Sotheby’s Fine Books and Manuscripts on 19 June in New York

- by Bruce E. McKinney

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Most, if not all, auction houses have general and subject sales.  A subject sale has one or more focus; general sales include material across a spectrum of categories and subjects.  Subject sales excite more interest but occasionally general sales shift into a higher gear to focus on high points.  In the upcoming Sotheby’s sale of Fine Books and Manuscripts we have a general sale with many of the highest points in the printed works pantheon.

 

Here is how Sotheby’s briefly describes the sale:

 

Our 19 June sale of Fine Books and Manuscripts, Including Americana will feature incunabula from the Jewish Theological Seminary, including a complete Book of Esther from the Gutenberg Bible, 1455. Americana includes a very fine contemporary broadside of the Declaration of Independence, a rare first book printing of the Declaration and a very desirable copy of Williams’s Bloudy Tenent, 1644, the first copy to appear on the market since 1984. Other highlights are Edwin Booth’s copy of Shakespeare’s Second Folio, 1632, and a collection of 5 original gouaches by Bemelmans for his Madeleine series.

 

As sales go it’s a small sale.  Merely 151 lots but the numbers quickly explode.  Twelve lots have high estimates of at least $100,000 that together total $4,910,000.  The first lot is 8 leaves comprising the entire Book of Esther from the Gutenberg Bible with a high estimate of $700,000.  Other religious lots dominate the first part of the sale.  At lot 40 we have the opportunity to invest in a first edition of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations.  It’s a good book, actually 3 volumes, with a high estimate of $120,000.

 

In this kind of company it’s impossible to leave Shakespeare out.  Unfortunately his entry is an association copy of a great book forever connected indirectly to the type of character the man himself might have described as “O villain, villain, smiling, damned villain.”  This is lot 85, Edwin Booth’s copy of a 1632 Second Folio.  His brother was John Wilkes Booth.

 

Number 99 is a sammelband relating to the American Revolution including the first book printing of the Declaration of Independence.  The high estimate is $500,000.

 

For they who have not yet spent their money lot 100 will test your means and your desires.  It is the king, queen and prince of the sale, a very early printing of the Declaration of Independence for Massachusetts.  The high estimate is $2,000,000.

 

One cannot have a serious sale and fail to include Benjamin Franklin.  His entry, lot 105, is a letter he wrote in 1787 to a dear friend – detailing the thus and sundries of revolutionary and everyday life.  The high estimate is $120,000.

 

Of course, where Franklin goes, Jefferson is sure to follow.  Lot 117 is estimated to a high of $120,000.  It’s his signed personal copy of the 1791 first edition of the United States Census.

 

Washington weighs in with lots 144 and 145, both of which breach the $100,000 level.  Washington’s hand is child-like but his written documents bring significant money.

 

The last of the lots estimated to reach $100,000 is Roger Williams’ The Bloudy Tenent, lot 150 and printed in Cambridge in 1644.  This is very early, one of the first books printed in British America.  

 

There is of course much more.  Greta Garbo is the subject of lot 48, lot 77 Louis Pasteur on the subject of rabies and lot 124 a signed carte-de-visite photograph of Lincoln.  But these lots and more than 130 others are left flailing in the shallow water, they all solid, noteworthy and serious but not quite reaching the six figure level.  You can of course change this.  There are many serious candidates.

 

Here is a link to the sale.