Rare Book Monthly

Articles - August - 2014 Issue

Fall Art Auctions Could Provide Over $100 Million to Botanical Library

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Rachel and Paul Mellon (courtesy of Sotheby's).

A privately owned botanical library is about to get a massive donation, thanks to the will of its extraordinarily wealthy founder. Sotheby's recently announced that it will be offering over 2,000 pieces of fine art, jewelry, furniture and other items from the collection of the late Rachel Lambert Mellon in a series of auctions this fall. Sotheby's has estimated the value of the collection as “in excess of $100 million.” The beneficiary is the Gerard B. Lambert Foundation. The foundation supports horticultural projects, most notably the Oak Spring Garden Library, on the Mellon estate in Upperville, Virginia, 60 miles west of Washington. Sotheby's explains, “The Oak Spring Garden Library, Mrs. Mellon’s celebrated collection of rare books, manuscripts, works of art and artifacts relating to gardening, landscape design, horticulture, botany, natural history and travels, is world-renowned and among the finest of its kind.”

 

Rachel Lambert “Bunny” Mellon, who died this past March at the age of 103, represented a combination of two great fortunes. Her grandfather, Jordan Lambert, was the inventor of Listerine. Her father, Gerard Barnes Lambert, turned that invention into a fortune. He was a President of the Gillette Safety Razor Company, and a founder of Lambert Pharmacal, which later merged to form the giant pharmaceutical company Warner-Lambert (now part of Pfizer).

 

Her husband, Paul Mellon, came from an even wealthier background. His father, Andrew Mellon, and his uncle were the owners of Pittsburgh's Mellon Bank, founded by his grandfather. Paul Mellon was heir to a fortune when his father died. The first Fortune Magazine listing of the wealthiest Americans (1957) placed Paul Mellon, his sister, and two cousins, as four of America's eight wealthiest people. Paul Mellon did not share his father's love for banking. Not needing a day job, he became one of America's greatest philanthropists of the 20th century. He was instrumental in the creation and funding of the National Gallery of Art in Washington in 1937. In the 1960's, he gave his important collection of British art and rare books to Yale University. Paul Mellon died in 1999, at the comparatively young age of 91.

 

“Bunny” Mellon did not have a day job either, though that was the norm for women of her generation. That did not stop her from becoming an expert in the field she loved – horticulture. She not only designed her own gardens, but those of close friends. Her work was greatly admired by a good friend, Jacqueline Kennedy. She helped Mrs. Kennedy spruce up her own place, and then, after Mrs. Kennedy's husband was elected President, she took on the task of redesigning the White House Rose Garden. The two would remain close for the remainder of Mrs. Kennedy's life (she was Caroline Kennedy's Godmother), Mrs. Mellon being a staunch Democrat despite her husband being a very conservative Republican. Opposites attract.

 

Meanwhile, Mrs. Mellon began building her horticultural library. The buildings were designed by noted architect Edward Larrabee Barnes. Mrs. Mellon designed the gardens. By this time, she had already built a large collection of botanical books, which according to a Vanity Fair article from 2010, consists of 3,500 rare and historical books and manuscripts and 10,000 modern reference works. Amazingly enough, Mrs. Mellon was never trained in horticulture. She was self-taught.

 

In a book from 1989, Mrs. Mellon described the Oak Spring Garden Library this way: “This collection of books and drawings grew as a way of life, not just a gathering of rare and interesting books bought at the enticement of an enthusiastic bookseller, but chosen one by one for their special and unusual contents and design, as well as their relationship to books already part of the collection.” The “enthusiastic bookseller” quote is a bit amusing as her son from her first marriage was a Washington, D.C., bookseller.

 

In her will, Mrs. Mellon provided that her botanical library, the library building, including its furniture and art, and 100-300 acres of land including the buildings and greenhouses thereon, be dedicated to implement the “Library-Garden Plan.” This plan instructs her executors to operate the library and surrounding acres for the “public benefit.” She further wrote that “It is my expectation that...Gerard B. Lambert Foundation...will provide the financial support to operate the Library-Garden Plan as a resource for education and training generally in horticulture, botany and landscape design and related fields of nature.” This auction will undoubtedly add substantially to the foundation's endowment with which to carry out this call for financial support. Currently, the Oak Spring Garden Library and grounds aren't open to the public in the sense of regular visiting hours. However, requests to visit the library “for a specific research purpose” are welcome, with a response promised within a day.

 

Dates and details about the auction will be forthcoming as we get closer to fall.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <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.
  • <b>Leland Little: Important Fall Auction. September 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Published Half Plate Ambrotype of a North Carolina Confederate Officer. $2,000 to $4,000
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Two 19th Century Books Pertaining to Canada's Red River Settlement. $400 to $800
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Two Books With Fore-Edge Paintings of British Architectual Landmarks. $400 to $600
    <b>Leland Little: Important Fall Auction. September 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Andy Warhol (American, 1928-1987), "Torte a la Dobosch" from <i>Wild Raspberries</i>. $1,000 to $3,000
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Keith Haring (American, 1958-1990), <i>Pop Shop II,</i> One Plate screenprint in colors, on wove paper, 1998. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Thomas Rowlandson (British, 1756-1827), Twenty-Two Prints from the <i>Tours of Dr. Syntax</i>. $500 to $1,000
  • <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

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