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Offered by Christie’s (25/20/12.5% buyer’s premium) on July 11, this was the scholarly edition of 1495-98 that, excluding those on mathematics and medicine, restored the works of Aristotle to their original language.

Many surviving sets are composites, the individual parts having also been marketed separately, but this Aldine editio princeps, said the cataloguer, “… appears to have been together from the beginning”.

And if not, then the five volumes were certainly together by the early 17th century, when Brescia Jesuits added ownership marks to the title-pages.

In a 20th century brown morocco gilt binding, this set sold at £225,000 – a little under estimate but a price bettered only once at auction. In 2001, the Norman- Freilich set made around £350,000 at Sotheby’s New York.

Polyglot praise

As briefly referenced in ATG No 2353, other notable results among the earlier printed works in the King Street sale included a vellum set of the 11 volume Plantin Polyglot Bible of 1569-72. The only one of the 13 sets ordered by Philip II of Spain still in private hands, it sold at £420,000.

Published a few years earlier, in 1556, a Wittenberg edition of Luther’s Bible was part of a remarkable group of seven volumes from the library of Philipp Melanchthon, the leading Reformation theologian and contemporary of Martin Luther, that sold for £200,000.

That Bible was bound with two autograph manuscripts by Melanchthon, one concerning the physical appearance of Christ, while other volumes that made up the lot included copies of the works of Aristotle, Homer and Aristophanes bearing his annotations.

The only volume not signed or annotated was a copy of the Dionysiaca of Nonnus of Panopolis in a contemporary local binding that Melanchthon gave to his son-in-law and editor of his collected works, Caspar Peucer.

Further highlights

Other highlights included a 1502, first illustrated edition of the works of Virgil, printed by Johann Grüninger of Strasbourg and containing more than 200 large woodcuts. Sold for £3500 in 1984 at Sotheby’s and subsequently acquired by Otto Schäfer, it made £16,000 this time.

Sold at £35,000 was a copy (in later binding) of the Gunther Zaire of Ulm edition of 1473 that marked the first printed appearance of the Imitatio Christi of Thomas a Kempis.

An 18th century inscription recorded the purchase of a copy of the 1534 Basel editio princeps of Heliodorus’ ancient Greek romance, Historiae aethiopicae… at 20 florins, but at King Street this summer it sold well over estimate at £24,000.

This tale of Theagenes and Chariclea, the only recorded work of a man who first came to the attention of Renaissance scholars in a manuscript from the library of Matthias Corvinus, the former king of Hungary and Croatia, found at the sack of Buda in 1526.

In a 19th century binding of blind panelled calf by J Leighton, this was a copy owned and extensively annotated in Greek, first by the scholar Wilhelm Xylander (1532-76) and later by Hieronymus Commenius in preparation for his own 1596 edition of the text.