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Among them was a 1530 Estienne of Paris edition of the Comoediae of Plautus that brought a much higher than expected £34,000.

Acquired by the 4th Lord Harlech from Maggs in 1951, this was a copy once owned by the Latin teacher, royal tutor, sometime headmaster of Eton and playwright, Nicholas Udall – and it was a source for, and influence on his own pioneering English comedy, Ralph Roister Doister.

In a contemporary calf over paste-paper boards binding made of old printed leaves, and with earlier manuscript leaves featuring musical notation used as endpapers, it shows extensive annotation in a 17th century hand. The writing is thought to be by another early owner, the diplomat Francis Nethersole.

In December last year, at the Pirie sale at Sotheby’s New York, Princeton Library acquired for $6000 (then £4725) Udall’s annotated copy of Pliny.

Surprise success

Another unexpected success was the £14,000 bid (against an estimate of £600-800) taken on a copy of Gilbert Cousin’s Effigies… of Erasmus, a Basel publication of 1553, now in modern boards, containing a double-page woodcut after Holbein.

Six smaller woodcut portraits, including examples by Holbein and Cousin – together with two views of Nozeroy in eastern France, Cousin’s home town – feature in this scarce work which has no other presence in auction records.

Lacking five leaves, occasionally wormed, soiled and dampstained, as well as showing several annotations and underlinings – but preserved in a much later morocco gilt binding – was a very rare 1531 first of Thomas Elyot’s The Boke named the Governor.

The earliest treatise on moral philosophy in English, and a book that has been described as “the first work in recognisably modern English prose”, it was, despite all those faults, bid to £8000.

The only other example recorded at auction is a defective copy that in 1948 sold for £4 10s (£4.50).

A copy of The Seaman’s Tutor… by Mr Perkins (bound in modern morocco) sold for £6000 in the Bonhams sale. Once again this is a work that leaves almost no trace in auction records – save for an incomplete copy sold some 50 years ago.