“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
A rare and important relic of one of the greatest of American novels.

F. Scott Fitzgerald (photo credit Nickolas Muray, 1929)

On 27 October 1924, F. Scott Fitzgerald sent the complete typescript of his new novel to Maxwell Perkins, Charles Scribner's legendary editor. In a letter mailed to Perkins on that same day, Fitzgerald wrote: “Under separate cover I’m sending you my third novel: The Great Gatsby” (Kuehl & Bryer 80).  Fitzgerald, however, was not entirely satisfied with the title, and for a time “Among the Ash Heaps and Millionaires,” “Gold-Hatted Gatsby,” “The High-Bouncing Lover,” and “On the Road to West Egg” were all contenders. Fitzgerald wrote to Perkins again on 7 November 1924, stating: “I have now decided to stick to the title I put on the book. Trimalchio in West Egg” (Kuehl & Bryer 81). Trimalchio is a character in Petronius's Satyricon (ca. AD 27-66), known for his lavish parties. A former slave who has amassed a considerable fortune, Trimalchio's guests over-indulge, behave abominably, and can't even be bothered to remember the name of their host. While the parallels between Jay Gatsby and Trimalchio are apparent, this classical reference would not have been obvious to Fitzgerald's readers in 1925. Fitzgerald eventually came to this realization, and on 15 December 1924 he cabled Perkins, expressing his desire to change the title back to "The Great Gatsby" (Kuehl & Bryer 86).

“For Christs sake don’t give anyone that jacket you’re saving for me. I’ve written it into the book.”
- F.Scott Fitzgerald in a letter to Maxwell Perkins, 25 August 1924

Francis Cugat (photo credit Theatre Magazine, 1917)

Before Fitzgerald left for France in May of 1924, he saw a painting in the Scribner offices by the artist Francis Cugat. The now-iconic image of a woman’s eyes hovering above a nighttime amusement-park scene inspired Fitzgerald so that he requested it be reserved for the jacket of his novel-in-progress. On 25 August 1924, Fitzgerald wrote to Perkins from Saint-Raphaël: “For Christs sake don’t give anyone that jacket you’re saving for me. I’ve written it into the book” (Kuehl & Bryer 76). Cugat's original painting is now held at the Department of Special Collections at Princeton University Library.

Maxwell Perkins apparently set production in motion as soon as he received Fitzgerald's typescript in the autumn of 1924. The compositors at the Scribner Press began each of the galley proofs with a typeset slug reading: “Fitzgerald’s Trimalchio.” When the art department began work on the jacket, however, the title was evidently “The Great Gatsby.”  The present “Artist Proof” is seemingly an attempt to position the title of the book above the amusement-park and eyes in Cugat’s painting. The annotations by the artist are also of note: a scarlet red is suggested for the background; the “figures in eyes” are called out; the artist notes “The great Gatsby and all other in white,” meaning that the lettering of the title would, in printing parlance, be “dropped out.”  The “Artist Proof” is unsigned, and, in all likelihood, was accomplished by someone in Scribner’s art department, rather than Cugat.

“Think irony is far more effective under less leading title. Everyone likes present title. Urge we keep it.”
- Maxwell Perkins in a telegram to Fitzgerald, 20 March 1925

Maxwell Perkins (image courtesy of the Antiquarian Booksellers's Association of America)

Fitzgerald continued to express anxiety over the title. A month before the publication of The Great Gatsby, he reached out to Perkins, wondering what it would take to change it at such a late stage. Perkins cabled Fitzgerald on 20 March 1925, urging the author to leave the title as it was: “Advertised and sold for April tenth publication. Change suggested would mean some weeks delay, very great psychological damage. Think irony is far more effective under less leading title. Everyone likes present title. Urge we keep it.” On 22 March, Fitzgerald replied: “YOURE RIGHT.”  

The dust jacket for Gatsby has achieved a near-legendary status, with "Celestial Eyes" inextricably linked to the novel's themes. The present artist's proof offers a remarkable glimpse into the creative process behind the now-ubiquitous image.

Sotheby's would like to thank James West for his generous assistance in the cataloguing of this lot.

A first edition of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (1925)

Kuehl, John, and Jackson R. Bryer (ed.), Dear Scott/Dear Max: The Fitzgerald–Perkins Correspondence (New York: Scribner’s, 1971).