Rare Book Monthly

Articles - April - 2012 Issue

Travel Books Auction at Drouot, Paris

Mrforgeot

Mr. Forgeot, the expert, during the exhibition at Drouot, Paris.

THE EXPERT’S CHOICE

  The Drouot auction house, in Paris, has something of a 19th century brothel look with its tiny staircases leading to different rooms, upstairs or downstairs, the red carpeted walls, the confidential and cozy atmosphere. Everything here is but luxury, peace and pleasure – but behind the velvet curtains, fierce and dark passions are at work. Anyone can enter this sanctuary, no questions asked. Paintings, furniture, jewellery, antiquarian books... the seven wonders of the world have gone through Drouot ever since it opened its doors in 1852. In this living and free museum, touching, smelling and manipulating items is not only authorized but recommended. You are your own man in Drouot. I remember casually attending an exposition of pre-columbian art, one day, as I was waiting for another sale to begin. I was mesmerized by some incredible small figures of animals shaped in pure gold when I heard two aged gentlemen besides me. One of them was so moved, his voice was uneven as he said to his friend: “do you realize that this is the most impressive exposition of this type that ever happened in France?” That is Drouot.

On March the 7th, around 11 A.M, I found the room number 7 quietly busy as some potential buyers were sitting in front of a red carpeted table, religiously studying the books some assistants would present to them on demand. Stored in the usual glass chests, the 151 items of the Pierre Bergé’s sale were patiently enduring the covetous looks of their next masters. The former owner (at least for a majority of them), Jean-Paul Morin, is the grandson of the painter Jean Sala, and also the former financial director of the famous Publicis company. A traveller himself, Morin has focused on travel books over the years, paying attention to both the contents and the binding. To make some room in his life, he recently decided to part company with a few books...

I picked up a catalogue on the table and started to go through the pages with excitement – Pierre Bergé’s stands amongst the most famous auction houses and the quality of its catalogues is always impressive (Mr Bergé is the former companion of the late Yves Saint Laurent). Not only are they an everlasting source of bibliophilism but they also contain gorgeous pictures of bindings, engravings - they are just the perfect coffee table book.

The expert for this sale was Mr. Benoît Forgeot, a well-known bookseller who has been in the business for 25 years, from Geneva to Paris where he currently runs his own bookshop - he was, amongst other things, responsible for the sale of the Napoleonic library of Mr Dominique de Villepin, a former French Prime Ministre. Talking about the catalogue he established for Pierre Bergé’s, he said: “the idea was to describe these books in a way that reminds that they are, first and foremost, the results of some incredible human adventures. These authors were real travellers who were risking their lives across the globe. These are their testimonies.” Mr Forgeot has seen many books in his life and simplicity seems to move him above all things today. He picked up a small octavo volume on the shelf, Viaggio dell’Indie orientali, by Gasparo Balbi, a gorgeous book printed in Venice in 1590 and bound in contemporary vellum. “It is not necessarily the most impressive item of the auction, said he. It is a small book, with no illustration... But it is the quintessence of a travel book. The author was a diamond merchant in Venice, no doubt a very comfortable social position. Nevertheless, he decided to travel as far as the remote Burma, in a time when traveling was very dangerous, to look for precious stones and to report on what he saw. It is a simple and genuine relation.” Mr Forgeot is not the only one to value “simplicity” as the book was eventually sold at 20,000 euros (appraisal 6-8,000 euros).

Another book attracted our expert’s attention: Brazil Pittoresco, by Charles Ribeyrolles and Victor Frond (Rio de Janeiro, 1859 for the text / Paris, 1861 for the atlas), a very rare set hardly seen complete, as the 3 volumes of text and the atlas were published separately on two different continents. “If you take a quick look at the 69 plates, said Mr. Forgeot while opening the gigantic atlas, you might think they are photographs. Victor Frond was a photographer, indeed – a pioneer. But take a closer look and you will see that these are lithographs! Frond had them made from his own photographs. This philosophy is at the crossroad of two periods of art and history. It is the symbol of an expanding world, a world in motion, full of energy and of creativity. The binding is contemporary but quite modest.” The appraisal was still impressive, ranging from 35,000 to 45,000 euros - it went for 41,000 euros. Appraisals are a crucial part of an auction. Too low, they undermine the quality of the auction and upset buyers attracted by unrealistic expectations; too high, they discourage everyone – even worse when you consider the very expensive commission of 25% announced by the auction house for this sale. “Pierre Bergé’s, like most of the auction houses, followed the movement recently initiated by Christie’s and raised its commission,” the expert said. Prices in the following article will be given free of commission.

