The view of a ‘Holy Temple’ reproduced here is one of 20 hand-coloured litho plates that illustrate Original Sketches in the Punjaub.
This oblong folio publication of 1854 was created by an un-named ‘Lady’ who explains: “No attempt has been made to draw pictures as they ought to be... but to convey to an English eye some notion of the bright, vivid colouring of Indian scenes.”
That work was one of the 113 lots that made up the library of British India interest that opened a Dominic Winter (20/24% buyer’s premium) sale of May 10.
In a later 19th century binding it had some shortcomings in terms of condition, but the selling price of £11,000 makes it the most expensive copy so far seen at auction.
It was part of a collection of works from the library of a military historian and collector, the late Brian Russell (1940-2022), or Kala Singh as he was also known after his conversion to the Sikh religion and marriage to Nirmal, the sister of a long-standing Indian friend.
Highlights of the South Cerney sale also included, at £3200, an 1846 History of the Sikhs... by Joseph D Cunningham that was once in the library of Mountstuart Elphinstone, an influential Governor of Bombay in the early 19th century and author of an 1815 Account of the Kingdom of Caubul.
Clive of India connection
Bid to £2800 was A True Narrative and Discovery of several very remarkable passages relating to the Horrid Popish Plot..., whose author, Miles Prance, was one of those executed for their supposed involvement in an infamous but seemingly fictitious plot to assassinate King Charles II.
It was, however, the work’s Indian connection that merited its inclusion in this sale. It featured the bookplate of Robert Clive, or Clive of India as he is more familiarly known.
Sold at £2400 was a two-volume, 1850 first of Wanderings of a Pilgrim, in Search of the Picturesque... by Fanny Parks, the wife of a civil servant in East India Company service, and someone who had travelled extensively during her 24 years in the country, often on her own.
As a woman she was able to gain access to some marriage and religious ceremonies not accessible to men and, unlike many of her European contemporaries, she immersed herself in Indian culture, became fluent in Hindustani and adopted local customs, even learning to play the sitar.
In this work, said the cataloguer, she produced one of the most readable travel memoirs of the period, though one whose authorship she acknowledged only by a signature in Urdu script.
Her account is illustrated with 50 litho plates, 19 of them coloured, and a folding panorama of the Himalayas.
Not part of the Russell/Kala Singh collection, but certainly of related interest was Frontier and Overseas Expeditions from India, a complete, nine-volume, ex- Military Staff College set of Army Intelligence Branch reports dating from 1907-13 that sold for £11,000.
A special Shackleton
Other sections of the Dominic Winter auction included a straightforward 1919 first edition (2nd impression copy) of the well-known book on polar exploration, Ernest Shackleton’s South, which sold at £750.
However, bid to £3400 as the following lot was a copy of that same work that was not in such smart condition but bore a presentation inscription from Shackleton to a Major Gosset of the Royal Engineers, along with the latter’s notes on the copy’s further family progress.
Two 1953 firsts of John Hunt’s account of The Ascent of Everest, one rather better preserved than the other, were signed, with some variations, by 13 and 14 expedition members respectively and were sold at £2800 and £4600. Each featured among the signatures some of the better-known expedition members.
(A mitten worn by Hunt on that expedition sold at Hansons recently was covered in News Digest, ATG No 2593.)
Literary entries in the Dominic Winter sale included, at £2300 rather than the suggested £200-300, an 1848, first-issue copy in original blind-stamped blue cloth of Thackeray’s Vanity Fair that retained the later suppressed woodcut of the Marquis of Steyne.