Mastering the Art of French Bidding

Mastering the Art of French Cooking, it was reported earlier this week, has hit the bestseller list for the first time since it was published 48 years ago. Thanks largely to Julie & Julia fans who've rushed straight from the multiplex to the bookstore, Julia Child is acquainting a new generation with the indiscreet pleasures of butter, cream, and aspic. But a perhaps equally telling measure of the book's renaissance can be found on eBay, where price is determined by an object's perceived desirability and relevance to the current cultural conversation. Judged by that criteria, Mastering is the topic of an awful lot of conversations.

An eBay search for the title brought up 233 results. Later editions of the book are plentiful and relatively affordable, but it's the earlier editions that betray the full measure of the Julia frenzy: bidding for a 1961 first edition, first printing, was at $511 yesterday afternoon, with the reserve still unmet. Another first printing showed a starting bid of $300, while yet another offered a Buy It Now price of $649.95. That's almost twice the price of a one-way plane ticket to Paris, which on the CheapTickets website starts at $353 before taxes.

While the cost of a first edition of Mastering isn't quite pocket change, one could argue that it's a relatively small price to pay for a functional piece of history. But it's a little harder to make that same argument for a 2005 first edition of Julie & Julia, found on eBay with a head-scratching Buy It Now price tag of $55.20. One could argue that the seller has, if not quite what Child once described as "the courage of one's convictions," then certainly the conviction of his or her delusions.


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