Rare Book Monthly

Articles - June - 2010 Issue

Christie's to Host $20-$30 Million Auction of Illuminated Manuscripts and Books

The Cauchon Hours will likely sell for $1-$2 million.


By Michael Stillman

Christie's will be auctioning what they describe as "the most valuable collection of illuminated manuscripts ever offered at auction" in London on July 7. The mere 48 items are projected to take in £11 to £16 million, or roughly $17-24.5 million in U.S. Currency. Throw in buyer's premiums and this sale could approach $30 million. For a sale in the book category, this amount is astounding. Of course, these are not primarily printed books, but manuscripts that run along the border between text and art, an admittedly more expensive category.

The items set to be auctioned are known as the Arcana Collection, which could refer to either the rarity and obscurity of the works, or the unknown nature of its collector. He has chosen to remain anonymous. [Editor's Note: see addendum at end of article] He has been collecting this material for three decades, and we understand he is an American businessman. Christie's notes that he has "generously supported public institutions with holdings in this field." Here is another interesting point - the full name of the sale is The Arcana Collection: Exceptional Illuminated Manuscripts and Incunabula Part I. Yes, there is still more to come. We do not know how much more material there is, or how many further sales will be necessary, but it is probably safe to assume that there are more very valuable works to come.

Margaret Ford, Head of Books and Manuscripts at Christie's, London, stated, "This is a truly exceptional collection which presents illuminated manuscripts and incunabula in all their glory. They are masterpieces of medieval and renaissance art, many commissioned by important patrons. It has been the aesthetic aspect of these masterpieces which has appealed in particular to this private collector and excited his curiosity to acquire and learn more about them." Ms. Ford also pointed out that many of these works come with a most distinguished provenance.

Expected to garner the highest price is a 13th century Italian manuscript Bible, with extensive and "exquisite" painted illustrations. It was apparently produced for the use of a convent of Dominican friars, though some of the "fantastical creations" are not what one would usually expect in an order's Bible. Its calendar notes the passing of Theodoric Borgognoni, who was a Dominican friar, Bishop of Cervia, and one of the most important surgeons of his day, developing the use of antiseptics and anesthetics, and personally serving popes. The estimated price for this Bible is £2,500,000 - £3,500,000 (US $3.8 - $5.4 million).

Almost as highly estimated is a Book of Hours and Psalter from the 14th century that belonged to Countess Elizabeth de Bohun. She was from one of the noblest of English families and could therefore have afforded the best. Her great-granddaughter would become the wife of Henry IV (though not Queen as she died before he ascended to the throne), but her great-great grandson ruled as Henry V. The Psalter's later provenance includes William Waldorf Astor, who loaned it to an exhibition used to help raise funds to build the Statue of Liberty. This book is estimated at £2,000,000 - £3,000,000 (US $3.1 - $4.6 million).

The Cauchon Hours were created in the middle of the 15th century for a noble couple from Rheims in France. The couple is portrayed as a knight and his lady. It, too, is beautifully illustrated. Estimated at £800,000 - £1,200,000 (US $1.2 - 1.8 million). A Book of Hours produced for King Francois I of France is estimated at £300,000 - £500,000 (US $450,000 - $750,000). Francois, who was King from 1515-1547, was a man of impeccable taste. He lavishly supported art and culture, including supporting an artist with whom he became close in that man's later years, Leonardo Da Vinci. Francois was the first purchaser and owner of the Mona Lisa, having purchased it from Da Vinci's estate.

Other items being offered include an Epistres d'Ovide, the earliest French translation of Ovid's Heroines, made for Anne of Brittany. Anne was married to one Holy Roman Emperor (annulled) and two French Kings, and was mother-in-law to the aforementioned Francois I. Her repeated royalty did not make for an easy life, as Anne had 14 children, only two of whom survived to be more than three years of age. Estimated £500,000 - £800,000 (US $750,000 - $1,200,000). There is also a copy of Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, an Italian Renaissance book once owned by Jean Grolier. Estimated £220,000 - £260,000 (US $335,000 - $400,000).

Addendum: The Financial Times of London announced that the seller is "Ladislaus von Hoffmann, a secretive Washington-based financier."

Posted On: 2016-08-29 23:57
User Name: wklimon

Mr. von Hoffmann was a long-time trustee of both the National Gallery of Art and the Morgan Library and had been a very senior official at the World Bank. He was hardly secretive.


