Rare Book Monthly

Articles - February - 2010 Issue

British Lighthouse Board Sells Collection of Early Voyage Books

Northern lighthouse

One of the Northern Lighthouses, from their website.


By Michael Stillman

Much of a distinguished institutional book collection, hundreds of years in the making, went up for sale in January, with the results much better than anticipated. There's always some sadness when an institution is forced to dispose of a book collection for economic reasons, but this is part of the inevitable maturation and rebirth process. Collections may die, but the books go on, becoming part of new and different collections.

This library was held by an unlikely collector, the Northern Lighthouse Board. The Northern Lighthouse Board is in the business its name suggests, maintaining lighthouses and other navigational aides such as buoys along the northern coast of Great Britain. It is responsible for protecting navigation along the coasts of Scotland and the Isle of Man. According to their website, this covers 6,214 miles of coastline and most manned offshore oil platforms, over half of the UK's coast. The Board was formed in 1786, during the reign of George III, as the Commissioners of Northern Light Houses. The Board is financed through dues paid by commercial ships calling at British ports and by larger fishing vessels. At one time, there were light keepers in each of the towers, but the system became fully automated in 1998.

Along the way, the Commissioners acquired a library including many notable books, particularly up through the middle of the 19th century. You might not expect an obscure agency devoted to lighthouses to have such a collection, but their library held works from many of the most important voyagers, including Cook, Anson, La Perouse, Flinders, Vancouver, d'Entrecasteaux, Ross, Franklin, Parry and Barrow. These are wonderful books, but not of much practical use for the lighthouse authority in the 21st century. Meanwhile, the maintenance of the collection was eating up funds the Board no longer felt it could afford. The result was a decision to transfer its library to a trust that could determine which books related specifically to the Board's mission and history and should be kept, and which books, though interesting and valuable, were not a part of the lighthouse heritage. That trust, the Northern Lighthouse Heritage Trust, reached its decisions, and put the books it deemed not essential up for sale. That sale was concluded at Lyon and Turnbull's auction house in Edinburgh (home of the Northern Lighthouse Board) on January 13.

The sale proved to be a great success, at least by the Trust's expectations. They figured the sale would bring in around £200,000. Lyon and Turnbull put a low to high estimate range of £188,300 - £277,550 on the sale. When the final lot was hammered down, the sale had taken in £435,950 (approximately $712,000 in U.S. dollars), even with 11.5% of the items remaining unsold.

The top item in the sale was Peron and Freycinet's Louis Voyages de decouvertes aux terres australes... an account of the Baudin expedition to Australia by two of the participants, an 1815 first edition with the atlas. It sold for £40,000 (US $64,000), double the estimate. It was followed by a first edition of Vancouver's A Voyage of Discovery... (£23,750 or $38,000); Matthew Flinders' A Voyage to Terra Australis... (£17,500 or $28,000); La Perouse's Voyage de La Perouse autour du monde... (£15,000 or $24,000); Bougainville's Voyage autour du monde... (£13,750 or $22,000); and a second edition of Cook's first voyage, John Hawkesworth's An account of the voyages... (£12,500 or $20,000). Each of these books was published in either the late 18th or early 19th century.