Times are difficult, even for antiquarian books as it seems. Generating 600,000 euros (according to Mr Forgeot), this sale was “satisfactory in the economical situation,” Mr. Forgeot stated. A third of the lots were not sold but discreetly retrieved from the sale when not meeting the reserve price - when the auctioneer let his hammer fall, you have to hear him say the word “ adjugé ”, or the sale is not completed. “Nowadays,” Mr Fergeot observed, “you hardly get a good bargain for an ordinary book without any specific binding, or a coat of arms. On the other hand, when you have something exceptional, you can expect a very good sale.” Good or bad, this rather short auction of 152 lots (for books only) gave a few surprises.

 

PROGRESS AND THE NATIONAL LIBRARY OF FRANCE

  Most people might call it progress, I still call it a flat screen on a stand. There was a time when every item was physically shown, at least partially, during an auction. It was the job of the assistants. I loved it, it added a touch of tragic to the auction and it could also urge the buyers to bid on a book they had not seen during the exposition. Nowadays, maybe because of the recent scandal involving the former assistants of Drouot, we have pictures on a screen – progress. It creates confusion, sometimes. There was this guy sitting on the third row, who started to panic after saying “ 7,500”. Suddenly, he anxiously looked at the catalogue, then around him, frantically asking everyone: “what’s the number of this lot? 46? It is not 46, is it?!”

In those not so remote times, the highest bidder could also say “I keep it!” once the hammer had fallen. Then, an assistant would bring him his item right away. In a lucky day, you could end up with a pile of old books on your knees in the middle of the feverish sale, a taste of Paradise to any book lover. This is over too. Nowadays, all items are stored in a backroom where you have to pick them up when you decide to leave. Well, progress did not prevent the merciless buyers to fight over the books offered this day. Amongst the crowd, two booksellers, well-known for their unfriendly rivalry, outbid each other over a few items to the auctioneer’s delight. Another bookseller spent some 100,000 euros in less than an hour; a lot of people bid on the phone while others had left some absentee bids (not to mention the reserve prices, discreetly disguised under false absentee bids – so that no one becomes demoralized, I guess). But the most unbeatable opponent this day calmly sat on a chair from which he stood at the end of a couple of auctions to loudly declare, as required : “the National Library of France might use its pre-emptive right over this item.” Notwithstanding the frustration of the highest bidder, this guy always has the last word. As the catalogue read, the French State is entitled to use its right of pre-emption on works of art or private document. And it did, this day, on a few items, including two unusual globes. The first one was a Privilegirter pneumatisch portativer Erdglobus printed on silk paper in 1830, coming with its incredible blower - this “globe by Cella has more text with explanations and other records of discovery than the globe of Pocock which served as its model” (Dekker), quoted the catalogue. The appraisal was 2-3,000 euros - it went for 4,500 euros. The second item was a Bett’s Patent Portable Globe printed on silk in London circa 1880 (2,800 euros). The National Library of France has 15 days to make up its mind – if it does not manifest in this interval, the items return to the best bidders.

A representative from the National Archives was also here. She had come, as a few others, for the item number 105, an exceptional set of 19 handwritten lettres taken from the correspondence of Hyacinthe de Bougainville and Paul de Nourquer du Camper during their historical expedition to the South Seas between 1824 and 1826. “This was one of the most promising items of the sale, said Mr. Forgeot. But the day before, we received an official lettre from the Ministry of Defence, stating that these papers were of interest to the State and ordering us to retrieve them from the sale. I wanted to ignore their order but the auctioneer could not take the risk.” The legislation is not clearly applied in those cases and this particular one might take some time to come to a satisfying conclusion.

  


