Rare Book Monthly

Articles - February - 2014 Issue

Rothschild Prayerbook sells at Christies for $13,605,000

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The Rothschild Prayerbook (courtesy of Christie's).

The year is 1999; the location, Christie’s London. A Renaissance prayer book, a Book of Hours known as the Rothschild Prayerbook, is up for sale. It is one of the finest illuminated manuscripts available to private hands. It contains illustrations from the most acclaimed and distinguished illuminators of the late 15th and early 16th centuries such as Gerard Horenbout, Simon Bening, his father Alexander Bening, and Gerard David. The quality of work is unmatched by other material publically available. It is considered a titan among the achievements of Flemish Renaissance painting, with 150 pages, 67 of which are full-page miniatures, and borders of exquisite quality. It is part of a prestigious group of manuscrits-de-luxe that was completed between 1490 and 1520, the rest of which are held by institutions: a Book of Hours in the British Library, the Spinola Hours at the J. Paul Getty Museum, and the Grimani Breviary at the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana in Venice. All four works contain the work of Horenbout, who became court painter to Margaret of Austria, Regent of the Netherlands, in 1515, and later worked for King Henry VIII in England. Even the item’s provenance is fabled. It was originally made for a member of the imperial court in the Netherlands around 1505, and in the 19th century added to the Rothschild family collection before being confiscated by the Nazis. In this year, 1999, the Austrian government returned the manuscript, along with other valuable collectibles, to the Rothschilds who then offered them for sale.

In 1999, the Prayerbook was the prize of the Rothschild auction, which raised nearly $90 million. Bidding was fierce among five bidders, and on route to setting an auction record for the most expensive illuminated manuscript ever sold, the book sold for close to three times its high estimate of $4.9 million. The price was not one that simply rolls off the tongue: $13,378,558.

Nearly fifteen years later, and a few days ago, the same Book of Hours resurfaced in the rooms—again with Christie’s, but this time in New York—with the hope of setting a new record.

Nicholas Hall, the International Co-Chairman of Old Master & 19th-Century Art at Christie’s, commented in a press release: “Every aspect of this Book of Hours – from the quality of the parchment to the wealth and refinement of the decoration – marks the Rothschild Prayerbook as one of the most prestigious and exquisite examples of Flemish manuscript illumination. Christie’s is honored to be entrusted with its sale for the second time in a generation. We are excited to include it as the centerpiece of a global tour of highlights from our Old Masters Week, giving collectors around the world an opportunity to see this beautifully rendered and remarkably well-preserved work.”

This time around, Christie’s New York attempted to estimate the item at prices in line with history. The estimate was set at $12-18 million. On top of the world tour which preceded the sale, newspapers and online publications covered the upcoming auction. The stage was set for a large showing.

Christie’s released today results for the sale. Some publications had keyed in on the high estimate of $18 million with headlines like “Prayerbook could sell for $18M.” But to set a new record, $18 million was not required. The final hammer price, $13,605,000.00, achieved the hope, if just barely. In terms of overall value, with inflation taken into account, the price came down a notch. But the record still stands!

Where goes this book from here?  While the rest of its compatriot manuscrits-de-luxe are housed in museums, this one remains in private hands. We will see it again. And wherever it goes, its fate will become clear, for some books cast shadows that span continents, and this is one of them.

 

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>
  • <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Shackleton, Ernest. <i>Aurora Australis.</i> Printed at the sign of 'The Penguins'; East Antarctica, 1908. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Shackleton, Ernest. <i>South Polar Times.</i> 1st edition, limited issue. from the library of Michael Barne. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> General Washington's <i>Proceedings of a General Court Martial... of Major General Lee.</i> Philiadelphia, 1778. 100 copies printed for Congress. BOUND WITH: ...Court Martial... of St Clair and ...Schuyler. $25,000 to $35,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>The Voice of the People.</i> Boston, 1754. Rare pamphlet on the Excise Tax. Nathaniel Sparhawk's copy. $4,000 to $6,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Autograph Letter Signed ("S.L. Clemens"), offering extensive hard-earned advice on writing, 5 pp, 1881. $30,000 to $50,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> After Fra Egnazio Danti. <i>L'Ultime Parti not:e nel Indie Occid:ntli" [The last known parts of the Western Indies].</i> Painted Map of California, Western Mexico, and Japan. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Ptolemaeus, Claudius. <i>Geographie opus nouissima...</i> 1513. The most important edition of Ptolemy, containing the Admiral's Map. $250,000 to $350,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> De Arellano, Don Alonso. Manuscript, his <i>"Relación mui singular y circunstanciada... Capitán del Patax San Lucas,"</i> manuscript copy from the Sir Thomas Phillips collection. $50,000 to $80,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Purchas, Samuel. <i>Purchas his Pilgrimes.</i> First edition. With John Simth's engraved map of Virginia. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Lewis, Meriwether. Contemporary manuscript true copy of his final power of attorney, 1809. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>A New Method of Macarony Making, as Practiced at Boston in North America.</i> Mezzotint. London, 1774. $5,000 to $7,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>Scientific Base Ball Pitching: A Treatise on the Pitcher, Pitching, Origin and Philosophy of the Curve.</i> Chicago, 1897. $2,000 to $3,000
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Franklin H. Brown, <i>State Sovereignty, National Union,</i> Chicago, 1860. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Thomas Paine, <i>The American Crisis,</i> Fishkill, NY, December 1776. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b><br>The Aitken Bible, Philadelphia, 1781. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Francisco Loubayssin de Lamarca, probable first edition of the first novel set in the Spanish New World, Paris, 1617. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Juan de la Anunciación, <i>Sermonario en lengua mexicana,</i> first edition, first book of sermons in Nahuatl, Mexico, 1577. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Maturino Gilberti, <i>Thesoro spiritual en lengua de Mechuacá,</i> first edition, Mexico, 1558. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Commission of William O. Stoddard as secretary to the president, signed by Lincoln, Washington, 1861. $7,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> <i>Clay and Frelinghuysen,</i> flag banner, circa 1844. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Daguerreotype of a man believed to be Frederick Granger Williams Smith, son of Joseph Smith, circa late 1850s. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> John C. Wolfe, <i>Portrait of Abraham Lincoln,</i> oil on board in period wooden frame, circa 1860s. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Francis W. Winton, manuscript on pow-wows with indigenous Canadians, 1881. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Family letters from two young daguerreotype artists, 1826-79. $10,000 to $15,000.

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