Is a quadruple Töpffer plagiary of 1842 worth $34,500?

Töpfferiana opens its pages to David Kunzle (1) who appeals to the Topfferian community to help him:


In 2005 I received a lavish gift from my dear friend Marianne Gourary of New York, a couple of years before she died, her incomparable collection of early Töpffer editions. One item stood out for the price/value given on an (older) AbeBooks site as $34,500, more than three times the top price (for a Voyage) according to current selling prices in AbeBooks. This price was given and offer for sale was made through the AbeBooks site, according to a printout I have, from a date I cannot determine, and the name of the vendor dealer was given as Folio Fine Books, in Toronto, who have not replied to my request for information. I now circulate the enquiry for any additional information regarding the sale to the Töpffer community of Töpfferiana. The printout included an extensive history and description of the item as « the Holy Grail of American Comic Books collectors » with the claim that it was one of only twelve copies known to exist. The Gourary archive included related letters accompanied by articles detailing ownership and reader enquiries from the New York press dating back to 1904, when the work (not necessarily my copy) was arousing special interest. Marianne died before I got into her archive to ask her the question: where did she get her copy, and how much did she pay? Much or most of her collection included documentation about provenance and price she paid, but not this. Her daughter tells me it is very unlikely she paid this much for a single item.

The work as advertised by AbeBooks corresponds with what I have, which is elegantly enclosed in a mini case of blue protective cardboard flaps (pseudo-box), added by someone who valued this Töpffer edition. It is not a book or an album in the form I have it, but 40 loose pages of cheap newsprint. The title page reads Brother Jonathan Extra N. IX. This journal survived on cheap plagiaries of popular fiction, like so much cheap journalism in an age when the U.S. did not (as Charles Dickens bitterly complained) respect copyright. Below the journal title there appears title The Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck and long subtitle surrounded by figures from the story, above a publishing line Wilson and Company and the date September 14, 1842. This credits the Brother Jonathan source of the copy: The Gourary donation includes this version, together with another, simultaneous (?) copy by the New York publisher Dick and Fitzgerald. Both relied on an English source, Tilt and Bogue, who did other Töpffer plagiaries/copies, and specialized in light illustrated literature. This English version evidently derives (is precisely traced) from a French plagiary of Töpffer’s original autographic Les Amours de M. Vieux Bois, first edition of 1837, not the second, much revised edition of that year, dated 1839, second edition of the album, designed to counter the French plagiary, which annoyed the author exceedingly.

It is very likely that Töpffer was spared sight of this fourth generation plagiary/copy. The unique circumstance of a fourth copy, from a country which had generally spared the Swiss author such treatment, and its apparent scarcity (a scarcity even in the 19th century is evident from earlier correspondence mentioned), warrants this appeal to the Töpffer world.

From the alert eye of Leonardo de Sa, who kindly directed me to the Heritage Auction site, I learn that it has offered for sale and sold many copies of this Brother Jonathan Obadiah Oldbuck printing during  recent years 2007-2018 , as follows (jn brief): $9,560 in 2007, $ 5,377 in 2012, about $3,000 and $2,000 in 2009, 2010 and in 2014, $3,585 and $4,780, and $3,107 in 2018. These are all considerable sums, but evidently far below the sum offered by Folio Fine Books. I now ask: does anyone know (who and when?) paid the much higher $34,500 price placed by the Canadian  Folio Fine Books? I repeat, that my enquiry with this firm produced no results. Thank you, whoever can help here.

Contact :

  1. David Kunzle, professor emeritus of art history at the University of California, is author of Cham: The Best Comic Strips and Graphic Novelettes ; Father of the Comic Strip: Rodolphe Töpffer ; Gustave Doré: Twelve Comic Strips; and Rodolphe Töpffer: The Complete Comic Strips, all published by University Press of Mississippi.[]
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  1. says: Mr. Vuorinen

    Hi David!

    I have been a customer of this firm you mention here and all with this firm has gone fine and with confidentiality.

    I don’t know if anyone has paid that high price for that item, but know that if more than one million (1.000.000 $ has been paid for one – much newer – comic item, surely also 34.000 $ paid for or to be paid for the item considered might be possible.

    But, if a quadrulpe plagiary of the original 1837 first print of Töpffer Vieux-Bois would amount worth 34.000 $, the original french print should be quadruple the worth.

    P.S. To the community: I have been in correspondance with Mr. Kunzle about an interesting childish kind of short-version manuscript of the original french Vieux-Boix from around 1830′ or 1840’s (?), age preliminarily evaluated from the ink colour and watermarks in the paper itself. (This “manuscript” has some chariteristics about both the 1837’s and 2nd 1839’s versions.) This short “Vuorinen manuscript” item study, is now halted because of lacking of sufficient additional information.

    Maybe I alone (or even with Mr. Kunzle) will later have time and chance to present this one puzzling item mystery to Töpfferiana community for evaluation.

    1. says: Claude Brulhart

      Dear Mr Vuorinen
      I am currently working on a study about the different versions of R.Töpffer’s “stories in prints”. Your mysterious manuscript of Mr Vieux Bois interests me a lot. Would you agree to discuss it?
      Best regards
      Claude Brulhart

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