Rare Book Monthly

  • <center><b>Dominic Winter Auctioneers<br>The Library and Picture Collection of the late Martin Woolf Orskey<br>June 26</b>
    <b>Dominic Winter Auctioneers<br>June 26:</b> Book of Hours. Illuminated manuscript, Flanders or northern France, c. 1450. With 12 full-page illuminated miniatures. £10,000 to £15,000
    <b>Dominic Winter Auctioneers<br>June 26:</b> Zahrawi, Abu’-Qasim, al- (c. 936-1013). <i>Albucasis chirurgicorum omnium,</i> Strasbourg, 1532. The first comprehensive illustrated treatise on surgery. £3,000 to £5,000
    <b>Dominic Winter Auctioneers<br>June 26:</b> Milles, Thomas. <i>The Custumers Alphabet and Primer,</i> 1608. Gilt supralibros of 17th-century English bibliophile Edward Gwynn. £2,000 to £3,000
    <center><b>Dominic Winter Auctioneers<br>The Library and Picture Collection of the late Martin Woolf Orskey<br>June 26</b>
    <b>Dominic Winter Auctioneers<br>June 26:</b> Guillemeau, Jacques. <i>Child-Birth or, the Happy Deliverie of Women,</i> 1st edition in English, 1612. The second midwifery manual printed in English. £1,500 to £2,000
    <b>Dominic Winter Auctioneers<br>June 26:</b> Rabisha, William. <i>The Whole Body of Cookery Dissected,</i> 1st edition, 1661. Rare. Five copies in libraries. £2,000 to £3,000
    <b>Dominic Winter Auctioneers<br>June 26:</b> Royal binding. <i>An Abridgment of the English Military Discipline,</i> 1678. Contemporary red goatskin gilt by Samuel Mearne for Charles II (1630-1865). £1,500 to £2,000
    <center><b>Dominic Winter Auctioneers<br>The Library and Picture Collection of the late Martin Woolf Orskey<br>June 26</b>
    <b>Dominic Winter Auctioneers<br>June 26:</b> Pallavicino, Ferrante. <i>The Whores Rhetorick,</i> 1st edition in English, 1683. Rare anti-Jesuit satire. £2,000 to £3,000
    <b>Dominic Winter Auctioneers<br>June 26:</b> Swift, Jonathan. <i>The Benefit of Farting,</i> 1st London edition, 1722. Teerink 19. £2,000 to £3,000
    <b>Dominic Winter Auctioneers<br>June 26:</b> Edwards, George. <i>Natural History of Uncommon Birds</i> [and] <i>Gleanings of Natural History,</i> 7 volumes, 1743-64. Contemporary tree calf, 362 hand-coloured engraved plates. £8,000 to £12,000
    <center><b>Dominic Winter Auctioneers<br>The Library and Picture Collection of the late Martin Woolf Orskey<br>June 26</b>
    <b>Dominic Winter Auctioneers<br>June 26:</b> Campbell, Patrick. <i>Travels in the Interior Inhabited Parts of North America,</i> 1st edition, 1793. Howes C101; Sabin 10264. Uncut in original boards. £5,000 to £8,000
    <b>Dominic Winter Auctioneers<br>June 26:</b> Hearne, Samuel. <i>A Journey from Prince of Wales's Fort in Hudson's Bay, to the Northern Ocean,</i> 1st edition, 1795. Sabin 31181. Large-paper copy. £2,000 to £3,000
    <b>Dominic Winter Auctioneers<br>June 26:</b> Edgeworth, Maria. <i>The Match Girl, A Novel,</i> 1808. £1,000 to £1,500
  • <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.
  • <b>Christie’s Paris:</b> Blaise Cendrars and Fernand Léger, <i>La Fin du monde filmée par l’ange N.-D.,</i> Paris, Editions de la Sirène, 1919
    <b>Christie’s Paris:</b> André Breton, <i>Second manifeste du Surréalisme,</i> Paris, Editions Kra, 1930
    <b>Christie’s Paris:</b> Paul Eluard and Pablo Picasso, <i>La Barre d’appui,</i> Paris, Editions « Cahiers d’Art », 1936
    <b>Christie’s Paris:</b> Blaise Cendrars and Fernand Léger, <i>La Fin du monde filmée par l’ange N.-D.,</i> Paris, Editions de la Sirène, 1919
    <b>Christie’s Paris:</b> Hans Bellmer, <i>Die Puppe,</i> Paris, G.L.M., 1936
    <b>Christie’s Paris:</b> Salvador Dali, <i>La femme visible,</i> Paris, Editions Surréalistes, 1930
  • <b>Doyle, The Estate of Oleg Cassini. June 27</b>
    <b>Doyle, The Estate of Oleg Cassini:</b> KENNEDY ONASSIS, JACQUELINE Typed letter signed to Oleg Cassini. $400 to $600
    <b>Doyle, The Estate of Oleg Cassini:</b> [CASSINI-KENNEDY FASHIONS] Important archives related to the development of fashions for Mrs. Kennedy… $4,000 to $6,000
    <b>Doyle, The Estate of Oleg Cassini:</b> [CASSINI-KENNEDY FASHIONS] Detailed ledger of the Kennedy White House years… $500 to $800
    <b>Doyle, The Estate of Oleg Cassini:</b> KELLY, GRACE. Four autograph letters to Oleg Cassini. $5,000 to $8,000
    <b>Doyle, The Estate of Oleg Cassini. June 27</b>
    <b>Doyle, The Estate of Oleg Cassini:</b> CASSINI, OLEG. Group of Kennedy-era original fashion sketches. $1,000 to $1,500
    <b>Doyle, The Estate of Oleg Cassini:</b> KENNEDY ONASSIS, JACQUELINE. Autograph letter signed to Oleg Cassini. $800 to $1,200
    <b>Doyle, The Estate of Oleg Cassini:</b> CASSINI, OLEG. Fashion sketch titled “Mrs. Kennedy-Palais de Versailles-State Dinner.” $800 to $1,200
    Doyle, The Estate of Oleg Cassini: [CASSINI, OLEG - KENNEDY, JACQUELINE.] Group of approximately 130 original fashion designs… $800 to $1,200.
  • <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.

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