Signed 'Great Gatsby' sells for record $450,000

Initially a commercial failure, 'Gatsby' is now considered one of the greatest American novels

Cover Image for Signed 'Great Gatsby' sells for record $450,000
The record-setting copy is signed and inscribed by author F. Scott Fitzgerald. (Credit: Heritage)

A first edition, inscribed copy of “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald sold for a record $425,000 at Heritage Thursday afternoon.

The book, one of the extremely rare original copies still found in its first state dust jacket, surpassed the previous record held by a 2014 sale at Sotheby’s for $377,000.

In addition to its designation as a presentation copy, it’s inscribed by Fitzgerald — extremely rare among “Gatsby” copies.

“[Gatsby] is one of the most sought after rare books in all of rare book collecting,” Kevin Sell, a rare book dealer and owner of The Rare Book Sleuth, told cllct.

This presentation copy of 'Gatsby' is signed and inscribed by Fitzgerald. (Credit: Heritage)
This presentation copy of 'Gatsby' is signed and inscribed by Fitzgerald. (Credit: Heritage)

The book was famously a commercial failure when it was released in 1925. Just 20,870 copies were printed in its initial run. Fitzgerald died in 1940 believing his book would be forgotten, having earned only $2,000.

After his death, critics began extolling the book, leading to a surge in sales, reaching 100,000 copies sold each year by 1960 while soon becoming a staple of literary canon.

Considered by many to be among the greatest American novels ever written, “Gatsby” enjoys an added boost in collecting circles thanks to its iconic dust jacket and its beloved cover art, designed by artist Francis Cugat. The Spanish artist was commissioned for the art in 1924 and paid $100, though Fitzgerald was behind on his deadline and provided Cugat with only an incomplete manuscript for inspiration.

When Fitzgerald was first shown Cugat’s illustration, titled “Celestial Eyes,” he had not yet completed the book, but supposedly had found some inspiration of his own in the art, writing his editor, "For Christ’s sake, don’t give anyone that jacket you’re saving for me. I’ve written it into the book.”

This deep connection between the dust jacket and the actual contents of the book have resulted in copies found in its original, unrestored jacket to be coveted intensely by collectors.

“Unrestored jackets like this are scarce and rarely seen, and with the presentation inscription, this copy is a truly stunning example,” Sell said.

Another copy from the first printing, also retaining its original dust jacket, sold Wednesday for $336,000 at Sotheby’s.

Will Stern is a reporter and editor for cllct.