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'Tres Thomae…', by Thomas Stapleton, an edition from 1588 that sold for £15,000 at Sotheby’s.

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A 1588 edition offered at Sotheby’s (25/20/12.5% buyer’s premium) on June 7 as part of the William O’Brian library – a sale previously featured on these pages in ATG No 2297 – had an unsightly ink stamp on the title, but immediately beneath it was the ownership signature of the English playwright and poet Ben Jonson. He also added his motto, tanquam explorator, at the head of the page.

Jonson had converted to Catholicism while in prison in 1598 and remained a recusant for some 12 years. Notes on the pages in which Stapleton writes about Thomas More cannot be firmly attributed to Jonson, but he was certainly a writer of interest, as evidenced by Jonson’s annotated copy of More’s works now in the cathedral library at Canterbury.

In a later binding, O’Brian’s two-guinea purchase of 1889 was this time sold at a treble-estimate £15,000.

A 1726, two volume first of Travels into Several Remote Nations…, a Teerink’s ‘A’ issue in contemporary speckled calf of the book more familiarly known as.‘Gulliver’s Travels’, made £48,000 in the O’Brian library sale.

However, some 40 lots later a very interesting work that bore Jonathan Swift’s signature on the title-page made a treble estimate £22,000. This was a 1699 first of Lionel Wafer’s …Voyage and Description of the Isthmus of America, a work that seems very likely to have influenced him in his work on ‘Gulliver’s Travels’, and notably so in his descriptions of the Yahoos and their more revolting habits and characteristics.

In the 1746 sale of Swift’s library this copy made 3/6d and later passed into the vast library of Sir Thomas Phillipps. From one of his many sales, it was acquired at 30 shillings by O’Brian, who was concerned about its condition and had it rebound.