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 However, that will have to wait as the paintings were withdrawn from the auction at the last minute for unstated reasons.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>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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