June 7: Fine Books & Manuscripts at Bonhams

- by Thomas C. McKinney

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Less than a week from the time of Rare Book Monthly’s June 2017 release, a Bonhams’ sale on June 7th will be taking place in New York. With 359 lots, Fine Books and Manuscripts, Including Illustration Art is split into morning and afternoon sessions beginning at 11am and 2pm EDT respectively. The first morning session is devoted to art, artists’ books, and illustrated works from the 18th through the 21st centuries, and the afternoon includes a Nobel Prize, natural history and travel, literature, Americana, and a collection of New York Yankees material from former Yankees co-owner Daniel Topping. A full breakdown of the categories and their lots follows:

Session 1

Lots 1 - 28: Art and Architecture Before 1880

Lots 29 - 95: Modern Artists’ Books

Lots 96 - 131: [Arthur] Rackham and His Contemporaries

Lots 133 - 181: Illustration Art and Children’s Books

Session 2:

Lot 182: Nobel Prize [for Physics] of Victor Hess

Lots 183 - 202: Natural History and Travel

Lots 203 - 222: Literature to 1900

Lots 223 - 267: Modern Literature, Film and the Performing Arts

Lots 268 - 312: Americana

Lots 314 - 359: Daniel Topping Collection of the New York Yankees 

With the first session focused on art, there are many highlights that still span a wide range of subjects, from Colen Campbell’s Vitruvius Britannicus, or the British Architect (1715-1725), an exhaustive catalog of the architectural style of great British buildings of the time, to a complete set of Ed Ruscha’s sixteen artist’s books, many of which are signed and/or inscribed by Ruscha, the quality of material is consistently high. One particular standout, lot 80, is a jeweled binding by Sangorski & Sutcliffe of Lord George Gordon Byron’s Ode to Napoleon, which includes six illuminated miniatures illustrating historic events during Napoleon’s career.

In 1936, Victor Franz Hess was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics for his discovery of cosmic radiation—the discovery that radiation in the atmosphere comes from space and not from the Earth itself as it was previously thought; it was a pivotal moment for 20th century research about the universe. The lot, #182, for this Nobel Prize includes of course the medal in gold itself, 65.8 mm in diameter and weighing 206.2 grams, but it also includes the Nobel Prize Diploma, on two leaves, signed by Carl Benedicks, the President of the Royal Academy, and Henning Pleyel, the Secretary of the Royal Academy.

Under the heading of Natural History and Travel, Daniel Giraud Elliot’s The New and Heretofore Unfigured Species of the Birds of North America, a first edition and one of 200 copies printed, represents the “last great color plate bird book to be produced in America” (Bonhams). If travel (and maps) are of greater interest, La Geografia di Tolomeo nuovamente tradotta di Greco in Italiano, da Ruscelli, con espositioni del medesimo, a 3-parts-in-one volume atlas featuring maps by Ptolemy and Girolamo Ruscelli that includes two world maps and seven others relating to the Americas, is a lot worth considering. 

The section on Modern Literature, Film and the Performing Arts contains several noteworthy items. Two archives from producer Charles Feldman stand out, one archive on the production of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, which includes a series of typed letters and edits to the script by Williams, and another archive on the production of Nelson Algren’s Walk on the Wild Side, also containing one of a kind material. Another archive, one of correspondences by Harper Lee, includes 35 autograph letters signed by the author.

Americana is strongly represented as well. A series of six letter descended through the family of founding father Gouverneur Morris includes a letter from George Washington, addressing Morris’ plan to attack New York. McKenney and Hall’s History of the Indian Tribes of North America is also on offer, being a subscriber’s copy in early state.

For collectors of baseball, and specifically the Yankees, the closing section of the sale made up of the collection of former Yankees co-owner Daniel Topping is a dream come true. Everything from behind the scenes documents, to photographs, to of course baseballs is here. One immediate highlight is a framed presentation for the 1961 World Champion New York Yankees, including a photograph of the team, two special information panels, and 31 signatures of players and staff mounted below. The year 1961 is also significant as it was during this season that Roger Maris surpassed Babe Ruth’s 60 home run record.

Bonhams’ sale of Fine Books and Manuscripts, Including Illustration Art takes place Wednesday, June 7, with the morning session beginning at 11am and the afternoon session at 2pm EDT. The entire catalog is viewable here on Bonhams’ website.