MANHATTAN (CN) — Breaking with its tradition, Alcoholics Anonymous went to court in New York Monday to prevent a draft of its founding manuscript by AA co-founder Bill Wilson from being sold at auction next month.
Written by William Griffith Wilson in 1939, the “Printer’s Copy” of the document includes handwritten edits, changes and corrections to the book “Alcoholics Anonymous,” the original 12-step program, known to AA members as The Big Book.
Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, a New York-based company operating the organization’s U.S. and Canadian chapters, claims that Wilson’s friend Barry Leach bequeathed the document to AA in his will.
“The manuscript is an original, historical document of unique importance to A.A.W.S., and undeniably is a critical piece of its history,” the group wrote in its May 22 complaint in New York County Supreme Court.
Profiles in History, a California-based dealer of Hollywood memorabilia, calls the text the working draft for “one of the most influential books of the twentieth century” in a catalogue for its June 8 auction.
Estimating its value as $2 million to $3 million, the catalogue quotes an inscription from Lois Wilson, the Bill Wilson’s widow, to Leach.
“I joyfully give this multilith copy of the AA book, one of my most precious possessions, to you, dear Barry, as evidence of my deep gratitude for all you have done for AA, for Al-Anon, & particularly for me,” Wilson wrote to Leach on Jan. 1, 1978.
A year after this inscription, AA says, Leach “expressly and irrevocably gifted” the manuscript to the organization in a signed and notarized letter. Leach died in 1985.
“However, due to either extreme negligence or potentially wrongful actions by individuals outside of A.A.W.S. at or around the time of Mr. Leach’s death, A.A.W.S. did not come into possession of the manuscript,” the 11-page complaint states. “Mr. Leach’s estate had no title in the manuscript. Rather, the title belonged, and remains, exclusively with A.A.W.S., pursuant to the terms of the irrevocable gift.”
It lost track of the manuscript for the better part of two decades, AA says, until it got reports of two Sotheby’s auctions, in 2004 and 2007.
The 2007 auction went to Alabama collector Ken Roberts, who reportedly bought the manuscript for $850,000 plus fees.
Last week Roberts tried to drum up publicity for the resale, at a May 18-to-20 preview showing of the 161-page document at Manhattan’s Questroyal Fine Art gallery.
One of AA’s 12 traditions, from the Big Book, is to keep the organization and its name out of any public controversy.
“Commencing litigation is not something that A.A.W.S. generally does, since it focuses its energies on serving the fellowship and the still suffering alcoholics,” the complaint states. “Perhaps even more importantly, the fact that a central tenet of A.A.W.S.’s principles is to avoid controversy underscores just how critical of a threat to its history and mission A.A.W.S. views the current circumstances of a known public auction of the manuscript.”
AA asks the court to order Roberts, Questroyal and Profiles in History to return the document.
It group is represented by Sandra Hauser, with Dentons US LLP.
Profiles in History declined to comment. Questroyal did not immediately respond to a request for comment.