By Ian Ehling
Director, Fine Books & Manuscripts
Bonhams New York
In his autobiography The World of Yesterday, Stefan Zweig describes his interest in collecting manuscripts: “The one thing that can grant a slight inkling of this incomprehensible process of creation is the handwritten pages and particularly those not yet intended for the press, those sprinkled with corrections, the tentative first outlines, from which gradually the future valid form crystallizes … It was a pleasure to me to hunt them down at auctions, a joyous effort, to follow a scent to the most hidden places, and at the same time a kind of science….” The Kepler manuscript (lot 19) in the December 13 Fine Books & Manuscripts sale at Bonhams New York was part of Zweig’s famous collection and encapsulates his desire to find the best example of the author’s writing. The initial fragment of 3 leaves (4 pages each) was dispersed, with one leaf now in the Morgan Library in New York and the other in the Smithsonian collection in Washington DC. The best leaf – mentioning Copernicus – is still in private hands and is offered here for the first time since 1988. It is one of only two scientific Kepler manuscripts to come to market in the past 80 years.
Two of my favorite lots in the sale describe the ending of beloved stories. One is the final drawing of Winnie the Pooh and Piglet in the hundred-acre wood (lot 68). Pooh and Piglet walk home in the golden evening having said goodbye to their friends following Christopher Robin’s party for Pooh. Without a question this is to me the most important Winnie-the-Pooh drawing in existence. The other ending of equal importance is the bittersweet return of Mowgli to the world of man in the final Mowgli story. Lot 100 is the corrected and annotated typescript for “The Spring Running,” the last chapter in Kipling’s Jungle Book. Kipling’s holograph? manuscript is in the British Library and shows significant differences with these final edits.
The battle of Trafalgar ended Napoleon’s plans to invade England and solidified Britain’s dominance of the seas throughout the nineteenth-century. Nelson’s revolutionary battle plan for Trafalgar (lot 136) was transmitted in his famous secret memorandum. Dated 10 days before Nelson was killed in battle on October 21, 1805, this copy to Nelson's Vice-Admiral of his Blue fleet Robert Calder represents possibly the most important copy of the memorandum outside the holograph copy sent to the Vice Admiral of the Red fleet Collingsworth (which now resides at the British Library).
In addition to these extraordinary manuscripts and drawings you will find in the Bonhams sale a wonderful selection of early printed books, atlases, illustrated books, music, Dickensiana and literature. As Zweig observed, “the pride of owning a few such leaves was accompanied by the sporting desire to acquire them, to hunt for them at auctions or in catalogues. How many tense hours do I owe to that chase, how many exciting incidents…” You will have a chance to participate in our December 13 auction just like Stefan Zweig did one-hundred years ago: in person, through absentee bid, by telephone and now of course online.