back into its binder.

As any book- and ephemera-show visitor knows, attendance at a sales exhibition, even one of high quality, is not necessarily an exciting experience. Of course, the opportunity to see and closely examine these items—many of which Joyce personally handled and which are now worth (in several cases) hundreds of thousands of dollars—obviously comes with a certain amount of frisson. What I wish to say is that the display of the material exhibited here was only part of what was dazzling. In fact, as with all outstanding exhibits, the most thrilling aspect of a show like this one is a well-written catalog that provides a compelling back story for each of the items on sale. A good catalog can immeasurably enhance one’s appreciation of a show, while also adding significantly to one’s knowledge of the subject matter. A specialized catalog explains how a collection is organized and opens windows into the material; such is the case with the Neubauer-Joyce Collection catalog.1

Alexander (Sandy) Neubauer, who assembled this collection relatively recently (mainly between 1998 and 2010), is an author and editor. He wrote the preface to the 148-page hard-cover catalog that serves as a fascinating guide to the exhibition. In it, he notes that each showcased item comes with “its own character and history” (Collection 7). Since collectible Joyce material has consistently commanded increasing prices over the past several decades, one can safely assume that Neubauer did not just stumble over these items while poking around in antiquarian bookshops; he confirms this, and a little research proves it to be true.

Neubauer’s preface points out that the collection includes items related to every major period...

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