While these books will no longer be a part of the library of this venerable institution, each does contain the gilt stamp of the Northern Lighthouse Board, a reminder of the provenance of their first 200 years.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <center><b>Swann Auction Galleries<br>Printed & Manuscript Americana<br>September 29, 2022</b>
    <b>Swann September 29:</b> Extensive archive of papers of Lincoln’s Secretary of the Navy, Gideon Welles. $60,000 to $90,000.
    <b>Swann September 29:</b> George Catlin, <i>North American Indian Portfolio,</i> 1844. $40,000 to $60,000.
    <b>Swann September 29:</b> The Twenty-Four Books of the Holy Scriptures, Carefully Translated…after the Best Jewish Authorities, Philadelphia, 1853-54. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <center><b>Swann Auction Galleries<br>Printed & Manuscript Americana<br>September 29, 2022</b>
    <b>Swann September 29:</b> Wedding book of Eleanor Roosevelt’s bodyguard, Earl Miller, signed by the Roosevelts, 1932. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann September 29:</b> Textile titled <i>The Resignation of Pres’t Washington,</i> Scotland, circa 1800. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann September 29:</b> Gideon Welles, Pass for President Lincoln’s White House funeral, 1865. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann September 29:</b> Confirmation of arms and nobility in favor of the Diez y Mora family, Madrid, 1710. $2,500 to $3,500.
  • <b><center>Potter & Potter Auctions<br>Fine Books & Manuscripts<br>October 20, 2022</b></center>
    <b>Potter & Potter, Oct. 20:</b> JOYCE, James. <i>Ulysses.</i> London: John Lane the Bodley Head, 1937. PRESENTATION COPY OF THE FIRST ENGLISH EDITION PRINTED IN ENGLAND. $50,000 to $60,000.
    <b>Potter & Potter, Oct. 20:</b> [SHACKLETON, Ernest]. –– BROWNING, Robert. <i>Poetical Works of…</i> London: Smith and Elder, 1906. PRESENTED TO SHACKLETON AND THE OFFICERS OF THE NIMROD BY A MEMBER OF THE ROYAL GEOGRAPHICAL SOCIETY. $40,000 to $60,000.
    <b>Potter & Potter, Oct. 20:</b> AUDUBON, John James. <i>The Birds of America, from Drawings Made in the United States and Their Territories.</i> New York: George R. Lockwood, [1870]. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <b><center>Potter & Potter Auctions<br>Fine Books & Manuscripts<br>October 20, 2022</b></center>
    <b>Potter & Potter, Oct. 20:</b> ARISTOTLE. Opera, in Greek, parts one and two only: Organon and Natural Philosophy I. Edited by Aldus and others. Venice: Aldus Manutius, 1 November 1495–February 1498. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Potter & Potter, Oct. 20:</b> COOK, James, Capt. [Collected Voyages]. First and Second Voyages: London: W. Strahan; and T. Cadell, 1773, 1777; Third Voyage: London: H. Hughes for G. Nicol and T. Cadell, 1785. $14,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Potter & Potter, Oct. 20:</b> CLEMENS, Samuel Langhorne (“Mark Twain”). <i>The Writings of…</i> Hartford: American Publishing Co., 1899–1900. $12,000 to $16,000.
    <b><center>Potter & Potter Auctions<br>Fine Books & Manuscripts<br>October 20, 2022</b></center>
    <b>Potter & Potter, Oct. 20:</b> [KELMSCOTT PRESS]. SHAKESPEARE, William. <i>The Poems of…</i> Edited by Frederick S. Ellis. Hammersmith: William Morris for the Kelmscott Press, 1893. $12,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Potter & Potter, Oct. 20:</b> LONDON, Jack. <i>The Call of the Wild.</i> New York: The Macmillan Company, 1905. PRESENTATION COPY INSCRIBED BY LONDON. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Potter & Potter, Oct. 20:</b> CROWLEY, Aleister (1875–1947). <i>The Winged Beetle.</i> London: privately printed, 1910. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b><center>Potter & Potter Auctions<br>Fine Books & Manuscripts<br>October 20, 2022</b></center>
    <b>Potter & Potter, Oct. 20:</b> WILDE, Oscar (“C.3.3.”). <i>The Ballad of Reading Gaol.</i> London: Leonard Smithers, January 1898. $6,000 to $8,000.
    <b>Potter & Potter, Oct. 20:</b> DRYDEN, John. <i>Fables Ancient and Modern; translated into verse from Homer, Ovid, Boccace, & Chaucer: with original poems.</i> London: John Tonson, 1700. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Potter & Potter, Oct. 20:</b> [MAP]. LINSCHOTEN, Jan Huygen van. <i>Delineatio Orarum Maritimarum…</i> London: John Wolfe, 1598. $3,000 to $4,000.
  • <b><center>Sotheby’s<br>Antiquarian Books<br>Including a series of views of Milan<br>September 27 to October 4</b></center>
    <b>Sotheby’s, Sep. 27 – Oct. 4:</b> Livius, Historia Romanae decades, Venice, Vindelinus de Spira, 1470, contemporary Morocco. €30,000 to €40,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, Sep. 27 – Oct. 4:</b> Blaeu, Nieuw Stedeboeck van Italien (Piemont), The Hague, 1724-1725, 8 volumes, marbled calf gilt. €70,000 to €90,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, Sep. 27 – Oct. 4:</b> Baysio, Rosarium decretorum, Venice, 1481, later vellum. €10,000 to €15,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, Sep. 27 – Oct. 4:</b> [Niccolò da Poggibonsi], Viaggio da Venetia al santo Sepulchro, Venice, 1529, later half calf. €2,000 to €3,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, Sep. 27 – Oct. 4:</b> Hieronymus, Epistole [Italian], Ferrara, 1497, blue crushed morocco with the Rocco di Torrepadula arms. €12,000 to €15,000.

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions