Rare Book Monthly

Articles - May - 2017 Issue

Frank Herrmann [1927-2017]

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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>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: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Ernst, Max. <i>Mr. Knife and Miss Fork</i>. Paris, 1932. DELUXE EDITION. Sold for $15,625
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Cage, John. Autograph musical leaf from his Concert for Piano and Orchestra, NY, 1958. Sold for $18,750
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Cage, John. Autograph musical leaf from his Concert for Piano and Orchestra, NY, 1958. Sold for $18,750
    <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Einstein, Albert. Signed Passport Photo for his US citizenship application. Bermuda, 1935. Sold for $17,500
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Verard, Antoine. Illuminated printed Book of Hours. Paris, 1507. Sold for $7,500
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Wetterkurzschlussel. German Weather Report Codebook - for Enigma use. Berlin, 1942. Sold for $225,000
    <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Morelos y Pavon, Jose Maria. Autograph letter signed to El Virrey Venegas, February 5, 1812. Sold for $6,250
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Milne, A.A. Complete set of <i>Winnie-the-Pooh</i> books. 4 volumes. All first issue points. London, 1924-1928. Sold for $5,250
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> A 48-star American Flag, battle worn flown at Guadalcanal and Peleliu, 1942-1944. Sold for $35,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Locke, John. Autograph Letter Signed mourning the death of his friend, William Molyneaux, 2 pp, October 27, 1698. Sold for $20,000
  • <b>Chiswick Auctions: Summer Books. August 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> Adams (Richard). <i>Watership Down,</i> FIRST EDITION, author inscription on front free end paper, folded map tipped in, original boards, dust-jacket. £800 to £1,200
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> Bowles (John). <i>Several Prospects of the Most…la Ville de Londres, avec des Remarques Historiques fort Succinctes, qui les Regardant,</i> 20 double page engraved plates only, of 23, 1724. £200 to £300
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> Auden (W.H.). <i>Our Hunting Fathers,</i> FIRST SEPARATE EDITION, 1 of 22 copies, COPY B OF 5 PRINTED ON NORMANDIE, original patterned wrappers, Cambridge, for Frederic Prokosch, 1935. £800 to £1200
    <b>Chiswick Auctions: Summer Books. August 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> Barrie (J. M.) & Attwell (Mabel Lucie, illustrator). <i>Peter Pan & Wendy,</i> FIRST EDITION, 12 chromolithograph plates, publisher's blue cloth, original printed dust jacket, [c.1920]; and 3 others (4). £200 to £300
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> Bartolozzi (Francesco). Genius Calling Forth the Fine Arts to Adorn Manufactures and Commerce; Agriculture (Husbandry Aided by Arts and Commerce), glazed and framed. £200 to £300
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> A collection of engraved caricatures, including Gillray ([James]) Tales of Wonder!, 1802; Rowlandson (Thomas) Sports, Smock Racing, 1811;Irish Jaunting Carr, 1814. £400 to £600
    <b>Chiswick Auctions: Summer Books. August 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> Bennett (Charles H, illustrator). <i>Æsop’s Fables,</i> 1875; Buchanan (Robert). <i>Ballad Stories of the Affections,</i> [1866]; Douce (Francis), The Dance of Death, 1833. £200 to £300
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> Chinese Illustrations. A group of 6 Cantonese rice paper illustrations, depicting scenes of torture with different instruments, gouache, c.340 x 220mm, original wrapper boards preserved, [c. 1800]. £200 to £300
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> Dulac (Edmund). <i>The Queen of Romania, The Dreamer of Dreams,</i> 5 coloured plates, [1915]; and others illustrated by Edmund Dulac. £300 to £400
    <b>Chiswick Auctions: Summer Books. August 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> Fronth (Per). Xingu Chronicles, the portfolio, comprising 30 plates, photogravues in colours, each signed, dated and titled in pencil, each numbered 10/35, on wove paper, 790 x 600 x 60mm, 1997. £300 to £400
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> Pasternak (Boris). <i>Doctor Zhivago,</i> FIRST ENGLISH EDITION, original red publisher’s cloth, pictorial dust jacket, 4to, Collins & Harvill Press, 1958. £200 to £300
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> 13 sepia photographs of visitors to the Thermes Nationaux d’Aix-les-Bains, c. 150 x 105mm, c.1890 (12). £300 to £400
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Luis de Lucena, <i>Arte de Ajedres,</i> first edition of the earliest extant manual on modern chess, Salamanca, circa 1496-97. Sold for $68,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Carte-de-visite album with 83 images of prominent African Americans & abolitionists, circa 1860s. Sold for $47,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Gustav Klimt, <i>Das Werk,</i> Vienna & Leipzig, 1918. Sold for $106,250.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Man Ray, <i>[London Transport] – Keeps London Going,</i> 1938. Sold for $149,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Thomas Jefferson, Letter Signed, to Major-General Nathanael Greene, promising reinforcements against Cornwallis, 1781. Sold for $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Nicolas de Fer, <i>L’Amerique Divisee Selon Letendue de ses Principales Parties,</i> Paris, 1713. Sold for $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Russell H. Tandy, <i>The Secret in the Old Attic,</i> watercolor, pencil & ink, 1944. Sold for $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Ernest Hemingway, <i>Three Stories & Ten Poems,</i> first edition of the author's first book, Paris, 1923. Sold for $23,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Walker Evans, <i>River Rouge Plant,</i> silver print, 1947. Sold for $57,500.

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