At the top of the price list, albeit at a low-estimate figure of $3,075,000 (£2,571,070) – premium inclusive – was a 13pp manuscript dating from June 1788. Accomplished in what was described as a regular clerical hand, it presented ‘Extracts from the Journal of Proceedings of the Virginia Ratification Convention’.
It is one of just three that survive from the 12 sets ordered to be engrossed, signed by the president and secretary, and forwarded to each of the state executives or legislatures.
Sold at $2,228,000 (£1,906,355) at the auction on July 21 was a previously unrecorded copy of the 1776 Declaration of Independence, described by the saleroom as a fresh and beautifully preserved example of the authorised printing for Massachusetts, the colony that had led the struggle for America’s independence from Great Britain.
Ezekiel Russell’s edition of the Declaration of Independence, said the saleroom, was the 11th broadside printing overall and either the third or fourth produced in Massachusetts, but it is the colony’s authorised edition, printed by order of the Council of the Commonwealth.
Bard’s work saved
The third of these seven-figure lots, sold at a high-estimate $2,470,000 (£2,065,215) was a copy of the first collected edition of Shakespeare’s plays, the famous ‘First Folio’ of 1623.
It contains 36 plays, fully half of which had never before been printed, and it is likely that without this edition a great many of them may well have been lost forever.
It is now thought that no more than 750 copies of this original edition were printed (available unbound at a price of around 15 shillings), some 219 of which are recorded as extant in known locations in Anthony West’s 2003 census (The Shakespeare First Folio. The History of the Book. Volume I).
One more must now be added to this total, said the cataloguer: the University of Durham copy, stolen in 1998 and recovered in 2010, albeit in a mutilated state.
The copy offered in the recent US sale has made three previous appearances at auction, in 1948, 1972 and most recently in 1996, at Sotheby’s New York.
Other notable literary lots in the sale included, at $226,800 (£189,630), Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s heavily revised, autograph working notebook for what in 1838 became the work that brought her recognition as one of the most promising poets of her generation, The Seraphim and other Poems.