Rare Book Monthly

Articles - May - 2017 Issue

Frank Herrmann [1927-2017]


Frank Herrmann, writer, publisher and auctioneer died at his home In Essex on Sunday, a month short of his 90th birthday, following a long battle with illness.


After a distinguished career in publishing with Faber & Faber, Methuen’s and Ward Lock, and having himself written the Giant Alexander books as well as the acclaimed The English as Collectors, Herrmann entered the world of antiquarian books when he joined Sotheby’s to reorganise their book department soon after the publication of his Sotheby’s: Portrait of an Auction House, in 1980, following 4 years of secondment to the auction house to research its history. With an outsider’s eye and with teutonic efficiency (German by birth, his parents had fled Nazi Germany to settle in England in 1937) Frank introduced “Fast Sales” to clear the backlog of consignments – he reduced the waiting time from consignment to sale date from some 14 months to 4 weeks. He soon became head of Sotheby’s Overseas Operations outside the UK and America, a role he relished for 3 years. When Sotheby’s decided in 1983 to raise the threshold for consignments to £500, Frank saw an opportunity to create a new auction house, similar to the late lamented Hodgson’s of Chancery Lane. In cahoots with Lord John Kerr (former head of Sotheby’s Book department) and David Stagg, the dynamic force behind Hodgson’s and latterly the Sotheby’s Fast Sales, he founded Bloomsbury Book Auctions, which Geraldine Norman of the Times heralded at the time as the first specialist book auction house to open in London in 100 years.


Kerr, Herrmann and Stagg were an unlikely triumvirate but mightily complementary and effective, with BBA rapidly becoming a major force in the rare book world. Lord John was the quiet figure-head, highly respected throughout the trade and with a remarkable breadth and depth of knowledge; Stagg was the livewire – tall, devastatingly good-looking, charming and infectiously enthusiastic. Both were brilliant auctioneers. Frank was the financial and strategic brain behind the whole enterprise: gentle, unflappable, visionary but also with an extraordinary eye for detail (the design and layout of the orange catalogues, down to the font size, were one of his particular focuses). One journalist described him as an “affable Maecenas”. Generous with his time, encyclopaedic knowledge of the book and art world, in business Frank was naturally cautious with money, always had a financial “buffer” and seldom, if ever, had to go to the bank for an overdraft. He was a gifted and prolific writer of articles (but had almost illegible hand-writing!); he loved to entertain friends and colleagues at the Travellers’ Club, at Double Crown Club dinners and, if you brought an object to show others and on which you could elucidate, at the Society of Antiquaries.  He was immensely proud of his beloved wife Patricia, their four children and his and their successes. Amongst a host of triumphant sales at Bloomsbury, consigned directly as a result of Frank’s standing in the book world (Ralph and Phylis Yablon; Wynne Jeudwine; Curwen Studio archive to name but a few) one of his own particular favourites was the private treaty sale of the working library of Graham Greene, which he single-handedly negotiated with Boston College in Connecticut for nigh on $1m, the collection having dismissively been valued by a well-established and respected specialist modern literature firm in London at a mere £30,000. He loved that story!  


He was scrupulously fair, honest and ran his auction house with the utmost integrity. He made work both fun and fascinating. When he finally retired in 2002, shortly after he and Lord John (who were almost exactly the same age) could boast a combined age of 150, Frank continued to take avid interest in the book world and Bloomsbury, then latterly Forum, in particular. He loved receiving the catalogues and right up until the last few weeks was delighted to hear news and give his thoughts on recent auctions, and especially reminisce about how much copies of books reported in that week’s ATG had fetched back in the mid-80s.


Numerous current members of the book trade began their careers or passed through the Bloomsbury portals over the years, where we learnt directly or by a form of bibliophilic osmosis from Frank. Of course, it is the majority of the current team at Forum Auctions who have most to thank Frank for and his business ethos lives on in all they do. With a resounding ironic echo of events some 30 years earlier, most of them left Bloomsbury in 2016 to join the new books and works on paper specialists (double-irony, founded by another German, Stephan Ludwig). Rupert Powell, Dido Arthur and Justin Phillips were all given their very first jobs by Frank - Dido was initially given the task of systematically arranging his vast private collection of Sotheby’s catalogues. Those who also fell directly under his aegis or were employed by Bloomsbury at some point in its history include: Simon Luterbacher (Liss Books); Luke Batterham and Simon Roberts (Bonham’s); Clare Trimming (Beaux Books); Ian Kidman (Ian Kidman Rare Books); Angus Robb and soon to be joined by Roddy Newlands (Bernard Shapero Rare Books); John Collins (Rosebery’s); Steve Cain (Maggs Bros.) and in the US, Jeremy Markowitz (Donald Heald Rare Books); Richard Austin (Sotheby’s NY); Tom Lamb (Bonham’s); Pete Costanzo (Doyle’s); James Cummins III (James Cummins Rare Books)…and many more.


