Auctions | September 28, 2015

Sotheby’s to Present the Collection of Robert S. Pirie


From 2-5 December 2015 Sotheby’s New York will present the single-owner sale of Property from the Collection of Robert S Pirie, one of the world’s leading book collectors. Over 60 years, Mr. Pirie built the finest collection of 16th and 17th-century English literature in private hands with significant copies of works by Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, Marlowe, and John Donne among others. Mr. Pirie was a knowledgeable and dedicated collector whose library is made all the more extraordinary by the particular emphasis he placed on the hardest to find works with distinguished provenance. In addition to his prominence in the world of rare books, Mr. Pirie was a leading financier and widely admired New York Renaissance Man. Overall the collection is estimated to fetch in excess of $15 million with highlights on view at Sotheby’s London from 3-6 October before the exhibition in New York in late November.

David Redden, Sotheby’s Vice Chairman commented: “Those lucky enough to have known Bob Pirie remember an utterly charming man of forceful, but thoughtful, convictions, of supreme good taste, and of great generosity as a master host. He had the widest circle of friends—his interest was interesting people, and they flocked to him in droves. His astonishing book collection reflected yet an other side of his complex personality—his passionate engagement with early English literature, his fascination with provenance and his love of the sheer beauty of the English language.”

Born in Chicago and Harvard educated, Robert Pirie (1934-2015) was a celebrated corporate lawyer and investment banker, described in a 1988 New York Times profile as “Megadealer for the Rothschilds” who was as dynamic as he was successful. Iconoclastic and larger than life, he was many things - an accomplished sailor, generous philanthropist, and enthusiastic progressive. Indeed, Mr. Pirie was the nephew of two-time presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson and, to his delight, was on Richard Nixon’s ‘Enemies List’.

Mr. Pirie’s overriding passion though was books which he housed in his West Village town-house. The collection focused on the Elizabethan and post-Shakespeare periods with works by Bacon, Burton, Beaumont and Fletcher, Cowley, Crashaw, Ben Jonson, Marlowe, Marvell, and, supremely, John Donne. In addition the extensive range of prints, drawings, English silver, French porcelain, and Asian art with which he surrounded himself showed the refined taste for which Mr. Pirie was so renowned.

Image: William Shakespeare, Poems, 1640. First collected edition of Shakespeare's Poems, containing all but eight of the sonnets and other shorter, non-dramatic verse. Est. $150/200,000.