Buyers are bidding thousands of dollars for Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s books in an online auction
Justice Ruth Ginsburg
Joanne Rathe | The Boston Globe | Getty Images
More than 1,000 books from late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s personal library are up for auction — and things are getting expensive.
Bidders are spending thousands of dollars on individual items, including dense law-school textbooks marked up with Ginsburg’s own annotations, a wide range of literary classics, photographs and other memorabilia from the private collection of the trailblazing justice.
The collection went up online last week by auction house Bonhams. The auction won’t close until midday Thursday, but as of Tuesday afternoon, bidding on nearly all of the 166 lots had sailed past high estimates, with some items receiving five-figure bids.
The highest bid so far: $18,000, for a signed copy of “My Life on the Road,” the memoir of leading feminist activist Gloria Steinem.
“To dearest Ruth — who paved the road for us all — with a lifetime of gratitude — Gloria,” Steinem handwrote in Ginsburg’s copy.
Other pricey items include Ginsburg’s copy of the 1957-58 Harvard Law Review, the pages of which are scrawled with her notes. The legal tome currently boasts a high bid of $11,000, well above the top-end estimate of $3,500.
The bids are likely to soar even higher as the clock ticks down.
“With online sales, we usually see a huge rush of activity in the last hours,” said Catherine Williamson, director of fine books and manuscripts and entertainment memorabilia at Bonhams, in a phone interview.
“Not even the last 24 hours, but the last two to four hours, we see this tremendous rush of people running to put their bids in at the last minute,” she said.
Bonhams acknowledges its initial estimates were conservative, since there was very little material related to Ginsburg that had previously come up for auction.
“In some sense we were winging it,” Williamson said. “We wanted to put prices on it that looked really reasonable. We wanted [the] maximum number of people to participate in this auction.”
Many of the items feature warm inscriptions 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,” songwriter Diane Warren wrote on the cover of a book of sheet music for “I’ll Fight,” the song she composed for a 2018 documentary on Ginsburg. Both the song and the film were nominated for Academy Awards in 2019.
“Love & songs, Diane,” Warren wrote.
Also in the collection was a copy of “The RBG Workout,” featuring a fawning inscription by author Bryant Johnson, Ginsburg’s longtime personal trainer.
“You have made a difference with me, and I hope to pass that on to everyone I can,” Johnson wrote. “You will always be a ‘Super Diva.'”
Some notes shed light on the relationships Ginsburg had fostered with her colleagues atop the American judicial system.
“Ruth- I thought you might like to have one of these little books. Hot off the press,” read a note on an international law book gifted by Sandra Day O’Connor, the first female Supreme Court justice, to Ginsburg, the second.
“To Justice Ginsburg—With respect and warm regards,” read an inscription from the late Justice Antonin Scalia in a copy of his book “Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts,” which laid out his philosophy of constitutional originalism.
Ginsburg’s unlikely celebrity has brought increased attention and bidding interest to Bonhams from younger potential buyers, “which is exciting,” Williamson said. She compared the Ginsburg auction to Bonhams’ sale last year of the library of legendary actor Marlon Brando.
The new crowd “aren’t really book collectors, per se,” but instead are “thinking of building a collection that’s built around people and events that are very important to them,” Williamson said.
“So there might be Ruth Bader Ginsburg. There might be a fancy pair of sneakers next to that, right?” she said. “It’s a different collecting community.”