• <b>Sotheby’s New York: The Magnificent Botanical Library of D. F. Allen. October 26, 2017</b>
    <b>Sotheby’s NY, Oct. 26:</b> Redouté, Pierre Joseph, and Claude Antoine Thory. <i>Les Roses</I>. Paris: Firmin Didot, 1817–1824. Est. $225,000 to $325,000
    <b>Sotheby’s NY, Oct. 26:</b> Trew, Jakob Christoph. <i>Hortus Nitidissimis Omnen Per Annum Superbiens Floribus</i>… Nuremberg: Johann Joseph Fleischmann, 1750 [–1786]. Est. $200,000 to $300,000
    <b>Sotheby’s NY, Oct. 26:</b> Trew, Christoph Jakob, and Benedict Christian Vogel. <i>Plantæ Selectæ</i>…[Nuremberg:] 1750–1773; Supplement, [Augsburg:] 1790 [–1792]. Est. $200,000 to $300,000
    <b>Sotheby’s New York: The Magnificent Botanical Library of D. F. Allen. October 26, 2017</b>
    <b>Sotheby’s NY, Oct. 26:</b> Jacquin, Nikolaus Joseph von. <i>Plantarum Rariorum Horti Caesarei Schönbrunnensis Descriptiones Et Icones.</i>Vienna; London; Leiden, 1797–1804. Est. $180,000 to $250,000
    <b>Sotheby’s NY, Oct. 26:</b> Weinmann, Johann Wilhelm. <i>Phytanthoza Iconographia; Sive Conspectus Aliquot Millium, Tam Indigenarum Quam Exoticarum</i>… Regensburg, 1735–1737–1745. Est. $120,000 to $180,000
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Nov 14: 19th & 20th Century Literature</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Nov 14:</b><br><i>The Centenary Edition of the Works of Ian Fleming</i>, one of 26 lettered sets, 18 volumes, London, 2008. $25,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Nov 14:</b> William Faulkner, <i>The Marble Faun</i>, first edition, signed & inscribed to Dorothy Wilcox by Faulkner & Phil Stone, Boston, 1924. $18,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Nov 14:</b> Maurice Sendak, <i>Where the Wild Things Are</i>, first edition, signed & inscribed to William Archibald, New York, 1963. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Nov 14: 19th & 20th Century Literature</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Nov 14:</b> Anne Frank, <i>Het Achterhuis</i>, first edition, in first state jacket, Amsterdam, 1947. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Nov 14:</b> Roald Dahl, <i>Charlie and the Chocolate Factory</i>, first edition, signed, New York, 1964. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Nov 14:</b><br>Ray Bradbury, <i>Fahrenheit 451</i>, first limited edition bound in Johns-Manville Quinterra, New York, 1953. $7,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Nov 14: 19th & 20th Century Literature</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Nov 14:</b> Benjamin Graham, <i>The Intelligent Investor</i>, first edition, in original dust jacket, New York, 1949. $4,500 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Nov 14:</b> Anna Sewell, <i>Black Beauty</i>, first edition, inscribed, London, 1877. $7,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Nov 14:</b> Arthur Conan Doyle, <i>A Study in Scarlet</i>, first American edition, Philadelphia, 1890. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Nov 14: 19th & 20th Century Literature</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Nov 14:</b> James Fenimore Cooper, <i>The Last of the Mohicans</i>, first edition, two volumes, Philadelphia, 1826. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Nov 14:</b> Amelia Earhart, <i>20 hrs. 40 mins. Our Flight in Friendship</i>, limited first edition, signed, New York, 1928. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Nov 14:</b> Philip K. Dick, <i>World of Chance</i>, first edition, signed, London, 1956. $3,000 to $4,000.
  • <b>Announcing a new Books for Sale platform hosted by Biblio!</b>
    <b>List your books simultaneously on Rare Book Hub and Biblio!</b>
  • <b>Results from Bonhams’ sale of <i>Fine Books & Manuscripts Featuring Exploration and Travel</i></b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 26:</b> Columbus. De Insulis nuper in mari Indico repertis. Basel, 1494. SOLD for $751,500
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 26:</b> Cook in Tahiti. [Playbill]. [Germany, c.1840.] SOLD for $6,250
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 26:</b> Aa, Pieter van der. Naaukeurige versameling der gedenk-waardigste zee en land-reysen. Leyden, 1706-8. SOLD for $35,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 26:</b> Dürer. Underweysung der messung [and two more]. Nuremberg, 1525-8. SOLD for $175,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 26:</b> Cortes, Hernan. A Pleito signed by Antonio de Mendoza in the case of Hernan Cortes. 1542. SOLD for $8750
    <b>Results from Bonhams’ <i>The Air and Space Sale</i></b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 27:</b> Russian Kholod 5D67 HFL Rocket Engine. SOLD for $25,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 27:</b> Neil Armstrong Apollo Era Training Glove. SOLD for $50,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 27:</b> Full Scale Sputnik-1 EMC/EMI Lab Model. SOLD for $847,500
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 27:</b> SOLRAD GREB Spy Satellite Engineering Dummy. SOLD for $10,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 27:</b> Soviet LK-3 Lunar Lander Model. SOLD for $25,000
  • <b>Sotheby’s London: Fine Autograph Letters and Manuscripts from a Distinguished Private Collection. Part I: Music. 26 October 2017</b>
    <b>Sotheby’s London Oct 26:</b> Beethoven, Ludwig van. Autograph Manuscript of the Canon "Ewig Dein" Woo 161, signed at the end ("...[Ewig] Dein...Freund Ludwig Van Beethowen"). Est. £120,000 to £150,000
    <b>Sotheby’s London Oct 26:</b> Brahms, Johannes. Autograph Manuscript of the "Geistliches Wiegenlied", Op.91 No.2, for Contralto, Viola And Piano, the original version of 1864, signed and inscribed at the end by the composer. Est. £200,000 to £250,000
    <b>Sotheby’s London Oct 26:</b> Chopin, Frédéric. Autograph Manuscript of the Opening of the Étude Op.25 No.2, in A-Flat Major, signed and dated ("Paris Ce 28 Avril F. Chopin"). Est. £100,000 to £150,000
    <b>Sotheby’s London: Fine Autograph Letters and Manuscripts from a Distinguished Private Collection. Part I: Music. 26 October 2017</b>
    <b>Sotheby’s London Oct 26:</b> Haydn, Joseph. Autograph Letter Signed ("Jos Haydn[Paraph]"), to the Baden Choirmaster Anton Stoll, 30 July 1802. Est. £20,000 to £30,000
    <b>Sotheby’s London Oct 26:</b> Verdi, Giuseppe. Autograph Working Manuscript of a scene from Ernani. Est. £100,000 to £150,000
    <b>Sotheby’s London Oct 26:</b> Verdi, Giuseppe. Highly Important Series of Thirty-Six Autograph Letters Signed to The Librettist Salvadore Cammarano, written between 1844 And 1851, the greater part unpublished and unrecorded. Est. £250,000 to £300,000
  • <b>19th Century Shop’s Catalog 170 Great Books and Photos. Please inquire for a copy.</b>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Exodus 10:10 to 16:15. Complete Biblical scroll sheet in Hebrew, a Torah scroll panel. Middle East, ca. 10th or 11th century.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Copernicus Refuted. (Astronomy.). Scientific manuscript of a course of studies at Collège de la Trinité, Lyon. 1660s.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Israel’s War of Independence and the Early Days of the IDF. 58 photographs presented to Israel Ber, IDF officer and later convicted spy.
    <b>19th Century Shop’s Catalog 170 Great Books and Photos. Please inquire for a copy.</b>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Early Unpublished Darwin letter on the races of man. Autograph Letter Signed [to Henry Denny]. Down, Kent, June 1, [1844].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Classic Image of American Slavery. Kimball, M. H. <i>Emancipated Slaves</i>. New York: George Hanks, 1863.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> (Underground Railroad.) Scaggs, Isaac. Important Runaway Slave Poster: $500 Reward Ran away, or decoyed from the subscriber…

