Rare Book Monthly

Articles - January - 2017 Issue

A Library Plans to Sell a Valuable Century-Old Book Collection

90fe45a1-6d25-4012-be18-bade986743a8

The Jesuit Library in Ireland (from the library's Facebook page).

Important old books tend to become harder and harder for collectors to find, as the best are either purchased by or given to institutions. Once there, it is expected they will never return to public circulation, making it difficult if not impossible for private collectors ever to own a copy. However, in recent years, a few institutional libraries, either from financial need or inability to properly care for collections, have reversed the trend, putting books long out of public circulation back into the market. A major such example was recently announced in Ireland. A large collection of books held in the Jesuit Library near Dublin for over a century, including many items of incunabula (books published prior to 1501), will go up for sale next summer.

 

Slated to be sold is what is known as the "O'Brien Collection" at the Jesuit Library. It was bequeathed to the Jesuits on the death of Irish Justice William O'Brien in 1899. O'Brien was an Irish judge, book collector, and devoted Catholic. According to his obituary in the Law Times of 1900, his opportunities as a young man were limited by his faith, but he nonetheless stood by it. Over the years, he supported various Catholic organizations, so it is no surprise that he gave his valuable collection to the Jesuits when he died. According to the Irish Times, which reported the news of the planned sale, "thousands of books" from the collection have already been shipped to Sotheby's in London for the sale. That sounds like a surprisingly large number. Some items have been held back, specifically ones the National Library of Ireland requested be placed with them on a long-term loan. The value of those being put up for sale is estimated at £1,500,000 (or about $1.9 million).

 

According to the Irish Times, Sotheby's described the collection as "one of the most important of its kind to come to the market." It is said to contain rare printed books from the 15th century, early Shakespeare editions, literature, and medieval manuscripts. What exactly is in there has not been published. A catalogue of incunabula at the Milltown Park Library (Jesuits) published in 1932 listed 117 items of incunabula bequeathed to it by William O'Brien in 1899. Presumably, many of these items are among those to be offered.

 

This does not appear to be a sale motivated by a severe need for money. The Jesuits have good uses for the funds, including upkeep of churches, caring for invalid priests, religious education, and relief of the poor. However, the Jesuits have a painting on "indefinite loan" to the National Gallery said to be worth $50 million. That is not the behavior of an institution that badly needs funds. Two other factors were cited. A spokesperson for the Jesuits was quoted as saying the books and manuscripts "are of such an age that they require specialist care and conservation." A sale would “allow for these precious books to be properly cared for and appreciated." That is indeed an issue for institutions with valuable old books that do not specialize in book preservation. Selling the books may be kinder than keeping them.

 

The other factor was the lack of use of the collection. A Sotheby's spokesman was quoted as saying the library "has barely ever been consulted by students or scholars in the past 100 years." Add to that the fact that Dublin has other libraries with similar material and it made sense to the Jesuits to let this go. It's not like the library will be lacking in books for scholarly study. They still have over 140,000 volumes.

 

As to whether any controversy will arise, as always seems to be the case in these situations, we don't know. The Jesuits seem to have put everything in place to make this a fait accompli before anything was announced. The decision was made, the National Library was given a chance to say what should not be sold, an export license was obtained from the government to ship the books overseas, and they were sent to London. A sale date has been set for June 7, 2017. This is a decision that will be hard to undo.

 

Now, here is a cap on a story that ended differently. In 2015, Gordon College, in Wenham, Massachusetts, announced that it would be selling part of a collection it had received in 1921. In that year, the heirs of Edward Payson Vining gave his book collection to the college. It contained 7,000 books. Vining was an officer of the Union Pacific Railroad, who retired relatively young and occupied himself with research, writing, and book collecting. He had a few odd theories, such as that Hamlet was a woman, and America was first discovered by Afghan monks, but a little eccentricity never hurt anyone. Gordon really didn't much know what to do with his collection, so for years, many of the books remained packed in boxes. Nonetheless, when the college announced it would sell some of them, it raised some strong opposition among faculty and others.

 

The college had moved well along in the process at the time. They had selected 10% of the books from the collection to sell, and hired Doyle New York to conduct the auction. A date had been set. The purpose, officers of the college explained, was to raise funds so they could adequately preserve the remainder of the collection. Though only 10% of the collection was to be sold, it too was valued at around $2 million.

 

Ultimately, the objectors prevailed, or at least, they convinced the administration to change its mind. Last summer, the college announced that it was withdrawing the sale and would seek other sources of funding to maintain the books. That has evidently been accomplished, and last month, Gordon announced the first exhibition highlighting some of the long mothballed Vining books. An exhibition of some of the Vining books is being held at the Barrington Center for the Arts on the Gordon campus. It is entitled Vining’s Shakespeare: Highlights from the Edward Payson Vining Collection. The exhibit is free to the public and runs through January 16. Among the highlights of Vining's collection are Shakespeare's second and fourth folio. Other books on display include a 1611 King James Bible and a 1755 Samuel Johnson dictionary. And, there will also be a few items written by Vining himself, including one where he exposed Hamlet as a woman and a lecture he gave to New York's Shakespeare Society. There is even a clip from a 1920 German film in which Hamlet is portrayed by a woman.

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.

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions