Published 18th April 2011
Prices were generally high with scarce and unique items often well exceeding their estimates. Also with online Internet bidding available in the saleroom for the first time in this book sale, most items were keenly contested.
However, one item stood out in the sale - a Captain Cook rarity, discovered in a house clearance by one of Bearnes Hampton & Littlewoods' valuers. Published in 1787, just eight years after the violent death of Captain Cook in Hawaii, it is titled, "A Catalogue of the Different Specimens of Cloth Collected in the Three Voyages of Captain Cook, to the Southern Hemisphere ...".
Incredibly it still contained the original cloth samples made from bark and other wonderful natural materials. Used principally for clothing, these exotic materials were also a medium of exchange and wealth. When presented with them for the first time Europeans would have greeted these cloths with wonder and excitement. On the day, with two major British dealers going head-to-head, the final hammer price was £130,000. This auction price exceeded any other for this item, primarily as this one was complete in a contemporary binding. The price was also a house record for any single object sold by the firm since the two salerooms merged in 2008.
There were a number of other unusual items sold, including a rare mid-eighteenth century Armenian pierced silver and gilt binding which depicted the Virgin Mother and the Christ Child surrounded by numerous symbols of religious iconography. After spirited bidding, the rarity of this item was reflected in a final price of £3,100.
Another rare and beautiful item was a pack of astrological playing cards. Published in 1827, it was complete with 52 cards and one duty card, with fine hand coloured illustrations of the stars, constellations and planets. In its original box, albeit rather battered, it also importantly still had the original 18 page set of rules. It finally fell to a telephone bidder at £3,100.
Possibly the most unusual item in the sale was a 14–foot-long panorama titled "Going To Epsom Races ..." etc. In its original rosewood cylinder, with the printed title label still present, it was published in 1819. It reflected the thrill, excitement and general milieu of the race day, with strutting dandies, beautifully dressed ladies and of course the colourful jockeys with their horses. There was some slight damage which perhaps kept the price to just £1,150.
Two literary collections saw some healthy hammer prices, with first editions of Thomas Hardy's "The Return of the Native", in three volumes in original decorative cloth covers selling at £3,400. Similarly a first edition of "Tess of the D'Urbervilles" in original cloth sold for £1,250. An early set of the novels of Jane Austen, published in the Richard Bentley Standard Novels series in 1833, made a healthy £2,800. And from the sublime... a first edition (1958) of Ian Fleming's "Doctor No" sold for £850.
Association can mean everything. This was the case for a beautifully bound set of Flaubert's Oeuvres in eight volumes, containing the ownership inscription of Henry James, which fetched £2,900. James was a lover of Flaubert's writings and wrote several essays on his works.
Manuscript items included a single page signed letter by Lewis Carroll, sold at £1,500. An envelope addressed to Samuel Richardson in the hand of Doctor Samuel Johnson sold at £300. A valuation of a slavery plantation in Jamaica, dating from 1789 on six folio leaves, it fetched a bid of £700. £400 was the price achieved for a manuscript warrant signed by several members of William of Orange's government in 1692, for the imprisonment of several of his opponents in the Tower of London.
A consignment of books illustrated by Arthur Rackham among others saw a welcome return to bullish prices for illustrated books, with a limited edition of "Rip Van Winkle" selling at £1,900, and "The Tempest" in a dust wrapper at £350. However, the best price in this section was for a limited edition of Edgar Allan Poe's "Tales of Mystery and Imagination", a fine copy in full gilt vellum beautifully illustrated with Harry Clarke's malevolent drawings, finally selling at £2,100.
Sporting books were well represented with books on angling, hunting, and motor racing. More unusually, a small but select collection of books on fencing saw a best price of £2,400 achieved for the 1765 first bilingual edition of Angelo's famous "School of Fencing", illustrated with 47 fine large copper engraved plates.
The second highest price of the day, £8,800, was achieved by an editio princeps of Euripidies' "Tragoediae Septendecim", despite lacking the final 'anchor' leaf in volume one. It was one of the most important books in Greek tragedy. This copy was published for the first time by Aldine in Venice in 1503.
A small album illustrated with original photographs depicting seal hunting, biplanes, Eskimos, and geological sites dating from c 1920s made an exceptional price of £1,450. It illustrated a little known expedition apparently to find likely sites for gold exploration within the Arctic Circle. It was commanded by GV Blanchet, and titled the "Dominion Explorers".
Written by Roger Collicott (Book Consultant)