Rare Book Monthly

Articles - August - 2017 Issue

U. S. Supreme Court to Rule on Attempt to Seize Ancient Persian Tablets from the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute

B4462133-ac42-4c0d-9ce9-46d5b7e6ced1

An ancient clay tablet from Persepolis (University of Chicago photo).

This is the month where the earliest "books" - ancient clay tablets – make their way into the news, legal news in particular. Not only was a settlement reached in the Hobby Lobby case (see article elsewhere in this issue), but the U. S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a case involving ancient tablets owned by the government of Iran, but in the possession of a Chicago university since the 1930's. It is one of the rare cases where U. S. and Iranian thinking is aligned.

 

The case begins in 1997 under the most awful of circumstances. Some American tourists were visiting Israel when a suicide bomber detonated his arsenal, killing five Israelis and wounding several Americans. Hamas, the Palestinian terror organization that controls Gaza, claimed responsibility. Iran provides financial and other assistance to Hamas. With no chance to collect damages from Hamas, the Americans sued Iran in an American court. They were awarded a judgment against Iran in the amount of $71 million.

 

Iran didn't respond to the lawsuit. It did not recognize the right of U. S. courts to adjudicate claims over something that did not happen in America. So, the lower court ruled for the Americans, awarding them $71 million Iran had no intention of paying. That is when the Americans went back to court to seize Iranian property. Most property of the Iranian government was removed from America long ago, but the American plaintiffs discovered these very valuable ancient writings belonging to Iran were still in possession of the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute. The tablets came from Persepolis, the ancient capital of Persia. They were on long term loan since discovered by University of Chicago archaeologists in the 1930's. Iranian-American relations were better back then. The institute has been deciphering and studying them ever since, slowly returning pieces as they concluded their work. Despite the complete break down of government relations between the two countries after the Iranian Revolution in 1979, scholars and institutions are still able to cooperate with each other.

 

The Americans also sued to seize some antiquities held by Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History. The Field purchased these in the 1930's, but the Americans claimed that they were stolen and smuggled out of the country all those years ago, making them still property of the Iranian government.

