Rare Book Monthly

Articles - November - 2015 Issue

In The News: Gems Found in Old Booksellers' Inventory, Edith's Rattle, and More

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Australian coastal scenes by Col. James Biggs.

Once in awhile, a surprising item can turn up in the inventory of some old booksellers. This news came out of Australia a few weeks back. Jim Elder, of Elder Fine Art and Auctioneers, was tasked with going through the collection of two retired bookselling partners from Adelaide. Arthur Chard and Lex Rabbits, known professionally as Chard & Rabbits, had been in the business dating back to the 1950's. Mr. Chard died in 2003 but Mr. Rabbits still lives in a retirement home. As occasionally (okay, perhaps more than occasionally) happens, their inventory was sort of scattered, with items stuffed in various boxes, not well organized or inventoried.

 

Within the collection of 5,000 old books, prints, albums, and art was a plain envelope. Within it were four small paintings. The artist was Colonel James Hesketh Biggs. Biggs' name is not well known today, not even in Australia. Part of that is his own fault. He didn't sign his paintings. Fortunately, these four paintings had their titles and painter's name on the back. Those who know Biggs' work would be able to recognize these works. Small paintings were his specialty, and his detail which can take a magnifying glass to appreciate is remarkable.

 

Col. Biggs, naturally enough, was an army officer. He was also an amateur artist, who, along with being a painter, was a photographer and engraver. He mostly painted scenes. These four are from South Australia, each depicting views along the coast. A boat, pier, and some men having a picnic on rocks along the shoreline are featured. Biggs also must have spent some time in India as a number of Indian scenes are also found in his work, though not among this group.

 

Col. Biggs was well known in his day. He won several Australian prizes for his work in the late 1860's and early 1870's. Unfortunately, most of his work is lost today, either because small paintings can more easily disappear, or because owners do not know who the artist is. Because of their rarity and the quality of his work, auctioneer Elder described their value as "incalculable." We almost had a chance to calculate that value as they were scheduled to be sold at auction on October 11. However, that will have to wait as the paintings were withdrawn from the auction at the last minute for unstated reasons.

 

 

AbeBooks notes a most unusual item offered on their site. It's not a book, but it fits, sort of, the category of book-related ephemera. It's a baby rattle that once belonged to American novelist Edith Wharton. It is not an ordinary plastic rattle, as not even being touched by Wharton's youthful writing hand would alone justify a price of $16,500. It is made of sterling silver, with a red coral teething section. Coral apparently relieved the pain of teething. The intricate design of the rattle includes a whistle. It is engraved with the name "Edith." It is something that would only have been found in a wealthy family. Edith's family was quite prosperous. AbeBooks describes the item as "the most unusual item to be listed for sale on AbeBooks since Eugene O'Neill's underpants in 2013."

 

 

The Boston Public Library has terminated the employment of its former Head of Special Collections, Susan Glover. Ms. Glover had been caught up in the case of the missing Albrecht Durer print, valued at $300,000, last spring. Ms. Glover had been aware for almost a year that it was lost when she informed Library President Amy Ryan it was missing. Ms. Glover did not consider it a major issue as this has happened before in the not well organized, cramped special collections, where items can be misfiled.

 

However, Ms. Ryan was not pleased and quickly placed Ms. Glover on leave back in May. Fears mounted that the print had been stolen. The police were called in, and just a day ahead of a meeting between city and library officials, the print was found, misfiled some 80 feet away from where it should have been. Nonetheless, Ms. Ryan, who had tendered her resignation because of the scandal, left, and so did the Chairman of the Board of Trustees. A report compiled by an outside consultant around this time was highly critical of the library for poor record keeping and a lack of rational order in its storage of special collections. However, it also was highly critical of the city for providing insufficient funding to manage and store collections of the size of those at the Boston Public Library. Now, Ms. Glover has been terminated without ever coming back from leave, with Beth Prindle appointed Acting Head of Special Collections until a permanent appointment can be made.

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, Feb. 11:</b> A Rare 3-rotor German Enigma I Enciphering Machine. $70,000 to $90,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Important collection of correspondence between Werner Heisenberg and Bruno Rossi. $40,000 to $60,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Walt Whitman Autograph manuscript containing his thoughts on death. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> David Roberts. <i>Holy Land</i>. Six volumes. 1842-1849. First edition. $15,000 to $25,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Extensive collection of Ray Bradbury's primary works, most signed or inscribed. $15,000 to $20,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Peter Force. Declaration of Independence. $12,000 to $18,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Steinbeck. <i>Grapes of Wrath</i>. A fine copy of the first edition. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Lewis & Clark. <i>Travels to the Source of the Missouri River</i>... First English edition, extra-illustrated. 1814. $10,000 to 15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Manuscript document signed by Nuno de Guzman relating to Hernan Cortes, 1528. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> “Nos los inquisidores..." The first book in English printed West of the Mississippi. [1787]. $5,000 to $8,000.
  • <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>

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