Rare Book Monthly

Articles - November - 2014 Issue

Brooke-Hitching: a collector's collector

92c02dfb-9a7d-485e-89ee-7f9dd203ddba

When dealers sell at the end of their careers a few are celebrated for their knowledge, intuition and judgment.  When the sale or sales are at auction the ordinarily private process becomes a public one.  One such dealer enjoying the acclaim of his peers, is Franklin Brooke-Hitching, the private English dealer now in his early 70’s, whose material has been the subject of two successful sales at Sotheby’s in London this year and the subject of two more in 2015.  Mr. Brooke-Hitching, by all reports, sold many very good items during his career but the best examples he apparently kept for himself.  This explains the marvelous success his dispersal is achieving.  In this success he is following in the path of other dealers, in particular Ken Nebenzahl who himself collected and was the subject of memorable high dollar auctions over the past ten years.  It is not surprising then that Mr. Brooke-Hitching worked for Ken in Chicago for several years in the 1960s when he entered the trade after a brief career in finance and determined, that for a collector, the gold standard is perfection.  Ken, who had an open shop for 33 years, dealt in material of varying quality but what he took home to be part of his personal collection and decades later sent to auction to achieve great success, were the often-exceptional copies.  Mr. Brooke-Hitching observed his mentor’s methodology and adopted it for himself when he later moved to England.  This is what could be done and it is what Mr. Nebenzahl has in the intervening years brilliantly confirmed, returning to the market what he acquired over his decades as a dealer.   And now it is what Mr. Brooke-Hitching is in the midst of doing.  His first two sales brought $10,236,165 in the rooms.  In defining the essential difference between the Nebenzahl and his approach – Ken was I think a dealer-collector and Franklin a collector-dealer.   Ken bought to sell, Mr. Brooke-Hitching to collect.

 

Such collector-dealers live in the purgatory between committed collector and committed seller but invariably, except when short of money, honor the collecting impulse ahead of the desire to sell.   They like their material too much to part with it cheaply.  There are dealers on both sides of this approach, Bill Reese the leading dealer-collector in the Americana field, agrees.  “It’s a matter of degree.”

 

In his pursuit of a career in rare books Mr. Brook-Hitching would manage to both build his business and his collection, a relentless struggle in the best of times between what's needed to make ends meet and what the dedicated collector must acquire when the best opportunities present themselves.  Certainly his connections were helpful.  His father Desmond Brook-Hitching was a prominent lawyer, and his wife the Hon. Emma Caroline Blades, daughter of Rowland Roberts Blades, 2nd Baron of Ebbisham and Flavia Mary Meade.  He came well armed.

 

Beyond this, per John Windle, his long time friend and fellow dealer, “Emma is the grand or great grand-daughter of the printer and bibliographer William Blades who wrote the book on “Enemies of Books” and a book on Caxton and according to the DNB achieved enduring fame for “his pioneering use of type identification as a method of dating undated early books, a method still used by incunabulists at the beginning of the 20th century.” “ We used to tease Franklin that he married Emma for her books . . .”

 

Brooke-Hitching, once established in England, was able to become agent for the British Rail Pension Fund that would pursue the goal of building an important library and then, fifteen years later, manage its dispersal when such holdings became impolitic.  He was also able to purchase the Aynhoe Park Library at Oxfordshire that, according to Hugh Bett of Maggs Bros., was an exceptional decision.  In the pursuit and management of this business he honed his skills and here and there, when the printed examples were supreme, acquired them for himself.  It was a very smart way to build a collection.  In other words, as is often the case the library owner is every bit as interesting as the wonderful books they collect.

 

This then explains, to some extent, why the Brooke-Hitching and a few other end-of career sales experience exceptional success.  Collections discerningly built over decades, in time become the outer evidence of the inner collector.  It’s a test that most dealers and collectors fail for the standards are impossibly high.  Exactly where does contempt end and admiration begin?  It’s unanswerable except we have an answer that a United States Supreme Court Justice inadvertently provided when asked to define pornography:  “I know it when I see it” and so it is with the academic book community, the small world of very important dealers, important collecting institutions and well heeled collectors whose discernment matches their bankrolls.  Through two sales the votes are in and these sales are achieving “exceptional” status.

 

Such sales rarely occur but when they do the invisible divider between excellence and exceptionality is breached.  Such efforts are widely applauded, their collectors lionized and their copies pursued when offered in the rooms or later by dealers.  Such acclaim can be measured against the lower prices paid for the same titles, if not necessarily equal examples, sold over the past two decades at auction by those who tried but failed to scale these ramparts.  They are numerous.  As for the few achieving eminence over the past 25 years four collections come to mind, Mr. Nebenzahl’s and Frank Streeter’s sales at Christies and Frank Siebert’s and the Wardington Sales at Sothebys are the gold standards. 

 

The Brooke-Hitching sales are entering this pantheon, the world of rare books equivalent to enshrinement at Cooperstown.  Such are the results Mr. Brooke-Hitching is achieving as his sales continue into 2015.

 

Such collections are not easily built.