Frank Herrmann’s legacy is truly alive and thriving throughout the rare book world. We will all miss him dearly but he can now rest in peace.


Rupert Powell

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 7. Ritter's unusual sun-dial world map, 1607. Est. $3500 to $4500
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 16. Fascinating Japanese satirical map published prior to WWII, 1932. Est. $1400 to $2000
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 30. Newton's 2" miniature terrestrial globe, 1833. Est. $3500 to $4500
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 318. Braun & Hogenberg's first plan of Moscow in contemporary color, 1575. Est. $2750 to $3500
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 346. One of the most decorative 18th century maps of Malta, 1680. Est. $1200 to $1500
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 412. The first printed map devoted to the Pacific in full contemporary color, 1589. Est. $8000 to $10000
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 425. Rare set of celebrated explorers of the New World, 1592. Est. $1900 to $2300
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 436. Two superb miniature atlases bound in one volume with 98 maps, 1682. Est. $5500 to $7500
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 445. Part IV of de Bry's "Grand Voyages" by Girolamo Benzoni, 1613. Est. $2000 to $2500
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 447. Tallis' "History of the United States of America" in six volumes, 1850. Est. $1500 to $1800
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 448. Mallet's miniature military masterpiece, 1672. Est. $1400 to $1700
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29: Printed & Manuscript African Americana</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b> Malcolm X, Autograph Letter Signed, from prison, 1950. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b> Letter from Moses Walker, an enslaved Georgia man, to his mother at another plantation, 1854. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b> Signed cabinet card of Frederick Douglass, albumen photograph, Boston, circa 1879. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29: Printed & Manuscript African Americana</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b> Placard from the Memphis Sanitation Worker's strike, 1968. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b><br><i>The North Star,</i> volume 1, issue 27, Rochester, NY, 1848. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b> Hand-tinted tintype of John Brown, circa 1860. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29: Printed & Manuscript African Americana</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b> Poster signed & inscribed by Huey Newton, circa 1967. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b> Album of aerial views of the march on Montgomery, taken by federal troops, 1965. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b> Poster for the SNCC, photograph by Danny Lyon featuring John Lewis, circa 1962. $3,000 to $4,000.
  • <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>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>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. March 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Jenner (Rev. George Charles). <i>The Evidence at Large...Respecting Dr Jenner's Discovery of Vaccine Inoculation,</i> presentation copy from Edward Jenner to Rev. Rowland Hill, 1805. £4,000 to £6,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Houdini (Harry).- Maggi (Girolamo). <i>De tintinnabulis liber postumus...de equuleo liber,</i> Harry Houdini's copy, Amsterdam, H. Wetstein, 1689. £600 to £800
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Meyer (Henry Leonard). Coloured Illustrations of British Birds, and their Eggs , 7 vol. in 2 plus Illustrations of British Birds, 4 vol., 1842-50 and [1835-51]. £5,000 to £7,000
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. March 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Dickens (Charles). <i>An Entirely New Romantic Drama, in Three Acts, by Mr. Wilkie Collins, called The Frozen Deep,</i> 1857. £3,000 to £4,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Lighthouses and Islands of Ireland, c. 125 drawings, 1867. £6,000 to £8,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Shelley (Lady Jane). Diary, 1853 & 1860. £1,500 to £2,000
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. March 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Scottish Binding.- The Holy Bible, Containing the Old and New Testaments, bound in contemporary brown polished calf decorated with the figure of a Chinese spearman, by ?James Scott of Edinburgh, 1778. £2,000 to £3,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Greene (Graham). <i>The Man Within,</i> first edition, signed by the author, 1929. £4,000 to £6,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Mellan (Claude, 1598-1688). The Holy Face, or the Veil of St Veronica, [c. 1649 and later]. £800 to £1,200
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. March 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Desaguliers (John Theophilus). <i>A Dissertation concerning Electricity,</i> W. Innys, and T. Longman, 1742. £2,000 to £3,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Le Jeune (Paul). <i>Relation de se qui s'est passé en la Nouvelle France en l'anné 1636 enuoyée au R.Pere Provincial de la Compagnie de Iesus en la Province de France,</i> 1637. £2,000 to £3,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Stumpf (Johann Rudolph). <i>Gemeiner loblicher Eydgnoschafft Stetten, Landen und Völckern Chronicwirdiger thaaten beschreibung, </i> Zurich, Froschauer, 1586. £3,000 to £4,000

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