Rare Book Monthly

Articles - June - 2018 Issue

Lord John Kerr (1927-2018)

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Editor's Note: The following remembrance of Lord John Kerr has been prepared by his friend and colleague, Rupert Powell.

 

 

Lord John Kerr, one of the true doyens of the antiquarian book world, died peacefully at his home in Oxfordshire aged 90 on 3rd May.

 

After briefly serving with the Scots Guards from 1944-48, Lord John read English at Oxford and then, following a brief flirtation with insurance at Lloyds of London, decided to join the antiquarian book world and was employed by Jaques Vellekoop at E. P. Goldschmidt. He owned Sanders of Oxford from 1958 to 1963 and was then persuaded by Anthony Hobson to move to the “other side” of the trade and join Sotheby’s. He ran the enormously successful Book Department there for some 18 years before founding Bloomsbury Book Auctions in 1983 with ex-Sotheby’s colleagues Frank Herrmann and David Stagg. This remarkable triumvirate presided over a much-loved and respected firm for 17 years – Frank providing the commercial brains, Lord John the gravitas and knowledge, and Stagg the drive and energy. Lord John was also a brilliant auctioneer, a point acknowledged by numerous members of the trade who wrote glowing tributes to him in an Album Amicorum, produced in the style of a Bloomsbury orange catalogue, on his retirement in 2002. His quiet authority in the often-frenzied atmosphere of an auction was reassuring and persuasive, committing many a bidder to go “just one more” with a tilt of his head and a charming smile. He was unflappable, courteous and quick with dryly humorous remarks when appropriate. In the days when buyers’ names were announced on the fall of the hammer, to one frustrated trade bidder who did not know the buyer of a string of lots and loudly challenged Lord John on the rostrum: “Who’s that? Blackrock?”, the gentle but firm reply came: “Barkworth, sir.” And then, a fraction later, ”His bark worth than his bite.”

 

At one auction in the 1970s Lord John was tasked with introducing the (then 10%) buyer’s premium to the book world and, as a result, the entire ABA membership present staged a theatrical walk-out from the saleroom. He duly conducted the sale to a much-depleted room, the trade members having left a few discreet sentinels to observe proceedings and, more importantly, to execute commission bids on their behalf!

 

Bloomsbury was a vibrant and happy ship, sailing under the watchful eye of the snuff-taking, bewhiskered “Admiral”, Lord John. It was also a family affair, with his beloved wife Isabel (who pre-deceased him by a few years) running the subscriptions and mailing lists, and son Andrew (of Bennett & Kerr) lending his support with weekly attendance to catalogue and assist on sale days. The ultimate testament to Lord John’s influence over his staff is the fact that many of them still work together and, most significantly, in a similarly blended atmosphere of scholarship, kinship and fun.

 

I like to think that Lord John has now joined Frank and Stagg in that great auction-house in the sky. As Lord John sidles up to the other two, Stagg looks up, glances at his watch, and then says sarcastically, “Oh, there you are.”

 

Many of us owe him an enormous debt of gratitude for the kindly and erudite way he introduced us to and helped us grow in the book world. Even more will remember him with the utmost respect and affection. RIP Lord John.

 

Rupert Powell,

Deputy Chairman Forum Auctions

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> SMITH, CHRISTOPHER WEBB. 1793-1871. <i>Indian Ornithology.</i> [Patna, India]: 1828. $50,000 to $80,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> DUPRÉ, LOUIS. 1789-1837. <i>Voyage à Athènes et à Constantinople, ou Collection de portraits, vues et costumes grecs et ottomans.</i> Paris: Dondey-Dupré, 1825. $60,000 to $90,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> ADAMS, JOHN. Autograph Letter Signed ("J Adams"), [to Dr. Perkins?] while recovering from his small pox inoculation, [late-April, 1764]. $30,000 to $50,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> AUSTEN, JANE. Autograph Letter Signed ("J. Austen"), to her sister Cassandra, 4 pp, "Thursday – after dinner," [September 16, 1813,] Henrietta St. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> AUDUBON, JOHN JAMES. 1785-1851. <i>The Birds of America, from Drawings Made in the United States and Their Territories.</i> New York & Philadelphia: J.J. Audubon & J.B. Chevalier, 1840-1844. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> DODWELL, EDWARD. 1767-1832. <i>Views in Greece.</i> London: Rodwell and Martin, 1821. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> JAMES, JESSE. Autograph Letter Signed ("Jesse W. James"), to Mr. Flood demanding Flood retract spurious accusations, 3 pp, June 5, 1875. $200,000 to $300,000.
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Textile of the Great White Fleet, with portraits of Theodore Roosevelt, Rear Admiral Robley D. Evans & successor Charles Stillman Sperry, 1908. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> William J. Stone, <i>Declaration of Independence,</i> Force printing, 1833. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Shugart family papers including documentation of the Underground Railroad, 63 items, 1838-81. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Records of the Dickinson & Shrewsbury salt works, over 2000 items, with extensive slave labor correspondence, legal records & receipts, bulk 1820-1865. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Gloria Steinem, typescript for her speech <i>Living the Revolution,</i> with related letters and documents, 1941-77. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> <i>Liberty Triumphant or the Downfall of Oppression,</i> depicting the aftermath of the Boston Tea Party, c. 1774. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Juan Eusebio Nieremberg, <i>Historia naturae, maxime peregrinae, libris XVI distincta,</i> Antwerp, 1635. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Antonio de Mayorga, manuscript map of Mexico City, 1779. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Thomas L. McKenney & James Hall, <i>History of the Indian Tribes of North America,</i> first edition, 3 volumes, Philadelphia, 1842-44. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Samuel Walker, diary of the entire first cruise of the USS Kineo, a gunboat on the Mississippi, 1854-69. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Scrapbook on early Stanford football, with letters from Walter Camp, 1893-95 & 1931. $8,000 to $12,000.
  • <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Roberts, David. Twenty Lithographs of the Holy Land, 19th Century. $2,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Declaration by the Reps. of the United Colonies of N.A. 1775. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Composer Jerome Kern personal Letters, Albums and Other. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Paine, Thomas. <i>Common Sense,</i> London 1776. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Stowe, Harriet Beecher. <i>Uncle Tom’s Cabin,</i> Cleveland 1852. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Hobbes, Thomas. <i>Leviathan,</i> 3rd edition, London 1651. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Anno Regni Georgii III. Intolerable Acts and other Bills, 1774. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Wilberforce, William. An Abstract of the Evidence, 5 Letters, and two books. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Nightingale, Florence. Notes on Nursing and Signed Letters, ca. 1860 $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Tolstov, Leo. <i>War and Peace,</i> 5 volumes, 1886. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Dickinson, John. Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania, 1768. $1,500 to $2,500.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Twain, Mark. <i>Tom Sawyer,</i> 1877 [and] <i>Huckleberry Finn,</i> 1885. $4,000 to $6,000.

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