 

For both dealers and collectors Mr. Brooke-Hitching’s success is salutatory for it can sometimes feel it is almost impossible to build a great collection.  A great eye and an exceptional memory are, for exceptional collectors, givens.  And pre-opening access to what dealers bring to shows and exhibitions has been and continues to be very important, an advantage Mr. Brooke-Hitching, as a participating dealer, would often have had.  But so would others and he ended-up with the exceptional collection while so many others did not.  Book collecting is a gauntlet and his sales proving he ran the race well.

 

Graham Arader, who has known Brooke-Hitching for some thirty years, has provided a compelling picture of this collector-dealer, “a Hollywood-handsome man, for me impossible to buy from and impossible to sell to.  He both knew what he had and what he wanted and as a collector was particularly unwilling to part with what he admired.  We had great conversations but I don’t recall we ever did any significant business.  I have admired his approach.”

  

Mr. Brooke-Hitching is hardly the first collector-dealer but it’s instructive that his introduction to the trade came at the knee of Ken Nebenzahl who in the modern era set records in the auction rooms for the treasures he acquired as a dealer-collector over his sixty-year career.  So, in the Brooke-Hitching dispersals we are seeing something we have seen, if only rarely, before; determination, resources and judgment set to the music of book collecting and achieving great success.  It is a sweet song and for those of us laboring on the hillsides of tall mountains, inspiring.

 

Here then are the top ten lots, by price realized, in each of the first two sales.

 

Sale L14411 Brooke-Hitching S/O Part One 27 MAR 14

Grand Total: £2,347,206 ($3,892,137) Exch Rate: 1.66

 

Sold by Lot: 98.6% Lots Offered: 350

Sold by Value: 98.4% Lots Sold/Unsold: 343 / 5

  

Lot number, Price in GBP and US$ followed by the estimate in GBP and then a brief description

 

317 £182,500 ($302,622) £70,000 - 100,000

 

Cook—Shaw, A Catalogue of the Different Specimens of Cloth collected in the Three Voyages (1787)

 

288 £134,500 ($223,028) £80,000 - 120,000

 

Cook—Banks, Untitled chart of “The Great Pacific Ocean” (1772)

 

315 £104,500 ($173,282) £50,000 - 80,000

 

Cook—Samwell, A Narrative of the Death of Captain James Cook (1786)

 

286 £92,500 ($153,384) £20,000 - 30,000

 

Cook, A set of first editions of the official accounts of his three Pacific voyages (1773-1784)

 

146 £80,500 ($133,485) £30,000 - 40,000

 

Bligh—Christian, A Short Reply to Capt. William Bligh's Answer (1795)

 

295 £68,500 ($113,587) £8,000 - 12,000

 

Cook—Forster, A Letter to the right honourable The Earl of Sandwich (1778)

 

292 £52,500 ($87,056) £20,000 - 30,000

 

Cook- Dalrymple, A Letter from Mr. Dalrymple to Dr. Hawkesworth (1773)

 

299 £47,500 ($78,764) £8,000 - 12,000

 

Cook--Forster, J. Characteres Generum Plantarum (1776)

 

145 £40,000 ($66,328) £15,000 - 25,000

 

Bligh--Barney and Christian, Minutes of the Proceedings of the Court-Martial at Portsmouth (1792)

 

322 £37,500 ($62,182) £20,000 - 30,000

 

Cook—Webber, Views in the South Seas (1808)

 

174 £37,500 ($62,182) £15,000 - 20,000

 

Broughton, A Voyage of Discovery to the North Pacific Ocean (1804)

 

 

Sale L14412 Brooke-Hitching S/O Part Two 30 SEP 14

Grand Total: £3,900,417 ($6,344,028) Exch Rate: 1.63

 

Sold by Lot: 99.4% Lots Offered: 350

Sold by Value: 99.8% Lots Sold/Unsold: 348

 

Lot number, Price in GBP and US$ followed by the estimate in GBP and then a brief description

 

579 £458,500 ($745,750) £180,000 - 240,000

 

Hakluyt. The Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques and Discoveries of the English Nation. 1598-1600

 

363 £302,500 ($492,016) £120,000 - 160,000

 

Dalrymple. A complete set to date of Dalrymple's maps, charts and views (454 on 443 sheets). 1776-1788

 

479 £290,500 ($472,498) £150,000 - 200,000

 

Flinders. Observations on the coasts of Van Diemen's Land. 1801

 

402 £212,500 ($345,631) £60,000 - 90,000

 

Dobbs-Middleton controversy. A collection of seven works in 3 volumes

 

369 £182,500 ($296,836) £35,000 - 50,000

 

Darwin. Narrative of the Surveying Voyages of his Majesty's Ships Adventure and Beagle. 1839

 

371 £158,500 ($257,800) £50,000 - 70,000

 

Darwin. The Zoology of the Voyage of HMS Beagle. 1840-1843

 

416 £146,500 ($238,282) £50,000 - 70,000

 

Drake. The world encompassed. 1628

 

