Papyrus, U.S. Constitution, Jane Austen, and more: Auction Preview

Image: Sotheby's

An opening from the thirteenth-century Latin manuscript Bible produced at Oxford, offered at Sotheby's this week.

Quite a big week coming up in the sale rooms. Here's what I'll be watching:

The Christie's online sale of the Collection of Marvin L. Colker ends on Monday, December 12. Colker (1927–2020) was professor emeritus of classics at the University of Virginia and a well-known paleographer and manuscripts scholar. The 161 lots include the Papyrus Colker, a first-century CE Egyptian papyrus fragment documenting Babylonian lunar theory and estimated at £100,000–150,000. A fifteenth-century Tuscan manuscript of Cicero's Tusculanae Disputationes copied by the scribe Pietro de Landini is expected to sell for £20,000–30,000. There will be a great deal in this sale to interest paleographers and codicologists.

At Bonhams New York on Tuesday, December 13, Fine Books and Manuscripts, in 138 lots. Rating the top estimate is a four-page early seventeenth-century scientific manuscript by Johannes Kepler containing notes and calculations on the relative velocity of the moon and the sun ($400,000–600,000). The other components of this fragment are now in the Morgan Library and the Smithsonian. E. H. Shepard's original artwork for the final illustration of Pooh and Piglet in Winnie-the-Pooh is also included in this sale, estimated at $250,000–350,000. And an original signed copy of Nelson's secret plan for the Battle of Trafalgar, sent to Vice Admiral Robert Calder, could sell for $200,000–300,000.

The Sotheby's online Music sale sends on Tuesday: among the 93 lots are a collection of forty-four letters from Johannes Brahms to Handel scholar Friedrich Chrysander, many of which are unpublished and which shed significant light on the composer's musicological scholarship. They are estimated at £80,000–120,000. Also ending on Tuesday is Sotheby's Books and Manuscripts, Medieval to Modern sale, comprising 192 lots. A first edition of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818), with the three volumes bound together, rates the top estimate at £150,000–250,000. A 1632 Shakespeare Second Folio could sell for £120,000–180,000, while a Fourth Folio is estimated at £50,000–70,000. A Latin manuscript Bible written at Oxford in the mid-thirteenth-century was estimated at £24,000–30,000, but had been bid above that estimate by Sunday morning.

At Sotheby's New York on Tuesday, a single-lot sale of the first official printing of the Constitution of the United States, estimated at $20,000,000–30,000,000. One of just fourteen known surviving copies, and one of two in private hands (the other sold last year for $43 million), this copy was sold at auction in 1894 with the collection of Georgia historian Charles Colcock Jones to the Van Sinderen family.

On Wednesday, December 14, Sotheby's Paris sells 87 lots De la Précieuse Bibliothèque Jorge Ortiz Linares, including an early set of Don Quixote (1608 and 1615), estimated at €400,000–600,000; a first edition of Cervantes' 1613 Novelas Exemplares (€200,000–300,000); and a collection of Rabelais' works printed between 1542 and 1548, in a contemporary binding (€150,000–200,000).

Christie's London sells 234 lots of Valuable Books and Manuscripts on Wednesday. A copy of the 1585–1595 first complete edition of Mercator's Atlas, bound with the 1584 second edition of Mercator's Ptolemy, rates the top estimate at £300,000–500,000. A first edition of Newton's Principia once owned by Newton's correspondent Philippe Naudé the younger could sell for £250,000–350,000.

At University Archives on Wednesday, 381 lots of Rare Autographs, Manuscripts & Books. A lengthy 1812 Thomas Jefferson letter to James Ronaldson is expected to sell for $35,000–45,000.

At Dominic Winter Auctioneers on Wednesday and Thursday, Printed Books, Maps & Playing Cards, Jane Austen, Modern First Editions, Children's Books & Original Art, in 989 lots. Jane Austen lots are expected to lead the way, with a first edition copy of Pride and Prejudice (1813) estimated at £60,000–80,000; a first edition of Sense and Sensibility (1811) is estimated at £40,000–60,000. An 1816 first edition of Emma is expected to fetch £8,000–12,000, and the four volumes of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion (1818) are estimated at £5,000–8,000. A full set of playing cards made by French prisoners of war at Porchester Castle around 1796 rate the same estimate.

Swann Galleries sells 250 lots of Illustration Art on Thursday, December 15. A Ludwig Bemelmans illustration from Madeleine's Christmas rates the top estimate of $50,000–70,000.

At PBA Galleries on Thursday, Americana – Travel & Exploration – Maps, Prints & Views, in 469 lots. An 1855 colored lithographic view of San Francisco and an 1868 tinted lithograph bird's-eye view of the same city share the top estimate of $10,000–15,000. One of just forty copies of Charles Evans' 1943 leaf book American Bibliography, 1639–1725 published by Goodspeed's is estimated at $6,000–9,000.

Ending on Friday, December 16, Sotheby's online sale of Fine Books and Manuscripts, in 191 lots. Audubon's Quadrupeds (1845–1851), being sold by the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, is estimated at $250,000–350,000. From the same collection comes John and Elizabeth Gould's Birds of Australia (1840–1869), expected to sell for $200,000–300,000, along with much other work by the Goulds. One of the numbered copies of the 1922 Shakespeare and Company edition of James Joyce's Ulysses could sell for $150,000–250,000. Paul Léon's set of unbound gatherings from this edition of Ulysses is also included in this sale, estimated at $100,000–150,000.

Rounding out the week at Doyle on Friday, Rare Books, Autographs & Maps, including the Collection of a New York Surveyor, in 215 lots.