Princely sum sought for 'rare' book

By Paul Harper

While some collectors have stored away copies of Witi Ihimaera's controversial and rare novel The Trowenna Sea in the hope its value will increase, one Australian seller is already looking to reap a return.

An eBay user from Melbourne, gordon34-2001, has placed a box of 10 first edition copies of the 2009 book on the online auction website with a buy now of US$300,000, more than NZD$370,200.

In the listing's photo one of the books can be seen to still have a price sticker from The Warehouse - who charged $32.99 when it was on their shelves.

The auction says each of the books is "individually wrapped in acid free paper and carefully stored from 'new' in a sealed box at room temperature".

The auction has 14 days left to run.

There are no current or expired listings of the book on Trade Me, but a copy on for sale by Auckland's Wharncliffe Book Collectors through AbeBooks.com is asking for US$1000 (NZD$1,234).

Another on the same site asks for a more modest US$250.

The Trowenna Sea struck controversy when it was discovered The Whale Rider author had plagiarised the work of historians in the historical fiction without attributing the tracts to their authors.

The book was subsequently withdrawn from the shelves.

Publisher Penguin, who released the book through their imprint Raupo, last year decided against reprinting an amended version of the book, despite earlier promising it would be reprinted with acknowledgements of the other works used.

The decision not to reprint the book has lead to speculation by some collectors the book may become a collectors' item, with others also buying up stock of the book in the hope it will increase in price.

Book dealer John Croot bought a box of the books with an eye on a healthy return, although he doubted the Australian seller would find a buyer.

"Whether or not people will pay for it remains to be seen," he said. "I can't see someone wanting to buy 10."

Mr Croot said he sold a copy last year to a New Zealand buyer for US$150 (NZD$185).

"It could become a bit of a gold mine."

He doesn't know when he will put his stored copies on the market.

"I'll probably sit on them for a while to see what happens."

Francis McWhannell, head of rare books at Bethunes@Webb's said the Australian seller was "ambitious", and even though Mr Ihimaera's novels command high prices he believed copies of the book to be worth closer to the $200 mark.

Mr McWhannell said the book had sold well in the first instance and although Penguin had said they will not reprint the book, it was not out the question they could change their mind.

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