Rare Book Monthly

Articles - October - 2010 Issue

Spectacular Auction to Include World's Most Valuable Printed Book

Audredbird

Audubon's illustrations are both art and science. Courtesy of Sotheby's.


By Michael Stillman

One of the more spectacular book auctions in recent memory will take place at Sotheby's in London on December 7, 2010. It isn't a large collection, nor is it a subject-focused one. There will be just 50 lots, coming from various fields. What makes the auction spectacular is the quality of the material offered. Included among the lots are the most expensive printed book ever offered at auction and the greatest book in the history of English literature. Each is presented in superb copies. And, there is more.

Offered is material from the collection of Frederick, 2nd Lord (Baron) Hesketh. Lord Hesketh participated in what Sotheby's calls "high spot collecting." Rather than focusing on a particular field, he collected the very best material available. It would probably be impossible to collect such impressive high spots today (unless you buy this entire collection), but Hesketh purchased his books in an era when such material was still possible to find. Born in 1916, his collecting ended in 1955 when the English Baron died at the age of 39.

Lord Hesketh had come by his fortune the old-fashioned way - he inherited it. If he engaged in activities beyond those of good deeds and similar actions expected of a man of wealth it is not obvious. Hesketh had come from a long line of baronets, dating to the 18th century. However, this only partly accounts for his wealth. Despite his very British pedigree, much of his fortune was American in origin. He was the great-grandson of John Breckenridge, Vice-President under James Buchanan, Southern Democratic candidate for President in 1860, and a General and Secretary of War for the Confederacy. The serious American money, though, came more from his grandfather William Tevis, a wealthy industrialist with interests in mining, railroads, telegraphs lines, and a controlling share of Wells Fargo. One of his daughters went off to England and married the first Lord Hesketh.

While the second Lord Hesketh, original owner of this collection, died in 1955, his wife, Lady Christian Hesketh, survived him by over half a century. This explains why it has taken so long for the collection from the estate of a man who died in 1955 to come to auction. Lady Hesketh died in 2006, and later that year, their son, Alexander, third Lord Hesketh, deposited the collection with Lancaster University for safekeeping. The third lord appears to have differing interests from his father, having invested over the years in automobile racing, among other things, rather than books. He single-handedly financed a Formula One racing team in the 1970s, eschewing the corporate sponsorships his competitors used to fund their ventures. Some of his activities have been less than profitable, though undoubtedly his most costly enterprise has been keeping up the family's enormous estate. In 2005, he auctioned off artwork from his house for $15 million, and the following year put up part of his land and manor house for sale for $28 million. This sale likely is another step in converting assets to cash. While reality has forced many of old wealth to sell off some of their assets, it appears that the slightly eccentric and likeable Alexander Hesketh has lost none of the good humor he displayed in putting together his unconventional racing team. He seems unlikely to mourn giving up the collection all that much.

The pièce de résistance of this magnificent collection is a first edition, double elephant folio copy of John James Audubon's Birds of America. This masterpiece, perhaps the greatest illustrated work ever, was produced by naturalist-ornithologist Audubon during the 1830s. The unusually large, colored illustrations are works of art, though Audubon was primarily concerned with acquainting his readers with these species. While this is one of the greatest works ever printed, it was not a financial success for its creator. It was so costly to produce, and therefore expensive to buy, that he was unable to sell enough copies to make a profit. Audubon responded by producing his smaller, more affordable octavo edition of the Birds of America, which became a success financially. This book holds the record highest price for a printed work, a copy being sold at Christie's in 2000 for $8,802,500. Sotheby's describes the Hesketh copy as being in "excellent condition." The original subscriber was early English paleobiologist Henry Witham. It is copy number 11. Sotheby's has put an estimate on it of £4,000,000 - £6,000,000 (US $6,250,000 - $9,400,000). We believe the seller will not be disappointed with the price this item brings. If you hope to buy one of these elephant folios, we suggest you place your bid now as it may be a long time before another reaches the market.

Posted On: 2013-12-07 16:42
User Name: eckhardebay

This book is NOT(!) "The world's most valuable book" ever printed.

Without any doubt, it is the First edition of the "Mainzer Psalter" Anno 1457, printed by Schöffer and Fust.

