The first hundred or so lots offered as part of a November 19 London sale comprised a splendid collection of railway books and ephemera compiled by the late Sir William McAlpine (1936-2018) of the famous building and engineering firm.
An introduction to this part of the catalogue of a Forum (25/20/12% buyer’s premium) sale was provided by Ed Maggs and Hugh Bett of the London bookseller Maggs Brothers.
They observed that while they were not in the habit of offering books at auction, this specialist section of McAlpine’s library was one they felt would benefit from a more public dispersal.
“He had a good dose of the family’s powerful collecting gene and filled his house with books, and his garden with trains, stations, lines, bridges and all the other wonderful hardware associated with the genre…” they wrote, adding: “His railway line was not long, but it importantly had a gradient of 1 in 13, which means that ascending engines can get up a really big head of steam.”
What they termed McAlpine’s ‘last’ book collection covered “…the engineering, commercial and cultural aspects of the history of the railways.
“There are rare colour plate books from the incunabulum days of rail; manuscript material from Huskisson and the Stephenson family; legal and commercial records of some of the greatest commercial enterprises of the industrial revolution; photographs and literature on thousands of engines.”
All that material is exemplified by a modest selection here of just eight of the more successful and higher-priced lots that offer a fair impression of the overall appeal of such a collection.
As well as those illustrated, the sale’s highlights included, at £22,000, an album of some 150 items of manuscript and printed ephemera relating to ‘The Building of the World’s Railways’. Another album of some 200 prints relating to the early days of railways across the globe made £17,000.
While the McAlpine collection was primarily focused on British railways, one of its other notable successes was Brasil Estrada de Ferro de D.Pedro II: Vistas dos pontos mas importantes…
A copy in chromolitho wrappers of a work by C Linde, it was published in Rio de Janeiro in 1865 but with titles and the captions to the 29 litho plates, half of them tinted, provided in Spanish, English, French and German. It sold at £9000.