Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s books are selling at auctions at high prices
Judge Ruth Ginsburg
Joan Wrath | Boston Globe | Getty Images
Over 1,000 books from the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s personal library are up for auction, and everything is getting more expensive.
Bidders spend thousands of dollars on individual items, including thick law school textbooks with Ginsburg’s own annotations, a wide range of literary classics, photographs and other memorabilia from the justice trailblazer’s private collection.
Collection was put up for sale by Bonhams auction house last week. The auction won’t close until Thursday afternoon, but as of Tuesday afternoon, nearly all 166 lots were trading above high valuations, with some lots set to five-figure bids.
Highest bid so far: $18,000 per signed copy from My Life on the Road, a memoir by leading feminist activist Gloria Steinem.
“To my dearest Ruth, who paved the way for all of us, with a lifelong gratitude to Gloria,” Steinem wrote by hand in Ginsburg’s copy.
Other expensive items include copy of Ginzburg from the Harvard Law Review for 1957-1958, the pages of which are speckled with her notes. The Legal Tome currently boasts a high bid of $11,000, well above the $3,500 maximum bid.
Rates are likely to soar even higher as the clock ticks down.
“With online sales, we usually see a huge surge in activity in recent hours,” Katherine Williamson, director of fine books, manuscripts and entertainment memorabilia at Bonhams, said in a phone interview.
“Not even in the last 24 hours, but in the last two to four hours, we see this huge stream of people running to place their last-minute bets,” she said.
Bonhams admits that his initial estimates were conservative, as there was very little Ginsburg-related material that had previously been auctioned.
“In a way, we were proactive,” Williamson said. “We wanted to set prices that looked really reasonable. [the] the maximum number of people to participate in this auction.
Many of the items have warm inscriptions addressed to Ginsburg, who, at the time of her death in late 2020, had achieved pop icon status among her fans.
“Dear Ruth, thank you for the inspiration and thank you for all you do,” wrote songwriter Diane Warren. music book cover for “I’ll Fight”, a song she wrote for the 2018 documentary about Ginsburg. Both the song and the film were nominated for an Academy Award in 2019.
“With love and songs, Diane,” wrote Warren.
Also in the collection was copy of “The RBG Workout”, with a flattering caption by author Bryant Johnson, Ginsburg’s longtime personal trainer.
“You have changed me and I hope to pass this on to everyone I can,” Johnson wrote. “You will always be a super diva.”
Some notes shed light on Ginzburg’s relationship with her colleagues in the American judiciary.
“Ruth, I thought you might like one of these books. Just out of print.” read a note about a book on international law from Sandra Day O’Connor, first female Justice of the Supreme Court, Ginsburg, second.
“Judge Ginsburg – with respect and warm regards”, read the inscription from the late Judge Antonin Scalia in a copy of his book The Law of Reading: An Interpretation of Legal Texts, which outlines his philosophy of constitutional originalism.
Ginsburg’s unlikely publicity has attracted increased attention and interest in Bonhams from younger potential buyers, “which is exciting,” Williamson said. She compared Ginzburg’s auction to Bonhams’ last year’s sale of legendary actor Marlon Brando’s library.
The new group “isn’t really a book collector per se” but instead “is thinking about building a collection based on people and events that are very important to them,” Williamson said.
“So there might be Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Next to that could be a trendy pair of sneakers, right?” she said. “It’s a different community of collectors.”