A star of her time, Dorothy L. Sayers was what one might call a ‘jobbing writer’ – having produced a wealth of plays, poems, short stories, non-fiction and of course her long line of detective fiction. Today, Dorothy L. Sayers is regarded as an important writer of detective fiction, but amongst a field of giants (Agatha Christie and Ian Fleming spring to mind), it has been hard for her softer, more playful stories to make a name. Added to this, her books were critically savaged by no less than the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein for lacking in depth. Today, we can perhaps see that Sayers might have been the victim of hardened and restricting genre boundaries – at the times that she was writing, all literature was asked to be ‘capital-L’ literature or else, ‘pulp’ and her detective stories perfectly sat in the middle between the two.
For the collector, it is one of Dorothy L. Sayers later books that is actually the most sought. Gaudy Night (Gollansz 1935) is the tenth outing in the popular saga of amateur detective sleuth Lord Peter Winsey and amateur crime writer Harriet Vane – however, its attractive yellow cover and its close connection with Sayer’s own life have made it much more latterly desirable. Gaudey Night is a murder mystery set in the provinces of an established private school – very similar to Sayer’s own experience of her alma mater, Somerville College, Oxford.
Another feature that makes Gaudey Night and other of Sayer’s detective works collectible is the survival of the paper dust wrappers that her publisher Gollansz favored at the time. Most of these dust wrappers from Sayers books (and from others in the Gollansz range) have not survived at all, and so a fine copy of Gaudy Night, or The Documents in the Case (1930) or In the Teeth of Evidence (1939) with these dust jackets intact will catapult the book’s value into the three to six thousand US dollars range!
For the truly remarkable collectible item, consider instead OP.I. which is Dorothy Sayers very first published short book of poetry by Oxford: B.H. Blackwell (1916). Although the conditions of this small chapbook are usually not the best, they do represent a remarkable start to a long career by an important figure, and can be found for as little as a few hundred US dollars.
Sayers, Dorothy L. Catholic Tales. B.H. Blackwell, Oxford (1918). Woodcut on cover depicting God crowned
Sayers, Dorothy L. Whose Body?. Boni and Liveright (1923). First State (no 'inc' to title page)
Sayers, Dorothy L. Whose Body?. T. Fisher Unwin, London (1923). First UK edition
Sayers, Dorothy L. Clouds of Witnesses. Lincoln MacVeagh / The Dial Press, New York (1927). First American Edition
Sayers, Dorothy L. Great Short Stories of Detection, Mystery and Horror. Victor Gollancz, London (1928). Contains contributions from Sax Rohmer, J S Le Fanu, Conan Doyle, Edgar Allan Poe, H.G.Wells, Robert Louis Stevenson, Charles Dickens, M.R. James, Bram Stoker, Joseph Conrad, Agatha Christie and G.K. Chesterton
Sayers, Dorothy L. The Documents In The Case. Ernest Benn, London (1930). 1000 copies printed;
Sayers, Dorothy L. The Floating Admiral by Certain Members of The Detection Club. Hodder and Stoughton, London (1931). first issue price of 7/6net to the front flap; The first Detection Club novel; G. K. Chesterton, Dorothy L Sayers, Victor Whitechurch, G.D.H. and M. Cole, Henry Wade, Agatha Christie, John Rhode, Milward Kennedy, Ronald A. Knox, Freeman Wills Crofts, Edgar Jepson, Clemence Dane and Anthony Berkeley each contributing a chapter.
Sayers, Dorothy L. Busman's Honeymoon. Gollancz, London (1937). First UK edition;
Sayers, Dorothy L. Busman's Honeymoon. Harcourt, Brace NY (1937). First American edition; jacket price of $2.50
Sayers, Dorothy L. The Man Born To Be King. Victor Gollancz, London (1943). Price of 10/6 net to spine;
Sayers, Dorothy L. The Story of Noah's Ark. Hamish Hamilton, London (1956). Wegner, Fritz (illustrator)