Rare Book Monthly

Articles - December - 2020 Issue

School Sells Off Over $1 Million in Books from Its Library

Rugby School (foto from Rugby School website).

Another institution has sold some of their old books, and as always, it causes some controversy, though not as much this time. The institution was the Rugby School, in Rugby, England. And yes, the sport rugby began at the Rugby School.


The Rugby School is a boarding school with a long history, which explains how it came upon some very old books. It was founded in 1567. Some of the more valuable books were given by alumnus Matthew Holbeche Bloxam, who attended the school in the early 19th century. He became a historian and collector. One of the objections to the sale is one commonly heard in such cases – it does not respect the generous intentions of the benefactor who gave these books to the school. How would he feel, or how will others considering making such gifts to the school now feel about that choice?


Nevertheless, the school went ahead with the sale, even though, unlike so many institutions that sell their old books, Rugby does not have financial problems. Rather, for them it was simply a logical choice. As a spokesperson for the school observed, Rugby is “not a museum.”


Executive Head Master Peter Green expressed their reasoning as “the decision by Rugby School’s Governing Body to sell these rare books is twofold. They deserve to be preserved, stored – and enjoyed – in specialist conditions. Secondly, the school is committed, as a registered charity, to use its resources to benefit current and future students.” Further noting that 40% of their students are on scholarship, the proceeds will assist those students in pursuing their education.


This is not the first, nor the most significant such sale made by Rugby. Two years ago, they sold off almost £15 million (US $20 million) worth of art. In this case, the books were being kept in a storage room without proper climate controls, and had apparently been there for a long time. Clearly, the school did not see much use of early copies of these books for high school age students. The most valuable books were early editions of Shakespeare's plays, but students reading these books would use newer, far less valuable copies to read.


The sale took place at Forum Auctions on November 18 with all of the almost 300 lots being sold. The total proceeds of the sale were £775,662.50 (US $1,033,775), well above even the highest estimates. At the top of the list was a defective copy of Shakespeare's Second Folio, published in 1632, which despite missing a dozen leaves, still sold for £60,000 (US $80,700), twice the high estimate, three times the low estimate. A copy of the Fourth Folio, published in 1685, sold for £47,500 (US $63,000), while a “substantially defective” copy of the Second Folio sold for £35,000 (US $46,500). The school may have had a good point that these books belong with collectors better suited to care for them.

Posted On: 2020-12-01 06:21
User Name: mairin

I recall other recent media coverage on this subject
which included a color image of an Irish-language text from a
dedicated gathering of pieces with a common incipit (first line): "In the
Name of the Father, ...". Good information which I can
reference in an upcoming article. Thank you, Michael, mighty useful.
- Maureen E. Mulvihill, Collector / RBH Guest Writer.

Rare Book Monthly

  • Sotheby’s, July 11: Galileo, Document annotated and signed by Galileo, dated Padua, 1595. £500,000 to £700,000.
  • 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: 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
  • Forum Auctions
    Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper
    18th July 2024
    Forum, July 18: Rowling (J.K.) Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, first hardback edition, 1997. £40,000 to £60,000.
    Forum, July 18: Binding.- Lucian of Samosata Opuscula Erasmo Roterodamo interprete, first Aldine edition, Venice, Heirs of Aldus Manutius and A, 1516. £15,000 to £20,000.
    Forum, July 18: Bacon (Sir Francis). De Dignitate et Augmentis Scientiarum Libri IX, Pierre Gassendi's copy gifted him by Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc, Paris, Typis Petri Mettayer, 1624. £15,000 to £20,000.
    Forum Auctions
    Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper
    18th July 2024
    Forum, July 18: Shakespeare (William). The First Part of Henry the Fourth, with the Life and Death of Henry, Sirnamed Hot-Spurre…, Printed by Isaac Jaggard, and Ed. Blount, 1623. £15,000 to £20,000.
    Forum, July 18: Darwin (Charles). On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, third edition, presentation inscription 'From the Author' in a secretary's hand, John Murray, 1861. £15,000 to £20,000.
    Forum, July 18: Teague (Violet). Geraldine Rede. Night Fall in the Ti-Tree, first edition, Melbourne, Sign of the Rabbit, 1905; and another. £10,000 to £15,000.
    Forum Auctions
    Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper
    18th July 2024
    Forum, July 18: India.- Primrose (Gen. James Maurice). Collection of 24 original drawings from his time in India with the 43rd Regiment of Foot, circa 1855 to 1864. £10,000 to £15,000.
    Forum, July 18: Manet (Édouard). Trente Eaux-fortes originales, the complete portfolio, Paris, A. Stroelin, 1905. £8,000 to £12,000.
    Forum, July 18: Bible, English. [The Holy Bible], first edition of the King James Bible, the Great 'He' Bible, [Robert Barker], [1611]. £6,000 to £8,000.
    Forum Auctions
    Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper
    18th July 2024
    Forum, July 18: America.- Mathews (Alfred E.) Pencil Sketches of Montana, first edition, New York, Published by the Author, 1868. £6,000 to £8,000.
    Forum, July 18: Bawden (Edward). Original dust-jacket artwork for 'The Outsider' by Albert Camus, [c.1946]. £4,000 to £6,000.
    Forum, July 18: World.- Fries (Laurent). Tabula Nova Totius Orbis, woodcut map, [c.1541]. £3,000 to £5,000.

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