Rare Book Monthly

Articles - December - 2017 Issue

The Lingering Allure of the Manuscript: The Jay T. Snider Collection of Illustrated & Decorated Manuscripts at Christie's

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Highlights manuscripts from Christie's sale of Fine Printed Books and Manuscripts Including Americana

Editor's Note: Christie's sale on December 5th of Fine Printed Books and Manuscripts Including Americana contains a beautiful selection of manuscripts from the Jay T. Snider Collection. This is Books & Manuscripts specialist at Christie's Rhiannon Knol's take on the significance of manuscripts in the field.

 

After over 500 years of the Gutenberg Galaxy, what explains the lingering allure of the manuscript? This question finds a ready answer in the diverse and lucid collection of Jay T. Snider, which spans centuries and continents yet broadcasts—in both its whole and its every part—what the artist Ben Shahn described as “an immediate sense of the hand that made the letters… the joy of workmanship that no time or weathering can erase.” While the category ‘illuminated manuscript’ is usually associated with medieval Europe, none here predate the invention of printing in the West. Gutenberg’s printing press may have industrialized book production, but it could never totally displace the role of the written word and the painted image.

 

While print means copies, a manuscript signifies an original, not mechanically produced, but handmade. Manuscripts bring us into the realm of the private diary, the personal sketchbook, and the draft—the places where human imagination, artistry, and knowledge germinate. Take, for example, a notebook in the Snider collection kept by several generations of nuns at the convent of Saint Godelieve (lot 145). Inside, numerous neat hands in French and Flemish record the collective knowledge of the convent on dyeing, paper making, embroidery, and other textile crafts. Inside its covers (themselves a manuscript salvaged from a Medieval antiphonal) scraps of inspiration have been lovingly preserved: illuminated borders from books of hours, a prayer card, cut-out paintings of fruit. On the other side of the Atlantic in the same century, Bethlemite monks in Mexico were crafting a large illuminated missal (lot 159). Although the Spanish had been printing in the New World for nearly two centuries, the manuscript tradition was alive and well—producing Baroque masterpieces which combined European and Native traditions of art and book production to honor the glory of God.

 

The heightened possibilities offered by words interplaying with images in handwritten and painted works also make these ideal vehicles for communicating scientific knowledge. A nineteenth-century illustrated manuscript recension of an ancient Indian veterinary text reveals this accretion of knowledge over time, with recipes added in several hands (lot 163). At the same time, a handsome manuscript document of the butterflies of Estonia underscores the importance of the scientific eye working in concert with the hand to capture the splendor of nature (lot 162). In 19th-century China, artists painted watercolors for the export market, producing astonishing renderings of native flora for discerning foreign scholars who did not trust engravings done by artists who had never seen their subjects (lot 155), as well as luminous gem-like miniatures to meet the tastes of collectors from London to Moscow (lot 156).

 

Across Europe and America, artists and travelers recorded their views of the world on a human scale. The American folk artist Lewis Miller captured the bustling cities of Germany in his “Reise Journal” (lot 150) while British engineer and draftsman Henry Drayson did the same for the dramatic landscapes of the American Northeast (lot 152). Princess Maria Anna of Prussia and Elisa D’Angleville both kept albums of their work as artists, tracing not only the development of their skills and the settings of their daily lives, but the landscapes of their interior life as well (lots 148 and 149).

 

Edo Japan’s manuscript tradition thrived alongside print, as scholars recorded ancient knowledge in elaborately folded books, calligraphers vaunted their art, and scribes copied secret or censored material for private circulation (lots 164-168). Manuscripts are also, of course, the province of secret knowledge. The Russian Old Believers, an often-persecuted breakaway sect from the Orthodox church, preserved centuries of ancient tradition in their manuscripts (lots 157 and 158). Cut off from the structures of the church, their sect spurred a growth in literacy as members took interpretive control into their own hands—their visionary theological manuscripts revealing a non-systematic knowledge infused with natural rationalism and creative imagination. 

