Are All Inscriptions Equal?

In the Rare Book trade, there is a generally agreed-upon hierarchy for the desirability of collectible inscribed or signed books. It is as follows: The Dedication Copy, Association Copies, Presentation Copies, Inscribed Copies and, lastly, Signed Copies. Of course, you can never account for variations in personal taste, and specialists in different fields can offer contrasting opinions, but that is historically the consensus.

  • The Dedication Copy is inscribed by the author to the individual to whom the author dedicated the book. If there are multiple dedicatees, there can be multiple dedication copies, but these are often unique and are highly sought after by collectors.
  • Association Copies are inscribed by the author to another significant individual culturally, historically or in the author’s personal life. These can be illuminating artifacts that potentially reveal additional context about the author’s relationships or the period of the author’s life during which the book was written.
  • Presentation Copies are books that were inscribed by the author for unknown individuals and given by the author as a gift, usually around the book’s publication date.
  • Inscribed Copies are usually personalized and signed at the request of the book’s owner, who has no connection to the author.
  • Signed Copies are books with signatures that have not been personalized; they can include additional brief notes in the author’s hand; this excludes books that were issued signed, such as signed-limited editions, with a different collectible appeal.

Heritage Auctions’ Rare Books Auction, which will be held March 7 in New York, features an abundance of inscribed books. While there are no Dedication Copies, we are not lacking in remarkable associations. Below we selected five of our favorites, a small sample of what is available:

Pablo Neruda. Fin de Mundo. [Santiago de Chile]: 1969

First illustrated edition, papel vergé especial issue, limited to 38 Roman numeral copies and signed by the author on the limitation page. Association Copy, additionally inscribed by the author for Chilean President Salvador Allende.

A beautiful production, inscribed to the first democratically elected Marxist Head of State in Latin America — who later was martyred in a military coup — by a onetime political rival who also happened to be the country’s most decorated Man of Letters. Pablo Neruda served as a Senator for the Chilean Communist Party from 1945-48, until the Permanent Defense of Democracy Law passed under President Gabriel González Videla outlawed the Communist Party and sent Neruda into exile. The law remained in effect until 1958. In 1969, Neruda ran for President of Chile as the Communist Party’s candidate, eventually withdrawing his candidacy to support the Socialist Party’s candidate, Salvador Allende. Allende eventually was elected, and assumed office in 1970. He served until the military coup of 1973 established Augusto Pinochet as dictator.

Pablo Neruda. Fin de Mundo.

Pablo Neruda. Fin de Mundo. INSCRIPTION



Jorge Luis Borges. Poemas. [1922-1943]. Buenos Aires: [1943]

First edition, Association Copy, inscribed by the author for Estela Canto in August 1944, with a fair copy manuscript of the poem “Un patio.”

Staying in Latin America … Jorge-Luis Borges had several professional and personal relationships of note, but few seem as significant as the one he had with the writer and journalist Estela Canto. She was the object of his affection for many years, typed up his manuscript for his book El Aleph and wrote a biography of the author, Borges a contraluz. In her book, she recalls meeting the author at the home of writers Adolfo Bioy Casares and Silvina Ocampo in August 1944, the month this book was inscribed.


Ernest Hemingway. L’Adieu aux armes. [A Farewell to Arms]. [Paris: 1931]

First French edition, trade issue, limited to 1000 copies on Alfa (with 180 hors commerce copies); Association Copy, inscribed by the author to Robert Desnos.

There is a lot of romanticizing one can do about merry adventures of the ex-pat Lost Generation in Paris. One member who decidedly did not have as good of a time was Ernest Hemingway, since he found it difficult to make friends. He eventually met Robert Desnos, a prominent surrealist poet, with whom he shared an affinity for the Spanish Republicans battling Franco during the Spanish Civil War. He was one of the few people with whom history remembers Hemingway bonding during his time abroad. Desnos later joined the Resistance during World War II and died in a concentration camp less than three months before the close of the war.

Ernest Hemingway. L'Adieu aux armes INSCRIPTION


Franklin D. Roosevelt. Whither Bound? Boston: 1926

First edition, Association Copy, inscribed by the author to his youngest son: “For the youngest of the flock / John Aspinwall Roosevelt / from his affectionate Father / Franklin D. Roosevelt / June 1926.”

“It is Mr. Roosevelt’s thesis that youth rightly experiments with life and with moral standards, for it is through unrest and experimentation that civilization advanced,” according to the front panel of the dust jacket (itself a relatively uncommon survival). Roosevelt’s thesis can be seen as words of encouragement for his youngest child, who was only 10 when the book was published. This is also Roosevelt’s first commercially published book.

Franklin D. Roosevelt. Whither Bound

Franklin D. Roosevelt. Whither Bound


Friedrich Nietzsche. Unzeitgemässe Betrachtungen. Zweites Stück: Vom Nutzen und Nachteil der Historie für das Leben. [Untimely Meditations, Part II]. Leipzig: 1874

First edition of the second work (of four completed) in Nietzsche’s Untimely Meditations series; Association Copy, inscribed by the author to Wilhelm Vischer Bilfinger.

Wilhelm Vischer Bilfinger, according to his German-language Wikipedia entry translated by Google, was a philologist and Councilman in Der Grosse Rat (Basel-Stadt) (Grand Council of Basel-Stadt). He appointed a young Nietzsche to his post as the First Chair of Philology at the University of Basel, based on a recommendation without Nietzsche having competed his dissertation. It would be an early presentation, too, because Dr. Vischer died shortly after publication, in July 1874.


Written by: Zachary Stacy
Zachary Stacy is the Manager of the Rare Books Department at Heritage Auctions.

Posted by Zachary Stacy

Rare Books Valuation Specialist

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