First Edition of the Translated Bhagavad Gita to Auction

Bonhams Skinner

The Bhagvat-Geeta, or Dialogues of Kreeshna and Arjoon, in Eighteen Lectures, With Notes by Charles Wilkins

A rare, handwritten and signed letter Edgar Allan Poe letter, a Paris Commune Photograph Album, and a first edition of the English translation by Charles Wilkins of the Bhagavad Gita from 1785 are among highlights from Bonhams Skinner’s Fine Books & Rare Manuscripts sale which is running online until February 2.
We asked John Dorfman, Director of Books & Manuscripts, to select a handful of the most interesting lots from the sale and provide more detail on each.

Lot 252. The Bhagvat-Geeta, or Dialogues of Kreeshna and Arjoon, in Eighteen Lectures, With Notes [Bhagavad Gita] by Charles Wilkins. First edition, London, printed for C. Nourse, 1785

“Though it was written in Sanskrit, the Bhagavad Gita achieved its worldwide fame in English, and it was Charles Wilkins, a trained printer and a hard-working employee of the British East India Company, who first translated it directly. His version came out in 1785, at the dawn of the Romantic era, and it appealed not only to scholars but to visionary artists and poets such as William Blake, who admired Wilkins so much that he made a drawing of him working on his translation with Brahmin scholars.”

Lot 165. Autograph Letter Signed, July 6, 1848, by Edgar Allan Poe

"Although he was prolific with his pen, personal letters from Poe are extremely scarce in the market. I love this one for its beautiful script and terse drama. By 1848, the second-to-last year of his life, Poe was in the grip of alcohol addiction and financial desperation. When he wrote this letter to George W. Eveleth, an eccentric fan who had become a friend, Poe was having trouble getting published. Nevertheless, his bold and flourishing handwriting bespeaks pride, as does his request for news clippings containing “notices of myself.”

Lot 23. Spring and All by William Carlos Williams. First edition, Paris: Contact Publishing Co., 1923

“While Williams’ poetry was distinctly and proudly American, this plain little paperback, one of his early books, was published in France. Part prose, part verse, the collection was issued by Contact Press in Paris, owned and operated by the American expat Robert McAlmon. The printing was by Maurice Darantiere, who was also responsible for James Joyce’s Ulysses. Like Ulysses, Spring and All was accused of obscenity by American postal censors, and as a result, most of the 300 copies were confiscated and destroyed. Some of the poems in it, such as “The Red Wheelbarrow,” went on to become famous, but the collection itself was and is scarce.

Lot 209. Paris Commune Photograph Album

"Carte de visite albums were very popular during the late 19th century, typically devoted to photographs of friends, political figures, and media celebrities. This one is unusual in featuring the leaders of an armed leftist revolution—the Paris Commune, which held power for two months in 1871 before being defeated. In this album, not only do we see the faces of those who made and led the Commune, but we read their fates in the inscriptions left by a contemporary hand. The album compiler took a particular interest in the women of the Commune and one of them, Louise Michel, according to a clipping pasted in next to her photo, “will be prominent as heading the roll of the army of Amazons that surpassed even the men in fanaticism.”