Two copies of a 1682 work called A Tryal of Witches have featured in recent auctions, and witchcraft was once again in the air at a recent West Sussex sale.
Responsible for the day’s highest bid of £4100 at Toovey’s (24.5% buyer’s premium) on March 17 was a 1693, third London edition in 19th century calf of Cotton Mather’s The Wonders of the Invisible World: Being an Account of the Tryals of Several Witches Lately Executed in New England...
The book is essentially a defence of the witch hunts that he and his father, Increase Mather, had raised in Salem, Massachusetts.
The Mathers saw witches as tools of the devil in Satan’s battle to “overturn this poor plantation, the Puritan colony”, and prosecution of witches as a way to secure God’s blessings for the colony. As a result, as many as 19 women were convicted of witchcraft and put to death.
Only a single example of the original US edition of the same year, sold for $7000 by Swann Galleries in 1987, appears in auction records.
However, in 2014 one of the many sales held to disperse the vast ‘How History Unfolds on Paper’ collections of the US collector Eric Caren included a first English edition of 1693 which sold for $19,000 (then £11,445).
Less familiar Stoker
An ex-public library first of Dracula in the Toovey’s auction made £1200 but bid to £950 was a much less familiar work by Bram Stoker: a 1902 first (2nd impression) of The Mystery of the Sea of 1902.
In the original pictorial cloth binding, it was signed and inscribed by Stoker for the Duke of Fife.
The cataloguer wondered if that association derived from the fact that Stoker was for many years a personal assistant to the actor Henry Irving and may have met the duke while managing Irving’s Lyceum theatre.
Last but not least
The very last lot of the day produced an unexpectedly high bid of £650. It secured one of just 50 signed copies of Ten Designs for the Two Gentleman of Verona by John Guthrie issued by the Pear Tree Press of Flansham in Sussex in 1925.
Illustrated with woodblock plates and in original wrap-around card covers, it was lotted with other ephemera relating to Guthrie and the Pear Tree Press.