Rare Book Monthly

Articles - July - 2016 Issue

July 6: Ancient Papyri and Other Very Early Manuscripts and Miniatures at Bloomsbury

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Highlighted lots from Bloomsbury's Western Manuscripts and Miniatures

It doesn’t happen often that I’m tasked with previewing an auction in which I struggle to find a single lot dating from later than the 16th century. Yet this is the case for Bloomsbury Auctions’ sale of Western Manuscripts and Miniatures, which takes place July 6th in London. Of the 112 lots included in the sale, I found four and a half (for one lot the date is unknown and listed as 16th or 17th century so I’m counting that as a half) made or written after 1600. A few of the lots are extremely early manuscripts, dating from as early as the second or first century BC. Yes, before Christ. These ridiculously early writings come from the collection of Christiane Desroches Noblecourt (1913-2011), an Egyptologist who went on to join the Egyptian department of the Louvre. If you collect this type of material, I’m certain you know more about it than I do. And if you want to collect this type of material, as it is in all collecting, knowledge is power; seek it. And here’s a friendly reminder: with the British pound at its lowest level in decades versus the American dollar, now is a great time for American collectors to bid aggressively in British auctions. For this sale, I will provide a brief preview of some highlight lots.

One of the earliest items in the sale is lot number 1. Its estimate is second highest in the sale, at £30,000-50,000. The Noblecourt Homer papyrus, written in Egypt, probably in the second century BC, contains lines from The Illiad. These two fragments from a manuscript papyrus scroll are some of the earliest surviving witnesses to the text that is a staple in classrooms worldwide. Not only is this writing ancient, but it is also meaningful. Bloomsbury states that while other literary papyri come to market from time to time, Homeric papyri are the rarest of the rare. Only three other fragments have entered the rooms in living memory. This is one hell of a conversation piece for display in your living room (of course protected by security and preservation systems that will probably cost more than the fragments themselves).

The Noblecourt collection includes two other Papyrus fragments, lots 2 and 3. Lot 2 in particular is also interesting, being parts of a speech by Dinarchus from the trial of Harpalus, the treasurer of Alexander the Great accused of embezzling large amounts of money from the empire. Speeches by Dinarchus are among the rarest of Greek Classical works in manuscript, and this example is the oldest known. Dinarchus’ speech fragment bears an estimate of £15,000-20,000.

The honor of carrying the highest estimate in the sale goes to an item thirteen to fourteen centuries older than the Papyri fragments. Lot 45 is a 127 leaf manuscript on parchment containing books from a Hebrew bible in codex form, dated to somewhere between the second half of the 11th and the 12th centuries. It is among the oldest on record for Hebrew manuscripts. These works are remarkably rare, as Jewish populations of the time held their Bibles in reverence and would bury them when they became worn out or damaged. This exceptional rarity is estimated £80,000-120,000.

The fourth and final lot of this auction preview is a Book of Hours, written and illuminated in the Low Countries circa 1430-1440. Consisting of 273 leaves and eighteen full page miniatures, the exceedingly beautiful work has been attributed to a group of southern Netherlandish artists first identified as the “Master of the Gold Scrolls” by F. Winkler in 1925. This copy has been in private hands, passed down by descent for several generations, and has an estimate of £25,000-35,000.

Bloomsbury’s sale of Western Manuscripts and Miniatures will take place July 6, 2016, at 11 AM British Summer Time at Bloomsbury House in London. For more information, please refer to the Bloomsbury website. The sale’s full catalog is available online here.

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].
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    <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
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