The much-heralded series of sales of the Bibliotheca Brookeriana of Renaissance books and manuscripts was launched on October 11 at Sotheby’s New York (26/20/13.9% buyer’s premium) with a special evening auction of highlights.
This was the first of eight sales to be divided between New York, London, Paris and online. The second auction took place on October 12 and offered the first part of Brooker’s celebrated collection of Aldines.
The Bibliotheca Brookeriana was formed over six decades by the Chicago investor and bibliophile T Kimball Brooker.
It is described by Sotheby’s as ‘one of the most significant and comprehensive rare book libraries to ever come to auction’, being ‘a carefully curated, extraordinary library of more than 1300 sixteenth-century French and Italian books in their original bindings.’
The ‘crown jewel’ is an ‘extensive group of Aldine press publications, which Brooker began collecting in earnest in the mid-1960s and which he has written about extensively. Numbering nearly 900 volumes it is the largest collection of Aldines to come to the market in a century’.’
Sotheby’s expects the entire library to fetch in excess of $25m (£19.7m) with the Aldine collection alone estimated to realise over $10m (£7.8m).
Sotheby’s senior international specialist Selby Kiffer was the auctioneer for the evening sale with a room of expectant bidders including many who had travelled from Europe to attend in person.
The top-estimated work in the 90-lot selection was a spectacular copy of Sebastiano Serlio’s Terzo libro (Venice, 1540), bound with his Regole generali di architecttura (Venice, February 1540 [ie 1541]), with both works printed on blue paper and bound together by the so-called Cupid’s Bow binder, an unknown Parisian bookbinder identified by a particular decorative binding tool.
Serlio was part of a team of architects and craftsmen from Italy commissioned by the king of France, Francis I, to advise on the construction and decoration of the Château of Fontainebleau. It is presumed that copies printed on blue paper were taken by Serlio from Venice to France and were bound there for presentation to patrons.
A similar volume is in the bibliothèque nationale de France, bound in green goatskin by Jean Picard for the bibliophile Jean Grolier. The Brooker copy sold for $380,000 (£307,800), just below its low estimate of $400,000, but set a new world record both for these works and for the author.
The lot which attracted most attention and the top price in the sale was a fine 17th century manuscript copy of Leonardo da Vinci’s Tratto della pittura which garnered multiple bidders and sold for double its low estimate at $500,000 (£405,000).
This manuscript copy had been produced c.1638-41 in the workshop of Cassiano dal Pozzo, secretary to Cardinal Francesco Barberini, nephew of Pope Urban VIII.
This treatise had been compiled after Leonardo’s death by his pupil and heir Francesco Melzi from 18 of Leonardo’s notebooks, which was then edited and censored to remove potentially heretical passages.
Dal Pozzo owned more than one early copy of this abridged treatise which he edited for publication with new drawings commissioned from Nicolas Poussin and Gaspare Berti.
The Brooker manuscript was one of several 17th century pre-publication copies of the manuscript. However, this example is notable for being complete with all its illustrations after Poussin and Berti and in a contemporary binding.
Another highlight was an exceptionally rare 15th century plaquette binding, believed to be the earliest known example, which sold at its low estimate of $280,000 (£226,800).
This Paduan binding on a manuscript of Latin epigrams and other verses by Jacopo Tiraboschi dated to c.1480 was a highly unusual combination of Oriental (Mamluk) and classical design elements.
The late Anthony Hobson attributed the binding to Felice Feliciano, and wrote that this example “marks the high point of Feliciano’s conception of the humanistic binding: an antique gem set off by the rich texture of a luxurious oriental surround”.
These six-figure prices in the evening sale were, however, exceptions rather than the rule with only five of the top 13 lots estimated at over $100,000 finding buyers on the night, which suggests that some of the estimates were perhaps overly ambitious. In total 69% of lots in the first sale sold for a hammer total of $2.67m (£2.16m) against an estimate of $4.4m-5.8m.
The second sale on October 12 offered the first tranche of Aldines from Brooker’s library.
The Roman-born printer and publisher Aldus Manutius settled in Venice where he devised the portable pocket book and invented an easy to read italic typeface now known as Bembo. The first book that was dated and published under Aldus’s name appeared in 1495 and the press continued to be run by his family and descendants until 1597.
Brooker spent decades sourcing the finest examples of these books that he could buy and this is the largest collection of Aldines to come to auction in a century.
Among the many fine bindings on offer were a number of splendid bindings commissioned by the great French bibliophile Jean Grolier (c.1489-1565). Grolier’s copy of Francesco Colonna’s Hypnerotomachia, printed by Aldus in 1499 is one of the greatest illustrated books of the Italian Renaissance and sold for $300,000 (£243,000) against an estimate of $400,000- 600,000.
A copy of Pietro Crinito’s De poetis latinis, Florence, 1505, bound for Grolier by the Cupids Bow Binder soared over its high estimate of $300,000 to sell for $420,000 (£340,200), making it the top lot of the sale.
An Aldine of Catullus, Tibullus, Propertius, 1515, in a fine morocco binding by Jean Picard for Grolier doubled its low estimate to sell for $160,000 (£129,600).
A “brilliant, tall copy” of Bembo’s first publication de Aetna ad Angelum Chabrielem liber, 1495-96, tells the tale of a journey to Mount Aetna undertaken by Pietro Bembo; it was the first Aldine printed exclusively in Latin and Roman type designed and cut for Aldus by Francesco Griffo.
This copy, which had been owned by the great collector the 2nd Earl of Spencer (1758-1834), was competed for by bidders and sold for $150,000 (£121,500) on a guide of $140,000- 200,000.
The second sale performed better than the first and realised $3.7m (£2.98m) against an estimate of $3.5- 4.9m with 79% of lots sold.
Overall the first two sales realised a grand total of $6.3m hammer.
Collectors will have to wait until April for the third instalment of the Bibliotheca Brookeriana which will offer the second portion of the Aldine collection (D-M) in New York.