Bibliography, Auction Catalogues, Reference, Etc. from Forest Books
By Michael Stillman
British bookseller Forest Books has issued their Catalogue 107 of Bibliography, Bookbinding and Reference. We are particularly impressed by the old auction catalogues available. Private collectors were able to build magnificent libraries such as would be virtually impossible to create today, so many of the best works now securely locked away in institutional collections. These auction catalogues have become, in effect, bibliographies of the great antiquarian books. We will focus on some of these catalogues as we look inside the latest Forest catalogue, but there is much more in the way of bookbinding, papermaking, etc., from the book arts also available.
They used to throw some very impressive auctions. Item 25 is Bibliotheca Beauclerkiana. A Catalogue of the Large and Valuable Library of the Late Honourable Topham Beauclerk...of Upwards of Thirty Thousand Volumes...On Monday, April 19, 1781, and Forty-Nine Following Days... You needed to have a lot of free time to attend an auction in those days. Beauclerk was a close friend of biographer/lexicographer Samuel Johnson, and when he lay on his deathbed, Boswell reports that Johnson said, "I would walk to the extent of the diameter of the earth to save Beauclerk." Unlikely, since Johnson was 70 years old at the time. Beauclerk was born to nobility, which enabled him to be such a large buyer. Incidentally, Beauclerk was married to Lady Diana Spencer, obviously a different Lady Diana Spencer than the one who came to be known as Princess Diana, but another noble lady as well. Priced at £475 (British pounds, or roughly US dollars $940).
Topham Beauclerk was an amateur compared to Richard Heber. Item 175 is the Catalogue of the Library of the Late Richard Heber...except it is not a mere catalogue. It is 13 volumes of bibliography. Heber was estimated to own something between 200,000 and 300,000 books. They were stored in six houses and several smaller locations. He purchased his books from 1800-1830, the period of Dibdin's "Bibliomania," but died in 1833, Dibdin's "Bibliophobia" period. His collection went on the block in a series of auctions from 1834-1837 in a very depressed market. Few collectors attended. The collection, which cost him over £100,000 to amass, sold for a total of £56,744. The collection was strongest in English literature, but included numerous continental items as well. This set of the Sotheby's auction catalogues was owned by William Pickering, and includes prices and notations for some items, including symbols he used to note how high he was willing to bid. Pickering was an important publisher and bookseller of the first half of the 19th century. £5,995 (US $11,865).