Two very famous but very different figures topped the price lists in a London sale held on the last day of March.
Bid to £80,000 at Bonhams (27.5/25/20/14.5% buyer’s premium) was one of 425 copies of the celebrated 1896, Kelmscott edition of Geoffrey Chaucer’s works.
Together with its famous engraved illustrations after Edward Burne- Jones, this copy also boasted a near-contemporary, William Morris-inspired, Art Nouveau-style binding by Paul Claessens.
A very different Isaac Newton lot, sold at £50,000, was a manuscript notebook of some 100pp kept by John Wickins. A friend, collaborator and amanuensis, Wickins’ notes include transcripts of unpublished letters from Newton that comment on Hooke, telescopes, theology and much more besides.
Boasting a splendid Restoration period binding of elaborately gilt black goatskin from a so far unidentified workshop, a 1675 first of David Loggan’s Oxonia illustrata sold for £37,000 – almost trebling the standing auction record.
Illustrated with 40 large engraved views of Oxford and its colleges, Loggan’s major work was produced in the city where he held the position of engraver to the university, but despite the Sheldonian imprint, said the cataloguer, it is thought to have been printed in Loggan’s own house in Holywell.
This copy originally formed part of the library of Charles Finch, Earl of Winchilsea, Viscount Maidstone and Baron FitzHerbert of Eastwell (1672– 1712). It also bears a bookplate dated 1704, the year he was appointed Lord Lieutenant of Kent.
Astronomiae instauratae mechanica is a famous illustrated description of the astronomical instruments that filled a famous observatory which, with royal backing, Tycho Brahe established on the Danish island of Hven in the 1570s.
This great work was first printed in 1598 at Heinrich Rantzov’s castle near Nuremburg, in an edition of 40 copies that were distributed privately by Brahe. The copy in the Knightsbridge sale, however, was a first trade edition, commercially printed in Nuremburg in 1602, a year after Brahe’s death, but from the same blocks and plates. It sold at £25,000.
A couple of copies of that earlier, privately printed issue have made six-figure sums.
Kremlin call to arms
Among the more unexpected successes of the day was an 1884-95, Moscow first of a work whose Russian title translates as Inventory of the Kremlin Armoury. In 10 volumes it presents more than 500 photographic plates of weapons and armour, both Russian and from other nations.
This was a work that made £31,500 rather that the suggested £3000-4000.
Bid to £20,000 against an estimate of £4000-6000 was Arte militaire des Chinois… of 1772.
Illustrated with 33 hand-coloured engraved plates of battle formations, armour, etc, this was a first European edition of a work by the Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu (544-496BC) in a translation by Jean Joseph Marie Amiot, a Jesuit missionary resident in Beijing.
Other highlights of the Knightsbridge sale included an autograph leaf of the 16 lines of Robert Burns’ song ‘The Banks of the Cree’ (also known as ‘Here is the Glen’) dated to 1794. It made £22,000.
Sold at £28,000 was one of around 130 sets of a photographically illustrated record of the Great Exhibition of 1851.
Running to four volumes, bound in red morocco gilt by Rivière, it contains 154 mounted calotypes, all captioned on the mounts and depicting both the exhibition building and prize-winning exhibits.
William Henry Fox Talbot had granted the Exhibition Committee use of his newly developed photographic process, in return for which he was presented with 15 of these special presentation copies.
The work of Claude-Marie Ferrier and Hugh Owen, the images were printed at Talbot’s recommendation by his one-time assistant and collaborator Nicolas Henneman, who he had helped to establish his own photographic studio.
Last but certainly not least, a mention for a first impression copy of Arthur Conan Doyle’s first published book, A Study in Scarlet of 1888.
This copy of the first separately published version of the tale (first printed in Beeton’s Christmas Annual of 1897) was in an early 20th century binding of red morocco backed cloth, but sold well at £28,000.