Rare Book Monthly

Articles - December - 2017 Issue

The Lingering Allure of the Manuscript: The Jay T. Snider Collection of Illustrated & Decorated Manuscripts at Christie's

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Highlights manuscripts from Christie's sale of Fine Printed Books and Manuscripts Including Americana

Editor's Note: Christie's sale on December 5th of Fine Printed Books and Manuscripts Including Americana contains a beautiful selection of manuscripts from the Jay T. Snider Collection. This is Books & Manuscripts specialist at Christie's Rhiannon Knol's take on the significance of manuscripts in the field.

 

After over 500 years of the Gutenberg Galaxy, what explains the lingering allure of the manuscript? This question finds a ready answer in the diverse and lucid collection of Jay T. Snider, which spans centuries and continents yet broadcasts—in both its whole and its every part—what the artist Ben Shahn described as “an immediate sense of the hand that made the letters… the joy of workmanship that no time or weathering can erase.” While the category ‘illuminated manuscript’ is usually associated with medieval Europe, none here predate the invention of printing in the West. Gutenberg’s printing press may have industrialized book production, but it could never totally displace the role of the written word and the painted image.

 

While print means copies, a manuscript signifies an original, not mechanically produced, but handmade. Manuscripts bring us into the realm of the private diary, the personal sketchbook, and the draft—the places where human imagination, artistry, and knowledge germinate. Take, for example, a notebook in the Snider collection kept by several generations of nuns at the convent of Saint Godelieve (lot 145). Inside, numerous neat hands in French and Flemish record the collective knowledge of the convent on dyeing, paper making, embroidery, and other textile crafts. Inside its covers (themselves a manuscript salvaged from a Medieval antiphonal) scraps of inspiration have been lovingly preserved: illuminated borders from books of hours, a prayer card, cut-out paintings of fruit. On the other side of the Atlantic in the same century, Bethlemite monks in Mexico were crafting a large illuminated missal (lot 159). Although the Spanish had been printing in the New World for nearly two centuries, the manuscript tradition was alive and well—producing Baroque masterpieces which combined European and Native traditions of art and book production to honor the glory of God.

 

The heightened possibilities offered by words interplaying with images in handwritten and painted works also make these ideal vehicles for communicating scientific knowledge. A nineteenth-century illustrated manuscript recension of an ancient Indian veterinary text reveals this accretion of knowledge over time, with recipes added in several hands (lot 163). At the same time, a handsome manuscript document of the butterflies of Estonia underscores the importance of the scientific eye working in concert with the hand to capture the splendor of nature (lot 162). In 19th-century China, artists painted watercolors for the export market, producing astonishing renderings of native flora for discerning foreign scholars who did not trust engravings done by artists who had never seen their subjects (lot 155), as well as luminous gem-like miniatures to meet the tastes of collectors from London to Moscow (lot 156).

 

Across Europe and America, artists and travelers recorded their views of the world on a human scale. The American folk artist Lewis Miller captured the bustling cities of Germany in his “Reise Journal” (lot 150) while British engineer and draftsman Henry Drayson did the same for the dramatic landscapes of the American Northeast (lot 152). Princess Maria Anna of Prussia and Elisa D’Angleville both kept albums of their work as artists, tracing not only the development of their skills and the settings of their daily lives, but the landscapes of their interior life as well (lots 148 and 149).

 

Edo Japan’s manuscript tradition thrived alongside print, as scholars recorded ancient knowledge in elaborately folded books, calligraphers vaunted their art, and scribes copied secret or censored material for private circulation (lots 164-168). Manuscripts are also, of course, the province of secret knowledge. The Russian Old Believers, an often-persecuted breakaway sect from the Orthodox church, preserved centuries of ancient tradition in their manuscripts (lots 157 and 158). Cut off from the structures of the church, their sect spurred a growth in literacy as members took interpretive control into their own hands—their visionary theological manuscripts revealing a non-systematic knowledge infused with natural rationalism and creative imagination. 

 

Handwriting is one of the tracks of the body, a leaving behind of the traces of human identity. Communities are recorded, sometimes created, in the pages of books. During the Medieval period, the operation of the memory itself was figured as a form of writing, with the writing of the scribe on vellum (made from animal skin) likened to experiences and emotions inscribing themselves onto the living flesh of the mind. Still today this metaphor has longevity, not lost to old technologies but resurrected for the language of computers and the digital, which write memory in bits and bytes onto the hard drive. The manuscript as an object offers a rare intimacy with the human mind of the long dead past.