Rare Book Monthly

  • Forum Auctions
    Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper
    30th May 2024
    Forum, May 30: Potter (Beatrix). Complete set of four original illustrations for the nursery rhyme, 'This pig went to market', 1890s. £60,000 to £80,000.
    Forum, May 30: Dante Alighieri.- Lactantius (Lucius Coelius Firmianus). Opera, second edition, Rome, 1468. £40,000 to £60,000.
    Forum, May 30: Distilling.- Brunschwig (Hieronymus). Liber de arte Distillandi de Compositis, first edition of the so-called 'Grosses Destillierbuch', Strassburg, 1512. £22,000 to £28,000.
    Forum, May 30: Eliot (T.S.), W. H. Auden, Ted Hughes, Philip Larkin, Robert Lowell, Seamus Heaney, Ted Hughes, & others. A Personal Anthology for Eric Walter White, 60 autograph poems. £20,000 to £30,000.
    Forum, May 30: Cornerstone of French Enlightenment Philosophy.- Helvetius (Claude Adrien). De l'Esprit, true first issue "A" of the suppressed first edition, Paris, 1758. £20,000 to £30,000.
    Forum Auctions
    Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper
    30th May 2024
    Forum, May 30: Szyk (Arthur). The Haggadah, one of 125 copies, this out-of-series, Beaconsfield Press, 1940. £15,000 to £20,000.
    Forum, May 30: Fleming (Ian). Casino Royale, first edition, first impression, 1953. £15,000 to £20,000.
    Forum, May 30: Japan.- Ryusui (Katsuma). Umi no Sachi [Wealth of the Sea], 2 vol., Tokyo, 1762. £8,000 to £12,000.
    Forum, May 30: Computing.- Operating and maintenance manual for the BINAC binary automatic computer built for Northrop Aircraft Corporation 1949, Philadelphia, 1949. £8,000 to £12,000.
    Forum, May 30: Burmese School (probably circa 1870s). Folding manuscript, or parabaik, from the Court Workshop at the Royal Court at Manadaly, Burma, [c.1870s]. £8,000 to £12,000.
  • Ketterer Rare Books
    Auction May 27th
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    K. Marx, Das Kapital,1867. Dedication copy. Est: € 120,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    Latin and French Book of Hours, around 1380. Est: € 25,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    Theodor de Bry, Indiae Orientalis, 1598-1625. Est: € 80,000
    Ketterer Rare Books
    Auction May 27th
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    Breviary, Latin manuscript, around 1450-75. Est: € 10,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    G. B. Piranesi, Vedute di Roma, 1748-69. Est: € 60,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    K. Schmidt-Rottluff, Arbeiter, 1921. Orig. watercolour on postcard. Est: € 18,000
    Ketterer Rare Books
    Auction May 27th
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    Breviarium Romanum, Latin manuscript, 1474. Est: € 20,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    C. J. Trew, Plantae selectae, 1750-73. Est: € 28,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    M. Beckmann, Apokalypse, 1943. Est: € 50,000
    Ketterer Rare Books
    Auction May 27th
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    Ulrich von Richenthal, Das Concilium, 1536. Est: € 9,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    I. Kant, Critik der reinen Vernunft, 1781. Est: €12,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    Arbeiter-Illustrierte Zeitung (AIZ) / Die Volks-Illustrierte (VI), 1932-38. Est: €8,000
  • Sotheby’s
    Modern First Editions
    Available for Immediate Purchase
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Winston Churchill. The Second World War. Set of First-Edition Volumes. 6,000 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: A.A. Milne, Ernest H. Shepard. A Collection of The Pooh Books. Set of First-Editions. 18,600 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Salvador Dalí, Lewis Carroll. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Finely Bound and Signed Limited Edition. 15,000 USD
    Sotheby’s
    Modern First Editions
    Available for Immediate Purchase
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Ian Fleming. Live and Let Die. First Edition. 9,500 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: J.K. Rowling. Harry Potter Series. Finely Bound First Printing Set of Complete Series. 5,650 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Ernest Hemingway. A Farewell to Arms. First Edition, First Printing. 4,200 USD
  • Manuscript Masterpieces from the Schøyen Collection
    London auction, 11 June
    BROWSE NOW
    Christie’s, Explore now: The Holkham Hebrew Bible. In Hebrew, decorated manuscript on vellum [Toledo, 2nd quarter 13th century]. £1,500,000–3,000,000
    Christie’s, Explore now: The Crosby-Schøyen Codex. In Coptic, manuscript on papyrus [Upper Egypt, middle 3rd century / 4th century]. £2,000,000–3,000,000
    Christie’s, Explore now: The Geraardsbergen Bible. In Latin, illuminated manuscript on vellum [Southern Netherlands, late 12th century]. £700,000–1,000,000
    Christie’s, Explore now : Jean de Courcy (fl. 1420). The Chronique de la Bouquechardiere. In French, illuminated manuscript on vellum [Paris, c.1480]. £200,000–300,000
    Christie’s, Explore now: The ‘Catherine de Medici’ Hours. In Latin and French, illuminated manuscript on vellum [Paris, c.1485]. £120,000–180,000

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