Rare Book Monthly

Articles - June - 2018 Issue

Lord John Kerr (1927-2018)

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

  • Bonhams, July 15-25: THE AUTOGRAPH COLLECTION OF ISRAEL WITKOWER. $8,000 - $12,000
    Bonhams, July 15-25: GEORGE WASHINGTON SIGNED DISCHARGE. June 9, 1783. $8,000 - $12,000
    Bonhams, July 15-25: "Shhhhh!" A DAVID SHANNON ILLUSTRATION FROM DAVID GETS IN TROUBLE. $2,500 - $3,500
    Bonhams, July 15-25: PICASSO, PABLO. Le Carmen des Carmen. Paris, 1964. $2,000 - $3,000
    Bonhams, July 15-25: RARE AUTOGRAPH OF AMERICAN NAVAL HERO CAPTAIN JAMES MUGFORD. $2,000 - $3,000
    Bonhams, July 15-25: KARA WALKER SILHOUETTES FOR TONI MORRISON'S FIVE POEMS. $2,000 - $3,000
    Bonhams, July 15-25: FIRST APPEARANCE OF PINOCCHIO IN ENGLISH. COLLODI, CARLO.New York, 1892. $2,000 - $3,000
    Bonhams, July 15-25: BONAPARTE, JOSEPHINE. Autograph Note (unsigned) in French. $1,000 - $1,500
    Bonhams, July 15-25: FROST ON MATTHEW ARNOLD.Autograph Letter Signed to Adams, July 27, 1934. $800 - $1,200
    Bonhams, July 15-25: ELIAS BOUDINOT'S COPY OF BARLOW'S COLUMBIAN EPIC. $800 - $1,200
    Bonhams, July 15-25: A SIGNED HART CRANE BROOKLYN BRIDGE POSTCARD TO EDWARD DAHLBERG. $600 - $800
    Bonhams, July 15-25: A STOCK CERTIFICATE SIGNED BY THE "QUEEN OF WALL STREET," HETTY GREEN. $700 - $900
  • Fonsie Mealy’s
    Summer Rare Book
    & Collectors’ Sale
    July 30-31, 2024
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: U.S. / European Shipping Archive 1800-1814. The Widow Bermingham & Sons Collection. €7,000 to €10,000.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: Bunreacht na hÉireann. Constitution of Ireland. An important copy of the First Printing of De Valera’s new Constitution, approved in 1938. Signed by the Constitution Cabinet. €7,000 to €9,000.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: A Rare Complete Run of the Cuala Press Broadsides. €7,000 to €9,000.
    Fonsie Mealy’s
    Summer Rare Book
    & Collectors’ Sale
    July 30-31, 2024
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: Grose (Francis). The Antiquities of Ireland, 2vols. folio London (for S. Hooper) 1791. Magnificent Hand-Coloured Copy - Only 25 Copies. €3,000 to €5,000.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: Cantillon (Richard). Essai sur la Nature du Commerce en General, Traduit de l'Anglois, Sm. 8vo London (Fletcher Gyles) 1756. €3,000 to €4,000.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: Gregory, (Lady Augusta). Spreading the News: The Rising of the Moon: The Poorhouse (with Douglas Hyde). Being Vol. IX of the Abbey Theatre Series. €3,000 to €4,000.
    Fonsie Mealy’s
    Summer Rare Book
    & Collectors’ Sale
    July 30-31, 2024
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: Lavery (Lady Hazel). A moving series of three A.L.S. and a Telegram to Gen. Eoin O'Duffy, July-August 1927, expressing her grief at the death of Kevin O'Higgins. €3,000 to €4,000.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: Dampier (Wm.) Nouveau Voyage Autour du Monde, ou l'on descrit en particulier l'Isthme de l'Amerique…, 2 vols. in one, Amsterdam, 1698. €800 to €1,200.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: Howell (James). Instructions for Forreine Travel Shewing by what Cours, and in what Compasse of Time…, London, 1642. €800 to €1,200.
    Fonsie Mealy’s
    Summer Rare Book
    & Collectors’ Sale
    July 30-31, 2024
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: Rowling (J.K.) Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, 8vo, L. (Bloomsbury) 1999, First Edn., First Printing of Deluxe Collectors Edn. Signed. €800 to €1,200.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: James (Wm.) A Full and Correct Account of the Military Occurrences of The Late War Between Great Britain and The United States of America. 2 vols. Lond. 1818. €650 to €900.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: The Laws of the United States, Published by Authority, 3 vols. Philadelphia (Richard Folwell) 1796. €600 to €800.
  • Sotheby’s, July 11: Galileo, Document annotated and signed by Galileo, dated Padua, 1595. £500,000 to £700,000.

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