Live and let's buy

Two days after the 50th anniversary of the first 007 movie, a complete set of Ian Fleming's James Bond books appeared at a Bay East auction in Sydney.

Lot 206 included the 14 Bond books, all first editions in original dust jackets, as well as related works by Fleming and others. There were some curiosities, such as a copy of Birds of the West Indies by (guess who) James Bond. Fleming borrowed this author's name for his fictional character. Estimates ranged from $37,000 to $47,000.

''Not much interest at all on the day,'' a specialist with Bay East, Nick Callaway, says. The highest bid received was $34,500, not enough to make the sale, but even that price would surprise many.

James Bond books are keenly collected around the world and this trend was previously covered in this column in, appropriately, 2007.

Earlier that year, Bob Wright of Yorktown Books and Fine Art Gallery near Launceston, bought four cartons of books from a deceased estate. He was aware that most were water damaged yet he paid $55 for the lot because at the bottom of one box, there was an item that made it worthwhile.

It was a first edition of Ian Fleming's The Man with the Golden Gun.

The dust jacket was damaged but Wright estimated that it should still fetch about $60 - or would have until he removed the dust jacket and saw an embossed golden gun on the cover.

Alarms - or maybe cash registers - started ringing in his head.

He soon discovered that only 150 of these special embossed editions were printed before the publishers realised the process was too expensive. Along with copies signed by Fleming, these are the most sought-after Bond books in the world.

Wright posted his find on the AbeBooks online book auction sales site and wasn't surprised when it was snapped up for $3440 by an eagle-eyed Australian bidder.

Copies of the ''Golden Gun'' editions have been listed for $US33,000 ($31,600) on AbeBooks' American website, or £10,000 ($15,300) in Britain. These may be optimistic estimates but even at half the price, the collector who bought Wright's edition could have sold it for a handsome profit.

The Bond phenomenon is unique in the world of collectable books. In 2007, an April 1953 first edition of Casino Royale sold for $20,000 in Britain. Casino Royale was the first 007 book, and it's one every collector wants.

Other first editions by publisher Jonathan Cape are worth between $50 and $200, depending on their condition - at least they were before the global financial crisis. The Bay East results suggest demand may have slowed in the past five years. Those who bought in 2007 may have to wait for the global economy to recover before making a profit on their investment.

Back then, anything by Fleming was cool and collectable, including his non-Bond books. The Diamond Smugglers, ''the fantastic true story of the world's greatest smuggling racket'', was first published in 1957, then re-released in 1960 by Pan. Even the first paperback editions sell for $65 in Britain ($15 here) - or they did back when people had money to spend.

Then there are those who are mainly inspired by the 007 films, many of whom are mainly inspired by the leading ladies. This explains why the celebrated white bikini worn by Ursula Andress (aka Honey Ryder) sold for £35,000 at a Christie's auction in London in 2001.

This sale marked the start of the Bond boom, which, with the normal market fluctuations, continues.

In October 2010, an American enthusiast paid £2.6 million for the 1964 Aston Martin DB5 featured in the films Goldfinger and Thunderball. This is the famous Bond car featuring an ejector seat, a bulletproof shield and revolving number plates. It helped that the car was driven by the most memorable 007, Sean Connery.

The vendor picked it up for $US12,000 in 1969.

This story Live and let's buy first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.