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A spread from the manuscript compilation of John Donne’s poems from Melford Hall, sold by Sotheby’s for £387,500.

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One that ran in London from November 30 until December 10 resulted in over 40% of lots left unsold, but its overall total was very healthily boosted by a manuscript of great significance and value in both literary and commercial terms.

Valuation visit find

Sold well over high estimate at £387,500 by Sotheby’s (25/20/12.9% buyer’s premium) was a contemporary scribal manuscript containing a collection of some 139 poems by John Donne. A manuscript that has only quite recently come to wider public notice – it was discovered during a routine valuation visit – it bears the early 19th century bookplate of Sir William Parker and emerged from the library of what is still the family home at Melford Hall in Suffolk.

Running to 365pp in all, it is one of the larger extant manuscript collections of the poetical works of the greatest of the ‘Metaphysical Poets’ and was billed by the saleroom as representative of one of the supreme literary achievements of the English language.

Though some autograph material by Donne appeared in the exceptional collection of his works offered as part of the Robert S Pirie library sale in 2015, nothing comparable with this bound collection is known to remain in private hands – if indeed this one still does.

An epistle in the Bodleian is one of only two or three autograph works by Donne known to survive, and the few scribal manuscripts of comparable size and importance are also in institutional collections.