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Alcoholics Anonymous sues for return of 12-step manuscript

🕐 2 min read

NEW YORK (AP) — Alcoholics Anonymous is demanding the return of its 1939 original manuscript describing the “Twelve Step” program of recovery from alcoholism.

Alcoholics Anonymous World Services Inc. in New York state court last Thursday sued an Alabama man, Ken Roberts, who owns the manuscript, a New York art gallery and a California auction house.

The manuscript is to be sold June 8 at auction. The lawsuit said the manuscript was gifted to a man who left instructions for it to be given to Alcoholics Anonymous upon his death. But it never was.

Now, it is being advertised by Profiles in History, which plans to auction it in two weeks. Aron Gerson, a spokesman for the Los Angeles-area auction house, declined comment. A man who answered the phone at QuestRoyal Fine Art in Manhattan, where the manuscript was displayed over the weekend, said he could not comment.

On a web page devoted to the auction, Profiles in History described it as “The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous” and “The Bible to Millions,” saying its 161 typed pages included handwritten edits by AA founders, including William Griffith Wilson, also known as Bill W. It said it had sold 30 million copies since 1939, been translated into 43 languages and has been ranked by the Library of Congress as a top non-fiction book that shaped America.

The auction house estimated it will sell for between $2 million and $3 million.

The lawsuit said the original working draft copy of the manuscript is “an original, historical document of unique importance.” It said it “indisputably belongs” to Alcoholics Anonymous after Barry Leach, who received it from Wilson’s widow, signed and notarized a letter in April 1979 saying it would belong to the organization upon his death. He died in 1985.

The lawsuit blamed “either extreme negligence or potentially wrongful actions” around the time of Leach’s death for it never reaching Alcoholics Anonymous.

As a result, it said, the manuscript was sold at auction in June 2004 at Sotheby’s to William A. Shenk for $1.57 million. The lawsuit said Roberts bought it at a Sotheby’s auction in 2007 for $850,000 at a time when Alcoholics Anonymous was not aware of Leach’s notarized letter.

The lawsuit said Roberts informed Alcoholics Anonymous on April 7 that he planned to sell the manuscript on June 8. A phone message left for Roberts was not immediately returned.

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