May 2012 | Jeremy Dibbell

Auction Preview: Schimmel Sale

As promised, a closer look at a very neat sale coming up on at Bonhams London on Wednesday (23 May), when they'll be selling the Stuart B. Schimmel Forgery Collection & Other Properties, in 253 lots.

The first 143 of those lots are Schimmel's. Nicolas Barker provides an introduction, noting how Schimmel came to be interested in collecting literary fakes and forgeries and offering a brief overview of the collection's main focal points. He notes "There has not been a comparable quantity of Wiseian material on the market since the Buxton Forman sale in 1920 or the Pariser sale in 1967," and concludes with the following observation:

"There is a strange fascination about all this material. The motivation to forgery is always complex, whether done for gain or fame, to prove a point or in the belief that something should exist even if neglected by its purported author. It is often difficult to draw the line between pastiche and fake. There is no such difficulty with Stuart's collection. All his are genuine forgeries. He has had a lot of pleasure out of collecting them, and the books about them. It is now the turn of others to enjoy the same pleasure in their dispersal."

The catalog for this sale makes for a fascinating browse through the annals of fakery (I almost wish it had been organized chronologically rather than alphabetically, but no matter). The Wiseiana is all interesting, but a few of the particularly notable pieces include a copy of Wise's infamous 1847 "Reading" edition of Elizabeth Barrett Brownings Sonnets (£2,000-4,000) as well as many Shelley, Swinburne, and Tennyson forgeries. There are letters from Wise following the publication of Carter and Pollard's Enquiry (£1,000-1,500), and a collection of Wise's correspondence with C.W. Hatfield, with whom Wise worked on an edition of the works of the Brontes.

Thomas Chatterton and James Macpherson are represented, the latter by several letters and the printer's manuscript of Ewen Campbell's verse rendition of Fingal (£4,000-6,000), published in 1776. A letter from Hugh Blair regading the Ossian controversy could sell for £1,000-1,500. There's a 1706 letter by George Psalmanazar to Rev. Samuel Reynolds (father of Sir Joshua) of Balliol College, Oxford reporting on the activities of Daniel Defoe, as well as a first edition of Psalmanazar's Historical and Geographical Description of Formosa (£500-700), with all the plates (it's being sold along with copies of P's later Memoirs and related works).

Another major focus are the Ireland Shakespeare forgeries: the lots include a large-paper copy of the first edition of Samuel Ireland's Picturesque Views of the Upper, or Warwickshire, Avon (1795), which mentions the Shakespeare papers (£200-300); a W.H. Ireland letter to Mr. Beadnall offering him a collection of the forged documents (£400-600); and an album containing 25 leaves of Ireland's forgeries arranged by Ireland himself (£15,000-30,000). Several books containing forged Shakespeare annotations and signatures will be offered, including Johannes Carion's The Thre Bokes of Cronicles (£2,000-3,000); Lancelot Andrewes' A Sermon Preached before the Kings Majestie (£500-700); and John Camilton's A Discoverie of the Most Secret and Subtile Practices of the Jesuites (£800-1,200). An Ireland family bible is also up for grabs (£800-1,200). Various editions of the forgeries and copies of the related publications are included as well.

Schimmel's collection also includes four illuminated manuscript leaves by the Spanish Forger (beginning with Lot 86).

Lots 144-158 are described as "The Property of a Lady, including books from the library of the late Graham Pollard, one of the original 'enquirers'. They include Pollard's copies of some of the key Wise-related documents. Lots 161-253 are "The Property of John Collins, co-editor of the second edition of An Enquiry and author of The Two Forgers." Among the most notable lots: several auction catalogs from Wise's own library and a wide range of Forman-related material.

I suppose I'm glad I won't be in London on Wednesday since I'm much less tempted to bid from afar, but what a collection this is! I'll be sure to post a recap after the sale.