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Known as the ‘Lawes Agricultural Library’ after John Bennet Lawes, an agricultural scientist and pioneer of chemical fertilisation at his experimental farm at Rothampsted Manor, the library was formed over two decades and almost a century ago now under the direction of Sir John Russell, the then director of what is today known as Rothamsted Research.

Founded in 1843 at Harpenden in Hertfordshire, and the world’s oldest agricultural research centre, Rothamsted remains to this day a major influence on British and international farming research, innovation and practice.

Country life

The most highly valued lot in the sale, at £60,000-80,000, is a 1471 first of Pietro Crescenzi’s Opus ruralium commodorum, a work sometimes known in English as ‘The Advantages of Country-Living’.

A hugely influential treatise written in the years 1304-09 by a retired lawyer and country landowner, it is in this form the first printed book on agriculture.

Once owned by an Italian bibliophile, the Marchese Girolamo d’Adda, this copy is in a 19th century armorial binding of red morocco gilt.

It later passed into the vast collections of Charles Fairfax Murray (who had acquired d’Adda’s library en bloc) and was sold as part of his library at Christie’s in 1917.

Six years later it joined the Rothamsted collection.