Rare Book Monthly

Articles - June - 2011 Issue

Sotheran's - An Exceptional Story


A Sotheran catalogue of the 1880s

They would move many times, expand and retrench, move into the City and out and rarely over-commit.  They would have as many as five shops in the closing decades of the 19th century and by one account in the 1880s as many as 500,000 books available.  They would become prolific cataloguers, issuing more than 700 “Price Current” catalogues as well as an extensive run of “Piccadilly Notes."  They assisted Enriqueta Rylands to create an institutional library in memory of her husband John, an institution today renowned for its exceptional holdings.  When the trade shifted to America they courted the lions of the day, coming to represent Henry Clay Folger and J. P. Morgan and selling to many others.

In these same decades, when dealers regularly participated in rigged bidding to buy cheap and resell within their ring, Sotheran did not participate.   Those who did were later unapologetic, when their activities were revealed, claiming that it kept their costs down, although it defrauded sellers.


In the 1920s, when rarity and collecting merged into an upward spiral of prices Sotheran's stepped aside, later becoming underbidders in the auction rooms, willing to lose out to those willing to pay more as the decade advanced.  Ten years later many who went a bump or two higher were gone.

In 1928 Henry Cecil Sotheran, the last member of the family to be directly involved in the firm, died.  In his stead Gabriel Wells, the American rare book dealer, purchased the firm, in time transferring his interest to the Rothschild family that continues, now three generations later, its involvement, only the second enduring ownership in the firm’s 250 year history.

Looking back it is possible to feel the excitement and impetus for opening a bookstore in 1761.  Literacy was on the wing and English prospects unparalleled.  England would place its stamp upon the world, installing its language upon a quarter of the globe.  The path would prove uncertain but the best place to be at that moment and for decades to come would be London.  The city and nation would dominate the world for the next 140 years and Sotheran be present, its own history developing.  Its story would then follow the transition from the British century to the American one, the transition softened by the shared language that lessened the impact for sellers of the printed word.

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:</b> Ian Fleming, <i>Goldfinger,</i> first edition, inscribed to Sir Henry Cotton, MBE, London, 1959. Sold for $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Joseph Brant, Mohawk Chief, ALS, writing after pledging support to King George III against American rebels, 1776. Sold for a record $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Sonia Delaunay, <i>Ses Peintures</i> . . ., 20 pochoir plates, Paris, 1925. Sold for a record $13,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Diana, Princess of Wales, 6 autograph letters signed to British <i>Vogue</i> editor, 1989-92. Sold for $10,400.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Alexander Hamilton, ALS, as Secretary of the Treasury covering costs of the new U.S. Mint, 1793. Sold for $12,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Benjamin Graham & David L. Dodd, <i>Security Analysis,</i> first edition, inscribed by Graham to a Wall Street trader, NY, 1934. Sold for $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> George Barbier & François-Louis Schmied, <i>Personnages de Comédie,</i> Paris, 1922. Sold for $9,375.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Alphonse Mucha, <i>Ilsée, Princesse de Tripoli,</i> Paris, 1897. Sold for a record $13,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Ralph Waldo Emerson, <i>The Dial,</i> first edition of the reconstituted issue, Emerson’s copy with inscriptions, Cincinnati, 1860. Sold for a record $3,250.

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