A complete copy (if found) would fetch 100 Millionen US-Dollar and more!


Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Darwin, Charles. <i>On the Origin of Species.</i> Presentation Copy. Sold for $500,075.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Darwin, Charles. Autograph Letter Signed, 3 pp, negotiating the 2nd American edition with Appleton. Sold for $21,325.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Hemingway, Ernest. Autograph Letter Signed, 8 pp, Paris, 1924, to his father discussing Bullfighting, Stories, and his new baby. Sold for $25,075.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Shakespeare, William. <i>Corialanus.</i> London, 1623. 1st printing [Extracted from the First Folio]. Sold for $50,075.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Swift, Jonathan. <i>Gulliver's Travels.</i> London, 1726. 1st edition, Teerink's A edition, fine, large copy. Sold for $21,325.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Fitzroy, Robert. Autograph Letter Signed to agent Thomas Stilwell, informing him of the progress of H.M.S. Beagle. Sold for $17,575.
    <center><b>Bonhams<br> Property from the Collection of Nicole and William R. Keck II</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Shakespeare, William. <i>Sonnets.</i> 1901. 2 volumes. Printed on vellum and illuminated by Ross Turner, bound by Trautz-Bauzonnet. Sold for $13,825.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Beardsley, Aubrey. <i>The Birth, Life, and Acts of King Arthur.</i> 1893-94. 2 volumes. Contemporary painted vellum gilt by Chivers. Sold for $5,325.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Assisi, St. Francis. <i>The Canticle of Brother Sun.</i> Illuminated on vellum, for the Grolier Society. Sold for $7,575.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Rackham, Arthur. <i>Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens.</i> 1/500 copies signed by Rackham. Sold for $4,825.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Proust, Marcel. <i>Du coté de chez Swann.</i> 1st edition, 1st issue. Inscribed by Proust. Sold for $8,825.
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 7:</b> Sergio Trujillo Magnenat, <i>Bogotá 1938 / IV Centenario / Juegos Deportivos Bolivarianos,</i> 1938. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 7:</b> <i>McQueen Drives Porsche,</i> designer unknown, 1970. $800 to $1,200.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 7:</b><br>Joe Bridge, <i>Bignan / A Des Ailes,</i> 1921. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 7:</b> Graham Simmons, <i>The Army Isn’t All Work,</i> 1919. $1,000 to $1,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 7:</b> Leonetto Cappiello, <i>Je ne fume que le nil,</i> 1912. $800 to $1,200.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 7:</b> <i>Attack of the 50 ft. Woman,</i> designer unknown, 1958. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 7:</b> Raymond Tooby, <i>Festival Guiness / Have You Tried One Yet?,</i> 1952. $600 to $900.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 7:</b> Francisco Tamagno, <i>Terrot & Co. / Dijon / Cycles Motorettes,</i> 1909. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 7:</b><br>A. Hori, Oakland / General Motors, circa 1925. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 7:</b> James Montgomery Flagg, <i>Travel? Adventure? Answer – Join the Marines!,</i> circa 1918. $4,000 to $6,000.
  • <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Roberts, David. Twenty Lithographs of the Holy Land, 19th Century. $2,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Declaration by the Reps. of the United Colonies of N.A. 1775. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Composer Jerome Kern personal Letters, Albums and Other. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Paine, Thomas. <i>Common Sense,</i> London 1776. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Stowe, Harriet Beecher. <i>Uncle Tom’s Cabin,</i> Cleveland 1852. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Hobbes, Thomas. <i>Leviathan,</i> 3rd edition, London 1651. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Anno Regni Georgii III. Intolerable Acts and other Bills, 1774. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Wilberforce, William. An Abstract of the Evidence, 5 Letters, and two books. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Nightingale, Florence. Notes on Nursing and Signed Letters, ca. 1860 $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Tolstov, Leo. <i>War and Peace,</i> 5 volumes, 1886. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Dickinson, John. Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania, 1768. $1,500 to $2,500.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Twain, Mark. <i>Tom Sawyer,</i> 1877 [and] <i>Huckleberry Finn,</i> 1885. $4,000 to $6,000.

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