The engraved title-page of the New Testament section of the King James Bible of 1611 sold by Cheffins for £28,000.

Enjoy unlimited access: just £1 for 12 weeks

Subscribe now

Once resident in the parish church of Melbourn in Cambridgeshire, a copy of the ‘he’ version of the great Authorised or King James Bible of 1611 printed by Robert Barker was a highlight of one of the first English book sales of the year.

So named for an erroneous line that reads “and he went into the citie” when it should have read ‘she’, it was part of a 520-lot sale held by Cambridge auction house Cheffins (22.5/20/12% buyer’s premium) on January 9.

The success of a sale held early in January of last year prompted a repeat of that experiment. This £250,000 sale proved it to have been a good decision.

The 1611 Bible lacked a number of early leaves, including the general title and the world map, and had several other faults of condition in a period but damaged binding. It nevertheless did rather better than expected at £28,000, nearly double the top estimate.

High prices

A 1704, first-issue copy of Newton’s Opticks…, showing some foxing and spotting or staining, that made £30,000 and a 1620, first complete edition in English of Cervantes’ History of Don Quichote in a 19th century binding that realised £16,000 were also among the higher-priced lots, both selling close to their low estimates.

At the four-figure price levels, however, this proved a sale with plenty of variety and appeal.

Sold at £2400 was a 1686, second-edition copy in contemporary calf of Andrew Snape’s The Anatomy of an Horse with its portrait frontispiece and 49 plates.

That work was among a number of lots that had been sent to auction from a Suffolk country house library, while among lots that had as their provenance the collections of Sir Harold Wernher (1893-1973) of Luton Hoo was a Review of the Turf, from the year 1750.

In a later Zaehnsdorf binding, it lacked some of the text and was a rather curious compilation, but the 11 stipple engraved plates after George Stubbs were the main attraction and it made a much higher than expected £2600.


Used on the Cheffins sale catalogue cover was this detail from one of the many illustrations found in an extra-illustrated, four-volume, 1888 commemorative edition of Dickens’ Memoirs of Joseph Grimaldi that sold for £5500.

Another successful lot with a Wernher provenance was an exceptional, extra-illustrated copy of an 1888 commemorative edition of Dickens’ Memoirs of Joseph Grimaldi, a work originally published as two volumes in 1838.

Uniformly and handsomely bound by Tout in full morocco gilt, this set had been extended to four volumes by the inclusion at appropriate places of watercolour drawings, portraits, prints and letters. It sold at £5500.

A collection of Grand Tour plaster-cast medallions in 10 book-form boxes sold at £4800. Dating from the mid 19th century, they were issued in Rome by the highly regarded family business of Pietro Paoletti.

A copy of Winston Churchill’s My African Journey of 1908 offered in Cambridge lacked a plate, had one gathering misbound and showed sporadic spotting and foxing. The binding, on the other hand, was quite well preserved and the simple inscription “From Winston S Churchill 1 Dec, 1908” pushed the bidding to a substantial £5000.


Bid to £2000 in the Cambridge sale was a job lot of juvenilia that incuded A Visit to the Bazaar, a John Harris publication of 1816 presenting 32 hand-coloured illustrations. The auction record for this work when offered separately at auction is £800, set in a Dominic Winter sale of 2008, but it seems that the buyer had spotted something else of great rarity in this lot.

Mineral waters... and tattooing

Other oddments in this auction included a 1633, third edition of Edward Jorden’s Discourse of Natural Baths and Mineral Waters at a record £850 and Major General Horatio Robley’s 1896 account of Moko, or Maori Tattooing, at £750.

Among items of particular local interest was a 173pp manuscript relating to ‘Fenland laws, imbanking and draining’ that was thought to be of late 17th-early 18th century date.

That lot made £1000, while a bound and annotated set of Plans of the Parish of Brancaster… on the north Norfolk coast, five of them coloured, made £950.