Auctions | November 1, 2013

Sir Robert Horton’s Collection of Aldines to be Sold at Bonhams

One hundred and fifty books from the late Sir Robert Horton’s collection of the Aldine editions of Latin and Greek masterpieces produced in Venice in the late 15th and early 16th century are to be sold at Bonhams Books, Maps, Manuscripts and Historical Photographs sale in London on 12 November. In total, the collection has an upper estimate of over £145,000. 

Sir Robert Horton, often known simply as Sir Bob, was one of Britain’s most prominent businessmen.  He was Chairman and Chief Executive of BP from 1990-92 and, as the first Chairman of Railtrack from 1993-99, was constantly in the public eye. A keen supporter of the arts, Sir Robert had a particular interest in books. He was a long standing benefactor of the Bodleian Library—where a seminar room in the newly renovated Weston Library will be named after him—and served as Chairman of the Libraries Development Board.

He started his collection of Aldine editions in the 1980s and it grew to be one of the finest private Aldine libraries in Britain. The books take their name from Aldus Manutius who set up a printing press in Venice in 1494 to produce editions of the classics and of current works in French and Italian. In addition to introducing the type face known today as italic, the press also pioneered the octavo size of book—roughly the dimension of a modern paperback—which made the volumes easy to carry. This had a liberating effect on the spread of knowledge enabling scholars across Europe to study ancient Greek without the need to employ teachers.

Highlights of the collection include a third edition of a two volume edition of the Iliad and the Odyssey in Greek, estimated at £6,000-8,000; a first edition of the works of Politianus, a contemporary writer who died in 1494 and, for the press, an early foray into publishing current works (est £3,000-4,000); a scarce second edition of the comedies of the Roman playwright Terence (est £1,500-2,000) and a rare edition of Seneca’s seven book Naturalium quaestionum (est £1,000-1,500).