A ‘Prismatic’ colour wheel, one of the three illustrations found in the 1811 edition of Moses Harris’ Natural System of Colours sold by Hansons at £12,000.

Enjoy unlimited access: just £1 for 12 weeks

Subscribe now

The entomologist and engraver Moses Harris is best known for The Aurelian: A Natural History of English Insects, first published in 1766, but the Hansons (25% buyer’s premium) sale of December 10-11 presented a long admired but far, far rarer work.

First printed in that same year, his Natural System of Colours is a slim work that focuses on the multitude of colours that can be created using what he described as the “grand or principle” colours of red, yellow and blue. It makes no showing in auction records – and neither does the second, posthumously published edition of 1811, edited by Thomas Martyn, that featured at Hansons.

The only auction reference I found was to an American facsimile of 1963 that made $100 in a 1982 sale held by Swann Galleries.

Complete with three plates, the contents of this slim work, though loose, were generally very good and the hand colouring described as vibrant. It sold at £12,000.

Extra catalogue notes for the lot were provided by Dr Alexandra Loske of the University of Sussex. The author of Colour: A Visual History (2019), she explained: “It may be a short work, but it is one the most influential and beautiful books in Western colour history.”

Dr Loske also noted: “Fewer than 10 copies of the first and second editions…are recorded. I have inspected almost all of them, and the quality of the hand-coloured plates in this copy is outstanding.”

Though not inscribed as such, it was stated by the auction house that this copy had once belonged to the dedicatee, the artist Benjamin West – an ancestor of the consignor’s late husband.

Potter gains

Past successes at auctions at Hansons and elsewhere have prompted owners of Harry Potter books to cash in.

On this occasion four of the 500 first-issue copies of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone of 1997 were offered in the Etwall saleroom and made sums ranging from £17,500 to £68,000.

The cheapest of them, actually estimated at just £2000-3000, was a very scruffy and battered copy that lacked the front endpaper and the half-title (previewed in ATG No 2473) – but the best-seller was a perfectly presentable copy.

A paperback first also sold at £7000 and plenty of JK Rowling’s later works were on offer as well.

Another of the 500 first-issue copies will be offered at Lyon & Turnbull on February 24-25.