 

Handwriting is one of the tracks of the body, a leaving behind of the traces of human identity. Communities are recorded, sometimes created, in the pages of books. During the Medieval period, the operation of the memory itself was figured as a form of writing, with the writing of the scribe on vellum (made from animal skin) likened to experiences and emotions inscribing themselves onto the living flesh of the mind. Still today this metaphor has longevity, not lost to old technologies but resurrected for the language of computers and the digital, which write memory in bits and bytes onto the hard drive. The manuscript as an object offers a rare intimacy with the human mind of the long dead past.

 

Thus, when Marco Verricci presented his album of fantastical cities to Doge Marino Grimani in 1595, he was not giving a gift of paper and ink but of the imagination itself, pressed into the service of the glory of Venice (lot 169). In the age of print—and the era of the email—the manuscript is not less relevant at all, but only more precious and imbued with human meaning.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Christie’s Paris:</b> Blaise Cendrars and Fernand Léger, <i>La Fin du monde filmée par l’ange N.-D.,</i> Paris, Editions de la Sirène, 1919
    <b>Christie’s Paris:</b> André Breton, <i>Second manifeste du Surréalisme,</i> Paris, Editions Kra, 1930
    <b>Christie’s Paris:</b> Paul Eluard and Pablo Picasso, <i>La Barre d’appui,</i> Paris, Editions « Cahiers d’Art », 1936
    <b>Christie’s Paris:</b> Blaise Cendrars and Fernand Léger, <i>La Fin du monde filmée par l’ange N.-D.,</i> Paris, Editions de la Sirène, 1919
    <b>Christie’s Paris:</b> Hans Bellmer, <i>Die Puppe,</i> Paris, G.L.M., 1936
    <b>Christie’s Paris:</b> Salvador Dali, <i>La femme visible,</i> Paris, Editions Surréalistes, 1930
  • <b>Christie’s London, Jul. 9:</b> Pushkin, Alexander. <i>Evgenii Onegin. A novel in verse.</i> A first edition of the most important work in Russian literature in its original parts, 1825–32. £120,000 to £160,000
    <b>Christie’s London, Jul. 9:</b> Gogol, Nikolai. <i>Evenings on a Farm near Dikanka.</i> A rare first edition of Gogol's first masterpiece, 1831–32. £70,000 to £100,000
    <b>Christie’s London, Jul. 9:</b> Darwin, Charles Robert. <i>On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection.</i> First edition, owned and read by two contemporaries of Darwin. London: John Murray, 1859. £140,000 to £200,000
    <b>Christie’s London, Jul. 9:</b> Galilei, Galileo. <i>Sidereus Nuncius.</i> First edition, announcing the first astronomical discoveries made with the telescope. Venice: Tommaso Baglioni, [March] 1610. £300,000 to £500,000
    <b>Christie’s London, Jul. 9:</b> The seal of Wulfric. England, first half 11th century. £70,000 to £100,000
    <b>Christie’s London, Jul. 9:</b> Bible, <i>Ezechiel</i> in Latin. [Northern Italy, 5th century]. £120,000 to £180,000
    <b>Christie’s London, Jul. 9:</b> Blaeu, Jan and Willem Blaeu. <i>Grooten Atlas [Atlas Major]</i>. Amsterdam: Johannes Blaeu, 1664. £450,000 to £650,000
    <b>Christie’s London, Jul. 9:</b> Petites Heures of Charles VIII use of Paris, in Latin. An exquisite Hours illuminated by the Master of the Chronique Scandaleuse. [Paris, 1490s]. £300,000 to £500,000
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Ian Fleming, <i>Goldfinger,</i> first edition, inscribed to Sir Henry Cotton, MBE, London, 1959. Sold for $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Joseph Brant, Mohawk Chief, ALS, writing after pledging support to King George III against American rebels, 1776. Sold for a record $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Sonia Delaunay, <i>Ses Peintures</i> . . ., 20 pochoir plates, Paris, 1925. Sold for a record $13,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Diana, Princess of Wales, 6 autograph letters signed to British <i>Vogue</i> editor, 1989-92. Sold for $10,400.