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

  • <b>Chiswick Auctions: Autographs & Memorabilia. February 28, 2019</b>
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Feb 28:</b> Autograph album featuring signatures by prominent actors, politicians, musicians and authors, including Rudolph Valentino. £1,000 to £1,500
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Feb 28:</b> An extremely rare working radio script for Crazy People No 29, the first series of <i>The Goon Show.</i> £600 to £800
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Feb 28:</b> Manuscript prayer book, in German. 8vo, 1755 £800 to £1,200
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Feb 28:</b> Italian Manuscript on Geometry, with diagrams, 18th century. £500 to £700
    <b>Chiswick Auctions: Ornithology, Zoology & Voyages. February 27, 2019</b>
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Feb 27:</b> Thorburn (Archibald). Sparrowhawk, original watercolour & gouache, signed & dated lower right, 1917. £1,500 to £2,000
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Feb 27:</b> Burton (Sir Richard Francis). <i>Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to El-Medinah and Meccah.</i> 3 vol., FIRST EDITION, 1855-56. £1,000 to £1,500
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Feb 27:</b> [Mount (Richard) & Page (Thomas)]. <i>The English Pilot. Describing the Sea-Coasts…</i> 31 engraved maps, W. & J. Mount, T. Page, 1756 £4000 to £6000
    <b>Chiswick Auctions: Ornithology, Zoology & Voyages. February 27, 2019</b>
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Feb 27:</b> D’apres De Mannevillette (Jean-Baptiste Nicolas Denis). <i>Le Neptune Oriental.</i> Paris & Brest, [1775 – 1781]. £10,000 to £15,000
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Feb 27:</b> Loring (Josiah). Terrestrial Globe Containing all the Late Discoveries and Geographical Improvements. Boston, Gilman Joslin, 1846, £800 to £1,200
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Feb 27:</b> Shelley (G. E., Capt.). <i>A Monograph of the Nectariniidae, or Family of Sun-birds,</i> FIRST EDITION, by the Author, 1876-80. £4,000 to £6,000
  • <b>Bonhams: Treasures from the Eric C. Caren Collection: How History Unfolds on Paper, Part VII (Online). March 6-14, 2019</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Albert Einstein A remarkable letter on God in English, one of his most eloquent and quoted, 1 p, July 2, 1945. $100,000 to $150,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Benjamin Lincoln's commission as Major General in the Continental Army, February 19th, 1777. $60,000 to $90,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Broadside. A Poem Upon the Bloody Engagement That Was Fought on Bunker's-Hill. 1775. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Early, full printing of the Star-Spangled Banner in The Yankee, October 7, 1814. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Paul Revere. Engraving, “The Boston Massacre Perpetrated on March 5, 1770," in <i>Massachusett's Calendar 1772.</i> $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Bonhams: Treasures from the Eric C. Caren Collection: How History Unfolds on Paper, Part VII (Online). March 6-14, 2019</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Earliest known newspaper coverage of Babe Ruth, "a St Mary's schoolboy," Baltimore, April 4, 1914. $6,000 to $9,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Franklin, Benjamin. <i>The Independent Whig.</i> First Magazine Published in America, Philadelphia: Keimer, 1723-4. $15,000 to $20,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Smith, Joseph. <i>The Book of Mormon.</i> Palmyra: Printed by E.B. Grandin for the Author, 1830. First printing. $40,000 to $60,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Last Words of Joseph Smith. Autograph Letter Signed from a Mormon disciple, conveying a contemporary account of the Prophet's final words, Nauvoo, July 27, 1844. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> John Brown's Body. Autograph Letter Signed from the daughter of John Brown attempting to arrange the return of her father's body, North Elba, Essex Co, NY, November 29, 1859. $4,000 to $6,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Powell Expedition. Autograph diary of Rhodes C. Allen kept during the Powell Expedition of 1868, June 29, 1868 - November 16, 1868. $20,000 to $40,000
  • <b>Bonhams, Mar 12:</b> Walt Whitman. <i>Leaves of Grass.</i> First edition, first issue, SIGNED in block letters by Whitman. 1855. $200,000 to $300,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 12:</b> Isaac Newton's copy of John Greave's <i>Pyramidographia,</i> London, 1646. $50,000 to $70,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 12:</b> Colonel John Mosby. Robert E. Lee's autograph letter to Samuel Cooper reporting on Mosby's exploits, with Cooper's autograph note ordering his appointment to Major.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 12:</b> Gyula Halasz Brassai. Large archive of autograph and typed letters, over 260, to his family including his wife Gilberte, 1947-1978. $40,000 to $60,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 12:</b> Archive of drawings and letters from Harper Lee to Charles Carruth, including an inscribed first edition of <i>To Kill a Mockingbird.</i> $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 11:</b> VESALIUS, ANDREAS. 1514-1564. <i>De humani corporis fabrica libri septem.</i> Basel: Johannes Oporinus, June 1543. $300,000 to $500,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 11:</b> HARVEY, WILLIAM. 1578-1657. <i>De motu cordis & sanguinis in animalibus Anatomica Exercitatio.</i> Leiden: Joannis Maire, 1639. $25,000 to $35,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 11:</b> BERENGARIO DA CARPI, GIACOMO. 1460-1530. <i>Isagogae breves perlucide ac uberrimae in Anatomiam humani corporis.</i> Bologna: Benedictus Hectoris, 15 July 1523. $15,000 to $25,000
    <b>Bonhams NY, Mar 11:</b> FRANKLIN, BENJAMIN. 1706-1790. <i>Experiments and Observations on Electricity, made at Philadelphia in America…</i> London, 1769. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams NY, Mar 11:</b> BENIVIENI, ANTONIO. 1443-1502. <i>De abditis nonnullis ac mirandis morborum et sanationum causis.</i>Florence: Filippo Giunta, 1507. $8,000 to $12,000
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b> Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, <i>El Ingenioso Hildalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha . . . Nueva Edición,</i> first Ibarra edition, Madrid, 1780. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b> Illuminated Prayer Book in Latin and French, France, 1530-40s. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b> Illuminated Book of Hours in Latin, France, mid-15th century. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b><br><i>Die Ernsthaffte Christenpflicht,</i> earliest known edition of the first complete Mennonite prayer book, 1708. $300 to $500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b> Georg Agricola, <i>De ortu & causis subterraneorum Lib V.,</i> first edition, Basel, 1546. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b> Frederick Ruysch, <i>Icon durae matris in concava [convexa] superficie visae,</i> with 2 mezzotints by Jan Ladmiral, first edition, Amsterdam, 1737. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b> Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen, <i>Eine Neue Art von Strahlen,</i> Würzburg, 1895. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b> Pietro Carrera, <i>Il Gioco de gli Scacchi,</i> first edition, Militello, 1617. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b> William Lithgow, <i>The Totall Discourse, of the Rare Adventures</i> [etc.], London, 1632. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b> Michel de Nostradamus, <i>The True Prophecies or Prognostications,</i> first complete edition in English, London, 1672. $2,500 to $3,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b> Pseudo-Methodius, <i>De revelatione facta . . . beato Methodio,</i> Basel, 1504. $2,500 to $3,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b> Hrabanus Maurus, <i>De laudibus sancte crucis opus,</i> Pforzheim, 1503. $1,000 to $2,000.

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