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