In Brief

By FELICIA R. LEE

Big Price for Big Book

The master copy of the working draft of the book "Alcoholics Anonymous," which belonged to William Wilson, a co-founder of A.A., was sold at auction yesterday for $1.576 million. Sotheby's sold the 161-page manuscript, considered the bible of A.A., to a classic book collector from La Jolla, Calif., said Matthew Weigman, a spokesman.

The auction house had estimated the manuscript's price at $300,000 to $500,000. It was offered for sale by an unidentified A.A. member who said he received it from an aunt who knew Wilson.

Some collectors and scholars expressed concern that the manuscript's sale would put it out of the reach of scholars interested in studying 12-step programs like A.A., which some consider one of the most important movements of the 20th century. They wanted the manuscript to go to A.A. or to an archive.

The typewritten manuscript has a multitude of annotations that showed how the Big Book, as it is known, was very much a group project. Early drafts went to dozens of people, from alcoholics to psychologists. In the manuscript's margins they refined the language and hammered out their philosophy of how only another alcoholic could help an alcoholic stop drinking. It was published in 1939.

Wilson, better known as Bill W., founded A.A. with Robert Smith in 1935 and became very much its public face. He died of emphysema in 1971.

A 1978 inscription on the manuscript is from Wilson's wife, Lois Wilson (who died in 1988), to a "Barry." Some historians think that is the writer Barry Leach, who wrote a biography of her.

New York Times June 19, 2004


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