March 2014 | Rebecca Rego Barry

Deaccession & Auction Rare Books

When special collections libraries and historical societies deaccession books, they often hope to keep a low profile, since the very act of removing long-held rarities from a collection can rankle donors, scholars, fellow librarians, even the bibliophilic public. Last year, the dismantling of the Mendham collection and the subsequent sale of its 'highlights' at Sotheby's in June of 2013 brought about much criticism and debate--it also realized £1,180,875 (nearly $2 million) for its owner, the Law Society of England and Wales. Yet another chunk of that historic collection will find its way to the auction block later this month, this time at London's Dreweatts & Bloomsbury Auctions. Books from the Ecclesiastical Collection of Joseph Mendham includes another 339 lots formerly on deposit at Canterbury Cathedral Library.

Screen Shot 2014-03-02 at 9.25.02 PM.pngAnother group of deaccessioned books goes on the block this week at Bonhams London, sans rancor. Law Books from the LA Law Library, Part I, on March 5 features rare accounts of witchcraft trials, the first English book on women's rights, The Lawes Resolutions of Women's Rights: or the Lawes, Provision for Women (1632), and the 1494 incunable, Liber sextus Decretalium by Pope Boniface VIII (seen here at left). The LA Law Library is the second largest public law library in the U.S. According to a press release, "The sale, the first major auction of antiquarian law books in the 21st Century, will enable [The LA Law Library] to concentrate resources on its core purposes of providing public access to practical legal knowledge for the people of Southern California and beyond and to free up space to conserve rare books and documents on American law." Part Two of this auction is slated for May.

The Indiana Historical Society throws its hat into the ring too, offering two major treasures at Sotheby's on April 1: its double-elephant folio of Audubon's Birds of America, as well as its Viviparous Quadrupeds of America. The IHS hopes to reap at least $3.3 million from the sale, which will be used to fund "acquisition of more Indiana-specific collections, and to build out enough archival storage space ... to meet the organization's needs for active collecting over the next 30 years." Said Indiana Historical Society President and CEO John Herbst, "While these sets are rare and valuable, they were acquired when the Indiana Historical Society's mission was broader, more eclectic and not as focused on Indiana-related history as it is today."

Image via Bonhams.