 

Thus, when Marco Verricci presented his album of fantastical cities to Doge Marino Grimani in 1595, he was not giving a gift of paper and ink but of the imagination itself, pressed into the service of the glory of Venice (lot 169). In the age of print—and the era of the email—the manuscript is not less relevant at all, but only more precious and imbued with human meaning.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> E.H. SHEPARD, Original drawing for A.A. Milne’s The House at Pooh Corner.<br>$40,000-60,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> BERNARD RATZER, Plan of the City of New York in North America, surveyed in the years 1766 & 1767. $80,000-100,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> THOMAS JEFFERSON, Autograph letter signed comparing Logan, Tecumseh, and Little Turtle to the Spartans. Monticello: 15 February 1821. $14,000-18,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> JOHN C. FREMONT, Narrative of the Exploring Expedition to the Rocky Mountains, in the Year 1842.. Abridged edition, the only one containing the folding map From the Sporting Library of Arnold “Jake” Johnson. $3,000-5,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> ZANE GREY, Album containing 94 large format photographs of Grey and party at Catalina Island, Arizona, and fishing in the Pacific. From the Sporting Library of Arnold “Jake” Johnson. $5,000-$8,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> WILLIAM COMBE, A History of Madeira ... illustrative of the Costumes, Manners, and Occupations of the Inhabitants. produced by Ackermann in 1821; From the Sporting Library of Jake Johnson. $2,000-$3,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> ERIC TAVERNER, Salmon Fishing... One of 275 copies signed by Taverner, published in 1931,From the Sporting Library of Jake Johnson. $2,000-$3,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> JOHN WHITEHEAD, Exploration of Mount Kina Balu, North Borneo. Whitehead reached the high point of Kinabalu in 1888. Part of a major group of travel books from the Sporting Library of Jake Johnson. $2,000-$3,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> JOHN LONG, Voyages and Travels of an Indian Interpreter and Trader, describing the Manners and Customs of the North American Indians... The first edition of 1791. $3,000-$5,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> SAMUEL BECKETT, Stirrings Still. This, Beckett’s last work of fiction with original lithographs by Le Brocquy, limited to 200 copies signed by the author and the artist. From the Estate of Howard Kaminsky.. $1,500-$2,500
  • <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>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Jacques-Émile Ruhlmann, wallpaper sample book, circa 1919. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Archive from a late office of the Breuer & Smith architectural team, New York, 1960-70s. $3,500 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> William Morris, <i>The Story of the Glittering Plain or the Land of Living Men,</i> illustrated by Walter Crane, Kelmscott Press, Hammersmith, 1894. $2,500 to $3,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Gustave Doré, <i>La Sainte Bible selon la Vulgate,</i> Tours, 1866. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Gustav Klimt & Max Eisler, <i>Eine Nachlese,</i> complete set, Vienna, 1931. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b><br>Eric Allatini & Gerda Wegener, <i>Sur Talons Rouges,</i> with original watercolor by Wegener, Paris, 1929. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b><br>C.P. Cavafy, <i>Fourteen Poems,</i> illustrated & signed by David Hockney, London, 1966. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Jean Midolle, <i>Spécimen des Écritures Modernes...</i>, Strasbourg, 1834-35. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b><br>E.A. Seguy, <i>Floréal: Dessins & Coloris Nouveaux,</i> Paris, 1925. $3,000 to $4,000.
  • <b>Bonhams: Results from Fine Books and Manuscripts on 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. SOLD for $131,250
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> Violin belonging to Albert Einstein, presented to him by Oscar H. Steger, 1933. SOLD for $516,500
    <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. SOLD for $106,250
    <b>Bonhams: Results from Fine Books and Manuscripts on 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. SOLD for $16,250
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> NEWTON, ISAAC. Autograph Manuscript in Latin, being detailed instructions on making the philosopher's stone. 8 pp. 1790s. SOLD for $275,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> 1869 Inauguration Bible of President Ulysses S. Grant. SOLD for $118,750

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