Of all the books James Seacrest accumulated over the decades, Gatsby was the greatest.
The late Lincoln collector’s inscribed copy of the F. Scott Fitzgerald classic sold last week for $162,500 — 60 percent more than expected and a house record for Heritage Auctions, which conducted the sale in New York.
The 1925 first edition of "The Great Gatsby" was among nearly 200 of Seacrest’s most valuable volumes that Heritage hand-picked for its sale of rare books. The auction house had estimated his collection alone would generate about $440,000, but buyers more than doubled that, paying nearly $920,000.
Seacrest’s books dominated the sale. Of the 626 lots, his collection generated more than 40 percent of the auction’s $2.1 million total gross sales.
And when it was all over, nine of the auction’s top 10 sellers in New York had been sitting on Seacrest’s bookshelves in southeast Lincoln until just a few months ago.
Among them: His copy of Charles Dickens’ “The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby,” which sold for $45,000, the same prices as his 1685 edition of “Mr. William Shakepeare’s Comedies, Histories and Tragedies.”
His first edition of Vladimir Nabokov’s “Lolita” went for $32,500 — eight times more than its presale estimate. And his inscribed copy of J.D. Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye” sold for $27,500.
At the other end of the list, poet Allen Ginsberg made the least amount of money for the collection, with two of his signed books selling for $225.
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Seacrest’s family members told the auction house they plan to donate all of the proceeds to charity, although they have declined to speak publicly about the collection or the sale. Seacrest had valued his privacy when he was alive, they said, so they’re respecting that.
But last month, his friends described a lifelong collector with a particular interest in rare first editions. He’d filled his house with thousands of books spanning centuries and genres, signed by Buffalo Bill Cody and Bob Dylan, Jack Kerouac and Stephen King.
The former president of a western Nebraska newspaper group worked with book dealers locally and nationally to amass his collection before he died in 2016.
“I think he decided to collect signed and inscribed copies of important books, and he went out and found things that are pretty great,” James Gannon, director of rare books at Heritage Auctions in Dallas, said last month.
Gannon traveled to Lincoln several months ago to examine the collection and stayed longer than he expected, ultimately selecting nearly 200 volumes for the auction.
He was impressed by all of the ground covered on Seacrest’s shelves.
“Typically, you’d have some collecting more of one area, like literature or aviation or political works or historical works,” he said last month. “He collected all of these kinds.”