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Alexander Hamilton, ALS, as Secretary of the Treasury covering costs of the new U.S. Mint, 1793. Sold for $12,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Benjamin Graham & David L. Dodd, <i>Security Analysis,</i> first edition, inscribed by Graham to a Wall Street trader, NY, 1934. Sold for $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> George Barbier & François-Louis Schmied, <i>Personnages de Comédie,</i> Paris, 1922. Sold for $9,375.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Alphonse Mucha, <i>Ilsée, Princesse de Tripoli,</i> Paris, 1897. Sold for a record $13,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Ralph Waldo Emerson, <i>The Dial,</i> first edition of the reconstituted issue, Emerson’s copy with inscriptions, Cincinnati, 1860. Sold for a record $3,250.
  • <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Darwin, Charles. <i>On the Origin of Species.</i> Presentation Copy. Sold for $500,075.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Darwin, Charles. Autograph Letter Signed, 3 pp, negotiating the 2nd American edition with Appleton. Sold for $21,325.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Hemingway, Ernest. Autograph Letter Signed, 8 pp, Paris, 1924, to his father discussing Bullfighting, Stories, and his new baby. Sold for $25,075.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Shakespeare, William. <i>Corialanus.</i> London, 1623. 1st printing [Extracted from the First Folio]. Sold for $50,075.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Swift, Jonathan. <i>Gulliver's Travels.</i> London, 1726. 1st edition, Teerink's A edition, fine, large copy. Sold for $21,325.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Fitzroy, Robert. Autograph Letter Signed to agent Thomas Stilwell, informing him of the progress of H.M.S. Beagle. Sold for $17,575.
    <center><b>Bonhams<br> Property from the Collection of Nicole and William R. Keck II</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Shakespeare, William. <i>Sonnets.</i> 1901. 2 volumes. Printed on vellum and illuminated by Ross Turner, bound by Trautz-Bauzonnet. Sold for $13,825.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Beardsley, Aubrey. <i>The Birth, Life, and Acts of King Arthur.</i> 1893-94. 2 volumes. Contemporary painted vellum gilt by Chivers. Sold for $5,325.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Assisi, St. Francis. <i>The Canticle of Brother Sun.</i> Illuminated on vellum, for the Grolier Society. Sold for $7,575.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Rackham, Arthur. <i>Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens.</i> 1/500 copies signed by Rackham. Sold for $4,825.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Proust, Marcel. <i>Du coté de chez Swann.</i> 1st edition, 1st issue. Inscribed by Proust. Sold for $8,825.
  • <b>Doyle, The Estate of Oleg Cassini. June 27</b>
    <b>Doyle, The Estate of Oleg Cassini:</b> KENNEDY ONASSIS, JACQUELINE Typed letter signed to Oleg Cassini. $400 to $600
    <b>Doyle, The Estate of Oleg Cassini:</b> [CASSINI-KENNEDY FASHIONS] Important archives related to the development of fashions for Mrs. Kennedy… $4,000 to $6,000
    <b>Doyle, The Estate of Oleg Cassini:</b> [CASSINI-KENNEDY FASHIONS] Detailed ledger of the Kennedy White House years… $500 to $800
    <b>Doyle, The Estate of Oleg Cassini:</b> KELLY, GRACE. Four autograph letters to Oleg Cassini. $5,000 to $8,000
    <b>Doyle, The Estate of Oleg Cassini. June 27</b>
    <b>Doyle, The Estate of Oleg Cassini:</b> CASSINI, OLEG. Group of Kennedy-era original fashion sketches. $1,000 to $1,500
    <b>Doyle, The Estate of Oleg Cassini:</b> KENNEDY ONASSIS, JACQUELINE. Autograph letter signed to Oleg Cassini. $800 to $1,200
    <b>Doyle, The Estate of Oleg Cassini:</b> CASSINI, OLEG. Fashion sketch titled “Mrs. Kennedy-Palais de Versailles-State Dinner.” $800 to $1,200
    Doyle, The Estate of Oleg Cassini: [CASSINI, OLEG - KENNEDY, JACQUELINE.] Group of approximately 130 original fashion designs… $800 to $1,200.

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