The “unburnable” edition of The Handmaid’s Tale will be auctioned

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To protest the widespread book ban in the United States, Margaret Atwood collaborated with her publishers on a fireproof edition of her most famous and oft-banned novel, The Handmaid’s Talefirst published in 1985.

The singular copy, reminiscent of the famous edition of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 bound in asbestos, was produced by Rethink, an independent creative agency, and manufactured in Toronto by The Gas Company Inc. bookbinding studio using the following materials: black motion picture film dust jacket, white foil pages hand-stitched aluminum with nickel thread, phenolic hard cover, stainless steel head and tail bands and Kapton high temperature adhesive.

A one-minute promotional video to introduce the volume shows Atwood wielding a flamethrower on this very special, incombustible copy.

“I never thought I would try to burn one of my own books…and fail,” she commented in a press release. “The Handmaid’s Tale has been banned many times, sometimes by whole countries, like Portugal and Spain during the time of Salazar and the Francoists, sometimes by school boards, sometimes by libraries. Let’s hope we don’t get to the stage of book burning, as in Fahrenheit 451. But if we do, let’s hope some books turn out to be non-flammable – that they travel underground, like banned books did in the Soviet Union.”

Sotheby’s is offering the book in an online sale that closes June 7. It’s estimated to fetch up to $100,000, and indeed early auctions this morning have it already at $70,000. “More than a unique collector’s item, the fireproof edition of The Handmaid’s Tale is intended to serve as a powerful symbol against censorship and a reminder of the need to protect vital stories,” Sotheby’s said.

Proceeds from the sale of the book will go to PEN America, the powerful anti-censorship organization we recently featured in our Winter 2022 issue.

If you’re in New York, you can see the “unburnable book” on display at Sotheby’s from June 3-7.

Another copy of The Handmaid’s Tale– a first edition heavily annotated by the author – will be auctioned in July for the benefit of English PEN at the First Editions, Second Thoughts auction in London.

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