THE UPS AND DOWNS OF A HAMMER
China stands amongst the most fashionable destinations in travel books nowadays and the 16 engravings representing the conquests of the Emperor of China (1 in-folio album and 24 plates printed in Paris in 1788, and bound in modern half-morocco) went for 14,000 euros. “This was a good surprise, said Mr. Forgeot. I think it never made such a price before.” On the contrary, other books about China made reasonable prices such as Ceva’s Réflexions sur les affaires présentes de la Chine (1 vol., old morocco, circa 1709 – 800 euros), or Le Comte’s Nouveaux Mémoires sur l’état présent de la Chine (3 vol. in contemporary morocco, Paris 1697-98 – 7,800 euros). Du Halde’s Description géographique, historique, chronologique, politique, et physique de l’empire de la Chine et de la Tartarie chinoise (4 volumes in-folio, Paris 1735) did not meet the reserve price and was retrieved at 18,000 euros.
The West Indies remain a sure value as two bidders fought hard for a very fine copy of Du Tertre’s Histoire Générale des Antilles habitées par les François (3 vol. in-4°, full contemporary calf, Paris 1667-71 – 11,500 euros) while the classic work of Labat, Nouveau Voyage aux isles de l’Amérique (6 vol. in-12°, full contemporary calf and the coat of arms of La Rochefoucauld on each board, a very fine copy) went for 11,800 euros. “This price is fully justified, Mr. Forgeot said. It is a very valuable book and it is very rare to find it with armories.” Charlevoix’s Histoire de l’isle espagnole ou de S. Domingue (2 volumes in-4°, full contemporary calf, a very fine copy – 4,500 euros) went beyond the appraisal of Mr. Forgeot while Bossu’s Nouveaux voyages aux Indes occidentales (1 vol. in full contemporary calf) never reached the appraisal of 4,000 euros, culminating at 3,800 euros. In fact, it was not “adjugé”. “This is incredible,” Mr Forgeot. underlined. “This is an exceptional book. Bossu’s Voyages is not that rare, but it is a very interesting read to start with. Plus, our copy is stamped with Mme Du Deffand’s golden cats on the back!” This “dame” (1697-1780) is very famous as an “esprit des Lumières”. D’Alembert, Montesquieu, Voltaire, Fontenelle, Marivaux or Horace Walpole were amongst her acquaintances and would attend her “salon” in Paris. In 1767, she went blind and asked her niece, Julie de Lespinasse, to live with her and to read her some books. “She certainly read this copy to her aunt”, stated the expert in the catalogue. “Books with this golden cat stamp are so few,” Mr. Forgeot continued. “Mostly a travel book of this quality.” Another deception came with Andrade’s Lettere annue del Tibet... (Rome, 1628) which did not meet the reserve at 2,800 euros.
The last part of the auction focused on some beautiful travel books from the early 19th century such as Milbert’s Itinéraire pittoresque du fleuve Hudson... (2 vol. in-4° and a in-folio Atlas, Paris 1828-29 – 7,800 euros), Rugendas’ classic work on Brazil, Voyage pittoresque dans le Brésil (in-folio, Paris 1835 – 19,500 euros) or Dupaix’ wonderful Antiquités méxicaines (1 vol. for the text, 1 vol. in-folio for the atlas, Paris 1844 – 22,500 euros). One of the most anticipated lots was Castelnau’s Expédition dans les parties centrales de l’Amérique... (13 vo. in-8°, in-4° and in-folio, in contemporary half binding – Paris 1861). Castelnau’s travel in South America is a testimony of an “expanding world” as Mr. Forgeot would say. The explorer went from Quito to La Paz and sailed the Amazon River. When he came back, four years later, he was very sick and almost blind. The 493 plates are said to be extraordinary and 272 of those illustrating this copy were contemporary hand coloured. “This monumental work is today still of great scientific value...” says Borba de Moraes (1), quoted in the catalogue. This unique set went for 44,000 euros, the highest bid of the auction.
ENGLISH WRITTEN BOOKS
There were a few books written in English that might be of interest to our readers, including the relation of Mendez Pinto, a Portuguese traveller who went to remote countries such as Ethiopia, China or Japan during the first half of the 17th century. Though said to be partially fictional, his relation, originally published in Portugal, was quickly translated into English, and printed in London in 1653. Our copy had been rebacked, had worn corners and some foxing. It still went for 3,000 euros.
The original English edition of Krascheninnikof’s The History of Kamtschatka... (Glocester, 1764) is the very first scientific account of Kamtschatka and it went for 2,300 euros. One of the most attractive lots of the sale was the diary of Admiral Lord Collingwood, written while commanding the British fleet in the Mediterranean. This unique historical piece, written from Collingwood’s own hand between Decembre 1807 and January 1810, came from the private library of the American banker André de Coppet, and was nicely bound in a contemporary vellum. The 26 leaves ended up on a detailed account of the Roses Battle off Costa Brava, that saw the French triumphing – a lovely memory, I must say. Collingwood died shortly after, in 1810, on board of the Ville de Paris, a magnificent French vessel captured by the English in the West Indies at the end of 18th century – an unhappy memory, I must confess. This valuable document did not meet the reserve price neither, to the despair of Mr. Forgeot: “this is such a valuable document! I was expecting much more than 8,000 euros for a hero of Trafalgar.” This item, who knows, might be relisted in the next part of this interesting auction sale – we’ll find out and let you know.
Books are like people, you can not explain why you suddenly fall in love with one of them. I had no special interest in the first lot of this auction until I held it in my hands. Historiale Description de l’Afrique by Léon l’Africain (Anvers, 1556), first published in 1550, is a wonderful book, the perfect hyphen between travel and knowledge. This gorgeous copy, bound in old vellum, had an incredible smell and was fitting the palm of my hand like a miracle. I was fascinated by the lettres printed on the paper, by the magnificent woodcuts in the text – some desert warriors, an intriguing camel... These drawings, still uncertain and yet at the forefront of their time, tell us so much about our human brothers who before us lived. They are like the echoes of a remote world, so familiar and yet so elusive. Unfortunately, a most fortunate book lover took this one home. Behind the velvet curtains of Drouot, more than anywhere else, miracles have a price – and this particular one was worth 3,900 euros before the commission, if the reserve was ever met!
(1) Bora de Moraes (Rubens). Bibliographia Brasiliana. 2e édition. Rio de Janeiro, 1983. 2 volumes.
Useful links :
- Pierre Bergé & Associés : www.pba-auctions.com
- Librairie Benoît Forgeot : www.forgeot.com