All's well that ends well
- by Bruce E. McKinney
Jeffrey Thomas in January 2007
In the aftermath he was mourned by many and eulogized before several hundred friends at the Conservatory of Flowers in San Francisco. Subsequently his inventory was divided: some sent to long time dealer friends to sell on consignment, others selected by George Fox, to sell at auction. A long time friend Mr. Fox, the rainmaker at PBA, would organize the auctions. d'Este's book went to PBA and was sold at auction in February 2008, ultimately bringing almost ten times the $350 d'Este expected.
But she knew nothing of this. She was still expecting a call when Jeffrey located the book. When she called for an update in the spring of 2009 she found the business phone disconnected. When she then looked on line she found Jeffrey's website and notice of his death. A link to an in memoriam piece I wrote in June 2007 led her to contact me and I agreed to look into the matter.
The first thing I did was check the lot descriptions in the February 2008 Thomas Sale at PBA and the book she described was there. I then asked her to search her records for anything she had from Jeffrey to confirm the book sold was her father's and had been consigned. She remembered receiving a casually written receipt but had no idea where it might be and it was never found.
Calls to John Windle and John Crichton confirmed that several other people had noticed their material in the PBA listings of Thomas material and called to identify themselves as the actual owners. For d'Este however the sale was over and her father's book long since delivered to the new owner. But it was now established that some of Jeffrey's material was consigned but not recorded.
Identifying the book as hers would be difficult. Often it's a serious mistake to write your name in a book. In this case, her father's signature, written in or about 1937, would be the link she would rely upon to confirm that the copy at auction was her father's copy. There was no other evidence of the connection. There was of course also the issue of whether Jeffrey might have purchased the book outright. That, it turned out, could be determined by what Jeffrey wrote in pencil in the books he owned or on the slip he put into each book consigned. A book that was consigned identified the source, books he owned identified his cost in code. I couldn't know it then but the slip with Jeffrey's notes for d'Este's Bible had probably been casually tossed away when the books were gussied up for auction. But neither were there Jeffrey's telltale notes, always written in the book in pencil, when he owned the copy.
I then contacted George Fox of PBA and he agreed to look into it. Could he contact the buyer and ask them to look for the dated signature of Nap or Napoleon du Plessis on the inside front cover? In time George Fox confirmed with the buyer both that this signature was in the book and that there were no other handwritten notes, loosely inserted or written in the margin.