In the late 1940s, someone in Amsterdam bought a beat-up, 1925 copy of Grimm's Fairy Tales for their children. Decades later, those same children were flipping through the book and discovered two remarkable names written in cursive on the title page: Anne Frank and Margot Frank.
“It’s almost incredible that a family would own this for two, three, four decades and not know about the signature,” said Nicholas Lowry, the president of Swann Auction Galleries in New York. “But think about books you’ve picked up at a flea market— how often do you inspect the inside cover page? It seems nuts, but they must have just slapped their heads and been stunned at the revelation.”
The Diary of Young Girl, written while Frank hid from the Nazis in an Amsterdam attic (she was discovered in August, 1944, and died in Bergen Belsen less than a year later), had already become wildly famous by the time the Grimm's Fairy Tales signature was recognized in the late 1970s. The book's owners dutifully wrote to Frank's father, Otto Frank, offering to send it back to him. His response, written on June 10th, 1977, concluded by saying "Seeing that the book you found is a beautifully illustrated version of Grimm's Fairy Tales, and understanding from your letter your compassion for what's happened to us, it would please me if you kept the book for your daughter, in memory of my children."
Now, almost 40 years later, the book is finally leaving the family. On May 5, Swann will auction the book along with Otto Frank's letter, for an estimated $20,000- $30,000.
“Anne Frank wanted to write fairy tales, and it’s possible that this book could have led her on this youthful desire,” said Lowry. “That’s what could make this more poignant than anything else.”
In fact, there aren’t many other sales to compare it to. In 1988, only a decade after Otto Frank’s exchange with the book’s owners, letters by Anne and Margot Frank—written to pen-pals in Iowa in April, 1940—were auctioned at Swann and sold for $165,000 ($332,000, adjusted for inflation), above a high estimate of $60,000. Maurice Sendak, Whoopi Goldberg, and a “consortium of Japanese businessmen” were underbidders, Lowry said; the buyer donated the letters to the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles.
A year later, a stamp book with an inscription by Frank (“It is of little worth/ what I offer you/ pluck roses on earth/ and forget me not”) hammered for $32,000 at Christie’s above a high estimate of $9,000. Since then, no Anne Frank holograph material has publicly come onto the market.
Considering that it’s been more than 20 years since the last public sale and the book’s resonance with many of Frank’s admirers, Lowry acknowledged that the estimate is “conservative-ish.”
“It’s Anne Frank,” he said. “All bets are off.”