• <b>Christie’s Paris, 20 Feb:</b> BELON. <i>L’Histoire de la nature des oyseaux.</i> Paris : Corrozet, 1555. $17,000 to $23,000
    <b>Christie’s Paris, 20 Feb:</b> MIOMANDRE – BARBIER. <i>Dessins sur les danses de Vaslav Nijinsky.</i> Paris. 1913. $23,000 to $34,000
    <b>Christie’s Paris, 20 Feb:</b> HOKUSAI. <i>Fugaku Hyakkei, Edo : Nishimura Yûzô.</i> 1834-1875. $58,000 to $80,000
    <b>Christie’s Paris, 20 Feb:</b> EDWARDS. <i> <br>A Natural History of Uncommon Birds…</i> London : Printed for the Author. 1743-1764. $35,000 to $46,000
    <b>Christie’s Paris, 20 Feb:</b> VESALIUS. <i><br> De Humane Corporis Fabrica libri septem...</i> Basle : J. Oporinus. 1555. $58,000 to $80,000
  • <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>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>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

Rare Book Monthly

Articles - April - 2016 Issue

Antoine-Francois Desrues, (Not) Just Another Villain

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Vie Privée et Criminelle de Desrues.

Nobody knows about Antoine-Francois Desrues (1744-1777) nowadays. Yet, he once stood among the most notorious French villains. The story of his life even made it to the peddling books—some small and attractive books that dealt with nothing but bankable topics—at the turn of the 19th century. He was just another villain, who had murdered a woman and her son to rob them. But was he as hated as some publications pretend? And how come so many engravings linked to his petty crimes were printed? Looks like all these suspicious details lead us to... the police of books.

 

On May 6, 1777, in Place de Grève, Paris, Antoine-François Desrues went to death with fortitude. “As his legs were being tied,” reads Vie Privée et Criminelle d’Antoine-François Desrues (Cailleau, 1777), “he asked the executioner (the famous Sanson—editor’s note) to make him suffer as less as possible, and then he courageously lay on the cross of St. Andrew. (...) His face had hardly been covered up with his gown that his arms, his back, his legs and thighs were broken. He squealed a little, but ceased after the ninth strike.” Apparently, Desrues was not totally dead when thrown unto a stake and burnt to ashes. But our author, André-Charles Cailleau, shows no compassion: “Thus, this abominable destroyer of mankind received the due punishment for his crimes, the worst ever since the beginning of time.”

 

Damned! The worst ever? Desrues had poisoned an aristocrat, Madame de la Motte, and her teen-age son to get a hold on her valuable property, burying her body in a cave. This is a terrible thing to do, no doubt; but clearly not the worst crime in the history of mankind. On the contrary, the public was probably not that horrified by the murders of two aristocrats on the brink of the French Révolution (1789). So, could this open exaggeration (among many others scattered all through the story of his life) be a deliberate attempt at darkening him? That’s what some modern historians think. In Cailleau’s book, Desrues is depicted as a “monster”—including physically, as he is said to be a hermaphrodite—, a “villain” who had “vicious inclinations” from his youngest age; worst of all, he was a “Tartuffe”, or fake devout. An epitaph printed on the front page of Vie privée et criminelle..., reads: “Peaceful in crime and mildly false, he up to his death stuck to wickedness.”

 

There are two main books about Desrues’ life, and they both depict him as a monster. The first one is entitled Vie de Desrues (Paris, Thiboust’s widow), and the second one, which became more popular, is Vie Privée et Criminelle de Desrues (Cailleau, 1777). But they are almost the same. In Année Littéraire (Paris, 1777), Grosier and Fréron write about the Cailleau edition: “The title itself should warn us about this book. What is the meaning, indeed, of criminal life’? It is the pale copy of another Life of the same villain (...), which was written by a famous author, whose work is here curiously disfigured by a plagiarist.”

 

One thing is for sure, if we are to believe the amount of engravings and books published at the time, the Desrues’ case made a lot of noise: “Not that much because of his crimes,” writes the French professor Annie Dupart in L’Affaire Desrues, ou le premier tombeau de l’Ancien Régime (CAIRN). “But rather because they had a strong impact on the public, quite willing to side with the criminals anytime the police and justice hit the streets of Paris.” According to her, the people saw Desrues as a sort of avenger, who “had tried to take the goods of an aristocrat a little bit too soon—just ten years before the Révolution.” Furthermore, just like Cartouche and Mandrin, Desrues was later used as a tool of propaganda by the revolutionists, since stealing from a thief—meaning an aristocrat—was an act of social justice. One man, who knew the people of Paris well, might have foretold the importance of Desrues’ case in these times of social unrest. His name was Jean-Charles-Pierre Lenoir, and he was the powerful Lieutenant of Police. “The ambivalent feelings of the public towards Desrues,” goes on Annie Duprat, “pushed Lenoir (...) to order a series of libels and engravings dedicated at exposing the darkness of his soul.” To create a monster, Lenoir apparently called upon a few printers.

