In 1936, 5,000 copies of the book “Alcoholics Anonymous,” sat in a warehouse for months, nearly bankrupting a New York stockbroker. But after coverage on radio and in the Saturday Evening Post, sales exploded, and requests for help were flooded to the group, and a phenomenon and life-saving sub-culture was formed.
Today, there has been more than 30 million copies sold, and it has been translated into 67 languages. In 2012, the Library of Congress ranked it No. 10 in its top 25 “Books that Shaped America.”
Last week, the auction house “Profiles in History” announced the sale of the manuscript with handwritten notes from the group’s founding fathers, Bill Wilson, and Bob Smith.
The founding document of the “Big Book,” sold at auction for a whopping $2.4 million to billionaire and Indianapolis Colts owner, Jim Irsay.
“It’s A Miracle To See This Thing Live”
In a statement following the auction, Irsay noted that he considers himself a steward for the manuscript.
“I’ve held it. I’ve looked through it. It is absolutely mind-blowing,” he said. “It was just a miracle to see this thing live.”
Irsay, stated in a telephone interview with the Associated Press, that he considered remaining anonymous in the purchasing of the manuscript, however wanted to go public to attempt to relieve the stigma of alcoholism and addiction.
“The only way we stay sober is to give it away,” Irsay said.
“I think it’ll help a lot of people,” he said. “That’s the reason I’m doing it.”
This is the third time the 161-page typed document has been sold. It sold in 2007 for $850,000 and for $1.6 million in 2004. Saturday’s auction was delayed by a dispute with Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc.
Irsay told The Associated Press he plans to build a special display for the manuscript and display it for several months a year at Alcoholics Anonymous’ headquarters in New York. He says he attempted to buy the manuscript when it was up for auction several years ago, and he is thrilled at the opportunity to share it publicly.
Standing The Test Of Time
Co-Founder, Bill Wilson’s widow Lois owned the papers after his death in 1971, and she passed them on to her friend Barry Leach. Alcoholics Anonymous said Leach signed and notarized a letter in 1979 saying the manuscript would belong to the organization after his death. He died in 1985, but the manuscript did not make its way to Alcoholics Anonymous, which did not know about the notarized letter at the time. Leach’s brother, as executor of Leach’s estate, declared that Leach had “no tangible personal property of significant value.”
The whereabouts of the manuscript remained unknown until it reappeared at an auction house in 2004 when Sotheby’s auctioned it for $1.6 million to a “Joseph B.” It was auctioned again in 2007 to Alabama resident Ken Roberts for $992,000.
A few months later, according to court documents, A.A. World Services rediscovered Leach’s notarized letter. When Roberts moved to auction, the organization sued to stop him, claiming it was the rightful owner.
Details of the settlement are unclear, but A.A. agreed to waive its right to the manuscript.
On the 161-page review copy, Wilson and his friends scribbled edits in red, blue and black pencil. One of them persuaded Wilson to change the tone of the entire thing from lecturing advice to a humble offering of personal experience. Thus, “Half measures will avail you nothing” became “Half measures availed us nothing.”
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