 

There is a doctrine known as Sovereign Immunity which applies to most cases of this sort. It prohibits citizens from suing foreign governments in their home country. The reason is clear – much mischief can happen if a nation constantly has to defend itself in foreign courts from complaints by individual citizens. To look at it from the other side, someone from, say, Germany or Korea or Qatar could sue the American government because they were injured in Syria when American planes bombed there, and and then attempt to seize our military bases in those countries as compensation. This is why the American government has aligned itself with Iran in this case. It doesn't like the precedent.

 

However, in the age of terrorism, Congress still wanted to punish countries involved in state sponsored terrorism. So, it passed an exception to the sovereign immunity act. It said Americans could sue another country if they were victims of terrorism. That was the Americans' claim.

 

Initially, the lower court ruled that sovereign immunity did not apply because the Iranian government did not show up in court to plead it. Use it or lose it. The institutions holding the tablets pleaded sovereign immunity on behalf of Iran, and the U. S. government filed a brief supporting the claim, but the court said no, only Iran could make that claim and it failed to do so. The plaintiffs then sued to collect their $71 million by seizing the assets being held by the institutions. This time, Iran showed up.

 

Still, this did not guarantee that the plaintiffs could actually collect Iranian assets. The statute provides that only assets used for commercial purposes can be seized. So, the plaintiffs' lawyers came up with a clever end-around. They demanded Iran tell them about all assets they owned in the United States, since they had consented to American jurisdiction by showing up. This way, if the institutionally held items were found not to be used for commercial purposes, the plaintiffs hoped to locate other assets that were. Iran said no thank you.

 

On appeal, the higher court said no, Iran could not be compelled to to turn over lists of everything it owns in America, and, since the presumption is that sovereign immunity applies, the plaintiffs must prove an exception, rather than Iran being obligated to come to court and prove it applies.

 

The case went back to a lower court, and this time, that court ruled that the commercial exception to the sovereign immunity rule did not apply to the Persian tablets, so it awarded judgment to Iran. The Americans appealed, arguing that since the institutions were using the collections commercially, the commercial exception did apply. Again the appeals court said no, that the state itself must be the one using the assets commercially. However, a different appeals court in another case ruled differently on another matter, so to straighten this out, the Supreme Court will now take up the case. Only the Oriental Institute case will be heard, the Field Museum claim having been dropped.

 

Rather than determining whether the assets are commercial, the decision will be made on the basis of the other court's conclusion that the distinction between commercial and non-commercial use does not apply in the case of the terrorism exception to sovereign immunity. If the Supreme Court rules that it doesn't matter whether the property was used commercially, the American plaintiffs may yet get to take the ancient tablets from the Oriental Institute almost a century after they arrived and put them up for sale at auction.

 

As much as I sympathize with the plaintiffs' plight, this just doesn't sound right. It should be noted that such a remedy is likely to work only once. Anything else owned by Iran, or other countries that might feel threatened, will quickly be repatriated. Studies and displays such as those in Chicago, that have survived political animosities, will no longer continue. Meanwhile, retaliation on the part of those countries can be expected. A similar standoff is going on between the U.S. and Russia now. Chabad-Lubavitch, the Hasidic Jewish movement, won a verdict in a U. S. court that books they once owned years ago but are now held by and in Russia, should be returned to them. Russia had loaned seven of the books to the Library of Congress, whom the U. S. court ordered seized. The result is that Russia no longer loans such artifacts to anyone in the U. S. for exhibitions, and the U. S. does the same with Russia. Now, all but the one winner are losers. Diplomacy and legal claims are more suitable to being handled by nations, which can consider all of the ramifications to their national interests, than by individuals whose personal interests may be inconsistent with those of the country as a whole.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Sotheby’s Paris: Books & Manuscripts. 30 October 2017</b>
    <b>Sotheby’s Paris, Oct. 30:</b> MARCEL PROUST. Du côté de chez Swann. Grasset, 1913. First edition. One of 5 copies on Japan paper, inscribed by the author to Louis Brun. Est. €400,000 - 600,000
    <b>Sotheby’s Paris, Oct. 30:</b> Saint-Exupéry. <i>25 Autograph Illustrated Letters to his Friend Charles Sallès</i>. Est. €30,000-50,000
    <b>Sotheby’s Paris, Oct. 30:</b> French Revolution, 1793. Déclaration des droits de l’Homme. 2,55 x 1,30m. A monumental wallpaper poster of the 1793 version, with hand-colored highlights. Unique copy. Est. €100,000 - 150,000
    <b>Sotheby’s Paris, Oct. 30:</b> GIAMBATTISTA PIRANESI. <i>Vedute di Roma</i>, 1748-1775. 107 etchings. An exceptional copy, printed and bound before 1780. Est. €50,000 - 80,000
    <b>Sotheby’s Paris, Oct. 30:</b> Picasso, Pablo -- Fernando de Rojas. LA CÉLESTINE. [PARIS, EDITIONS DE L'ATELIER CROMMELYNCK, 1971.] One of the 30 copies hors commerce (n° X). 66 original etchings by Picasso. Signed. Est. €30,000 - €35,000

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions