February 2013 | Rebecca Rego Barry

John Steinbeck's "Table Casket" Up for Auction

At every big book fair--and this weekend's California fair is often cited as the biggest--there are generally a couple of auctions that coincide with the event, capitalizing on all those fresh collectors in town. Here are some of the lots that caught my eye from the Bonhams sale coming up on Sunday, the 17th.

6245 Steinbeck box.jpgFor sheer oddity, how about John Steinbeck's "ebonized table casket." Better to call it a manuscript chest. According to an accompanying letter from Steinbeck's son, Thomas, the chest was a gift from Steinbeck's friend, editor, and publisher, Pat Covici. Thomas further states that his father used it to "store manuscripts of works in progress, and came to be known as 'Merlin's Chest' or the 'Magic Chest.'" The estimate is $3,000-5,000.  

6158 Sangorski mss.jpgFor sheer beauty, it would be hard to surpass this Sangorski & Sutcliffe illuminated manuscript of Francis Bacon's Of Gardens: an Essay, c. 1905. The word that comes to mind is lush -- this illuminated manuscript on vellum features naturalistic rose and vine borders, colored and gold inks, and oval vignettes. The estimate is $4,000-6,000.

6014 Calligraphy.jpgAnother charmer in this sale is the calligraphy by Johann Busenitz, in German, dated to August 1713 and after. Seen here is one of ninety pages with calligraphic exercises in green, red, yellow, and black ink, each with elaborate decorative initial. According to the catalogue, Busenitz may have been part of a Mennonite community in Marlenburg. The estimate is $800-1,200.

6087 Blaeu map.jpgBecause of our Fine Maps columnist, Jeffrey S. Murray, this next lot was familiar; Murray's column in our forthcoming spring issue is all about the house of Blaeu. Theatrum orbis terrarum sive Atlas novas (Amsterdam, 1645-50), from the Blaeu family of mapmakers, was a published edition of hand-colored maps, reprinted several times and expanded by the younger Blaeu. This lot is a collection of 52 engraved double-page maps (disbound) from Theatrum orbis, covering modern-day Europe. The estimate is $10,000-15,000.