At Raptis Rare Books, one of our specialties is signed first editions written by Nobel Prize winners. Therefore, the announcement of the new Nobel prize winners are always a fun time for us. Today, the Nobel Prize for Literature was awarded to Mario Vargas Llosa and our congratulations go out to him.

A golden medallion with an embossed image of Alfred Nobel facing left in profile. To the left of the man is the text "ALFR•" then "NOBEL", and on the right, the text (smaller) "NAT•" then "MDCCCXXXIII" above, followed by (smaller) "OB•" then "MDCCCXCVI" below.

The Nobel Prize is the world’s most prestigious and coveted awards. We all know about them, but do you know the history of how it began? It is quite an interesting story. As you may know, it was started by the Swedish inventor and engineer Alfred Nobel, most famous for the invention of dynamite but who also created more than 350 other inventions. In 1888 Alfred’s brother Ludvig (also a genius engineer) passed way, but a French newspaper confused the men and wrote an obituary for Alfred titled, The Merchant of Death is Dead and went on to say, “Dr. Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday.” Alfred was disappointed with the way he was portrayed and the way he would have been remembered if it had been him to had truly died. Nobel was a pacifist who liked to write poetry and fiction and had a large library with a rich spectrum of literature in different languages. He had intended his explosive to be used mostly for peaceful purposes and was dismayed that it became so powerful an instrument of war.

He because somewhat obsessive about the legacy he would leave and this inspired him to change his will so that most of his fortune (which would have been equal to over $185 million by today’s standards) would go to the creation of a series of prizes for those who confer the ‘greatest benefit to mankind’ in the subjects of physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature, and for work in peace. Although he signed his will in 1895 and died in 1896, it wasn’t until 1900 that the Nobel Foundation was founded as a private organization, whose aim was to manage and invest the fortune and handle the administration duties for the award, such as marketing the prizes internationally. A number of Nobel committees are responsible for awarding the prizes and the first Nobel prizes were awarded in 1901. In 1968, the field of economics was added to the list of prizes awarded annually.

Although Nobel prizes are awarded each October, the ceremony occurs every year in Sweden on December 10th, the anniversary of Nobel’s death. Each recipient receives a medal, a personal diploma, and a cash award, (the current amount totaling over $1 million for each subject). According to the statutes of the Nobel Foundation, each laureate is also required to give a public lecture on the subject related to the topic of their prize. These lectures most often occur during Nobel Week, which takes place the week before the award ceremony, but this is not mandatory.

The Nobel Prize represents the highest achievement within one’s field. Therefore, putting together a collection by these winners can be a very interesting and fun endeavor.

Here at Raptis Rare Books, you can browse our selection of signed books here. Although we have all fields, we again congratulate Mario Vargas Llosa in joining other winners in Literature that we currently have for sale, such as Jose Saramago, J.M. Coetzee, Saul Bellow, Pearl Buck, Elias Canetti, Gunter Grass, Elfried Jelinek, Imre Kertesz, Halldor Laxness, J.M.G. Le Clezio, Doris Lessing, John Steinbeck, Nadine Gordimer, Toni Morrison, Dario Fo, Naguib Mahfouz, Herta Muller, V.S Naipaul, Orhan Pahmuk, Derek Walcott, Claude Simon, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Seamus Heaney, Harold Pinter, Ernest Hemingway, Wole Soyinka, Gabriel Garcia-Marquez, Wislawa Szymborska, and Gao Xingjian.

“The said interest shall be divided into five equal parts, which shall be apportioned as follows: /- – -/ one part to the person who shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work of an idealistic tendency …”

(Excerpt from the will of Alfred Nobel)