One of the finely preserved coloured plates from a copy of the deluxe issue of Roberts’ 'Holy Land, Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt & Nubia' sold for £110,000 at Sotheby’s.

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Top lot in an online travel and natural history auction that ended on November 17 in London was a 20 volume set of the monumental Description de l’Egypte of 1809-22.

This was the official account of the great French scientific survey of the country that dealt with everything from antiquities to agriculture.

At Sotheby’s (26/20/13.9% buyer’s premium) it sold towards the low end of the estimate range at £170,000, while an 1842-29, six volume, subscriber’s copy of David Roberts’ Holy Land, Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt & Nubia sold towards the higher end of its guide at £110,000. This was a set that was free of the spotting sometimes found in this deluxe issue.

Lawrence lots in abundance


An Arabic head-dress once owned by TE Lawrence – £26,000 at Sotheby's.

A great many TE Lawrence lots were on offer, with letters much in evidence, but the most expensive was one of 170 copies of the 1926 edition of Seven Pillars of Wisdom that he signed off as “Complete”. In the original brown morocco binding, it made a low-estimate £40,000.

Sold over estimate at £26,000, however, was an ivory silk kaffiyah, or head-dress. Lawrence famously wore Arab costume during the Arab Revolt, although he had first discovered how well suited it was to desert life while undertaking archaeological work at Carchemish in Syria in the years before the First World War.

Lawrence’s adoption of Arab dress, said the saleroom, was practical but also crucial to his mission, which required that he gain the trust of the Arab people. Towards the end of the war he tended to wear more elaborate costume and by the time he returned to Europe after the war he had assembled a substantial collection,

Lawrence made a number of gifts to friends and family, but this kaffiyah was brought back from the Middle East by Private Harry Hosker, his driver and batman.

Lawrence trusted Hosker to drive his car with a trunk full of gold sovereigns that he used to buy off Bedouin tribesmen, but not all these duties were carried out to his satisfaction, said the cataloguer. Lawrence apparently complained about Hosker’s culinary skills, especially his inability to cook porridge. In 1996, when last seen at Sotheby’s, this kaffiyah was part of a costume sale.

Wallace work


A plate from the copy of Alfred Russel Wallace’s Palm Trees of the Amazon… sold for a record £12,000 at Sotheby's.

Also illustrated here is a plate from a first edition of Alfred Russel Wallace’s Palm Trees of the Amazon and their uses.

Published in London in 1853 and illustrated with 48 litho plates by W Fitch, it was issued in an edition of just 250 copies and this rare survivor set an auction record at £12,000.

Wallace lost a great many of his natural history drawings and specimens when his ship sank on the return to voyage to Europe, but his notes and illustrations of Amazonian palm trees were among those things that were salvaged.