Auctions | June 10, 2014

15th-Century Hebrew Bible, Rare Sherlock Holmes Manuscript & Salinger Letter Archive Coming Up at Christie’s

New York—In addition to rare book collectors, this spring’s sale of Fine Printed Books and Manuscripts, including Americana, will appeal to fans of Sherlock Holmes, the elusive J.D. Salinger and Civil War photographs. From a hand- illuminated 15th century Bible to an artifact of scientific discovery to one of the most beautiful examples of the small book press craft, the 306 lots in the June 19 sale exemplify the rich diversity of this collecting category. With a range of alluring property and approachable price points, this sale has something for both new and established collectors.

Headlining the sale is a prototype microchip from 1958 used by Nobel Prize-winner Jack Kirby and his Texas Instruments team in demonstrating his theories of integrated circuits, enabling the modern computing revolution, and an extremely rare 15th century hand-written and illuminated manuscript in Hebrew of the majority of the books of the Bible, (estimate: $500,000-$700,000). Additional highlights include a rare, privately held Sherlock Holmes manuscript by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (estimate: $250,000 - $350,000); a quintessential depiction of the legendary detective by illustrator Sidney Paget (pictured above, estimate: $40,000-60,000); a large archive of never-before-released personal letters from J.D. Salinger to a fan (estimate: $180,000 - $240,000); a first-edition copy of Alexander Gardner’s compelling collection of Civil War photographs (estimate: $100,000 - $150,000); along with rare first editions of classic American and English literature, and a selection of Winston S. Churchill material from the Collection of Malcolm S. Forbes, Jr., and Americana.

A remarkable artifact from the 15th century is the survival of the major part of a Hebrew Bible (pictured right, estimate $500,000-$700,000), from 1456, written by the son of Rabbi Moshe Arragel. Comprising the books of II Kings to Malachi, the 213 surviving leaves contain two columns of 31 lines in a fine Sephardic Hebrew square script with nikud, with the Masorah Magna and Parva in a semi-cursive rabbinic hand between the columns and around the three outer margins, with an illuminated colophon page surrounded by an elaborate interlace frame of burnished gold and blue with decorative red penwork and floral finials in three colors. Rabbi Arragel, is primarily known for his role in the production of the most renowned and far-sighted Jewish and Christian scholarly collaboration of medieval Spain: the Alba Bible.

Literary Masters

Original Sherlock Holmes manuscripts only rarely come to market, and only 16 are in private hands. The Adventure of Black Peter (pictured left, estimate: $250,000-$350,000), is from 1903 and is accompanied by a later autograph letter, “To Mr. Collier with best Xmas wishes, December 1908, from Arthur Conan Doyle,” presumably to Peter F. Collier (1849-1909), founder and publisher of Collier’s Weekly magazine, who commissioned the story to bring the great detective back from the dead. Boldly titled at the head of the first page “The Return of Sherlock Holmes,” “VI,” “The Adventure of Black Peter,” the manuscript features scattered authorial corrections and revisions in ink and pencil. The case involved the gruesome murder by harpoon of Black Peter, a menacing former seaman, and the recovery of stolen securities. 

For fans of the intensely private J.D. Salinger, any insight into the author’s thoughts on his own and other writers’ work is a revelation. This collection of 41 typed and manuscript letters from Salinger to a fan, Christine C., (estimate: $180,000-$240,000) contains 66 pages, over 20,000 words written between 1966-76, rich in biographical and psychological detail, the largest archive of his correspondence ever to appear at auction. “Most of my mail is pretty terrible,” Salinger tells a 15-year- old Christine, “so it’s a pleasure and a relief when anything readable comes in.” So began a spirited, decade-long correspondence that touches on many themes, most prominently Salinger’s thoughts on other writers, and his own (as yet unpublished) work in progress.

Rare First Editions

For collectors of rare first editions, there is an early American edition of The Little Prince, with an inscription and illustration by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (pictured at right, estimate: $100,000 - $150,000), and the beautifully crafted Kelmscott Press edition of The Complete Works of Chaucer (pictured below, left, estimate: $100,000 - $150,000), and more. Hot on the heels of a popular exhibition of the French author’s art and manuscripts at the Morgan Library and Museum earlier this year, this first edition of The Little Prince (1943) is among the very few copies are personally inscribed by Saint-Exupéry, who added an original drawing in gratitude to Dorothy Barclay, the young assistant to a New York Times reporter he consulted for a question about the number of stars that can be seen from Earth.

The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer (edited by F. S. Ellis. Hammersmith and published in 1896) is considered the masterpiece of the renowned Kelmscott Press. This is one of only 425 copies on paper from a total edition of 438, and one of approximately 50 copies bound by Doves Bindery after William Morris’ design in blind-tooled white pigskin over oak boards. It features 87 large woodcut illustrations after the pencil designs by Edward Burne-Jones, redrawn in ink by R. Catterson-Smith and cut in wood by W. H. Hooper.

According to historians, Gardner’s Photographic Sketch Book of the War, (1866) (pictured at right, estimate: $100,000 - $150,000) constitutes one of the finest photographic records of the Civil War, and is regarded by some as the most significant photographically illustrated book ever published in the United States. It spans the war from the first battles at Centerville and Manassas in 1862 to the dedication of the commemorative monument at Bull Run in June 1865, with 100 albumen prints, each approximately 7 x 9 inches, by various photographers. Costly to produce, the two-volume set was priced at $150, and only a scant 200 copies were issued.