578 £146,500 ($238,282) £40,000 - 60,000

 

Hakluyt. The Principall Navigations, Voiages and Discoveries of the English Nation, made by Sea or over Land. 1589

 

602 £122,500 ($199,246) £15,000 - 25,000

 

Harrison. The Principles of Mr. Harrison's Time-Keeper. 1767

 

495 £98,500 ($160,210) £50,000 - 70,000

 

Foxe. North-West Fox, or Fox from the North-west passage. 1635

 

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Caius Julius Hyginus, <i>Poeticon Astronomicon,</i> first illustrated edition, Venice, 1482. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Giovanni Botero, <i>Le Relationi Universali... divise in Sette Parti</i>, Venice, 1618. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> <i>L'Escole des Filles</i>, likely third edition of the first work of pornographic fiction in French, 1676. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Illuminated Book of Hours in Latin on vellum, Flanders, early 16th century. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Johannes Regiomontanus, <i>Calendarium,</i> Venice, 1485. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Pedro de Medina, <i>Libro d[e] gra[n]dezas y cosas memorables de España,</i> Alcalá de Henares, 1566. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b><br>Luis de Lucena, <i>Arte de Ajedres,</i> Salamanca, circa 1496-97. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Andrés Serrano, <i>Los Siete Principes de los Ángeles, válidos de Rey del Cielo,</i> Spain, 1707. $800 to $1,200.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Johannes de Sacrobosco, <i>Sphaera mundi,</i> first illustrated edition, Venice, 1478. $15,000 to $20,000.
  • <b>Bonhams: Fine Books and Manuscripts. March 9, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> BEETHOVEN, LUDWIG VAN. Autograph Manuscript sketch-leaf part of the score of the Scottish Songs, "Sunset" Op. 108 no 2. [Vienna, February 1818]. Inscribed by Alexander Wheelock Thayer. $80,000 to $120,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> Violin belonging to Albert Einstein, presented to him by Oscar H. Steger, 1933. $100,000 to $150,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> EINSTEIN, ALBERT. Autograph Letter Signed ("Papa") to his son Hans Albert, discussing his involvement with the atomic bomb, September 2, 1945. $100,000 to $150,000
    <b>Bonhams: Fine Books and Manuscripts. March 9, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> HAMILTON, ALEXANDER. Autograph Letter Signed, to Baron von Steuben, with extensive notes of Von Steuben's aide Benjamin Walker, June 12, 1780. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> NEWTON, ISAAC. Autograph Manuscript in Latin, being detailed instructions on making the philosopher's stone. 8 pp. 1790s. $200,000 to 300,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> 1869 Inauguration Bible of President Ulysses S. Grant. $80,000 to $120,000
  • <b>Leland Little: Important Spring Auction. March 3, 2018</b>
    <b>Leland Little, Mar. 3:</b> Copper Printing Plate for "Marshall's Household Engraving of Washington." $500 to $1000
    <b>Leland Little, Mar. 3:</b> Important Documentary Painting Showing Baseball Great Ty Cobb in Cuba. $1,000 to $2,000
    <b>Leland Little, Mar. 3:</b> <i>Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age</i>, Inscribed by Bill Wilson. $500 to $1,000
    <b>Leland Little: Important Spring Auction. March 3, 2018</b>
    <b>Leland Little, Mar. 3:</b> Joan Miró (Spanish, 1893-1983), <i>Prise à l'hameçon.</i> $3,000 to $6,000
    <b>Leland Little, Mar. 3:</b> Maurice Dufrène (French, 1876-1955), <i>Rayon des Soieries</i>. $400 to $800
    <b>Leland Little, Mar. 3:</b> William Pope.L (American, b. 1955), <i>Intimacy Project</i>. $2,000 to $4,000
  • <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Collection of 131 Herbert Ponting gelatin silver contact prints of Antartica, £6000-8000
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> One of several lots of Henri Cartier-Bresson gelatin silver prints, £200-300
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Vintage gelatin silver print of Diego Rivera by Leonard McCombe, £300-500
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Albumen print portrait by Julia Margaret Cameron of Sir John Herschel (April, 1867), £30,000-50,000
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Albumen print by Julia Margaret Cameron, Love, 1864 (from the Norman album), £1000-1500
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Albumen print by Lewis Carroll of Twyford School Eleven (Summer Term, 1859), £1000-1500
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Albumen print portrait by Lewis Carroll of Xie Kitchin as 'Dane' (Oxford, 1873), £500-800
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Calotype print (c1845) by Hill & Adamson of Lady Elizabeth (Rigby) Eastlake, £3000-4000
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Group of 12 waxed paper negatives of Scottish scenes by Thomas Keith, mid-1850s, £3000-5000
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> One of 15 lots of Roger Fenton salt prints of his work in the Crimea, mid-1850s, £400-600
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Quarter plate ambrotype (c.1860s) with ethnographic portrait of a woman seated at a table, £400-600
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Rare whole plate thermoplastic union case of the Landing of Columbus (c.1858),part of the John Hannavy collection, £1500-2000
  • <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>

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions