Rare Book Monthly
Articles - October - 2010 Issue
Spectacular Auction to Include World's Most Valuable Printed Book
Number 2 on the list - and when was the last time this was a second best? - is a copy of Shakespeare's First Folio. Published in 1623, Sotheby's describes this copy as "virtually unmarred." Shakespeare never published his plays. It was left to his friends to publish his work or it would have been lost forever. Half of the 36 plays contained in the folio, including MacBeth and Twelfth Night, were never printed prior to this edition seven years after his death. In other words, were it not for the First Folio, they would have been lost forever. Sotheby's estimates this item at £1,000,000-1,500,000, or roughly US $1,550,000 - $2,350,000.
Another amazing set of items being offered is a collection of original drawings by Pierre-Joseph Redouté for his greatest work, Les Roses. These drawings were originally collected by Redouté's patron and pupil, the Duchesse de Berry. It is the largest collection of the painter-botanist's work to come on the market since de Berry's sale in 1837. The drawings will be sold separately. They are expected to bring around £1,500,000 (US $2,350,000) in total.
While most of the items were from Lord Hesketh's collection, there is a group of over 40 letters concerning Lady Hesketh's specialty, Scotland, and in particular, the imprisonment of Mary Queen of Scots. Mary was the Scottish Queen, but many of England's Catholics also saw her as the legitimate Queen of England. This did not please her cousin, Queen Elizabeth, who occupied the English throne through most of the latter half of the 16th century. Mary was forced to flee Scotland after her husband's murder, supposedly with her assistance, and looked for sanctuary in England. However, Elizabeth saw her as a rival (not without cause). Elizabeth had Mary imprisoned for 18 years, and after Mary's alleged participation in a plot on her life, Elizabeth had her beheaded. This collection includes letters from Elizabeth and others involved in her imprisonment. The collection is estimated to sell for £150,000- 200,000 (US $235,000 - $310,000).
Among the other items to be auctioned on December 7 is a rare work from England's first printer, William Caxton, and an illuminated manuscript from the 11th century. In all, the auction is expected to bring £8-10 million (US $12.5 - $15.5 million), though we would not be terribly surprised to see the final hammer exceed this sum.