 

Police and books

 

The police underwent crucial changes during the 18th century, as they started to use manipulation and misinformation in their enquiries—as in Cartouche’s case. Printing propaganda books and engravings had become one of their regular weapons. Thus, the impressive amount of publications linked to Desrues appears quite suspicious. In Manuscripts Upon Papyrus, Vellum, and Paper... (London, 1843), Thomas Thorpe lists many of them, including a series of “one hundred and twenty (!) curious portraits and plates, with duplicates of some in colors.” The Cailleau edition of Vie privée et criminelle...potentially came with 39 engravings plus a frontispiece, all signed Esnault and Rapilly.

 

But what makes Annie Dupart think that Lenoir “ordered” their printing? Joined on the phone, she confesses: “Well, there’s no proof of it. First, the archives of the police were burnt during La Commune, in 1871; then, I guess Lenoir was clever enough not to give written orders in that kind of matters.” Let’s bear in mind that Lenoir was also controlling the police of books. But did he really order Cailleau or Thiboust’s widow to publish the life of Desrues? This type of book was selling quite well, the publishers probably waited upon no one to put them out. What about these obvious exaggerations, then? Well, the assigned authors of these ill-considered works, usually some second-hand writers, had little glory to expect from them; they never signed them, and they probably rushed their work so it might come out shortly after the execution.

 

The Thiboust’s widow edition has since been credited to Baculard d’Arnaud (1718-1803), once a protégé of Voltaire, but who, “in 1777, aged 59, was writing books like Vie de Desrues... to earn a living,” underlines A. Fouquier in Causes Célèbres (Paris, 1862). He adds: “We can imagine the inconsistency of such a trivial work, hastily written for a publisher who expected to capitalize as soon as possible on the public’s interest.” Cailleau, for his part, is commonly credited for both the publishing and the writing of Vie privée et criminelle de Desrues..., tough no one really says on which ground. Their styles lack subtlety, and they use sensationalism to give life to their stories. Their books are some sort of early tabloids, and educated people had little consideration for them. In their Historical Dictionary (Lyon, 1804), while celebrating Nero or Caligula, Chaudon and Dandeline reluctantly talk about Desrues. “We would be ashamed of ourselves to feature such an odious article in our dictionary, had not it been by public request; some readers have reproached us to leave some criminals out, who made a small and momentary noise; as if a Historical Dictionary should tell the story of the Grève.”

 

What is disturbing in the Desrues’ case is the amount of existing engravings. Though sometimes bound in a book, they were usually sold separately. There was a series of more than 100 of them, and at least two “series of scenes telling the principal events in Desrues’ life”. We are almost dealing with comic strips! Lieutenant Lenoir—or the printers—were aware of the fact that most of the French population was then illiterate; drawings were the surest way to be understood. Those featuring Desrues on the stake, or burying his victim, were obviously attractive. But what about the less significant ones like Desrues welcoming his future victim in Paris, the bodies being exhumed, etc? “Well,” says Annie Duprat, “we know that they were printed; but did they sell? Of course, they were very cheap (1) and Desrues’ case was captivating news. The story itself is incredible! When he dressed as a woman, for example, pretending to be his victim to cheat a lawyer in Lyon, or when he poisoned his victim’s son in Versailles, claiming he died from a venereal disease before having him buried under a false name. This is like a thrilling detective novel!”

 

(1) The edition of 1777 (Cailleau) was sold for 24 sols without the engravings (“to be found at Enaults & Rapilly as well as at Mr. Mondhare”) and 48 sols with the series 39 engravings plus the frontispiece, representing the portrait of Desrues.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Morton Subastas on Bidsquare:</b><br>Die Französische Expedition gegen Mexico /Beilagen zum Beiheft des Militair - Wochenblattes
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  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Feb 21:</b> NASA archive with 351 photographs, silver & chromogenic prints, 1960-2002. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Feb 21:</b> Edward S. Curtis, suite of 18 cyanotypes, 1910-14. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Feb 21:</b> Edward S. Curtis, <i>Horse Capture, Atsina,</i> unique copper plate for <i>The North American Indian,</i> 1908. $60,000 to $90,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Feb 21:</b> John Whipple, <i>Harriet Beecher Stowe,</i> salted print from a calotype negative, 1853. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Feb 21:</b> Lewis Carroll, <i>Xie Kitchen,</i> albumen print, circa 1872. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Feb 21:</b> Ansel Adams, <i>Taos Pueblo,</i> limited, signed first edition of the artist's first book, 12 silver bromide prints, 1930. $30,000 to $45,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Feb 21:</b><br>JFK in his motorcade about 2 mins before his assassination, chromogenic print, 1963. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Feb 21:</b> Anton Guilio Bragaglia, 6 photomechanical postcards with facsimile signatures, 1911-13, printed 1932. $30,000 to $45,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Feb 21:</b> Société Anonyme, Inc, group of 9 postcards, including 8 real photo postcards, 1920-30. $25,000 to $35,000.

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