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Sold for a total of close on £580,000 this summer was an archive relating to the Lyell family, who since 1752 have been the owners of Kinnordy House in Kirriemuir, Angus.

It was part of a July 9-10 sale held by Sotheby’s (25/20/12.9% buyer’s premium) and the 32 lots came to auction following the death last year of Charles, 3rd Baron Lyell.

The geologist Sir Charles Lyell is the best-known member of the family and figured prominently, as reported below, but the family was one of many talents – and connections.

The first eight lots to be offered comprised nine albums containing letters in the hands of a great many prominent 19th century figures.

Between them they raised close on £205,000 and one lot, estimated at £5000-7000 and including around 120 letters from Herschel, Babbage and an assortment of philosophers, astronomers, mathematicians as well as geologists, realised £75,000.

Another, an album of some 100 letters in the hands of Ada Lovelace, Florence Nightingale, Maria Edgeworth, Mary Somerville, Elizabeth Gaskell and other eminent women sold at £40,000 – again a far higher than estimated sum.

Famous work

In a now broken and shabby half calf binding, but containing a few notes that may be in the author’s hand and signed on the title-page, Charles Lyell’s own copy of the 1830, first volume of his most famous work, the Principles of Geology… sold at £32,000.

It was followed by a complete three-volume first of that work of 1830-33 that he inscribed for his father-in-law and fellow geologist, Leonard Horner. A generally exceptional, pre-publication set in what may be a publisher’s presentation cloth binding, it sold at £40,000.

Estimated at a modest £2000- 3000 but sold for £38,000 was collection of some 41 geological papers written (or co-written) by Lyell, along with later editions of his Principles… and Elements of Geology.

A group of scientific instruments used by members of the Lyell family was yet another lot that made far more than suggested, at £48,000, and a large album of drawings, photographs and prints collected by Charles Lyell – most of geological interest, as one might expect – was bid to £22,000.

The latter included both the signed photographic portrait of Lyell by Maul & Co and a watercolour given to Lyell by Joseph Dinkel shown above.

Dinkel was artist to the Swiss-born biologist and geologist, Louis Agassiz. Depicting a fossil fish found by Agassiz, it is is inscribed on the mount Smerdis minutus from Aix en Provence.