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This manuscript grimoire, or collection of magic spells, invocations and more practical advice on ailments and aspirations, sold for £18,000 at Toovey's.

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What Toovey’s (24.5% buyer’s premium) was eventually able to sell with considerable success had arrived in a stained and incomplete binding and with no helpful background as to its origins or recent history.

The manuscript’s densely written notes were also difficult to read and occupied a great deal of the cataloguer’s time, However, the saleroom’s book specialist, Charlie Howe, has a particular interest in such material and after a great deal of study came up with some answers.

He identified it as the mid- to late-17th century work of a folk magician, someone with a rural rather than cosmopolitan background and, based on recognisable regional spelling characteristics, someone probably from the south of England.

The manuscript contains a great many spells and incantations, along with remedies that might prove more practical – those involving the use of herbs, for example, or in dealing with such things as dropsy or bad breath.

Catching pigeons and naked dances

The content, as revealed in the catalogue description, includes such diverse advice as “how to catch pigeons” or “how to make a woman dance naked” and, more grimly practical, “how to know if any sicke person shall die”.

“How to recover decayed tobacco” and “the rarest and most hidden secrets for to procure love” again emphasise the varied scope of the 476pp manuscript, which also includes two tables, one of lunar interest, and a pentagram drawing labelled ‘Pentaculum Salamonis’.

A published estimate of just £100-150 may have been the result of a spell placed on the West Sussex saleroom, but Howe was really thinking in terms of £5000-7000 and the level of interest the manuscript raised led in the end to a bid of £18,000.